Powerful Performance From Mark Reeves in the Meaford Hall Gallery

Review by Bill Monahan of Mark Reeves at Meaford Hall March 4, 2017

When I see somebody hang a harmonica holder around their neck my expectations are not very high.  I’ve always felt that it is almost impossible to get a real soulful sound out of a blues harp without cupping it in your hands.  Mark Reeves, on Saturday night at his Meaford Hall concert, showed how wrong I was. He opened with some uptempo strumming on his guitar (“I’ll just warm up a bit here,” he murmured) and when he blew into his harp I was transported back to the good old days at the Riverboat when Sonny Terry used to blow me away.  Mark Reeves amazed me with the sound of his harmonica, and the dynamics, from high sweet tones to wailing.  It was truly a beautiful sound.

And that was just a third of his musical arsenal.  He plays guitar with a finesse that is always moving around, from rhythmic strumming, to arpeggio runs, to dead stops, the most risky and effective thing that a solo performer can do with a guitar.  And his voice is such an emotional powerhouse, drenched in a blues sound, it grabs you from the first line.  He moans, then whispers, then throws his head back and and croons a high dreaming sigh.  He even throws in snippets of scat and on one song did a long beatbox solo that sounded just like intricate tap dancing.

You might expect that his virtuosity on all fronts would present a kind of academic and studied approach, but the opposite is true.  He plays with a joyful abandon entirely devoid of pretense, carried away by the emotion and the sound.

With chops like that Mark Reeves could sing nursery rhymes and get away with it (as he proved with a song later in the set), but his songs are so strong that a much lesser performer could pull them off.  They are mostly love songs that vacillate between pastoral romantic views of domestic bliss like “If I Had You” and the opposite, with I-don’t love-you songs like “Cement” and one night stands, like “V-dub”. But there are also songs reflecting on the passage of time and the inevitable wear and tear, “Takes a While To get Like This” and “A Long Way To Carry The Blues”, and a few that seem to be just for fun, like the song about his Elvis-obsessed “seventh wife” called “Priscilla”, complaining, among other things, about her wanting to name their son Lisa Marie.  And a song about losing the ability to care, called “Broken Me”, stands in a sad lonely place all by itself.  Every song takes you somewhere with its lyrics while the sound of the performance just carries you away.

It was surprising to me that the audience seemed to be so subdued and quiet.  I’ve become used to feeling the great waves of enthusiasm that come from Meaford Hall audiences and this performance deserved so much more than the polite applause it received.  Maybe it was just that this was the coldest night of the winter so far. Mark noticed it too.  “This is a Saturday night, right?” he said, “Not a Thursday?”  But it didn’t in any way dampen the power of his performance.  He ended his second set with a long powerhouse rave on the harmonica during which he removed it from its holder and added some of the effects that only hands can achieve, and then returned it, to let it soar while he played some equally impressive guitar.  At last the audience reacted with the hoots and whistles every song had deserved.

The Meaford Hall Gallery Concert Series has certainly been outstanding.  So many of the performers have been relatively unfamiliar names and, like Mark Reeves, when you experience their performances you wonder why they aren’t in a huge sold out concert hall.  I felt particularly lucky on Saturday night not only to have discovered such a talent, but to have been able to enjoy him in a very small intimate venue.  There are just two concerts left in the series before the music moves back to the Opera House.  I’ll be looking forward to each of them with high expectations set by what I’ve seen so far.

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