Album Review

Mark Currey's Tarrant County is an emotionally charged landscape

Mark Currey - Tarrant County

I think one of the rewarding things about hearing new music is discovering an artist who knows his own voice. An artist that creates their own space and then inhabits it well, with authority and confidence. Mark Currey does this on his fine debut, Tarrant County. Some might say Currey, at 53, is late to start a recording career, but that would be a mistake. By waiting, Currey has allowed his vision and songwriting skills to distill into something deeply personal. It has also given him the confidence to be his own man, and make the record he wanted to make.

Mark Currey released his debut album, Tarrant County, some months back. It slipped under my radar at the time but, fortunately, it came back around again and landed on my desk. Currey is quite gifted as a storyteller, filling the album with vignettes that feel real, raw, and affirming.

Currey takes a stark look at the nature of human frailty and failure, and the effects it leaves on his protagonists and their loved ones. It is, at times, a brutal assessment, but Currey prefers to go for honesty over happy endings and easy morality plays. How much of what is here is autobiographical is anybody’s guess, but Currey knows his characters and their stories from the inside out, so much so that it feels as though he has lived every moment.

One of the underlying themes here is movement. In the opening track, “Unless You Move,” Currey sings of starting over

I believe that every journey
Starts with putting on your shoes
Taking one step towards tomorrow
Throwing away what you can’t use
You’ll never go until you move
Currey‘s warm tenor aches with just the right amount of regret on the slow country ballad “To Feel Alive.” Here Currey laments the end of a twenty-year love affair, and his inability to make it work. The song hits the right notes because Currey is able to see the fault in both parties, and still, at the end, pines for his lover.

“The Meanness” is a bitter tale of a family devastated by infidelity, alcoholism, and spousal abuse. Told from the child’s point of view the song is especially painful as the young Currey knows the blame rests clearly on the father’s shoulders. As the mother spins out in a series of bad relationships, Currey’s child never loses his conviction about where responsibility rests.

“Mid-life Crisis” is a humorous number about finding someone with whom to be reckless. “I Don’t Want to do This Anymore” is about needing to change, and the facing the crossroads of decision. “Genevieve” recalls a story of incest and murder, backed by some fine mandolin and Dobro picking.

Throughout the album the arrangements are simple and support Currey’s greatest strength, his ability to spin a good yarn. He has a knack for creating characters that feel all too real. In his world, Currey sees the home as a source of injury and intense pain, a scene which replicates itself time and again on the next generation. In spite of it all, his characters survive and wrestle with how to make sense of their lives.

There is a strong thread of leaving throughout the record. For Currey these journeys are about fleeing the wreckage of shattered home life, with all the scars and memories haunting him along the way. His observations are spot-on, dark, and brooding. Currey may be leaving Tarrant County, but he can’t escape it.