Swansea based blues band, The Mark Pontin Group, are back proving once again that, for some reason, Wales continues to provide some seriously good blues-based bands (not forgetting the fabulous rock of Budgie and Man.)
After two very well-received albums (2013’s debut, Days of Destiny and 2015’s Textures, at last, we get the third album from this skilful band. Fronted, obviously, by Mark Pontin, they’ve performed regularly across the UK and have backed established acts such as Royal Southern Brotherhood and Walter Trout.
The new album, called Kaleidoscope, was recorded over several sessions between 2018 and 2019, Mark held off releasing it until there was light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. That time is here and we get thirteen varied, bluesy and above all well-crafted songs that seamlessly combine elements of funk, jazz, rock with hints of Motown, prog and (sometimes) orchestral imagery. I like the cover too, with Mark sat cradling his Telecaster, bearing a resemblance to a young, slim Leslie West. The album also has a concept, without being a concept album, as Mark’s lyrics follow “a guy who wakes up one day to find the love of his life has gone, and literally taken everything with her.”
Opening with the instrumental, Sunrise, we get a minute of gentle chord work with the odd Hank-y tremolo to make it err, the only word I can think of is waft…then after a gentle rainfall it moves into the Motown blues of Everything (Today) including substantial backing from strings and brass: not keyboard generated either. Mark does a great job on the vocals and then delivers an excellent blues guitar solo with some neat bends and sustain to keep the voice of the guitar in line with the story of love leaving (and full marks, Mark for fitting panacea seamlessly into the lyrics.)
Don’t Sleep changes mood with some funky Wurlitzer and chord work turning into an almost Syd Barrett kind of whimsical proggy blues with a class guitar solo too…nice. A pause from the main storyline as Mark tells of the vagaries of the music business and how talent isn’t always enough.
This Will Never Be A Hit is set to a soundtrack of 70s funk and brass but with another inventive guitar solo that lifts it to (for me anyway) acceptability. Starmaker returns to our main tale: musically, this erases any doubts the preceding track may have engendered, as Mark uses a heavy riff with Trower Sighing across the Bridge, but it keeps originality at the backbone of a hefty blues song with the added benefits of Hendrixian flourishes and a simply superb solo…the kind with feel, the deftness of touch and not too many notes shoehorned needlessly into it.
A pity it wasn’t a lot longer though. Roll With Me Easy sounds like it could have been on Boom of the Tingling Strings with its string arrangement for the short intro, but the band bring it to the blues with a tasty bit of guitar, bass and drums to bring us a great ballad with the strings backing subtly and another quality, albeit brief, solo. Forever is the first single and, with the Petty chords and bounce to the riff and chorus, it is obvious why…it still has a short, neat guitar solo to ensure it doesn’t become predictable.
Hotel Diablo shows that Mark isn’t stuck in one genre as, suddenly we are in the jazz regions of fusion and funk with Rhodes piano and guitar playing nicely together over a strong bass and drum backing…although it’s only sixty-six seconds; one has to wonder why it wasn’t extended a bit to further reflect the diversity and dexterity of the band. Hell’s Kitchen is next and may well be the hotel’s food preparation area! Except it is pure rock ’n’ roll that could have been from the 60s…this is a song that concentrates on the lyrical content and so there’s only the great bass line and guitar backing to revel in and no solos.
Moving to New Orleans for some funky blues with Freeway Fantasy again illustrates the mix of styles the band can embrace at the drop of a hat; the last two minutes are where it really comes alive with a great solo from Mark using the tremolo again to great effect with a hint of Beck as the Rhodes joins into the fade.
Waiting, with the chords and backing vocals brings some funky soul to the table and, for me, despite the very short solo is the only skippable track…but then, if you like this soulful kind of song, it is very well executed. Everything (Tomorrow) brings our protagonist back to earth as he battles drug addiction to a soundtrack of the Rhodes and strings as we stay in a soulful approach. The stinging guitar section in the middle is curtailed far too soon, although it is revisited nicely in a more restrained way at the end, thus making it more than soul.
The final track, Phoenix, opens with more Beck-isms on the guitar (nice!) as our hero overcomes all of his issues and rises again. Strings join in to add drama and, after an orchestral bridge, we get an eastern flavoured, crafted and rather good but exceedingly short solo.
In summary, this is a very album on all levels although a couple of the tracks don’t float my particular water-born vessel: that’s not to say they aren’t good – they are. When the blues and the guitar are to the fore, or the jam band feel of Freeway Fantasy, then the songs really come alive for me.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a Great Listen for some diverse and beautifully crafted songs. The best are the blues-based, guitar-led ones, but all of them have individual merit.
This Will Never Be A Hit
Roll With Me Easy
Mark Pontin: vocals, guitar
Callum Morgan-Jones: bass
Tim Hamill: bass
James Garvey: drums
Owain Hughes: Hammond, Wurlitzer, Moog, Rhodes
Recorded at Sonic One Studios, Llanelli.
Kaleidoscope is out via Lunaria Records on November 26th and the single, Forever, on November 5th.
17th November – Swansea The Bunkhouse
18th November Manchester Retro Bar (with Five Points Gang)
16th December Grimsby Yardbirds
Watch out for further dates (by the way, they’re already booked for next years Cambridge Rock Festival in June 2022)
(iTunes moved on to some 2006 bluesy goodness from the delightfully titled album …And the Horse He rode In On by Mark Selby and some great slide on the track, Down in the Flood.)