Mark Karan - Walk through the Fire

Mark Karan
Walk through the Fire

(Quacktone)

First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2009, Volume 16, #9

Written by Douglas Heselgrave

Wed September 16, 2009, 05:55 AM CDT

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As anyone who has followed his career is aware, the simple fact that Mark Karan was able to record and release Walk through the Fire is reason to celebrate. The guitarist for Ratdog was sidelined with throat cancer for more than a year, and at different points along the way, things werenít looking very good. By all accounts, however, Karanís health has bounced back, which has allowed him to reclaim his position with the band. Walk through the Fire, his solo debut, offers an expression of gratitude to the universe that he still is alive, kicking, and able to continue doing what he loves.

For the record, there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about any of the 12 tracks on Walk through the Fire. Yet, the outing is a solid, well produced, and brilliantly executed assemblage of material that showcases Karanís empathetic guitar playing as well as his vocal style, which is surprisingly warm and rich. Considering that he has spent much of his professional life performing the music of the Grateful Dead, Karan may surprise some of his fans with his tightly structured compositions. Each tune on Walk through the Fire is a tasteful gem that illuminates a different aspect of his musical personality. Full of rich, tasty grooves and excellent performances, the songs on Walk through the Fire are reminiscent at times of Lowell George-era Little Feat, Lyle Lovett, and the Allman Brothers Band. Comparisons, however, are always of limited value, and the best way to approach the album is simply to sit back and allow its contents to sink in.

There are numerous attention-grabbing performances on Walk Through the Fire. With its bouncing, Memphis-soul melody and superb backing chorus (courtesy of The Persuasions), the opening song Annie Donít Lie, for example, allows Karan to explore his love of R&B. Rock Your Papa features a wonderful conversation between Bill Payneís organic keyboard riffs and Karanís B.B. King-infused guitar licks. The albumís title track, was written in the hospital just as Karan began chemotherapy, and its blues-y, heart-wrenching coda says more than any lyrics ever could about how love can triumph over death.

Well-chosen cover tunes ó such as Randy Newmanís Think Itís Gonna Rain and a reggae-tinged version of Joe Jacksonís Fools in Love ó effectively highlight Karanís interpretive powers as well as his underrated singing prowess. In fact, it bears asking why Bob Weir hasnít ceded the microphone to him on occasion. Elsewhere, Easy Wind functions as the obligatory song from the Grateful Deadís repertoire. Once again, Karan delivers the track with passion, while also adding tasteful guitar solos that pay homage to Jerry Garcia. At the same time, he also manages to express the inherent emotions in his own style. The only real dud on Walk through the Fire is the cover of Robert Johnsonís Love in Vain. It doesnít say anything new, and it also is marred by Delaney Bramlettís overwrought vocals.

Karan may never achieve superstar status, but this is hardly the point. Walk through the Fire is a record about the joy of making and listening to music. It offers Karanís eloquent expression of the moods and feelings that surrounded his bout with cancer. It also is an unspoken commitment to his continued search for new sounds and vistas to explore. Walk through the Fire is a celebration of life, and it is a reminder that time is a-wasting because no one gets younger. Serious yet playful, Walk through the Fire is enjoyable from beginning to end. starstarstar Ĺ

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Of Further Interest...

Henry Butler - PiaNOLA Live

Levon Helm - Electric Dirt

Irma Thomas - Simply Grand

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Walk through the Fire is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2009 The Music Box