Guest Host


Telegraph Company Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: George Agnos


One of the most interesting singer/songwriters to come out of the music scene these days is Mark Stewart (known by his stage name, Stew). What makes him interesting is his combination of satirical, off-center lyrics, with '60s-inspired, stick-in-your-head melodies. Stew is the leader of the Los Angeles-based pop band The Negro Problem (an African-American calling his band the Negro Problem gives you a clue to his weird sense of humor). For 2000, he recorded his first solo CD, Guest Host, and it's his finest effort to date.

Like many solo efforts, Guest Host is more introspective than his work with the band. The Negro Problem's sound defies description but I'll take a stab at it: just imagine, if you can, George Clinton collaborating with Burt Bacharach. Really!

Guest Host emphasizes the quieter, ballad-oriented, Bacharach side of Stew's repetoire. Most of the songs have Stew playing either acoustic guitar, piano, or organ, along with The Negro Problem's Heidi Rodewald on bass and backup vocals. Only the two uptempo songs, "She's Really A Daddy Feelgood" and the rousing closer, "C'Mon Everybody" have a full band feel to them.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

While Guest Host may have its share of sweet, tender melodies, the lyrics are often a different animal altogether. What has to be a major highlight of this collection is "Rehab" (heck, I feel this is one of the best songs of the year). This is a story about the trials and tribulations of a recovering drug addict, done in a very sing-song manner. I won't reveal the gimmick behind this song, but I'll just say that the satire is as sharp as a Ginsu knife.

The other songs on this collection are no slouches either. Stew's gift for wordplay is in top form on songs like "Bijou", a mock French song about a wealthy French family. Here, he twist words and gets unexpected rhymes that a rapper would probably kill for. "Cavity" and "She's Really A Daddy Feelgood" have their share of strange and unexpected metaphors that at their best, convey effectively what Stew is trying to say, but at other times are just showcases for his verbal assaults.

While the arrangements are mostly straightforward, there is one curiousity called "Man In A Dress", which painstakingly sounds like a 1920's song, right down to its scratchy sound as if you are playing an old 78rpm recording on a Victrola. However, this corny sounding sendup of a more innocent time is combined with some very contemporary lyrics, to the say the least.

Stew does show a serious side on Guest Host. "The Stepford Lives" effectively describes a failed marriage with sympathy and very little irony. There are other straightforward songs as well. "Essence" is a good old-fashioned midtempo love song, and on the slower, tender love song, "Ordinary Love", he conveys the same sympathy he displayed on "The Stepford Lives", but on a more personal level.

Guest Host is a consistently entertaining effort. The melodies are strong, the arrangements are simple but not sparse, making great use of Rodewald's backup vocals, and although Stew's lyrics may be off-putting at first, let them sink in and their charms may find their way to you. Overall, a great effort.

Rating: A

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© 2001 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Telegraph Company Records, and is used for informational purposes only.