Mark Humphreys,
Songs at the Moon
(Trough Records, 1999)

If you enjoy an evening at a coffeehouse or house concert listening to acoustic music, you will enjoy this CD. And you don't even have to leave home! Songs at the Moon is a live album complete with between-song patter, applause, hoots and hollers. The producers wisely used a mix that preserves the live ambiance of a small intimate venue.

Mark Humphreys has three studio albums to his credit preceding Songs at the Moon. He lives in the Los Angeles, Calif., area but spends much of his time on the road. The songs on this album have not been previously recorded but have remained in Mark's touring repertoire.

And well they should have. As Mark relates early in the show, most of the compositions were inspired by women he has loved and lost over the years. However, there is no whining here, not even any blame -- just the growth and insight of a man's heart. And though that heart is worn visibly on the songwriter's sleeve, he does not fall over much into sentimentality.

I didn't find an unlikable song anywhere in the fourteen tracks but several stand out as high points. "Amazing Days" is an anthem of hope that declares love is true, culminating in a chorus that makes me want to burst into song myself every time I hear it. "And there's nothing to say, no need for goodbyes / This time nobody leaves and nobody cries / Carry on, carry on," Mark sings with resilience and conviction, though she did leave at some point. "The Easiest Thing" with chord progressions reminiscent of early Beatles material, paints a picture: a man and a woman in an afternoon room hanging on for a few more hours to what they know is over.

"After All" could have been a column of advice to the lovelorn but for its honesty and genuine cheerfulness as Mark decides, "In the time it takes to worry / I could find a way to smile." The stunner is "We Turn," a well-crafted waltz demonstrating this man's maturing as a songwriter and a person. "And we turn and we glance / For we yearn for the dance / It's so near, so we hear / So we turn." The closing "Rainbow" takes the mood up another notch and you are left feeling that all is possible and wanting to play the album again.

This is not a slick recording. The band -- two acoustic guitars, piano, bass, drums and a touch of electric guitar -- sounds real, alive and human. Mark sings with rich strength broken every now and then by a tug from somewhere. The CD booklet, covered with pictures of the performance and the band, completes the package. Truly a live album.

[ by Judy Krueger ]

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