|Howard Markman & Acoustic Palookaville at Village Square cafe|
|The Dharma Bums at the Village Square Cafe|
Village Square Cafe's live music series is great (and so is the food - featuring the town's best Black Bean Burger!) and at Howard's show we sat with Helene Cooper and Brian McQuade of The Dharma Bums. The Dharma Bums had played there just two weeks before and I got to thinking how similar Brian McQuade and Howard Markman are. In the musical equivalent of Ancestry.com, both are descendants of Dylan, poets with guitars, oral story tellers who make us want to turn the page with them. They're part of the great American singer-songwriter tradition, one in which peers Dylan, Newman and Nilsson would look down on their graying heads with approval and give them a hearty thumbs up. And what great stories they tell! Both Howard and Brian can rock out (viz Howard's "Big Hair" and "Pennies On the Floor," Brian's "Johnny Says" and the Swingin' '60s spy spoof "Black Russian"), but at their core they're introspective, sensitive souls whose most intimate songs are tinged with melancholy and self-reflection - like all great artists (see: Chilton, Cohen, Keene, Lennon, Reed, Pete Ham). Howard even manages to half-smile at his blues in songs like "Glasphalt," "Sashimi To Go," and "Carla Bley."
And both do interesting takes on other artists' songs, Howard slowing down Prince's "Little Red Corvette" to cruising speed while Brian deconstructs Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" to its gnarly roots in Americana folk-blues. The Dharma Bums are also big time Stevie Nicks fans, so it's a given that they would utilize Brian's guitar prowess to back Helene's heartfelt vocals on Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." Brian also covers or pays homage to Dylan (obviously), The Beatles ("Norwegian Wood" and his Lennon tribute "Johnny Says"), Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, and his guitar idol Richard Thompson. Howard gives props to his tie-dyed past (yes, before he had his eyes opened wide by the Punk and New Wave movements, he was a member of the late '70s jam band Milton Freewater/Freewater) on the Grateful Dead's "Brown-Eyed Women" (on 2010's Welcome To Smalltimore album).
Howard has released four albums, as shown below, all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Three of them are even available at Baltimore city's central library (I wonder how that happened?).
|Symptom Recital (2002)|
|Half Smiles Blue Skies (2006)|
Half Smiles Blue Skies is my favorite Markman release, a solid long player of poignant love - and l'amour perdue - songs ("Anna," "I See the Rain") and uptempo rockers, with "Stuck In the Middle" standing out as arguably the best tune Howard has ever penned. It's a perfect mid-tempo pop song, packed with memorable images and clever wordplay. Flawless. "Anna" would fit nicely on a John Prine record (that's high praise in my book!), "Almost Home"'s fluid guitar lines would be at home on a Dire Straits album, and the snarly "Big Hair" ("Big hair, no brains/After sex, nothing remains...Big chest, no heart/Is this where the trouble starts?") is a total buzz-cut with a downright nasty guitar solo. "Almost Home" and "Iowa Skies" are intriguing on-the-road stories, while "Sashimi To Go" shows that even when life gets you down, there's always something worth living for. Who can argue with raw fish as salvation?
|Welcome To Smalltimore (2010)|
|Another Day (2016)|
Brian recently gave me his 2002 solo album, Lone Wolf (which I hope was NOT inspired by the 1983 Chuck Norris movie Lone Wolf McQuade - though both men appear bare-chested on their respective covers)...
|Lone Wolf (2002)|
...and I think he should either re-release it or upload it to the Cloud, because it's one of Baltimore's great undiscovered albums, as is Howard's 2006 magnum opus Half Smiles, Blue Skies (which gets bonus points for the back cover picture of Howard reading a book - a book with words! - outside Club Pussycat on The Block!).
|"There's no one like McQuade" - except Chuck Norris!|
|Brian - the other "Lone Wolf" McQuade|
|Howard likes to read|
Brian donned his Todd Rundgren Something/Anything hat for Lone Wolf (which he co-produced with Mac Walter), playing most of the instruments - guitars, drums and percussion, piano, organ, harmonica, accordion, even digeridoo (!) - with a little help from his friends Ralph Reinoldi (bass, mandolin), Bill Phelan (playing majestic electric 12-string guitar on "Givin' Up On Love"), Mac Walter (classical guitar on "Sky Is Bleeding," violin on "Children of the Wind," bass), Chris Weaver (drums on "Lone Wolf"), and Helene Cooper and Jim O'Hara (harmony vocals on "Sky Is Bleeding").
The snarky "17 Syllable Blues" is the album's highlight, a clever mesh of words and music that the Bard (the one from Hibbing, Minnesota, that is) probably wishes he had written, while "Sky Is Bleeding" and "Givin' Up On Love" (fave lines: "Well I got a good car with a stereo and the tunes I can't forget/I can walk around naked in my living room just like Alanis Morissette") are also standout tracks. "Givin' Up On Love" is a really upbeat breakup song, with Brian looking forward from the past ("I'm gonna let this go through me, I won't hold on, I'll forget what she said/I'll just let the wind blow through me, but I'll still hold on just like the spider's web") and even name-checking Dylan: "Well I got the new Dylan and some bongo drums and a good six-string/I'm writing these words in the woods, so no one can hear me sing."
There's a nice variety to the album, with instrumentals ("Blue Walkabout," the sparse piano and guitar interlude of "Dreamtime"), the topical ecological concerns of "Green Planet Blues" ("No ozone, the layer is blown/I better own some sun screen 30"), Middle Eastern-flavored worldbeat on "Children of the Wind," straight-up blues on "Medicine Girl," a philosophical acceptance that "All Things Must Pass Away" ("All things must pass away/to the sun, the darkness must give way"), and a celebration of the things that make Brian happy - nature and the joys it affords those who seek solitude far from the madding crowds ("Lone Wolf," "Wolfsong," "On the Beach"). Or, as he sums up in "Waltzing in the Snow": "The world's a cake and the frosting's all there." The only song I recognize from the Dharma Bums' set list is "La Vie Boheme," which makes sense because Brian and Howard are both, at heart, modern day Boho's, marching to the beat of a different drum. I hope one day others will join their parade and that their songs will be appreciated for the little gems they are.
Howard Markman - "Welcome To Smalltimore"
Dharma Bums - "Black Russian" (Live at Village Square Cafe)
Dharma Bums - "A Brand New Song" (Live at Village Square Cafe)