Mark Growden – Saint Judas

January 01, 1970

(Porto Franco)


Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Mark Growden started his
career as a jazz saxist, a prior occupation that brings little to bear on his
current incarnation. Recorded live in the studio, Saint Judas wallows in a pool of gothic Americana,
as sloughed off by Nick
Cave in his less arty
moments or Tom Waits on his way home from Swordfishtrombones.
Leonard Cohen’s poetic gloom is another obvious influence, even without the
cover of “I’m Your Man.”


Not a bad place to be, frankly, at least when Growden
controls the demons and not the other way around. As a singer, Growden has a
tendency to over-emote, sometimes bludgeoning the lyrics into submission; as an
arranger, he can stretch a song out so far it becomes thin enough to see
through. Check “Been in the Storm So Long” for a track that’s guilty on both
counts. (The less said about the unaccompanied flute solo “Handlebar
Improvisation” the better.) But when he reigns himself in, his work is
undeniably potent.


The title track hits every gothic and Biblical note for
which he shoots, “The Gates/Take Me to the Water” near-perfectly balances
spiritual yearning and world-weary melodrama and “If the Stars Could Sing”
fulfills his romantic crooner ambitions with taste and soul. A gently haunted banjo/vocal
version of the traditional “All the Pretty Little Horses” puts the record to
bed, finally draining the unease. Growden’s penchant for excess keeps him from
reaching his full potential, but there’s enough strong stuff on Saint Judas to
be of interest to roots rockers searching for different shades of blue.


Standout Tracks: “Saint
Judas,” “If the Stars Could Sing” MICHAEL TOLAND


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