(Rustic) 22 April 2003 Available as import
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Born in Kansas but honing his musical tastes and talents in sunny California, Mark Insley could listen to Buck Owens and Jimi Hendrix and find the assets in both. After touring with many in the Western “alt.country” circles, Insley recorded and released his sophomore album, Tucson, in 2001. This new record features a harrowing rendition of Johnny Paycheck’s “Pardon Me (I’ve Got Someone to Kill)”. It’s a title that gives you an idea of where he’s coming from two years later. But the heart of this album is what he has perfected for so long behind the scenes. And while it takes a couple of seconds to get going, the opening lyric hits you right between the eyes. “The cops are in the parking lot / I’m much too drunk to drive”, Insley utters with a certain twang. It’s a mid-tempo, traditional country barroom featuring Clare Muldaur on harmony vocals.
What is even more impressive is what is used to create sound on some songs. The opening track sounds very odd, but the items drummer David Raven plays somehow makes it all sound logical—a BBQ lid, a palm seed pod and a squeaky hinge among others. “The Devil’s Knocking” has a slightly pop country feel to it, but the song is drenched in a successful arrangement. Rather than playing things up, Insley downplays the song quite a bit, which makes it all the more appealing. And despite clocking in at six minutes, it doesn’t feel like it. There’s some nice interplay among the guitars as well from Greg Leisz and Rick Shea. Each play off the other, but nobody really takes the leading role. Only during the song’s homestretch do they open it up. “Running Back to You” is a simple yet elegant chunk of Americana that brings to mind Steve Earle cutting a track with sister Stacey. “These bells of desperation are ringing in my ear”, he sings while Dan McGough aptly applies his keyboards.
“Heart out in the Snow” is an old-time troubadour sound that captures the early days of Gram Parsons or Willie Nelson. Muldaur gives another great performance. Ambling along without losing steam, the musician goes down a different road for the first time but comes up roses again. The first major experiment here is “My Neighbor’s Dog”. Here, Insley does a passable vocal but generally the tune is weak and unfocused. The opening could be mistaken for Lucinda Williams, then an Attractions-like organ is added. Insley starts with a quasi-spoken word before singing verse two. The fact it’s also nearly seven minutes only makes it more arduous to endure. “Meat, the Devil” is a vaudeville revue track that brings to mind the contemporary Bob Dylan. Insley, who is a vegetarian, sings the song with a certain tongue-in-cheek flare. Don Heffington’s jaw harp is showcased as well. The odd conclusion is a mix of bleep, blips and other, more mainstream instruments.
A military drumbeat opens “Bitter Rose”, a song that is given a bigger, cinematic sound. The subtle strings take little away from Insley’s best performance on this ballad. While talking about heartache, he opts more for a singer-songwriter delivery instead of the overt country style. If there’s one slight negative, the final portion might be too over the top. “Fade Away” goes back to a sparse arrangement and surpasses the previous track’s quality. A brief melodic lullaby that is melancholic, it sounds like he stole this from Ron Sexsmith’s songbook. “You lined up your defenses / Never mind the consequences / It’s the only thing I got left / So I’m keeping it inside”, Insley sings in a heartfelt fragile tone. Finally, the cover of Paycheck’s tune closes the album. It’s down with the sincerity of The Handsome Family, who might be the only other act to pull this off so well. At nine songs, Supermodel might be a bit short, but despite the one track, it’s damn sweet!
// Notes from the Road
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