A Thousand Mandolins – David Marx (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Final frontAn album is more than just a collection of songs; it is a window into where an artist is, mentally, physically and often more telling, logistically, at the point of recording. 2014’s compact and bijou five track The Ghost of Corelli found our hero leading a three piece band and wielding a sound very much dominated by big guitars, dynamic and punchy bass lines and driving back beats. It was effective, dramatic and to the point. And whilst such a rock and roll pulse has always beaten at the heart of his music, as it beats at the heart of almost every classic record irrespective of genre, in some ways it felt like a departure from the sound I associate with David Marx.

But A Thousand Mandolins is all about texture rather than testosterone, subtlety and suppleness rather than shock and awe, layered hues coloured by more instruments doing less work rather than fewer vivid and vibrant musical colours being painted boldly and to more dramatic effect. Not that there isn’t drama to be found here, it is just of a richer, more effective and better conceived nature, a Robert Altman to the previous release’s Martin Scorsese perhaps.

And even before you delve into the music, the Marxian cultural reference machine is fine tuned and offering tantalising hints, dropping names such as Caravaggio, Candide and the Venus de Milo, balancing tears and murder, beckoning silence and disavowing miracles. Even the title of the album speaks of points of reference that go beyond most modern artists and invokes Leonard Cohen’s poeticism or a more global Tom Waits vision.

 

If two songs define the limits of the album it is the back-to-back tracks Merry-Go-Round and Halfway Between Tears and Murder. The former built of a jaunty swagger, buoyant banjos and a light groove, the latter a dark, slow-building brooding song forged more of atmosphere and anticipation than the music that defines its structure.

 

But obviously this isn’t just a collection of musical stops along an arbitrary line drawn between the light and shade of those two songs; it takes some interesting and intriguing detours as well. She’s Just Not That Kind of Girl is an alternative take on that musical period when The Beatles were still a straight (-ish) pop band but where wandering, drugs in hand, towards more psychedelic landscapes and Face Down Like The Huddled Suicides is Elvis Costello getting all philosophical. Short, snappy and…well, deep! Country vibes ooze from Let The Silence Prevail, drums shuffle, organs swell (steady!) and guitars groove, in an underground, East Nashville, outlaw bar band sort of way with not a rhinestone in sight, thankfully.

 

So what has changed to make this album so different to the last? Well, The Ghost of Corelli was made against a backdrop of the logistical pitfalls of keeping a regular band on the road and possibly delivering sets that pandered, whether consciously or not, to the denizens of the gigging circuit. David’s recent live hiatus has relieved him of such considerations and he has returned to a state of freedom where instead of him making an album in search of an audience he has instead made the album that comes from a more natural place. Now the audience can come to him. Or not, but that isn’t the point. Not so much a creative rebirth, just an artist remembering that the ball was always in his court.

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An Interview with David Marx of The AK-Poets

Little Big Gig

  1. Having started out making your first music in Swindon over thirty years ago, you are now back. What’s the story in between?

 

Whilst you can be influenced by living in the same town or village all your life, my lyrical pallet has been inadvertently broadened by geographical difference. My first move was to London, which was a very different place then, less commercial, less dangerous, less expensive and more driven by a real and vibrant music scene. Next was ten years in The Bowery, the underground musical heart of New York as a journalist and musician recording with the likes of the E-Street Band and playing support to Christy Moore and The Psychedelic Furs. Stops in Swindon, Brighton and more recently Berlin, my time is now divided between a house in Toulouse and making music in The West of England.

 

 

  1. Your current musical vehicle is The AK-Poets, how did that come about.

 

 

The AK-Poets was the band I formed in Berlin, which had a much gentler, acoustic path compared with the UK version, which has a harder, stripped back rock and roll feel, whilst retaining the continuing influence of, I guess, The Clash, The Beatles and Tom Waits – not necessarily in that order mind!

