These blue color troubadours entertain nightly (if they’re lucky) and sometimes play for years before getting that break. Others never get that break and end up just playing for love and pocket change as more and more places opt for a DJ playing a computer on shuffle.
I spent many of my formative years hanging out in places like that learning what makes a crowd tick and finding ways to connect with them. It was like getting a university degree before I even hit college. Those times were wild and wonderful, but sometimes just a little too dangerous.
When I hear a good strong bar band putting out a record, I get a little goosebumpy hoping that I’m about to discover something special. And if I’m writing about it here, you know I found something that I really liked.
Mark Camerson has just released an album entitled Playing Rough, an even dozen songs that he recorded with some strong musicians. Cameron wrote every song on the album (not an easy feat – you ever try to write twelve good songs, trust me it’s not easy). Cameron plays the guitar on all the songs, and takes the lead on vocals. He’s joined by Sherri Cameron on flute; Bill Keyes on harmonica and vocals; Scott Lundberg on bass and vocals; and Dan Schroeder on drums.
They are joined by some special guests including Sara Renner and Tonia Hughes providing some soulful singing; Scott Sansby playing some washboard and bones; Jason Craft playing the Wurlitzer piano and Hammond organ; and Greg Schutte and Nick Salisbury are credited with Additional performances.
When I find out what that is, I will let you know.
Cameron starts off the album with a little honkytonk flavor, Down In The House, a quick rocking number that is designed to get the audience out of their chairs and onto the dance floor. Can’t go wrong with this infectious number. Keyes’ harps get a good workout.
After that rousing number, the band gets a little funky with Somewhere Down The Line. The addition of some serious soul added by singers Renner and Hughes really give the song its edge. It mixes some good country with that STAX sound to create something out of the ordinary.
Things slow down a little with the gospel tinged Almost. Cameron’s voice is strong and the organ that Craft plays takes the band in a slightly different direction. The lyrics are clever and the harmonies work well on the song.
The band gets a little more country flavor in the music with Rusty Old Model T. This is another cool song with some good lyrics and introduces a new sound to the band. I like this one a lot.
Everything slows down a little with Bluesman’s Lullaby, a lovely song that is an homage to the great blues performers of the past. And to those that are keeping the traditions alive today. There is a special bond from one generation to the next, and this is a love letter to all those who have or are currently playing the blues. Beautiful song.
Cameron keeps the tempo slow, but builds it quickly on Morning After, with Schroeder’s drums giving a solid beat and Keyes’ harp punctuating the song. The guitar break is decent and I could see this song being a crowd favorite.
Cameron and the band get a little swampy on Done Me Wrong, with the use of the steel guitar. It really catches your ear as it is different from so much of the rest of the album. The harp combines beautifully with the steel guitar to create a great sound.
The band turns up the funk factor with Together. It’s a decent song with a slight edge to it – the kind that promises a little danger just around the corner if you’re not careful. Great guitar break and I like the lyrics very much.
The next song, Hammered By The Blues, is decidedly old school with an early Chess Records flavor to it. I could easily picture some of the greats tackling this tune. It’s in Muddy’s wheelhouse, and B.B. King’s as well. Very nice feel and I would love to see this one get some airplay.
The title track, Playing Rough, has a nice crispy edge to it and I have a feeling that this is one of those tunes that completely rocks the house. The vocals have really grown on me over the course of the album and the band has a few surprises up their collective sleeves. It really makes me want to check them out live somewhere.
Next up is a song with a prison work release feel to it. Close My Eyes, uses chains rattling and foot stops to create the rhythm for the song. I had the feel that I was listening to an Alan Lomax field recording. Definitely had some nice harmony in the song.
After that unusual tune, the band winds up the album with Borrowed Time, a late night smoky bar number. The sound is stripped down to its barest essentials (minus the chains and foot stomps) and Sherri Cameron’s flute adds a nice jazzy touch to the song. It’s very sweet and you can feel it tugging at your heart.
I wasn’t familiar with Cameron at all, which I am reluctant to admit, but it’s the truth. However, now that he has appeared on my radar, I am eager to hear more from him. Maybe he’ll tour or make some appearances at a festival that I will be lucky enough to see.
If you’re interested in finding more about this band, and I hope you are, make sure to take a little time to explore their work further at http://www.markcameronmusic.net/.