Once upon a time it was customary to listen to a new album in its entirety in one sitting to fully appreciate the work as an artistic offering. An album wasn’t just one track, it was an experience. A journey. Over time something of the old way of doing things disappeared. Music is doled out now in easily digestible three minute appetizers. Some of them taste great, but invariably they leave you always hungry. Our attention span for art has been diminished by an apparatus that is geared entirely toward instant gratification. We have unlearned the process of absorption. Which is a tragedy, because great art does not dwell in the soundbite, great art is a five course meal. To that effect, Notes From the Boneyard Vol 1 is a Michelin rated banquet from one of the finest artists working today.
I have been fortunate enough to witness this album from its inception. I got to know Mark right before the world went into lockdown. Over the past three years I have watched him formulate and process a pandemic that left the world hanging by a perilous thread. This album grew out of that experience. If the pandemic were a movie, Notes From the Boneyard would be its soundtrack.
As you hear the first track, picture the artist on a foggy Tyrone morning slipping into a lake in the middle of an expansive bog. The world gone quiet. The very future of the human race uncertain. The track feels that way because this was the artist’s routine for much of the pandemic. Hear how the wind lifts you out of the lake and into the collective mind of the second track, Madman, picture him driving home, through the half light, his hair still wet from the swim, the roads empty of traffic. Omagh, a ghost town. Let yourself be carried along through the dystopian atmospheric middle landscape of the album to, ‘Frank’, an ode to the legendary Frank Murray, a man who managed not only Mark’s duo The Lost Brothers but also Thin Lizzy and The Pogues among others. The melody is a meditation on friendship, loss… but in it rises a sense of gratitude also… gratitude for friendship… the pandemic magnified the importance of such connection. That’s what the track says for me.
As the journey comes to a close, with Act three comprising of the final three tracks, beginning with Ask the Dust, the album has taken on the feel of a ragged, half broken carnival trudging along a New Mexico highway, there’s a sense that we’ve wandered through an unforgiving desert and that the destination now is uncertain… all seems to be lost… so we do the only thing that makes sense, we take the hand of someone we love, and we waltz into Cantina.
Mark brings the journey to a close with some fitting words of wisdom from the great poet Charles Bukowski. And what better way to round out a meal of this magnitude. The only voice we hear, reminds us that as much as the pandemic brought us together, it also brought into stark relief, our ineptitude. I find myself wondering… did we learn anything at all from our days on the brink… about peace… about unity, about love? Or, as Bukowski asks us to consider in the final track, is hatred really our finest art.
Notes From the Boneyard is a jewel, a diamond, crushed out of the dark coal of the pandemic. You’d do well to set aside sometime to listen to it in its entirety. It’s a meal that will leave you satisfied, long after you’ve left the table.