Album Review

Mark Ripp - Quiet Again

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At first glance of the CD cover art I try to determine what kind of a journey I am going to embark on musically. When I received Mark Ripp's new collection "Quiet Again," I was a little confused. The title of the CD gave me an impression of an all-acoustic set with spare instruments and lots of interesting little story songs.  But, the cover art had this old fashioned looking microphone, a rugged bearded Steve Earle cowboy hat wearing red-shirted J.J. Cale looking dude.

My mind began to suggest that maybe this will start out acoustically but this man at some point is going to strike a match and ignite his presentation. He did.

Having said that, and made the prediction, I wallowed knee deep into the music of Mark Ripp -- a Canadian artist who had been plying his trade for some thirty years -- so this is no tenderfoot. He opened for acts like The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo and Tom Cochrane. I doubt these artists would bring someone who is an amateur.

However, Ripp is an artist who could easily be front and center and that means that a headlining artist risks being upstaged by quite the determined and dedicated polished performer.

The opening track is a pensive acoustic track. Inexperienced hands opening with a slow acoustic song is risky. You have to grab that uninitiated ear and quickly. So, instead of grabbing the ear with bombastic production values -- Ripp's sincere voice, dazzling lyrics and catchy guitar melody grabs your attention the way the scent of sizzling bacon grabs your nose early in the morning....even if that bacon is all the way downstairs in the kitchen and not yet on your plate.  

"...the thing you want the most is the thing you can not have."

Yes...I can easily relate to that in the opener: "The Thing You Want the Most."

Up next, "Walkin' Around" is already turned up a little, and the simplistic lyrics and basic melody is infectious. The entire presentation is spare but, it has that "drive" that perks ears up whenever it's played. Unfortunately, just as you start to really groove in its easy going cruise -- it's over. Like most great songs -- it's not long but, it's memorable. Like an old 45 and therein lies its charm. 


"Old Weeping Birch," continues in Ripp's simplistic approach with a melody that borders on lullaby. Here, Ripp sounds as if he's singing the song only to you. It's sad, it's poignant and humorous. If Mark ever visits an elementary school to perform -- this would be the perfect little tune -- where he can conjure the memory of the late Pete Seeger and encourage the children to sing along: "old weeping birch, don't really talk much...."

This song reminds me a little of the Procol Harum epic "The Worm and the Tree" from 1977. While Procol Harum's tale is far more dark despite its equally encouraging and beautiful melody -- Ripp's track is simple, easy to understand -- the way a good folk song should be.

"Ballad of Canadian Soldier X" turns up the energy significantly. Ripp begins to unleash some venom and proves that this folk-oriented singer/songwriter has a rock and roll heart. This sounds like Buddy Miller would be comfortable with Mark Ripp's lyric. Lots of room to maneuver hot licks with rough and impactful vocals. This one strikes the matchbox hard and the flame burns fast.

"Circle Round the Sun," toe-tapping percussion, bright acoustic guitars and Joni Mitchell flavors. Coming off of the energy of "Ballad of Canadian Soldier X" this song keeps the listener interested. Ripp's vocals are confident here, warm and authentic.

 The best albums don't take themselves too seriously. Even Tom Waits has a sense of humor in many of his tracks, John Prine has an over abundance but, he's just so good at it. Here, Mark Ripp employs a little light humor and several "voices" as he moves through his verses. "Bumble Along," is like John Prine filtered through Arlo Guthrie. A gentle harmonica weaves its way through the music and the tale is told in a manner that you want to hear what the story is about as Ripp narrates his day. Another possible fun children's song.

Excellent segue into a heavier recipe. Ripp's vocals are more serious and recorded in a duet manner with itself. "Year of the Gun," is that production number many artists use throughout their albums -- but, here because Ripp waited, baited and worked his way up to this -- the track -- holds the intensity. This one is the heavy one -- it's only three minutes of squeezing your head and leaving you wanting more.

"No One Else But You," is the token love tune, that begs for a little Emmylou Harris back-up vocals. It's another acoustic guitar-harmonica tune that tells a basic story but, Ripp's lyrical pacing and cleverness avoids clichés and renders this simple tune -- beautifully. Will it ever be a classic? Maybe not, but it is what other artists search for and want to cover -- it has that appeal.

Naming a song "Bob Dylan" is bold. "I don't keep Bob Dylan awake at night..." immediately suggests that this one was inspired somewhat and thought out with its bluesy structure. Ripp uses a Springsteen-type approach but, to be honest -- the way Mark recorded this with his inventive lyric, backup singer shouts and slow musical build -- this is like a signature song. This is Mark Ripp in a nutshell. This one is original -- this does not sound like anyone else I have heard. The entire arrangement is haunting, it plods along at a pace that keeps the listener interested and that whining guitar is compelling.

And it doesn't stop there. Ripp comes in with another slithery solid performance with "A Generous Man."  I "hear" Lyle Lovett in this and that's a big compliment because while the music doesn't remind me of Lovett, the approach suggests what Lyle would do to this one. It's at that level of quality. Instead of acoustic leads Mark has a slide guitar -- I believe -- snaking around the smoky stinging lyric.

"In My Room," is the only cover -- the old Beach Boys song written by Brian Wilson and Gary Usher back in the 60's. A wise choice for Ripp who showcases how he can take someone else's source material, old source material, apply his own magic to it and recreate a wonderful new version. Here, the song does not sound like it ever was a Beach Boys song. It has the milk and whiskey of today's Americana -- it's still haunting, and conveys the strength of a very private song. Which it is. A little confessional -- something many people do to this day. They live in their own spaces -- in their rooms, apartments, and worlds.

Sounding like an old 60's instrumental from the Safaris ("Wipe Out"), the Chanteys ("Point Panic"), the Pyramids ("Penetration"), or the Marketts ("Out of Limits") -- "Too Many Black Coats" with its "wild weekend" type guitars is a nostalgia freak's pleasant surprise. Today, there aren't many instrumentals that chart -- but, this is a cool reminder of how a good instrumental doesn't need words to be attractive.

"Duct Tape Jesus," is another journey down John Prine territory and Ripp succeeds as usual.

"Poignant," is the closer and I have listened to this one several times. Could it be Mark Ripp saved the best for last? It's a thought-provoking little song with its John Prine moments, it's John Haitt edge and with the added vocal -- reminiscent of the great Lowen and Navarro. Guitars chime with such clarity, there's an exhilaration in the manner that this one is sung. Decorated with so many little interesting touches -- and nothing intrudes upon itself. A pleasure to listen to and return to.

I found the journey through Mark Ripp's "Quiet Again," interesting -- because each tune has its lesson, it's humor and it's reminder that music is a very personal thing and sometimes less is more. Mark Ripp started the album with few ingredients in his soup and it tasted fine. For your listening pleasure, the other songs had some spice added, some flavoring, some fat.

But, ultimately, the truth is in the material. Mark Ripp is quiet again...but, judging from this collection...we should hope for more.

The CD was produced, performed and recorded by Mark Ripp.

Sample some of Mark Ripp on MySpace Music: CDs are available at CD Baby and information is available on his website.


Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression.

John Apice – Contributor – No Depression – January 2014