When listening to Steven Mark's latest album One Small Room, I couldn't help making comparisons to a large number of artists. There's a bit of The Beatles in there, a little Duncan Sheik, David Gray, and even a little early R.E.M. It's an odd combination of influences, yet it works for this intimate collection of songs.
Steven was born and raised in Chicago, but lately calls New York City his home. Back in 2004, Mark released his first CD – Distraction – and it was named one of the recordings of the year by Hybrid Magazine. He's gone on to release two more: 2005s Aloneaphobe and 2007s Racing Grey.
After playing with a band for a few years, Mark felt he needed to refocus a bit and went acoustic. He and longtime producer/collaborator Matt Willcox literally recorded One Small Room in a small room. Each song boiled down to a simple goal: "I wanted these songs to sound like we were just playing in someone's living room." I wish I sounded as good in my living room as he does on this album.
The album focuses on harmonies, simple melodies, and his lyrics… And the lyrics are great. Simple, direct poetry that can be interpreted myriad ways by the listener. As he says, many of the songs are about the "alternate paths" that could be taken and finding the light in dark times. With our world currently experiencing dark environmental and economic times, I think we could use another light in the darkness, don't you?
The lead song on the album is "Your Truest Harmony" and is one of my three favorites. Of all the tracks, this one seems to embody Mark's spirit. The very first verse is about the difficulties of finding yourself sometimes… "You lose yourself / You call someone to find you / You prove yourself to no one / just passing time / Cling to your health / the past held deep inside you / your mental health so unclear / unsteady mind" and then the path becomes clear in the chorus – "But you are all you're meant to be / on the road to your truest harmony." We've all been there, I think – lost and waiting for that moment of clarity.
Mark's cover of Supertramp's "The Logical Song" applies his principle of boiling things down for this album with just his voice, a guitar, and a piano. Add a few harmonies here and there and you have a whole different take on this song we so frequently hear on classic rock radio stations. From the intro, he slows the song down so you can focus on the message – trying to find yourself among the labels we're all saddled with through life. As the lyric goes – "The questions run too deep / for such a simple man."
And the third of my favorites is "Saved From Yourself," which tells of two people finding their own separate ways. The chorus says it all – "'Cause you hitched a ride / on a train that has left the station / you can be saved from yourself / true to your form / you will reach your new destination / old dreams will fade on the shelf." It's the harmonies of the chorus that made this song special for me, with the verses reinforcing that this is the best decision for both parties and they will treasure their time together, but it's time to part. Mark captured yet another shared experience in song.
One Small Room is an intimate album of poetry and music for a quiet day of contemplation – perfect for a lazy Sunday morning with coffee and the newspaper. Steven Mark has done a great job of creating a compelling album to let us slow down our crazy lives. Check out One Small Room online at Amazon, iTunes or cdbaby. Also check out his site to join his mailing list and for links to his MySpace, Facebook, and other web pages.