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: www.markheard.net). 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.
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