Guitarist Mark T. Small announces a January 28, 2014 release date for his fourth CD, Smokin’ Blues, on the Lead Foot Music label imprint. The even-dozen tracks on Smokin’ Blues solidify the Massachusetts-based Small’s place as an emerging master of the guitar, ranging from Delta blues and Chicago styles, to the intricate flatpicking schooled from his early days in “Newgrass” bands. The 12 songs on the new CD reflect music originally performed by such early blues legends as Blind Boy Fuller, Tampa Red, Charley Patton and Reverend Gary Davis to post-war icons John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and even a Stax/Memphis soul vibe with the inclusion of a Rufus Thomas tune.
“Smokin’ Blues is a sampler of the guitar grooves that make up my solo show,” says Mark T. Small. “My main objective for this CD was to produce a recording that sounds and feels like I am playing in a small room with the listener. The only effect that was added, other than the ‘radio tone’ on the song, ‘Daddy Was a Jockey,’ was a touch of reverb to further simulate listening in a small room.
“I am a live player, not a studio guy. My friend and mentor Shor’ty Billups, who is a guest on this CD, always taught me to let the audience do the editing of my songs. By paying attention to the crowd, I can tell if my solos or songs are too long or if the groove is not quite right. I am always watching to see who is tapping their feet in the back of the room and am paying close attention to which grooves get people moving.”
Small enlists the aid of some serious guitar “weapons” on Smokin’ Blues to achieve the desired effects. “I have tried to include a number of different guitar styles and techniques on this CD,” he adds. “At gigs, I use a Martin flattop and a National resophonic guitar to play about six different guitar styles. I try to mix things up by maybe starting with a fingerpicking piano-like style, then switching to a flatpick for some Chicago style blues, and then I might use my National guitar to create a tonal shift. When the grooves are thumpin’ for a while, I may bring the set in a different direction by flatpicking something like ‘Railroad Blues’ in a bluegrass style, throw in a fiddle tune and then maybe play a couple of rag time instrumentals.”
Mark includes two instrumentals on the new album that truly showcase his deft guitar work: Reverend Gary Davis’ “Buck Rag,” and the album’s closer, “America Medley.” On the former, he plays the bass, melody and harmony lines all at once, using the thumb, index and middle fingers on his right hand, effectively emulating the amazing work Davis did on the original. The “America Medley” features one of his own arrangements in a fingerpicking style similar to that of Chet Atkins and Merle Travis.
Mark T. Small has been playing music since his early teens, when he began listening to Old Time Music. He learned to play fiddle tunes on the guitar in the styles of Doc Watson and Norman Blake and also learned to play the Dobro. In 1981, this music took Mark to Indiana to play and record with a five-piece “Newgrass Band” called The Brown County Band. At the same time, he was playing harmonica and listening to Junior Wells and Charlie Musselwhite.
After returning to the East Coast, Mark dug deeper into the blues, playing more electric guitar. When he was playing progressive Newgrass, his style had the influence of the blues. Now delving into the blues, his playing has the razors edge and speed that was developed from years of flat-picking. This combination of the lightning fast bluegrass style and his soulful blues playing are the key components of Mark’s sound today.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Mark started his own Chicago-style blues band that ranged anywhere from three to ten pieces on a given night and was a staple on the New England club circuit for over a dozen years. Many of the gigs were played as a “power trio” with Mark singing and filling the band out with scorching electric blues guitar. Other times, the band included a keyboard or sax player and/or the addition of the Newport Navy Band Horn Section.
In 2000, Mark began to gravitate back to his acoustic roots and the studio became his classroom. After making a decision to pursue a solo career, Mark took all of the lessons that he had learned over the last 25 years and constructed an act that was as hard- hitting as the band, but all in a one-man show. As such, he’s opened for Johnny Winter, Robert Cray, James Cotton and others.
Today, his show includes many traditional Delta blues numbers with a Chicago blues slant that transforms each tune into a “tour de force.” Included are the blazing flat-picking techniques that grabbed audiences in Mark’s bluegrass days, the hot slide guitar playing that creates a mood and timbre change in each set and the showmanship that was developed from his years of experience.
“On Smokin’ Blues I have also tried to match the intensity of playing in a club setting, Mark states. “In these settings I take the tunes that I love, interpret them and do everything possible to make that connection with the audience.”
For more information, visit www.marktsmall.com.
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