When is the last time you heard a truly inspired singer/songwriter? And by songwriter I mean someone who artfully blends rich life experience and soulful spirituality with humorously intelligent lyrics and who sets it all to infectious-yet-spare melodies. Okay, your answer should be "not recently." Sure, on occasion someone writes a tune or two that makes you go "hey that ain't bad." But how about a tunesmith who can put together an entire collection of low-key gems penned exclusively by himself and who writes engaging music for said ditties and also adds his own talented instrumental work using guitar, mandolin, and harmonica?

Most of the good ol' bards disappeared after the '60s and '70s winked out, but Mark Merryman, a native of Colorado since he was an infant, has released another noteworthy album of thoughtful material that has a propensity for growing on you and simmering in your psyche like a late summer day or a camping trip to a beautiful spot. Mark's the real deal and the tunes on Scenic Byways tumble out seamlessly, recalling the soulful craftsmanship of Tim O'Brien, John Denver, John Prine, and all the best auteurs of folk and Americana. He has no shortage of talented compatriots, and is joined by guitarist Ross Martin (of Tony Furtado and the American Gypsies) and percussionist John Merryman (his son as well as the drummer for rising metal group Cephalic Carnage).

Merryman brings freshness to tradition on "Long Road Home," "I Had to Get Lost," "Lonesome Pickers," and "Playing that Guitar," among many other fine creations. And like the lost heroes of his songs, Mark gets around, counting songwriter Benny Galloway (a major influence on the song craft of Yonder Mountain String Band) among his best chums as well as mando player extraordinaire Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon. When not attending bluegrass festivals from Telluride and the Four Corners to RockyGrass and Alamosa, Merryman spends his summers traveling the scenic byways around Durango, where he's had the opportunity to take up with young up-and-coming acoustic players, including the lads from Broke Mountain Bluegrass.

Think high and lonesome with the ability to capture the rambling feelings of open roads, the essence of pristine surroundings, and the wistfulness of aging, all while raging (albeit mellowly) against the machine. If you like the vibe of the Southwest and the feeling that emanates from the mountains and high deserts, this is for you. Scenic Byways makes a worthy companion for long drives and should have you singing along in no time.

Nick Hutchinson
JamBase | Denver
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[Published on: 10/23/04]

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