Atlanta, GA — At first glance, there’s nothing special about Mark Lennon. He’s the guy next door, the laid-back neighbor strumming his guitar on the back porch while sipping a cold drink. He’s not flashy, but then again he doesn’t have to be. Just listen to his music and you’ll realize he’s a savvy musician speaking simple, honest truths.
Lennon’s third album, Down the Mountain (a stripped-down production and rather short at only seven songs), opens with the title track, his comfortable vocals gliding effortlessly around a swirling Hammond organ and whipsmart pedal steel and acoustic guitars, inviting us to check out a view of life from a different perspective.
Reinforcing this sense of place, “My Hometown” stresses the importance of retaining within your heart that burning light of home, the territory and loved ones that define and shape you, no matter how far from home you stray. Throughout the song, Lennon’s voice drips with longing.
A North Carolina native living in Los Angeles for the past seven years, Lennon has adopted the easy style of Southern California country-rock singer/songwriters while retaining his small-town roots from a place which he refers to as a “speck-on-the-map” town.
Just when you think this album can’t get any better, there’s “Wildside”, a gorgeous duet with Simone Stevens, who has been rightfully compared to Emmylou Harris at her best. The song (co-written by Lennon/Stevens) begins with an unexpected muted trumpet which fits the mood perfectly as the singers tell of a strained love affair that must inevitably result in one lover coming to the other’s “wildside”, and the unbearable lonely hours until that happens — if it ever does at all. This heartbreaking and beautiful song will stay with you for a long time.
Lennon has surrounded himself with some top-notch bandmates as well (Yohei Shikano, electric guitar; Sean Caffey on pedal steel), and one of the album’s most impressive jams comes on “What I Could Be With You,” showcasing some expert piano by Michael Russeck and guitar solos from Max Waker.
The shuffling and halting “I’m Doin’ Fine,” with its rather cliched protagonist keeping a stiff upper lip during tough times, is saved by Russeck’s raucous piano and Max Waker’s impressive guitar. “Tennessee” is a sweet anthem to Lennon’s Carolina roots, calling him like a lover to “come home” while the Tennessee countryside rolls by: “We’re all lost in the mainstream.”
“Broken” rounds out the album with some solid Hammond organ flourishes (again, Russeck), while the characters in this one incessantly repeat, “I’m broken / I don’t know where I’m goin’.” I wished this effort had ended on a stronger note, but nonetheless there’s no doubt Mark Lennon knows where he’s been and where he’s headed.