 

  1. So have you released any albums along the way?

 

 

Yes, I have released three albums via Revolver Records. Firstly LoveJunk which some people say is a good party album, even if it does have ‘Gas Chamber’ on it, but mainly is a collection of immediate, up-tempo songs, a couple of which are still in the current set, such as ‘The Madness of Love’ and ‘Tomahawk Junky’. Next came My Crucial Execution, a more acoustic pop album along the lines of Aztec Camera or perhaps Steve Earle. Jesus Was a Socialist was my American album, more political, more subversive, covering such subjects as the despicably pointless Vietnam War and the equally ghastly NRA – along with reflective songs like ‘Times Square’ and ‘According to Elvis.’

 

  1. And you have a new EP out, The Ghost of Corelli?

 

Yes, it’s a five-track EP out on local label, Secret Chord Records and is a pretty good representation of what The AK-Poets are about live. It has some delicate moments (‘In An Empty Room’ and ‘Sweet Dream,’) a couple of more rock and roll numbers including Cassius Clay which, inexplicably, appears to be a big hit with the boxing fraternity. The play out song, 11,000 Martyred Virgins, was described by Sam Bates – the engineer where it was recorded at The Ladder Factory – as “King Crimson on acid.” So, in all, a considerable range of colour.

 

  1. What now for the band?

 

More, gigs, more writing, and hopefully good sales of this release so we can embarked on recording a full album at some point in the near future. Offers of financial assistance, alcohol and northern prostitutes are greatly appreciated.

 

Okay, I’ll see what I can do, thank you for chatting to us.

 

For more information: –

 

http://akpoets.weebly.com

 

http://www.secretchordrecords.com/bands/david-marx-the-ak-poets/

original posted in The Ocelot September ’14  –

http://www.theocelot.co.uk/post/01/09/2014/ocelot-99-september-2014-edition/

Jesus Was a Socialist – David Marx

Jesus was a socialistComing to this album as I did at the same time as the brilliant My Crucial Execution, opens up many opportunities to compare an artist at different stages of his craft. The reason for this is that the later is made up largely of older songs, material that I had witnessed many times live probably fifteen or so years ago. The wonderfully titled Jesus Was A Socialist, however, is all new to me, and offers an insight into David Marx as the older and wiser songwriter.
The album opens to a chaotic cacophony of sounds: double basses strut their stuff, a fragile accordion flutters by, delicate piano keys and distant, distorted guitar noise fill the gaps -as a half whispered lyric is offered up. Soon, all this cements itself into a more tangible creation and ‘Revulsion In The Name of Love’ pours forth. It is a crowded song music wise, but this somehow reflects the bewilderment that the singer is screaming out to us. As soon as you have got the song pegged however, it winds back down into the meandering madness of disjointed sounds again. And then its gone. A strange and unpredictable way to open an album (as well as a million miles away from the folksy jaunt of ‘Dublin’ that opened the aforementioned My Crucial Execution). It is thus replaced by the driving, warped out garage guitar of ‘Fellatio NRA,’ and we are up and running in style. Against this more aggressive rock sound, Marx delivers a string of soundbites that seem to be centred around some sort of gun erotica, and as it builds, its harder hitting qualities are tempered by intermittent attacks of brass, whereby a more groove orientated level is attained.

 

After listening to the above two songs, one of the parallels that I have been looking for becomes obvious. Earlier songs by this man seem to have a lighter, dare I say, poppier quality to them – often acoustic guitar driven songs with immediate accessibility. Here we see a darker hand at work, maybe more world weary and reflective, the music harder hitting and slightly more rock biased. ‘Ten Rembrandts’ for instance, takes some of the elements we have already encountered, adds a gypsy violin – courtesy of regular Marx collaborator, Kat Evans – and sends us off in a more Latino driven path. It is not until we get to ‘White Trees,’ that we encounter the pure open romanticism that underlies many of the songs from his earlier days. A story of unrequited love put to a shuffling acoustic rhythm (there is even room for a short trumpet solo), the song is understated, almost minimalistic, heartfelt and simply glorious.

 

The combination of the less is more approach and emotions being worn openly on the singers sleeve, continues with what in my opinion, is the most immediate and intimate song of the album, ‘In My Time Of Dying.’ Wonderfully honest, it reflects on that one person in your life who you know is always there for you. Set to a simple street corner busker guitar, try listening to this song just more than once and not singing along – I dare you!

