Mark McKay

Toadfish Records, 2004

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


There is so much interesting music in circulation these days that indie acts tend to get one shot with me. I've rarely gone back and reviewed an independent artist a second time, and even more rarely done it within six months of my first review of their work.

Mark McKay earned that distinction the old-fashioned way -- he writes terrific songs and sings them like he means it. The music is deceptively simple -- mostly guitar-bass-drums roots-rock -- but the songs are fiercely intelligent little gems, full of purpose, longing and a certain ragged majesty.

An early highlight is "Sweet Temptation," a mid-tempo rocker burnished with Steve Earle guitars, Bruce Springsteen harmonica and a laconic Neil Young vocal. "Someday is today / The day after never," sings McKay as he narrates the tale of a man in jail and the woman who waits for him. It's hard to know what's right and what's wrong, he suggests in one typically acute observation, "In a time when every hero / Just wants to get paid."my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

McKay's "Nashville," previously heard in both acoustic and electric live renditions on McKay's Live At The Memory Hotel disc, receives on its studio recording the stately, iconic tempo that its mysteriously moving lyric deserves. Companion piece "Stay Around" is a terrific rocker, lit up by McKay's distorted guitar leads.

"Full Moon Eyes" looms next with its great intro -- "With a head full of teenage oxygen / And a pocket full of cash / You ain't the first one to fall into his eyes / Baby you just might be the last" -- leading into a urban showdown that's one part "Jungleland" and two parts Crazy Horse. "Ready For The Show" is a similarly memorable number, featuring breathy Wilco country-rock vocals over a loping beat decorated with quirky, discordant guitar solos. "You know the danger in a simple kiss," notes McKay before the song shambles across the finish line.

On the rock side of things, "Mercedes" is a slide-guitar stomper of a tune, deconstructing suburban spiritual decay to the beat of a throbbing shotgun riff. "U-Eye" takes longer to ignite, but builds to a big payoff as McKay and guitarist/producer Eric "Roscoe" Ambel (Steve Earle) power through the closing solos. Earle, along with Springsteen, Cash and Young, are McKay's most obvious inspirations -- oh, and Lucinda Williams, whose "Side Of The Road" is covered here. The end product, though, is all McKay.

"You say I'm your overpass / Traffic gliding through the night / The cars are gone and you hear the rain / Drizzlin' down on your heart of glass" goes the gorgeous mid-song breakdown of Shimmer's brilliant opener "Rain (Like A Hallelujah)." Here, as they do throughout this terrific album, McKay's words and music work like fine brushes on the canvas of your mind. As image and emotion melt into one, you know you're in the hands of a true artist. McKay's earlier work suggested greatness; Shimmer seals the deal.

[Editor's note: Shimmer can be purchased through]

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2004 Jason Warburg 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 Toadfish Records, and is used for informational purposes only.