Mark Heard - Appalachian Melody (re-issue)

Published Wednesday 9th March 2011
Mark Heard - Appalachian Melody (re-issue)
Mark Heard - Appalachian Melody (re-issue)

STYLE: Jesus Music
RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
OUR PRODUCT CODE: 105648-17593
LABEL: Solid Rock SRDMH003
RRP: £15.99

Reviewed by Paul Keeble

I have to admit up front to being a fan of Mark Heard, but mostly, with the exception of 'Victims Of The Age' (criminally yet to appear on CD), of his later work. Tragically he died of heart problems in 1992 at the age of 40, just when really getting established and recognised as a uniquely gifted songwriter and musician. This CD is a re-release of Mark's very first album, recorded for Larry Norman's Solid Rock label in 1979, and long-since unavailable. The opener "On The Radio" is pleasant, but smacks of trying too hard for airplay. A few unmistakable "aow-aows" and whoops early on also unsubtly indicate the presence of Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill on backing vocals. This is followed by "Castaway" and "Bless My Soul", both slower songs that sound a bit too like James Taylor for my liking. "Here I Am" starts like a Taylor pastiche as well, but picks up tempo to showcase some great bass playing from Flim Johnson and a couple of nice Jonn Linn guitar breaks. A feature of this album is the beautifully recorded guitars, particularly the acoustic guitars around which most of the arrangements are built. "Sidewalk Soliloquy" is an exception - a piano-led arrangement with some lovely chord changes - as are "Happy Cornbread Anniversary" and "The Saints", two short, fun vocal-only tracks, featuring superb close harmonies, on the former all by Mark (with Randy on "living horns"), and reminiscent of Joe Walsh's wacky "All Night Laundromat Blues". Also lots of fun is "Jonah's Song", which again features great bass and lead guitar playing and sounds like the whole band were having a great time. "From the boat to the belly/From the burp to the beach/Jonah's off and running on his way to preach." Al Perkins features on pedal steel and dobro on "The Last Time". "Two Following Jesus" and the title track are two more James Taylor rip-offs and fairly forgettable. The CD re-release is rounded off with the addition of voice and guitar demos of six of the songs, plus one that didn't make the original album. The insert includes credits and lyrics, though it is a shame that the insightful interview included in the original vinyl release has been omitted (find it at: Overall, a pretty good debut, well played, recorded and produced, but definitely better when he goes uptempo. The lyrics are mostly personal reflections on faith and people, open and honest but showing little of the quality and perceptiveness he would achieve in later songs. An intriguing insight into a developing talent which would come to full flower on Mark's last three albums, 'Dry Bones Dance', 'Second Hand' and 'Satellite Sky', which feature a distinctive style which is lacking here, plus a spiritual depth, creative consistency, and musical and lyrical brilliance that is breathtaking (don't rest until you've heard them all). And if you've already discovered Heard's creativity you may well want this historic set.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Dougie in Glasgow @ 01:55 on Apr 1 2011

Mark had released an earlier solo album (twice) before Appalachian Melody was recorded. "Mark Heard" was first released on Airborn Records in 1975 and later re-released on AB Records in 1978 as "On Turning To Dust". All of Mark's albums have now been released on CD at one time or another, including Victims Of The Age, although in most cases they are hard to find, and I suspect some of the CD pressings will have gone out of print. I wouldn't disagree that Mark's last 3 studio albums are must-haves and represent his best and most consistent work but would say that after those 3 I enjoy Appalachian Melody and 1980's Fingerprint next as I like the mix of acoustic singer-songwriter ballads and some old fashioned blues based rock and there is also a nice balance of thoughtful faith as well as questioning.

Up there with Larry's "In Another Land", Randy's "Welcome To Paradise" and Daniel Amos's "Horrendous Disc" is the great albums which came out on Solid Rock Records - the remaster and repackaging has been nicely done and since Larry's passing Solid Rock have dropped the lengthy CD booklets with the old interviews and long linear notes and just keep to the original artwork, credits and lyrics.

Posted by Matt in Wales @ 10:47 on Feb 18 2011

There is a lot to be said for this sadly maligned style of Jesus Music these days. It is dismissed as outdated and tired. But for me this was certainly one of Mark's most wonderful song writing ventures. He was young, maybe not quite as hard hitting as with his final trio of albums, but the honesty in his heart and voice and the beautiful tunes here cannot be overlooked, or at least they shouldnt be.

Co produced by the late great Larry Norman, this album has some of Mark's most wonderful tunes ever. The best songs here are the whimsical but pertinent Jonah's Song, the simple encouragement of Castaway and there is the maturer, deep thinking Mark I know and love in Appalachian Melody and Sidewalk Soliloquoy. There are also wickedly funny little interludes, such as Happy Cornbread Anniversary. These all add up to make this a very strong album indeed. This may have been Mark's second full album, but its like he had been going for years. This album is crisp and delightful. It is so good to finally have it on CD, it took Solid Rock records long enough!

And the extra original demos on the end of this album are truly a surprise. This stripped back style is really powerful and effective, and gladly, it isnt lost in translation onto the whole album! What brilliance!

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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