 

Not only does Jesus Was A Socialist prove to be an album of light and shade – as the earlier, heavier, darker songs give way to lighter, more immediately accessible numbers -it is set full of honest reflections and everyday emotions that we can all relate to. The current music industry canon fodder darlings, may think they are relating to their public when they sing of their newly acquired, high-flying, life styles; but when David Marx sings: “Do you still love me/Like you did last Tuesday,” there is kitchen sink drama and honesty underpinning the meaning behind it, which is to say everyday people, asking those often awkward, everyday questions.

 

Not being an album that settles into any particular style for too long, ‘Wedding In America’ turns a new corner by coming on like a mixture of The Pogues and a bluegrass party, the result of which delivers a short, snappy, sentimental song of devotion. ‘Times Square’ meanwhile, puts me in mind of one of those slower, early Bruce Springsteen numbers. If someone had told me that this was a track from The Wild, The Innocent and E Street Shuffle, I wouldn’t have argued (and I’m sure David wouldn’t have a problem with this comparison!). The song’s gentle, piano/organ/underpinned strut, along with its “see you around” lyric and wistful harmonica, have all the hallmarks of Asbury Park’s favourite son. And ‘According To Elvis’ continues along a similar parallel, opening as it does with that rising Hammond organ and piano-wash (so reminiscent of such early Springsteen classics as ‘Backstreets’). But by the time it gets going, ‘According To Elvis’ has very much created its own identity: something altogether much more English by being more Newhaven than New Jersey – and for all the right reasons!

 

Jesus Was A Socialist bows out the same way it came in, with something fairly out of keeping with what a lot of what the album is about. ‘Celebrate The Cause’ is a spiky and slightly ranting diatribe; musically warped and lyrically accusatory which works as a nice end piece to a varied and slightly unpredictable album.

 

So what of the comparisons I was looking for between the earlier album of blasts from the past and this album of newer compositions? Well there is still a lot of the romantic of old left here, but there is also something of a more complex presence. The rules are brushed aside at times, and the boundaries are tested. The older artist seems to be able to look deeper into the ever present topics of love and loss, by exploring their reasoning and darker underbelly. And in so doing, Marx has come up with just as many great songs -although some will take a little longer to get into.

 

When you do though, you will find that a lot more depth prevails, which is why the main difference between the albums is a rather obvious one: Jesus Was A Socialist is very clearly the work of a man that has seen a lot of life, and is honest enough to fill his songs with the good as well as the bad, the highs as well as the lows, the light as well as the shade.

My Crucial Execution – David Marx

My Crucial ExecutionIn a time long assigned to the past, but which was in reality the mid eighties, I was the owner of a demo tape by a local band called The Coincidence. It was played to death and eventually went to that unknown destination that tapes and albums seem to slip off to – the land of lost and sorely missed musical recordings. And that was the end of that, or so I thought. 

It was thus, a particularly high point when I came into possession of an album called My Crucial Execution by David Marx. Marx was the front man and driving force behind the aforementioned band, and I was happy to find that this 13 track-recording contained many of the songs which graced that long lost tape; fresh versions breathing new life into what, in a fairer world, would be minor classics.

David Marx is basically a romantic, and that’s what comes through immediately in his song writing – well to me anyway. There seems to be some sort of view these days that male songwriters, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, is some sort of new movement; spearheaded by the likes of James Blunt and Damien Rice. This album shows that at least one singer has been doing this for years, and doing it more convincingly at that! When Blunt sings, it seems to put me in mind of slushy adolescent poetry; Marx however, is the real deal, and manages to present us with songs about every day concerns: relationships, love and loss, in a relatable and honest way.

Kicking off with a folk pop cross-over that wouldn’t be out of place on a Waterboys album, “Dublin” is one of those immediate and infectious songs, and probably the one that has stuck most firmly in my mind from all those years ago (when I was able to witness this song being played live). It is a great testament to the fact, that although heavily infused with Celtic influences, driving violin riffs and accompanying mandolins, folk music is not the domain of Arran sweater clad, bearded, finger in the ear singing, middle aged purists. And when combined with more contemporary pop-rock melodies, creates a wonderful new and fresh genre.

