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Walking Through The Fire with Mark Karan

by Sonny Edwards

Because live music is what it’s really all about, Jemimah Puddleduck will celebrate the release of Mark Karan’s Walk Through the Fire by playing on David Gans’ Dead to the World show on KPFA on July 1st, 2009, from 8 pm to about 9:30 pm. You can hear the program live on kpfa.org; it will also be on nugs.net .

Mark’s debut album will be released by Quacktone Records on June 30, 2009, and features an outstanding cast of musicians, including Delaney Bramlett (in his first posthumous release), The Persuasions, Bill Payne (Little Feat/Lynyrd Skynyrd), The Rowan Brothers, Mike Finnigan (CSN, Hendrix), Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt), Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Rod Stewart), Wally Ingram (Sheryl Crow, David Lindle), Jimmy Sanchez (Roy Rogers), and more. It also introduces Jemimah Puddleduck” (JP), Mark’s collaboration over the last decade with John Molo (Phil Lesh & Friends) on drums, JT Thomas (Bruce Hornsby) on keys, and Bob Gross (Albert King, Delaney Bramlett) on bass.Other recordings featuring Mark on guitar include RatDog's Live At Roseland and Evening Moods, and The Other Ones' Only The Strange Remain.

 Dead to the World is heard Wednesdays 8-10pm on listener-sponsored KPFA 94.1 fm in Berkeley, California - hosted by musician/journalist David Gans, who will soon be celebrating his 25th anniversary in broadcasting. More information at cloudsurfing.gdhour.com

While many of you are no doubt familiar with guitarist and singer/songwriter Mark Karan, there may be some who might like a bit of background and history of this incredible musician. Since 1998, Mark has been performing with the extended Grateful Dead family (The Other Ones, Mickey Hart's Planet Drum, and Bob Weir & RatDog). He has anchored the lead guitar slot in RatDog for the last eleven years, touring the US year-round.  Before crossing over into the land of the Dead, Mark worked his guitar and vocal voodoo for the likes of Dave Mason, Delaney Bramlett, the Rembrandts, Paul Carrack, Huey Lewis, Jesse Colin Young and Sophie B. Hawkins.

In recent years, Mark has also performed with The Allman Brothers, Trey Anastasio, Joan Baez, Dickey Betts, Delaney Bramlett, Larry Campbell, Clarence Clemons, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Galactic, Gov’t Mule, Jackie Greene, Sammy Hagar, Levon Helm, Bill Kirchen, Chuck Leavell, Little Feat, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Phil Lesh & Friends, John Popper, String Cheese Incident, Derek Trucks, Narada Michael Walden and others. 

Mark has toured internationally, and rocked the Montreaux Jazz Festival, the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival and the Fuji Rock Festival. He has made TV appearances on Austin City Limits, VH1 Classic's All Star Jams, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Late Late Night with Craig Kilborn, Today Show and Regis & Kathy Lee. Mark has played on and/or produced numerous artists’ albums, recorded and composed music for film, television, and sound libraries, and is in demand as a studio musician. 

Mark also tours with his band, Jemimah Puddleduck, with John Molo on drums, JT Thomas on keys, and Bob Gross on bass.  Mark offers his soulful blues-based vocal stylings and inspired guitar work with a remarkably tight rhythm section in a passionate delivery of the sounds of Americana.  JP is where rock meets R&B and country, with the soul of New Orleans, reggae, and funk, flashes of psychedelia, and whatever else the muse offers in the moment.  In addition to his originals like "Time Will Tell" and “Leave a Light On,” as well as those tunes penned by songwriter friends, Mark covers a range of eclectic songs like Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "You Can Stay (But the Noize Must Go)," Peter Tosh's "Don't Look Back," and the Kinks’ “Lazin’ on a Sunny Afternoon.” His unique choices of music are the hallmark of the rare JP shows.

