'Diggin' In The Dirt'
Mark Newman plays a mean slide guitar, sings his heart out and writes the kind of songs that resonate with universal longing. His Must Be A Pony debut (Danal Music), features 13 originals by Newman and some of his friends (including Sam The Sham) plus a vaguely disquieting yet profoundly effective cover version of Barry and Robin Gibb’s 1967 hit “New York Mining Disaster 1941.”
With a shifting cast of musicians — including Steve Holley (ex-Wings) on percussion and Anton Fig (David Letterman Band) on drums — Newman creates musical environments that surround his poetic lyrics in tasty soundscape vistas that accentuate but never intimidate his message, mainly that no matter how cynical the adult in one gets, the answer lies in attempting to rediscover the unbridled optimism of childhood.
Newman’s the ultimate stringmaster (he picks guitar, lap steel mandolin and dobro) and his sense of soul is innate (so much so that R’n’B legend Sam Moore has him in his band).
Ultimately, though, its Newman’s world-weary late-night whiskey-soaked voice (of experience) that carries the day on Must Be A Pony. Through it all, he maintains his lyrical hope in an against-all-odds kind of world. And, as we said, he sure plays a mean slide guitar!
Knowing that you grew up in New York, I was wondering if you still live there and after five long years since 9/11, what you now see there in the form of rebuilding and spiritual regrowth "Yes, I still live in NY. I think any catastrophe brings the survivors closer. We're faced with the realization that we all bleed the same color red and we want to come to the aid of others, looking to rebuild lives even before building structures. As horrible as 9/11 was, I want to believe we're all stronger as a community for it."
And just where does one inherit such a tagline as a 'Bleecker Street journeyman'? How many bars played and years done doing so does one have to endure before such a title is bestowed upon them? "There are no rules here, no specific number of gigs. It could be months but more likely, years. Most NY musicians in original projects "cut their teeth" in Bleecker St. (and the rest of Greenwich Village) clubs going back to the 60s. You play out to get tighter, try new material and showcase until you play bigger venues. Many acts have come back to do an occasional gig there."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying the new CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "A combination of Little Feat, The Allman Bros., John Hiatt. I realize it's arrogant to compare oneself to such great artists, but that's the genre."
Your album title 'Must Be A Pony' is a very interesting choice, but perhaps it originates from a more personal standpoint for you? "Someone told me a story about a kid sitting in a room surrounded by fecal matter (shit). His mother walks in the room and finds him digging furiously. She scream "what are you doing?" His reply: "With all this shit, there must be a pony here somewhere." That's optimism!"
"The song is about the adult trying to find that childlike optimism."
If there was one track on this new album that truly encapsulated Mark Newman at his current musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "'Dead Man's Shoes'."
At a time when the music industry is seemingly taking steps back from high-end technology and big noise productions, was it a conscious decision for you to tone it down and just simply storytell on this new self-produced album, perhaps? "Yes. I've never been a fan of the high tech approach to music, especially if you're trying to tell a story. It feels less personal."
Please tell us more about your choice of recording the Bee Gee's classic 'New York Mining Disaster 1941' ... and what the song means to you today "I was playing an acoustic gig with a friend right after 9/11. We played "NY Mining Disaster, 1941" in the original Bee Gees arrangement. Someone sarcastically yelled out, "great choice". I decided to record it the next day. My co-producer, Keith Lentin, liked the idea but wanted to change the arrangement. The song goes through my head every time there's a disaster anywhere in the world and I see photos of families searching through the remains for loved ones."
Come on now, if it hadn't been a Pony, what animal would it have been?! "It would have to be an animal that a kid would be excited about; maybe a golden retriever. Lions and tigers and bears (oh, my) are all too dangerous. A porcupine would be out of the question!"
If you could cover any '80s (possibly cheesy!) pop song, which one would it be ... and why?! "'Silent Running' by Mike and the Mechanics. The lyrics are about self preservation. Paul Carrack's vocal gives me chills. I'd probably want to emulate a lot of the synth lines with slide guitar."
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "Yes. They seem to like hanging out in large groups, much like most musicians I know but they dress better!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Mark's new CD, and you think you know all there is to know about the man, just answer this easy question: His song 'Must Be A Pony' features guest
musicians Steve Holley and which other notable musician?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before December 1st with your answer and the subject title 'CONTEST: MARK NEWMAN SIGNED CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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