April 2003

Mark Selby - Dirt
Vanguard CD 798-2
Released: 2003

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2 *
Overall Enjoyment ****

More Storms Coming, Mark Selby’s initial solo release, was a wonderful mixture of the blues and rock'n'roll. It seemed to express the best of both genres, melding the twin forms into something solid.

In Dirt, Selby’s latest CD, those twins have become mere nodding acquaintances. Oh, you can still hear elements of the blues weaving throughout the songs, but Dirt is much more rock driven. Its heavy rock'n'roll beat motors the music along, propelling it down different back roads than Selby's previous effort. Where More Storms Coming seemed to draw much of its musical influence from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dirt gets much of its impetus from the music of John Hiatt. And that’s not such a bad thing really -- after all, the blues heavily influenced both Vaughan and Hiatt. But where Vaughan never forgot his roots, Hiatt seems to drift back and forth between the two genres as whim takes him. It will be interesting to see in which direction Selby takes his music in the future.

While More Storms Coming seemed to deal more with surface impressions and feelings, Dirt digs deeper into the roots of those issues. For example, in "Easier To Lie," Selby comes to the realization that even though it’s hard to make radical changes in one's life and it's easy to lie, the truth and its consequences are preferable to taking the less-honest road.

On the title track Selby sings, "There are things we carry with us, and things we leave behind." He concludes that no matter what we do, who we are, or how wealthy we become, we’re all "going to dirt someday." Selby’s willingness to look truthfully at life as an adult hold great promise for his future.

As on his first disc, Selby sticks with guitar (himself), bass (Tony Nagy), drums (Chad Cromwell), and keyboards (Tim Lauer) as his basic building blocks. But he waters that mixture with contributions from guitarist Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor), keyboardist Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan), and the horns of Wayne Jackson (Memphis Horns). The sound they lay down on this disc is a bit of a mixture of good and bad. Each musical line is cleanly separate, making the tunes easy to follow. However, there is a slightly processed feel to the disc's sound that tends to keep the listener apart from the music. And, while the vocals lack that 3-D realness factor, at least they aren’t presented as cardboard cutouts. Further, on the up-tempo cuts, the louder the sound, the more congealed the soundscape becomes -- the slower songs fare much better in this regard.

Dirt is a solid sophomore effort from one of music’s up-and-comers. While it cultivates different ground than Selby’s first album, it’s still chock-full of music that will get under your skin and make you pause and think. What direction Selby chooses to go with his music in the future will be of interest to his fans. As it stands, he’s plowed a number of different fields in which he can plant his next crop.