Mark J. Bradlyn,
Lighthouse Keeper
(Gentle Wednesday, 2000)

When I received a copy of Lighthouse Keeper for review, I had no idea what to expect. I'd never heard mention of this singer-songwriter before. Well, as it turns out, I was quite pleased with my new acquisition. This is an album of folk music well worth a listen.

Bradlyn, residing in California, has been playing music for over 30 years. This recording is a showcase for his vocal, guitar and songwriting skills, and he is ably joined by several guest musicians. Rick Walker provides drums and percussion, Stan Popin plays double bass, Matt Bohm is on stand-up and electric bass, Dennis English plays the fiddle, and Kris Yenney the cello. Mary McCaslin (vocals), Chuck McCabe (guitar, vocal) and Ilan Heer (guitar) also team up with Bradlyn for a few tracks.

This album has a lot going for it. Generally a mellow sort of sound, Bradlyn's music contains a good mix of instruments, and the arrangements flow nicely. Fiddle and guitar harmonies can often be found, and the percussion keeps things moving. These things add to the general "togetherness" one can sense on each track. Bradlyn's vocals are on the quiet side, and emit a natural, thoughtful sound -- perfect for his lyrics, which the listener can easily identify with.

I would have to say that one of the things that makes this album so good is Bradlyn's guitar playing. Like his vocals, his guitar is gentle. He has a pleasant picking style that has a rather calming effect, and the accompanying melodies have a memorable, sing-along kind of sound.

Bradlyn's style is unique, and I would be hard pressed to really categorize it (which isn't something I like to do, anyways). "Bone Demon" seems to have some blues and country influence, and features some interesting guitar rhythms, soulful singing and great fiddling. In fact, great fiddling can be found on a number of tracks, notably "Burnt to the Ground," "Skinny Mama" and "Lighthouse Keeper."

"Words I've Heard Before" is a song that I would call an "old time porch song," or something that I imagine folks to listen to while sitting on a porch swing and drinking cold lemonade on a hot day. "Tender Young Shoot" is a rather poignant slower song mourning the plight of young homeless people. I like the percussion in this one and it has a good instrumental blend.

The liner notes accompanying the CD are worth mention here, too. I just like the way they're written. Most often, when lyrics are included in albums, they appear as poetry, all neatly arranged in lines and verses. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I like the way Bradlyn's lyrics are arranged. Instead of the usual, they are written as prose, as if he just happened to jot down some thoughts, and I got to read them. I like this approach, as it seems more personal, and probably more closely reflects the songwriting process.

This recording, then, is a good one in my books. It has worthwhile songs -- both because they contain thought-provoking material and because of the way in which the material is presented. Melodious and soothing guitar melodies blend with pleasant instrumental accompaniment and Bradlyn's soft, natural voice. The result is a pleasing, comfortable mix of songs which will appeal to those seeking folk music which is easy to listen to.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 28 July 2001

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