Artist: Mark Edgar Stuart
Album: Trinity My Dear
Our Verdict: 8/10
Release date: Out now
Find it at: Madjack Records
Review by: Graeme Blackwell
“An album of quiet power… life, love and disappointment have never sounded so wonderful as this.”
There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the world of American music. It’s a place where I like to think John Prine, Randy Newman and Vic Chesnutt meet and hang out, swapping road stories and strumming guitars whilst writing the kind of poetry that the rest of us can only dream about. And whilst they’re sipping a beer and shooting the breeze, their eyes and ears occasionally touch upon the music of new artists. I can see the three of them now, watching the career of Mark Edgar Stuart, turning to each other without saying a word and silently nodding their approval.
Stuart’s second long-player, Trinity My Dear is a delightful showcase for the man’s skilled musicianship, learned over a number of years as a member of many a Memphis band. In 2010, diagnosed with lymphoma at just 36 and swiftly followed by the sudden passing of his father, Stuart had the time and impetus to turn his hand to songwriting itself and the development of his own voice. Debut album Blues For Lou, ostensibly a tribute to his late Dad, became a critical success.
Trinity My Dear widens the scope of Stuart’s subject matter then, but not too far. Essentially a treatise on the up, down and in-between of long term relationships, the album still feels very much like a personal and intimate collection (“A lot of it deals with some stuff me and my wife were going through at the time,” says Stuart.) But, like the best writing, it also has a timeless, universal quality that makes it completely accessible.
As if to make the point that all of us will experience the dark and the light during the course of our many and varied relationships, opening cut “Ms.America” provides an exquisite juxtaposition of gloom-laden, foreboding lyric (“I see a lot of bad things coming”), and a whimsical oom-pah of a jug-band-esque arrangement, the narrator eventually lamenting: “Ms. America, I’ll never make enough hard money for a hooker like you.” It’s a wry, heartfelt song, full of insight, observation and pathos.
“Killing Spree” maintains the exceptionally high standard. It’s a rich production featuring strummed guitar and breezy organ, and is accompanied by a bewitching melody. The mood is expertly offset by a bruised lyric however, our defeated narrator begging another to quit their destructive behaviour and “give up your killing spree.” If your heart is looking for music that sits somewhere between the merry and the melancholy, then it has just found its gem.
“The most uncomfortable part becoming a singer songwriter was the singing part,” Mark recently told Memphis’ The Commercial Appeal. “I had a lot of downtime while I was recovering, and had this little Zoom recorder. I would just sit there and sing into that recorder until my voice didn’t annoy me anymore.” Every artist will immediately point out the faults and failings that they can see in their own work, but listening to the likes of “Wasted” or “We Were In Bloom” here, it’s mystifying to hear that initial hesitation. Stuart’s voice has a grit and grist that lends these tales an authenticity, and that perfectly complements the new textures introduced in these songs of lap steel and lead guitar lines redolent of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” era.
The voice locks like tongue-and-groove into the funky-sounding “Myra Gale” too, a recounting of Jerry Lee Lewis’ marriage to his young cousin and the resulting furor. The song is both sad and deeply, darkly humorous. It also brings in to stark relief one of the recurring themes of Trinity My Dear; that of wounded men, their fear, and the way they navigate, run from or destroy the root of their misery. “Napoleon Blues” may literally be about a relationship turned sour for example, but it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to hear the wounded pride of a man feeling small of stature, too.
Mark Edgar Stuart need not worry about a Napoleon Complex. Trinity My Dear is far from a small record needing to be overly aggressive to boost its standing. Quite the opposite in fact. In its exquisitely observed detail, spritely shuffles and heart-rending melodies, this album holds a quiet, seductive power.
Stuart said recently that the Trinity explored here was that of life, love and disappointment. Never has it sounded quite so wonderful as this.
Find out more at Mark Edgar Stuart’s official Facebook page.
Check out album track “I Was So Crazy (To Go Crazy On You)” below: