CD Review of Red Tornado by Leigh Marble
Recommended if you like
Tom Waits, Ani DiFranco, Wilco
Label
Laughing Stock
Leigh Marble: Red Tornado

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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I
t would be hard not to be curious regarding an album about which the artist says, “Maybe I would have called it Blood on the Tracks, except somebody, I think, used that already.” As it so happens, Portland singer-songwriter Leigh Marble uses those exact words to describe his second solo album, Red Tornado, in its accompanying press release.

Now, anyone who has heard Blood on the Tracks – and was profoundly affected by its stark, emotional material, brought to life through the idiosyncratic, scratchy voice of the ever-changing and ever-literate Bob Dylan – has probably already had a negative reaction to Marble’s comparison. How could anyone even begin to go there, let alone try? Find your own way, says the cynic.

In truth, Marble really has gone his own way. The tone of the material is indeed similarly heartbroken, wounded and confrontational, and Marble is quite fond of the acoustic guitar. And perhaps “Get Yours” is Marble’s own “Idiot Wind” – his “you’re gonna get yours someday” chorus echoes Dylan’s piercing words, “One day you'll be in the ditch, flies buzzin' around your eyes, blood on your saddle,” albeit in far more clichéd language than Dylan’s.

Cliché is exactly where Marble parts from Dylan’s company on “So Far,” as well. As in “it’s so far, so good, but so far away” – hey, wasn’t that a Hall & Oates song?

But start from the beginning, and it’s a vaguely Tom Waits-ish stomp in the rhythm section we hear, coupled with some hearty organ, that drives a growling “Lucky Bastards,” while piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica provide the backdrop for a man lying to himself in “On Your Way.” From “You took me for granted, stepped on my face” to “I don’t mind if you’re leaving.” Yeah, right. “Just live up to what you say.” Them’s fightin’ words!

OK… throwing barbs, titling songs “Lucky Bastards” and “Salt in the Wound,” yeah, this sounds like the stuff of chip-on-shoulder syndrome. But unlike Dylan, Marble doesn’t pretty up his language in Rimbaud-like verse or cradle his thoughts in stolen rhymes from obscure blues and country songs. It’s more about pure feeling here. On “Strip the Bed,” Marble puts the strident tone aside and has his narrator looking inside himself – “Sometimes I strip the bed / To remember what leaving looks like / And ask me twice / Is this really what I want to do / ‘Cause it’s cold out there tonight” – while also managing to wrap a barb in an innocent-sounding arrangement: “And if your name is mud / Then at least you know the lay of the land.” The electric piano that starts the song eventually gives way to acoustic piano, acoustic guitar and drums as the dynamics build, leading up to a crescendo aided by some electric guitar, and dropping back down to a quiet acoustic guitar and piano outro.

And on “Big Words,” Marble achieves that tricky balance between confidence and restraint in his vocal. This, and the aforementioned “Strip the Bed,” are the songs to rip to your iPod. Perhaps “Fast & Loose,” too, which is the best rocker of the bunch.

Marble’s rootsy sound and troubled relationship songs definitely exhibit some potential, and a few of these songs are repeat-worthy. Not a masterpiece, but far from drivel. Just some solid stuff from a guy who’s probably got a few more gems waiting for us next time around.

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