In the summer of 2007, Mark Selby packed up his favorite guitar, his writing notebook and a satchel full of classic blues and rock music that had influenced him in his formative years. The Oklahoma-born musician locked the door to his Nashville home and headed west, to the tall peaks and wide open spaces of Colorado. It was time to write some new songs, time to make a new CD, and the man knew exactly what he wanted: a record that hit like a Nine Pound Hammer.
Selby pledged not to come ‘down from the mountain’ until he had the perfect mix of songs he needed for his new project, music that could contain all the explosive energy of his live shows, the telepathic interplay of his exceptional band, and the high level of songcraft and artistry he’s built a reputation on. Known as a songwriter who can deliver career-propelling hits for other artists (The Dixie Chicks’ Grammy-winning “There’s Your Trouble” and Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s rock smash “Blue On Black” to name a few), he’s also garnered international acclaim for his own releases on the Vanguard and ZYX/Pepper Cake labels: “Selby earned his moment in the spotlight with his critically lauded debut, More Storms Comin’ . . .his exceptional sophomore CD Dirt indicates that album was no fluke” (Rolling Stone); “a truly remarkable piece of work. . .with Dirt Selby comes knocking on the door of the best blues guitarists” (Discover Music, Germany).
Selby settled in to write at his mountain hideaway, only leaving for festival bookings and the occasional recording session back in Music City. He had a ‘secret weapon’ with him -- his wife and collaborator, the award-winning songwriter Tia Sillers. “There’s nothing better as a songwriter than to write for an entire project” says TIa, “especially with an artist who has a vision that you can tap into and share in.” Mark had a clear picture for the new CD: “After three albums and a lot of touring, I’ve really developed a great give-and-take relationship with my audience. I had a real sense that the record I wanted to make was also exactly what the people who buy my CDs and come to my shows want to hear from me right now: something powerful that takes us on a big, fun ride, that still has a sense of depth and some art to it. Basically, the same things I shoot for in a live show: excitement, artistry, entertainment, musicianship, tension and repose – all leading to that beautiful exchange of pure energy between audience and performer.” Throughout the summer, thunderous riffs and soaring melodies bounced around the mountains; by the end of August, Mark and Tia came down from the high country with an armful of righteous new songs.
Back in Nashville Mark had some old friends waiting: his bandmates of several years, bassist Charles ‘Chopper’ Anderson and drummer Daryl ‘DB’ Burgess -- two of Music City’s top road-dogs and studio cats. “This band has evolved into such an incredible, fearsome unit,” says Selby, “it’s Beauty and the Beast, all at the same time! I’ve had great guests on my albums in the past – Reese Wynans from Double Trouble, Kim Carnes, the Memphis Horns – but this time I just wanted it to be our little ol’ three-piece band. I wanted to explore and exploit a blues-rock trio as an instrument, and see where we could take it. Daryl and Chopper are truly an amazing rhythm section, and they always inspire and push me to play the best guitar I’ve ever played. I love this band for it’s ability to have great power and great sensitivity. It’s a crazy mixture of musicianship and control and complete hog-wild abandon.”
Another friend was waiting at the recording studio: Brent Maher, the Grammy-winning master producer-engineer known far and wide for his work with superstars from Ike & Tina Turner to Wynona Judd to Duke Ellington to Sly Stone, and known to Mark Selby fans as co-producer of More Storms Comin’ and Dirt. Famous in the music biz for capturing real, earthy and organic sounds, Maher was ready: “Working with Mark Selby is a producer’s dream project. You know the songs will be great, the guitar playing will be stellar and the vocals deep and soulful. A day in the studio with Mark is truly a day well spent.”
The band roared into The Blue Room studio in Nashville hitting on all cylinders, knocking out all twelve tracks in the first week of October, 2007. Several of the final mixes are exactly what went down on the original take – ‘live’ in the studio, no overdubs. Mark spent additional days adding more of his patented searing guitar work (and some tasty harmonica) to some songs, and Nashville super-vocalist Tania Hancheroff pitched in with sassy soul-sister backing vocals, but it all happened fast. “When the mixing was done and the dust had settled, we looked at each other and couldn’t believe we were already done – or how great we felt about this record,” says Mark. “This project is literally everything I had hoped for and envisioned – and I’m not an easy man to please. I’m thrilled that we were able to capture this band in all it’s power and glory – and trust me, even though my name and picture are on the cover, this is a band record. It was truly a pleasure to make, and I’m really happy with the songs, the sound, everything.” Brent Maher adds, “I don’t know how he does it, but each record I’ve done with Mark is on a different level than the previous – and this is the best one yet!”
“The best one yet” is quite a complement considering the praise for Selby’s earlier work -- Vintage Guitar described Dirt as “simply put, 11 of the best cuts of rock & roll you’ll hear this year.” But Nine Pound Hammer delivers on all levels, from scorching rockers like the title cut, Dangerous Game and Leveler Reveler, to the sexy soul and guitar magic of Baby I Do; from the lowdown blues of Sure Hope It Ain’t A Train to funky groove workouts like I Should Know Better and I Stole Your Love. There’s the gritty storytelling of Buck-Fifty & A Flat-Head Ford, the sounds-like-a-classic A Good Friend To The Blues, and plenty more, all leading to the magnificent, soaring closing track: Guitar in the Rain – undoubtedly the most powerful, passionate performance of Mark Selby’s career.
He’s been hailed as an “electrifying performer” (Blues Review), shared the stage with musical heroes like Jeff Beck and BB King, and is frequently compared to his idols: “Mark Selby’s in the same league with Bruce Springsteen. . .” (American Songwriter). With Nine Pound Hammer, Mark Selby delivers a hard-hitting forged-in-steel document of an artist hitting his stride, with songs made to be played and a red-hot band to play ‘em. As the man said earlier: “It’s a big, fun ride.”