Congratulations to Nashville-based guitarist/songwriter, Mark Robinson for a truly entertaining, engaging and very well produced release. “Have Axe – Will Groove” provides a collection of songs which will please any listener. I was continually surprised as toward the variety of styles and hidden gems within this set. Entertaining, engaging are words that could easily summarize this CD. You will have to look elsewhere if you are expecting a boring one-trick pony.
Drive Real Fast kicks off the album with a lively, raw and rowdy boogie road song stylistically hinting of Watermelon Slim. Robinson mentions that the song came to him quickly and intends to capture “the distinctively American longing for freedom and escape.” The lyrics paint a rebellious scene of chucking it all, tossing the cellphone (and I imagine the responsibilities and hassles associated with it) out the window of the car window and hitting the highway. Mark notes that this is the attitudinal blueprint for the album.
Baby’s Gone to Memphis continues the rat-rod pleasing vibe while showcasing diving tremolo dives and fret runs sounding like they are jumping off of a big arch-top hollow body supported by a solid bass line foundation (Daniel Seymour). A nice retro piece.
Angel of Mercy is a change of tempo which includes great lyrics, guitar riffs and structure worthy of an undiscovered Otis Redding tune. The title is shared with other song writers/performers such as Albert King ("Blues At Sunset"-1993, Stax Records), Al Stewart (Famous Last Words), Dire Straits (Communiqué) but is distinctively and rightfully its own. This is a well done and soulful personal favorite.
Robinson includes a Texas Swing/Jump style romp featuring Ben Graves on saxophone
Broke Down changes the mood with great fast moving and biting electric slide played in the Johnny Winter style. The killer harmonica playing of TJ Klay helps to compliment and complete the mood. This cut had me hooked and bouncing the beat and then left me smiling and (dare I say) broke down by the side of the road by its tight and sudden conclusion.
Robinson is not to be mistaken for a Johnny-come-lately. This player has an extensive background and apprenticeship in the clubs of Chicago, Nashville playing with top name players and technical/production professionals. Pull My Coat may be as much of a veiled reference to a blues man’s journey and struggle to be hip and find out what’s going on as it is to woman.
Lifetime Prescription harkens to a Gary Moore style haunting and deeply reflective slow blues tale supported by tasteful application of backup singers (Vickie Carrico/Jonell Mosseur) with space provided for a wonderful bridge solo. The strut and bump of the New Orleans funk resonates throughout the fun tune Rhythm Doctor, co-written with Dave Duncan, (in one hour) gives the listener another pleasant wake up poke. The ghosts of Joe Tex and James Brown are indicated amongst terrific guitar playing, Michael Webb on Hammond organ and harmonica talents of Rogue Ray LaMontagne.
The Doc Pomus written Lonely Avenue is covered and is one cut where Robinson’s guitar work is allowed to stretch out a little more than elsewhere in this collection. Mark mentions that he may not be the most technically perfect player but plays from the heart. He proves himself soulful and worthy of heart, soul and ability both in vocal and playing here. Good job, indeed!
Top shelf and professional from performance, packaging to solid A&R, thanks to Sue Havlish. Mark Robinson Voted 'Best Roots/Americana Guitar Player' in The Alternate Root's 2nd Annual Readers' Choice Awards! I look forward to more from Mark Robinson. This is a recommended buy.