At Delaney Bramlett’s memorial service in Los Angeles last January, we made plans to get together,  and a few days  later I visited Mark and his lovely wife, Maile, at their home in Marin County.  Mark took me down to his studio, offered me a chair and a set of headphones, and thrilled me with a preview of his cut on Robert Johnson’s classic , “Love In Vain”,  which he had recorded with Delaney Bramlett on dobro and vocals.  The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as  goose flesh popped up on my arms and an electric chill coursed up and down my spine. For five months I eagerly awaited the finished product, while Mark was working nearly non-stop to complete the mixing and mastering.  The day it came in the mail, I  ripped opened the envelope and had the CD in hand by the time I reached the car, and I pushed it in the player instantly. I have had an advance copy of “Walk Through The Fire” for nearly a month, and have played it for literally dozens of my friends.  Almost all have had a similar reaction, including our own Michael Buffalo Smith. 

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.  The very first cut on WTTF is a song penned by Alex Call, “Annie Don’t Lie”.  Thirty seconds into this tune, I was convinced I was listening to a classic, almost dancing in the car, and by the second chorus I was singing along.

“Leave A Light On” quickly turns the page to an introspective look at love and relationships, the turmoil of questions and doubts, remembrances of happier times, and the whispered prayers of hope. Beautiful.

“Bait The Hook” is an upbeat number that takes me down to the delta with a backbeat.
Sit still if you think you should, or if you can, but ass rockin’ music like this was made for filling dance floors.

The title cut “Walk Through The Fire” is so deeply personal, and may require more than a single listen to reveal all the layers of emotion and deeper meanings contained here.  A story of struggle and self discovery that get’s down to business, as only someone who is fighting for his very life can tell.  Mark wrote this song while in his hospital bed, suffering from throat cancer.  He survived his cancer, and I am extremely grateful he did.

I’ve already described my reaction to “Love In Vain”, but I will add the vocal duo performance between Mark and D is one of the most moving moments in music I have ever experienced. You will have to hear it for yourself, but I think you will understand. 

“Rock Your Papa” takes me right back to my favorite little neighborhood watering hole, with my favorite band on the stage, telling it like it is.  Billy Payne and Mike Finnigan share keyboard duties on this one, and The Persuasions pour on the shoobie doos.  It sounds like the gangs all there.

I have listened to this CD a lot since I got it, and I have to say I wish I had “Memphis Radio”,  written by Susan Sheller, on a very long, continuous loop.  A great melodic guitar riff and a shuffle that just eats up the miles on those road trips. I really like the way Mark pays props to the likes of Sam Cook and Eddie Floyd.  One of my favorites.

“Time Will Tell” is  a walk into the dark of a late night alley lit by the fires of the blues, with incredible performances by the entire band.  Very serious music.

“Love Song” is all the title implies, and Mark’s secret message to Miss Maile.

“Think It’s Gonna Rain”, written by Randy Newman, is a bluesy little number with all the JP guys on board. 

“Fools In Love” the classic blues piece by Joe Jackson, takes on a new life at the hands of John “JT” Thomas at the grand piano, as Bob Gross and John Molo lay down a tight foundation for Marks guitar weaving and vocals.

“Easy Wind”, the Grateful Dead standard written by Robert Hunter, is a faithful  interpretation of what many of us think of as our “roots music”, but the guitar is all Mark.

I’ve attempted to go through “Walk Through The Fire” song by song and give you a glimpse of what to expect, but after looking over everything I’ve written so far, I confess to falling far short of describing just how great it is. The thing about this CD is it covers such a wide range of musical genre and expression, I don't really know how to describe it.  You must hear it to appreciate it.  It is an amazing work full of well crafted tunes that are all classic from the first spin.  The band and the guest players all lay down such outstanding performances. This is a work of art that will make you feel, and feel deeply.  It will make you smile, and it may bring a tear to your eye. Your feet will move and your hips will sway before you know what’s happening. It will definitely take you on a journey you’ll be glad you took.  My best advice is to go to  www.markkaran.tourlogic.com, because it’s always best to get you music direct from the artist, and get your own CD.  Or you might think of it as a ticket, to walk through the fire.


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