Wednesday, August 06, 2008

CD REVIEW: Mark Huff's "Gravity"

Label: Exodus Records

“Smokin cigarette butts from a dirty ashtray.” Builds a mood right away, doesn’t it? Great songwriters who can pull off lines such as this usually have no trouble establishing mood not only in their songs, but also sometimes throughout entire albums. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it a concept album, Mark Huff’s Gravity is one of most interesting “love” albums I have heard in some time. Even though most of its songs deal with heartbreak, by giving its tunes a lyrical and musical hard, bar room bluesy edge, Huff delivers a record that never becomes too sappy… even for the tough guys. What is that you ask? A heartbreak album… for men? Hard to believe, but it’s true!

The music of Gravity is a big reason that the record is so successful. Huff’s vocals on the album resemble Ryan Adams’ at his smokiest. The music reminds listeners of Adams as well. This should be expected considering Huff enlisted musicians who have worked with Adams (Brad Pemberton on drums and Bucky Baxter on guitar) to help him record the album. Dan Baird, from Georgia Satellites fame, also lends his musical chops on bass to help complete the album’s outstanding sound.

It is difficult to label that sound though. With the exception of the wonderful “Wrong or Right”, the country influence that marks Ryan Adams’ work is largely missing from Huff’s Gravity. However, the record still seems to feel Southern-flavored, all while having the effective pop-sensibility of Matchbox Twenty, just with more guitar and attitude. Whiskey and Cigarette Pop perhaps? It really doesn’t matter how one describes it though because it works. Musically strong from start to finish, Huff’s album is a sonic treat for fans of all rock and country sub-genres.

Perhaps the greatest highlight of the Gravity experience is its lyrical content. It does not take long for listeners to realize that Mark Huff is a very able songwriter, as the album features an extremely strong first half. The opener, “Easy to Love You,” is a great pop number about a man struggling to love his ideal woman. Following are two great rock and roll blues songs, “In the Dark” and the superior “Digging a Hole.” The latter reminds listeners of a Mark Lanegan tune and features a wonderful central metaphor that will captivate any heartbroken soul. The excellence continues through the next three tracks. The title track is the kind of song that Rob Thomas hasn’t written in years, the ghostly “Talkin Insomnia Blues” takes listeners back to Laneganville, and “Sleep it Away” is a song to which anyone can relate. Who hasn’t wanted to sleep away a bad day… or week? Huff realizes this as a songwriter, and captures the feeling perfectly in words. While there is some dropoff in the second half of the record, there really is only one track (“Killing Me Slowly”) that could be considered filler. The remaining tracks are still solid listens, and two of them, the previously mentioned “Wrong or Right” and the lyrical masterpiece that is the tearjerker “Something That I Broke,” are outstanding.

The biggest question that arises about the album is why it took so long to release it. His previous album released almost a decade ago, we can only hope that we won’t have a similar wait before Huff graces us with his brand of “Whiskey and Cigarette Pop” again. However, besting this effort will not likely prove to be an easy task for him. Like the woman Mark Huff discusses in the opener, it truly is easy to love Gravity… and listeners don’t even have to “try like hell” to do it!

No comments: