East Side Slim
Mark DuFresne - Been Watchin' You
Mark DuFresne – Been Watchin' You – Fat Tones Records, 2009
Mark DuFresne is a triple threat talent, one who earned much wider notoriety upon joining ranks with Roomful of Blues in the mid-2000s. What do I refer to when stating triple threat? Mr. DuFresne has been voted best vocalist, songwriter and harmonica player more than any other artist by the Washington (Washington State) Blues Society. Mark is an innovative harp player (especially on the big chromatics), a phenomenal singer and a gifted, insightful songwriter and lyricist.
Mark was born in KC, Missouri a few years back, and didn't take up the harmonica until into college. Once he started playing blues harp he was hooked, spending a number of somewhat nomadic years playing and living in different parts of the U.S, eventually settling in Seattle around 1981. If considered a late bloomer on his instrument of choice, consider that he didn't start singing professionally until he was 27 years old!
The next 15 years or so were devoted to a period of serious musical wood shedding, concentrating more on song craft around 1993. This CD, Been Watchin' You, is the 4th in his own name, releasing 3 of them prior to his 4 ½ year tenure fronting Roomful of Blues. Mark began singing and playing harp as a member of Roomful in 2002, parting with Roomful and returning to Seattle in 2006. While a member of Roomful of Blues, the group released 2 CDs on Alligator Records, received a Grammy nomination and won a W.C. Handy award for Best Band. While definitely a group effort, Mark's abilities contributed heavily toward that success. --thank you to Mark DuFresne's website, and to The Jazzdog website, for information used above.
The Songs: (songs by Mark DuFresne & Jack Lavin unless otherwise specified)
--This rockabilly inspired rave-up kicks the CD off in fine style. Boogie piano is featured (not sure of the player, as the musicians are not broken out by songs performed on in the liner notes), and Mark works his way through a good part of his vocal range in one song, including a very cool slide from high, smooth tenor to rough, raw grit during the choruses. For an added kick, the song fades out as a killer Scotty Moore-styled guitar solo plays out.
2. Thirty-Three Ways
--This one is a more moody piece, featuring some beautiful harmonica work, righteous rhythm work and talk-sing vocals from Mark. The clever, humorous lyrics (humorous if you're not on this lady's bad side) detail what can happen to men who cross her – "33 ways to ice me, 33 ways to make me go away, 33 ways to slice me…" you get the picture!
3. Fly On The Wall
--This is a steady shuffler with a bit of an old-time New Orleans R&B feel, with some baritone sax thrown in for good measure. The moral of this clever tale – you better watch who you talk smack to, as it's a small world out there; you never know who's listening – or who knows who!
4. Nature Will Eat You
--What a great song! This is definitely a feature piece of the CD, primarily due to the lyrical content and delivery (Mark's harp work isn't too shabby, either.) Tongue in cheek…maybe, but with more than a bit of truth thrown in for good measure. Additionally, the more I listen to this CD the more apparent the high quality of the piano playing becomes – so kudos to Mike Kalanj and Willie MacCalder!
5. The Devil Will Get His Due
--This is a fiery rockin' blues with a great sound and phenomenal harp playing from Mark, but don't let that make you miss the real message contained here. The devil will put those temptations out there, and there's One sure way to avoid them; you gotta pay attention to that Man upstairs – keep those receptors open! This tune contains some of the most inventive paraphrasing of the 10 Commandments I've heard.
6. Salt Mines
--This mid-tempo tune has a back porch feel, with Mark playing acoustic harp while the rhythm section is working upright bass and brushed drums.
7. Bull Jive – (Lavin & DuFresne)
--This track is heavier, with an angered feel, featuring a stronger guitar sound and coarsened vocal from Mark. This song prominently features Mark's harmonica playing (always a good thing) and electric piano (a Rhodes possibly?)
8. Laughed More Than We Cried
--In a nice bit of sequencing, we have a beautiful slow blues here, one that allows Mark to truly show off his vocal chops. If you haven't heard of Mark DuFresne before reading this review, by know you are aware that this man is one of the best singers out there, period.
9. Little Lady
--This is an instrumental cut, the only one on the album by the way, and the tune allows Mark to show off his instrumental chops. He's a heck of a harp player, folks!
10. Just Enough
--Very nice! A horn-driven up-tempo track, very punchy and containing more of Mark's trademark clever lyrics and fine vocalizing.
11. Sinners Walk The Line
--There is definitely a spiritual bent to many of the songs on this album, with this one being one of the most obvious of the bunch. Mark imbues this tune with an upbeat countrified feel, reminiscent of old Carl Perkins tunes. Picture a congregation up clapping, stomping, shouting and dancing and you'll have an accurate idea as to the energy of this track. Sing it, brother!
12. What Do You Believe
--This is a very fast shuffler, built on organ and drums and featuring chromatic harp work from Mark. It investigates an ages-old spiritual question: are you walking the walk or just talking the talk; are you helping others or just looking out for number one (yourself)?
13. When I Been Drinkin'
--Well, this one might not be quite so spiritual, but it sure is a lot of fun. It is in the vein of the classic "drinkin'" songs from the jump/swing era of the late 1940s into the 1950s. Jumpin', jivin' and definitely wailin' (horns!) Mark is a gifted lyricist, and it shows again on this cut.
14. You Never Asked
--Hmm…I wonder if Mark had been pondering issues around his own mortality when he wrote this one. So many things in our lives are out of our control – we "never asked" for them to happen. But, when things that we are not crazy about do occur, we need to do our best to buck-up and keep on livin'! Serious lyrical topics here, but the music itself is almost jaunty, definitely uplifting in nature, likely done to emphasize the message of keeping our heads up and being positive in influence and in attitude.
In all fairness, I should state that Mark DuFresne has been a favorite artist of mine for years. That said, "Been Watchin' You" is most definitely a tremendous listen, and one of the best albums Mark has released as a solo artist. He is one of the finest singers working today, he is a gifted lyricist and he can hold his own on harp with most anyone out there; yes, a true triple threat. For this recording, Mark surrounded himself with several fine musicians (predominately Canadian), most of them likely little known to American blues fans. Well, if there is any fairness in this crazy old World this CD will help to change that situation. Frankly, I hear a lot of CDs in the course of a year, and this one ranks among the top tier – a label such as Rounder, Alligator or Blind Pig would do well to work out a deal to distribute this CD. If they can't see it, then maybe one of the better European labels will see the light. OK, enough pontificating; it's time to rate this bad boy. I'm assigning a very well deserved STLBluesometer rating of 4.50 to Been Watchin' You from Mark DuFresne. This album is not widely distributed, so you may have to contact Mark in order to purchase a copy. Make that purchase; you can thank me later!
For more information concerning Mark DuFresne, see the following websites:
--contains a VERY nice biography of Mark, including some interesting and enlightening quotes from Mark.
Lee Howland - aka East Side Slim