“The Breath of Objection” moves us more and more into that punchy pop domain that reminds me so much of Elvis Costello; and with even more background mandolin, remains pretty much a post punk acoustic ballad of the heart – both in musical style and lyrical content. It is with this song, that you first notice Marx’s lyrical ability, both in his use of words and with the honesty of his songs:

“Caught the sequence of emotion/Caught the pretence of a notion/Caught myself falling in love/Without having considered/The breath of objection.”

Leaving the jaunty poppiness behind, “I Still Believe You” shows a slower and more reflective side of the mans’ work. It may adopt a different pace to what we have heard so far, but it is no less impressive in its delivery. With a haunting and deliberate drive, said song is underpinned by weaving violin and delicate tear drop piano notes (courtesy of Nick Beere). And just when you think you have the measure of the song, an impressive saxophone solo falls in your lap, courtesy of none other that former Waterboy, Anthony Thistlethwaite – a man who has been a guest on Marx’s previous albums, but whom here, seems to be a fully-fledged part of the band for this recording.

One of the most interesting songs in my opinion comes next: a slow, mysterious wash of sound builds to be joined by a melancholy trumpet and a moody Mediterranean vibe, which grows to dominate the opening, until finally, everything kicks in (in riotous style). By the time Marx is telling us that “It Doesn’t Pay to Be Happy,” we are back into familiar territory – all the more glorious for the long and unexpected route that lead us into the song in the first place. A mix of possibly auto-biographical themes mixed with random streams of consciousness, make up the lyrical content, which is a duel between both sentiment and sound bite; thus showing the writer’s love of words for their own sake. Mariachi pop punk! Now there’s a section that you wont find in HMV, and more is the pity!

 

Then without a pause to get your breath, we are straight into “February,” a gloriously introspective laid back apology to a past relationship. The power of these songs, is that even though they seem extremely personal on one level, they manage to document the situations that we all find ourselves in. Change the names, and they become your own songs – and that’s probably what makes them so attractive on a lyrical level.

As if to support the other side of the balance, musically, “Valerie” has that addictive jaunt that gets inside you, right from first hearing. It’s a gentle, simple song, and it’s maybe that “less is more” attitude that makes it so wonderfully refreshing. No big anthemic solos, no clever breaks or intricate timings… just a simple song, full of emotion – with a simple tune and an infectious beat. An unexpected bouzouki solo from Kevin Wilkinson  – normally found behind the drum kit – adds unexpected colour to the song; which at the end of the day, just goes to show that a good song is a good song. And often, its enough to leave it at that.

Having already shown that throwing a curve ball, keeps the album interesting, here it comes in the form of “Switchblade Jesus” – where a rock and roll opening beat/fused with sixties inflected guitar, build into a song that is at once, both very David Marx and also adventurously different from a lot of the songs it shares space with here! “Don’t Cry While I’m Gone” meanwhile, seems a very personal song; but even though there seems to be a sad tale being told here, Marx manages to do it in typically upbeat style.

 

It is this ability that enables him to create wonderfully upbeat and positive songs, even when dwelling on those subjects close to the heart. The next offering “Tiny Puddles” is a classic example of this: a crisp, bright, acoustic guitar drives the song, and whilst cellos and violins weave a dark and emotive backdrop, the rhythm and the delivery keep the song from descending into the dark places of the song writing soul!

The next two songs, like the opening number, take me straight back to those live shows of my youth. “Rudolf Valentino” is a typical upbeat number, with piano, sumptuous backing vocals and an occasional french cornet playing around the guitar work. But like most of the songs here, it’s the melodies and the vocals that make them so memorable. Sing-along choruses aligned with a vibrant energy that mainlines straight to the foot; such are the hallmarks of Marx’s songs.

 

It is however, “The Kiss,” that has become my firm favourite since being reacquainted with the album. Like the opening number, it manages to combine that element of infectious folk-riff (care of the violin), along with a driving pop-rock backbeat aligned with yet more saxophone… Once again, it’s the lyrics and the sing ability (is that a word? Oh well you know what I mean), that carry the song:

“Shakespeare’s words of emotion/Dance like Fred Astaire/Chasing such a commotion/From here, there, to everywhere/Passion faces illusion/Or could it be King Lear?”

