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Music Review: Mark Geary – Opium

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I’ve just realised that I need to get out more. There once was a time when musically speaking not too much escaped my attention. Suddenly I realise that living in a French farmhouse can be therapeutic but also disconnect you in a way that is quite alarming. So forgive me for writing this as though I am the first person to discover Mark Geary.

If you live in New York City or Ireland you are no doubt light years ahead of me. Irish-born Mark was one of eight siblings. He quotes a piece of graffiti on a toilet wall in Dublin as one of the inspirations to do something almost radical. It read, 'would the last person out of Ireland please turn out the light'.

He emigrated to New York at the age of nineteen via a brief spell in London in the early nineties. It was at his brother’s venue Café Sin e, in New York that he began to perform his music in front of a live audience.

It was a tough introduction at a venue that boasted the likes of Jeff Buckley, and Sinead O’Connor. He found the experience ‘terrifying’ and quickly found out that, for that particular time, he just ‘wasn’t good enough’.

It made him realise that the drug problem he had brought with him had to go and that he desperately wanted to return to his drug of choice, music. He moved up the New York scene with more assured performances that led to slots supporting Elvis Costello, Coldplay, and the late Joe Strummer.

His first self titled album appeared in 1999. 33 1/3 Grand Street followed in 2002. By 2004 he had released the excellent Ghosts an album that Mark describes on his Myspace page as, ‘stepping down from the attic, over some skeletons and bones and into the daylight’. In 2005 Mark wrote the soundtrack to the film Loggerheads.

Meanwhile Ghosts, which includes the superb title track, along with “Beautiful”, “Morphine”, and “Mid-nite Sun”, all tracks rich with quality, had turned gold.

During 2008, Mark released his latest album, Opium (Independent Records Ireland). Among his list of influences are The Beatles, Nick Drake, JJ Cale, Arcade Fire, and Radiohead. There is also a certain Bob Dylan another musician who had moved to New York and did rather well for himself.

There is a remarkable honesty to Mark’s lyrics which combine with a moving vulnerability to draw me towards making another comparison this time to Elliot Smith.

On his Myspace, Mark displays that vulnerability by saying, ‘had I been on a major label I would have been dropped by now, or shot in the head or whatever happens to those poor bands who don’t make money for their labels’.

Opium opens with a haunting “Cold Little Fire”. It is a sure fire, pun intended, indication that once again Mark has served up a highly charged trip through his mind and life experience. Disarmingly honest, and emotionally powerful Opium is a work he describes as being about, ‘escape and the notion of consequence’.

He has clearly suffered for his art, and goes on to say, ‘I kinda torture myself with these dark thoughts and in so doing reveal some of my demons and drugs of choice.’

The power and depth of feeling unleashed within “Not On Your Life” leads to the soothing “Angel”. It is a gorgeous track that opens the door to the heart and soul of Mark Geary, accomplished song writer.

“Facin’ The Fall” tugs painfully at the heartstrings and is beautifully sung by Mark and Ann Scott. “See-Saw (Houpacka)” continues this extraordinary vibe. The next track “Maid Of Gold” succeeds in intensifying it even further.

“Always” has a delicate vulnerability to it that slowly pulls you inward and leaves you staring at the half distance in front of you.

“Tuesday” ups the melodic tempo before “Atrophy” eases us back down with some dark introspection set amid beautiful folk guitar. It is a theme echoed within the strongly written “The King Of Swords”. “Wake Up” ends an album with not even a hint of a dip in quality.

Opium comes complete with a bonus disc containing excellent early versions of both “Tuesday” and “Always” alongside four additional tracks that deserve to be heard and not overlooked. These tend to prove that choosing the final running order for the album must have caused some headaches.

The package also comes complete with a tangible sense of love, care, and craftsmanship. Whilst this is the case Mark keeps the album fresh, and alive.

Play this, and you will want to hear Ghosts. Play them both and you won’t see the world in the same light again.

Mark Geary has finally arrived here in sleepy-ville France. Shame it took me years to get there. If you're quicker than I've been you can catch one of his gigs in Ireland.

Check out his Myspace page or his website for details and of course a listen to Opium.

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