Imagination exercise: picture John Mellencamp with a wee bit more country and a lot less distinctiveness. That fuzzy haze that emerges is probably Mark Newman. A majority of his self-released debut is generic rockers with pseudo-slide guitar, shooting for more Marc Cohn territory than Garth Brooks. His lyrics are interesting in that generic way that any pop-rock artist is, and sometimes very awkward: (“I admit that I’m no rocket scientist / But now she wants me to see her psychiatrist”, he croons on “So So Cynical”). Moments of levity certainly help the affairs at hand (as on the barn-burning closer “Going Underground” and fun “Mambo Dancing”), but rarely does he rise above his own one-note meanderings. The one most fantastic moment, however, is actually a Bee Gees cover. The disco kings’ very first folk-rock hit, “New York Mining Disaster, 1941”—which itself echoed Simon & Garfunkel—gets a contemplative treatment that roots the song in a far more emotional ground than the original. Mark Newman is brilliant when he’s honest, awesome when he’s having a full-throttle good time, but forgettable in any other setting.
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