For nearly thirty years now, Paul Mark’s life has revolved around music, and in his new album with the Van Dorens, Gravity, his experiences on the road and in the studio are compressed into twelve tracks that don’t require a Ph.D. in life and living to relate to their prose. “You Can Take It with You,” “Gravity is Failing” and “Friend Gone Astray” don’t try to tell us about our own lives so much as they illustrate scenes from the daily existence that befalls cities and rural roadhouses just the same. There’s something to learn about the American experience here, and particularly the relationship that the great singer/songwriter Paul Mark has developed with it since first discovering its many splendors so many years ago.
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The swagger of the instrumentation in the aforementioned “Friend Gone Astray,” “I Spin When You Grin,” “Waiting Round for You” and bitter “Con Man VIP” is met with a fierce angst from the lyricism that keeps us on our toes more than it lets us get comfortable – only in the best way possible. In some ways, this constant reinforcement of compositional conflict in Gravity is part of what helps the record to capture the spirit of unfiltered humanity as brilliantly as it does. Polished poetry has its place in the pop music lexicon, but for those of us who need something a little more unkempt and honest, there’s no getting around how spot-on the performances Paul Mark gives here can be (especially when you’re in the same mood he is).
I would have liked the tracklist to start with “December at the P.O.” and “Heart Full of Soul” rather than wrapping up the album with their melodies, but I suppose I can understand the kind of concept that Mark was trying to pull off by doing the opposite. The material here is, for lack of a better term, exceptionally diverse, and by bringing us into the conclusion of the record with a slightly softer tone than we start with, it does help to dampen some of the tension that still exists in the shadows of “Heart Full of Soul” (my current frontrunner for best cover of 2020, I should note). There’s a method to Paul Mark’s madness, and whether we get it or not, it’s yielding some killer songcraft this year.
Fans of unfanciful piano ballads and emotionally-charged but unabashedly bruising folk/rock from the gutter should not miss out on Paul Mark & the Van Dorens’ Gravity this year, as it puts all of its notes in the right spaces to please. Sometimes grim, other times introspective, but constantly focused on expressiveness even when it doesn’t make us feel comforted, Gravity is as much an extension of Paul Mark as his backing band is, and though there are a lot of records in his collective catalogue that you should be listening to (if you haven’t already), this is a staple that shouldn’t go unnoticed or unacknowledged by any means. It’s tough to put down if you love provocative music, and that’s putting it quite mildly.