You wouldn’t get that from Captain Blunt would you?

 

It’s a pity that the word Dance, when applied to musical genres, has been hijacked by cold commercial club sounds, created to the sound of the cash till-ring, rather than for any entertainment value – as this album is, by many definitions, dance music in all its glory.

The album rounds off on a couple of quieter moments. “You’re the One I Love” has a sultry mix of country rhythms and lounge jazz drums with an understated blues attitude; a simple heart warming tale, showing that you don’t have to be clever all the time (and simple sentiment is as powerful as any fancy wordplay). The last song ‘’Yellow Highrise,’’ has a stark and dark message, which is pretty much about the vocals, with little accompaniment to begin with. A brave and spacious approach, making the powerful meaning(s) more dominant – finally kicking in for a powerful play out of unresolved questions.

In the introduction to this review, I said in a fairer world these songs would be minor classics. That’s not true – there is nothing minor about this work at all. I guess there really is no justice in the world.

LoveJunk – The Refugees (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

LoveJunkThe genres of pop and rock have always seemed worlds apart to many, fans and writers alike. Both are awash with cliché’s and self imposed boundaries. The immediacy and dance beat jaunt of modern pop seems alien to the purveyors of the seemingly more serious rock product, and vice versa. However there have been some successful attempts over the years to combine the two, one that stands out for me is Liverpool’s finest, namely the Icicle Works a band able to mix and miss-match the two to wonderful affect. The appeal of the Refugees album, LoveJunk, seems also to lie in this marriage of pop sensibilities and rock attitude as well as calling on a wide range of influences in between.

The Refugees is one of many musical vehicles, of no fixed line up, for David Marx, a man that I first saw playing all those years ago with a previous musical incarnation, The Coincidence, and immediately become a fan. A punk past, an ear for great melody and hook line and the ability to create great songs from a melting pot of influences is the path that has lead ultimately to this album.

The opening salvo comes in the form of ‘Guillotine Gene’, a song that not only distils and delivers everything I have waffled on about in the opening paragraph, but one that also suggests an English hybrid of Mike Scott and Bruce Springsteen, and that can’t be a bad thing. Whilst the closing chords of that song are still ringing in your ears Kat Evens infectious violin hook is whisking us headlong and relentlessly into ‘The Girl with the Child in her Arms’. Often associated heavily with the finger in the ear, Arran sweater clad, beardy folk scene, on the album the violin is used to greater effect and instead of hi-jacking the music and dragging it into a more conventionally Fairport realm, instead adds to the accessibility of the music with its mix of repetitive hooks and soothing long drawn notes weaving through the melody. Even the use of banjo and accordion, the latter supplied by Barry Andrews on ‘Mirror Mirror’ doesn’t feel out of place along side the rawer guitar orientated songs. The songs here are more than strong enough to maintain their identity no matter what instruments are employed without the album sounding an thing less than a complete and totally connected body of work. Less experienced musicians could have ended up with a disparate mish-mash of songs that don’t sit well alongside each other, but Marx seems to have the ability to draw on a wide range of ideas and influences and still sound like a unified and focused project.

Lyrically there is a lot at work here too. The seemingly throwaway lines, the tongue in cheek humour and the cultural name-dropping are much cleverer than they first appear. Although the usual subjects are covered of love, loss and everything in between, the stories and ideas presented are a world away from the usual dross commentary we get from the lovelorn pubescent peddlers of popular music.

From the upright bass rockabilly strut of ‘Love in the Asylum’, the driving guitar rock of ‘Tel Aviv A Go-Go’ to the lounge jazz inflected ‘Without a Counterpart’ there is something of everything going on here, not content, as many would be, to do one thing well, musically speaking, Marx has the audacity to do lots of things well, damn him. Providing most of the actual playing, except the two musicians mentioned and Kevin Wilkinson’s consummate drumming, and all of the song writing Marx certainly shows that there is a wealth of talent here. This is an album that sits comfortably between pop and a hard place, if you will forgive the pun, and I certainly look forward to re-acquainting myself with his work

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