As soon as I see the Mike Zito owned imprint, Gulf Coast Records, my blues guitar centred taste buds begin to salivate…Mike is a first-class guitarist himself and his ever-expanding label roster provides a lot of my blues-rock listening.
This is true of the latest one to hit my desk: Mark May Band has the band’s seventh release out to compliment the label’s reputation. Called Deep Dark Demon, this talented player has served time with none other than Dickey Betts as well as earning his spurs playing blues venues in and around Texas as well as debuting on record back in 1995 with the rather good Call On The Blues.
Once again Mark has assembled an album that combines his unique approach to the blues as he fuses it with rock, R’n’B, soul as well as hint of funk and even prog…but in a good way. Opening with Harvey’s Dirty Side, we are treated to a masterclass of wah pedal and bottleneck solos over a bluesy rocky riff. I’m not sure who Harvey is, but he inspired a very good song with the instrumental middle section giving bass and drums room to show their mettle as well as the stinging guitar…love it! BBQ and Blues is steeped in R’n’B with harmony vocals giving it all a playful feel as the structure hits the familiar but still maintains originality…the guitar solo is played mostly with chords thereby keeping the overall sense of period. the simply titled Back changes into a Latin swing and almost Santana like sound to the guitar picking. The first solo however is twin guitars in harmony that stamp the Mark May signature firmly on it; the second reminds me very much of Tommy Bolin on his freeform playing on Spectrum.
The title track, Deep Dark Demon, is the current favourite as it summons images of Mark’s apprenticeship in the smoky bars of Houston…classic blues in approach but fresh, powerful blues in execution. The solo is pure bliss to a wannabe guitarist like me and the sparing use of notes to inject passion is just how blues should be played.
Sweet Music has Hammond and guitar following each other on the intro and is very Purple Stormbringer-ish where the funk of Hughes began to show through…a great song with a solo to soak in as well as up! Rolling Me Down moves into a country R’n’B with twin guitars intro before a novel take on the late 50s structure draws you inexorably into the whole thing. Then a slide solo throws every preconception away and leaves you wishing it lasted much longer: the piano solo is great too. My Last Ride has the harmony guitars intro again but then turns into a kind of Creamy Ash! Another irresistible melody strewn song with a sustain drenched solo that is mesmerising.
For Your Love (not that one) is a bit soul for me and the vocals and sax just strengthen that feel…until the heartfelt guitar phrases toward the fade make it still an essential listen. Walking Out That Door brings us back into Stormbringer land but with SRV influences thrown in. The instrumental section however is simply brilliant with bass, drums (and cowbell; hurray!) given time to shine before another genius solo from Mark. Something Good is a pleasant excursion into the country blues field…slide guitar and colour from the keys add up to a ballad of some quality that seems to be a little aimless until you listen to the lyrics and the slide solo is just majestic.
The final track, Invisible Man, certainly puts the funk into the blues..listen out for the brilliant rolling bass. The rarely used voice box gets an airing too mixed up in a classic picked solo but doesn’t overstay its welcome or try to talk to you.
Overall, this is a hugely entertaining album that has many levels to each song that will reveal themselves to you on repeated listens. Do give it a try, this band deserves a much wider audience and I know that I, for one, will be looking forward to the next release as well as hoovering up the previous six albums.
Bluesdoodles rating: a Wonderful, well crafted, and smart blues-rock album that has so much variation that every listen brings a new dimension.
1. Harvey’s Dirty Side
2. BBQ and Blues
4. Deep Dark Demon
5. Sweet Music
6. Rolling Me Down
7. My Last Ride
8. For Your Love
9. Walking Out That Door
10. Something Good
11. Invisible Man
Mark May: guitar, vocals
Kirk McKim: guitar
Dan Cooper: Bass
Clyde Dempsey: drums
(Hammond Payer unknow, but did a cracking job)