Growing up in New York, Mark Newman’s musical journey has taken him around the world several times as both sideman and singer/songwriter. This ace stringsman (guitar, lap steel, mandolin, dobro) and accomplished songwriter is the type of singer whose warm and expressive voice sounds like an old friend. He put it all together on 2006’s Must Be A Pony (Danal Music, LLC). Now, he takes a quantum leap forward with the stunning Walls Of Jericho (Danal Music. LLC).
All rights reserved, 2010 (c) Mark Newman
Sharing the stage with such notables as soul legend Sam Moore, the late Willy DeVille and Sam The Sham, has given Newman the perspective to craft an individualistic sound framed in straight-from-the-hip rock’n’roll, simmering with the subtle flavors of blues, R’n’B, funk, folk and soul.
Newman has learned his lessons well. “Willy DeVille could say more in one note than most people could in 20,” he says. “I learned so much from him. He didn’t necessarily play to the audience. He let them come to him. And, boy, did they! He was in his own world on that stage. He never compromised. By way of tribute, Newman covers one of DeVille’s most beloved songs, “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl,” playing the dobro that the singer’s wife, Nina, gave to him upon his death in 2009. Longtime Willy DeVille percussionist Boris Kinberg is also on the track.
“You’d have to be an idiot not to learn from the guys I’ve had the honor of playing with,” Newman cracks. “Hey, Sam The Sham didn’t just write ‘Wooly Bully.’ He wrote some of the best blues songs I ever heard. And Sam Moore’s 75 yet sings like he’s 25. He taught me not to over-think, just open your mouth and let it go. I don’t know if I’ve even come close to doing this but what I do know is what I’ve learned from those three is invaluable. “
Walls of Jericho is chockfull of intricate guitar work, mixed up front to create a synthesis of pure Americana: folksy charm, arrogant rock, hippie nostalgia (a charming cover of 1969 San Francisco band It’s A Beautiful Day’s “White Bird” that sounds like an old folk song) and Dylanesque moments (“Fire On The Water”). “The BP thing could’ve happened to any oil company,” he explains. “I blame the government for the insanity of letting them drill in the gulf to begin with!”
In describing the album’s sound, Newman contends it’s more fleshed out, more song-oriented. To that end, his lyrical touch has been elevated into the realm of the profound and the universal. In “Taking Pictures,” he writes, “to preserve my memories because you can’t get the moments back once they’re gone.” The first verse is about his son. The second verse is about his father. “He was a real character,” Newman remembers, “right out of a Damon Runyon story: one tough truck driving man with pancreatic cancer who never even once admitted to us he was going down.”
Yes, Mark Newman has taken the lessons he’s learned from two Sams, Willy and his father, and brought them to full flower on Walls Of Jericho. His guitar playing has been compared to that of Duane Allman and Lowell George for years. When he’s not being called upon to add color and flavor to another artist’s vision—which is often—he’s been able to construct, fine-tune and finish such an accomplished piece of work as Walls Of Jericho.