Solo performer Mark T. Small had a background playing in bluegrass bands which perhaps is the source of his blazingly-fast flat-picking style. This New England Native though started gravitating to the blues, leading a band The Lonesome Strangers. Around 2000, he began to pursue a solo career, stating “I started developing the solo show because I love the freedom associated with playing alone.” He has just issued a solo recording, his new CD, “Blacks, Whites & the Blues,” on Lead Foot Music. It consists of 14 songs, many classic blues but a few from others sources.
It is an interesting and enjoyable recording with a gruffly delivered, driving solo rendition of Muddy Waters’ Trouble No More. His original Boogie Woogie Country Man, displays flat-picking chops on a rockabilly flavored performance. Emphatic guitar and a slightly overstated vocal characterize his rendition of Little Red Rooster. There is a nice solo on this. Hesitation Blues is a likable traditional blues with nice picking and slide on his National guitar. He picks up a telecaster for an energetic rendition of John Lee Hooker’s Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, while he is back to the National for Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway.”
Small’s flat-picking skills are displayed on the traditional Old Gray Mare, which is played in Norman Blake’s style. Six White Horses also has a nice country tinge with a strutting rhythm. A solo rendition of The Thrill Is Gone, has inventive guitar riffs and solos intertwined with Small’s coarse singing. A nice rendition of Fred McDowell’s A Few More Lines follows where Small’s playing emulates the late Mississippi legend. Catfish Blues has fresh guitar embellishments on the familiar Delta blues, although Small’s vocal could have been a bit looser. It is followed by a unremarkable Sweet Home Chicago, a song where he adds little to the multiple previous recordings of this.
The relaxed A Georgia Camp Meeting stands in contrast to most of the other performances and is followed by a nice ragtime instrumental, Scott Joplin’s Solace, which Small notes is the only time Joplin employed the tango rhythm. The thoughtful, genial playing provides a delightful close to this recording. While Small’s vocals might not match his imaginative and interesting guitar, he has produced an imperfect gem in Blacks, Whites & the Blues. It should appeal to fans of acoustic blues and blues-roots music.
A publicist for this release supplied me with a review copy.