Listen up, cowboy: Former leader of the band Taconite Haven. One solo CD, Chatelaine Saloon from 2004...there is a new recording rumblin' 'neath the floorboards at Underwood Studios. It'll creep out of the darkness in mid-2007. There may be some shows, but till then, it's just a late night rumor. The falcon has recorded and produced albums for Big Ditch Road, Martin Devaney, Bob McCreedy, Tom Feldmann, Hojas Rojas, Inwood Radio, House of Mercy Band and many more. The folowing is a review of the most recent record: Mark Thomas Stockert Chatelaine Saloon Eclectone Records (2004) I always tell people that if they're reading an album review and the writer goes on and on about the packaging, that's a pretty good sign that either he/she hasn't really given the release a proper listen or that they did and it was so bad, offensive, or just plain boring that the CD jacket was the only thing about it worth mentioning. In the case of Mark Stockert's latest, Chatelaine Saloon, neither of those options hold true. Yeah, the CD IS in one of the sweetest packages I've ever come across, either on an indie or a major release; a triple-gatefold with groovy, velvety material covering the outer skin, but for once a label (in this case, Martin Devaney's relatively new outfit, Eclectone) has actually put as much effort and TLC into an album's look as the artist did it's feel. And believe me, this record is chock fulla FEEL. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Stockert surrounded himself with a whole passel of expert musicians, vocalists, and fellow songcrafters for Chatelaine Saloon, an album that holds the rare distinction of containing music that's so timeless, so universal, so wholly AMERICAN, that, despite the fact that much of it is played on or through electric instruments, it could easily be stripped down to it's bare, acoustic essentials and make just as much of an emotional and psychic impact were it to be performed live at an 1874 frontier saloon, a Depression-era porch pickin' party, a backwater 1950's revivalist tent, or a hip modern folk club. Kicking off with the dreamy, rolling licks of 'Cowboy Song,' (Not a cover of the Thin Lizzy rocker, but astute pop music fans will notice that several of Stockert's song titles recall classic hits of the past, including 'He Don't Love You,' 'Oh Daddy,' 'Wild Thing,' and 'Hush,' but you can rest assured that the tunes on this album are all originals) a melancholy hopin' song with jagged guitar riffs and simple but drop-dead-gorgeous lines like, 'I wonder if I'll ever be married to a girl with bright, shiny eyes/And I wonder if I'll ever be married to sunshine and blue skies...' Stockert immediately establishes himself as both a musician and a wordsmith who's working the same dark, mysterious artistic soil as ex-Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar, Will Oldham, and Jayhawks co-founder Mark Olson. 'He Don't Love You' (yes, I keep wanting to add, '...like I love you, if he did, he wouldn't break your heart...' too, but that's NOT this song, dammit!) has a loping, cow-poke groove and features happy-blue honky-tonk piano and lines that reference that instrument as well: 'White Cadillac, long saloon/Drives you back from my mind too soon/But like a nine-fingered whorehouse honky-tonk piano player without a knack...he don't love you the way I do/But I won't love you if you don't want me to...' Stockert sometimes sings in a deep, lonely voice, sometimes in a tragic, near-whisper-though his utterances are always clear and concise-and on first listen, these songs seem almost too understated to grab you by either the heart or the balls. But take my word for it, after your second listen, you'll be hooked. 'Oh Daddy' oozes out on grainy slide guitar, weird bell sounds, and a dire banjo/guitar line; a hypnotic road trip song for some slightly off-kilter traveling salesman with scotch on his breath, a statue of Jesus, and (to paraphrase Jon Dee Graham) a small dark spot in his trunk that just won't go away. 'Light Me Up' unfolds over a minor electronic maelstrom and a half-drunk/half-holy chorus of partners-in-crime, then jumps the rails to morph into a catchy, keyboard-driven cow-pop nugget that'd sound equally at home between 'Dark End Of The Street' and Mark Eitzel's 'Fresh Screwdriver' on a mix CD. Superb songwriting, an easy-going, kinetic relationship between the players, and honest, no-bullshit production make this album a sure bet for a lot of local year-end Best Of 2004 lists-and recent positive reviews in such esteemed publications as No Depression hint that this whole project might be a lot bigger than either Stockert or Devaney could've hoped for. 'Chicky Boom,' my personal fave from this collection (and that's a tough call, because I really do like every song on here), kinda drips outta your speakers at first, like the last couple of reluctant drops from a morning-after bottle of whiskey; Stockert talk-singing the first lines in that weary, devil-may-care-but-I'm-not-sure-I-do-anymore tone of his. And just when you think you're gonna sink back down into the depths (not that you mind sinking, by this point) the tentative pickin', weeping steel guitar, and choppy drum beats coalesce into another beautiful, bibulous half-waltz and Stockert's voice picks up like Deputy Festus on the old Gunsmoke T.V. show after Miss Kitty'd pour him a closing time shot on the house: 'Chicky-chicky boom, yeah!' 'Devil' finds Stockert and his 'House Of Strange Sounds' players (a take-off on the handle of his pals, The House Of Mercy Band, the line-up includes Dave Downey, Jim Hauf, Dave Schultz, Jimmy Peterson, Peter J. Sands, Brian Fessler, Brian O'Neil, Eric Luoma, Steve Murray, Adam Wortman, Darin Wald, Alicia Corbett, and Kevin Pinck) trotting out a Creek Dippers-esque ramble about personal demons and searching for a place (inside?) where 'the devil's got no hold on you...' 'Wild Thing' features more stump-preacher banjo, strange, disembodied voices, and that rollicking honky-tonk piano. And it's got about as much in common musically with The Troggs' nugget by the same name as Ton Loc's wacky hit did. But then again, this record's not about '60s psychedelia, fuzzed out garage guitars, faux rap, lifted samples, fashion, or funky cold Medina. It's about capturing a FEEL, like I said before. And that's exactly what it does. Lots of feelings, to be accurate. Like Jessco, The Dancing Hillbilly and The Dashboard Saviors once said, it's about love, sorrow, hatred, madness ... and anything else that might be boiling just beneath that shiny surface you allow the rest of the world to see. You might not find any answers here (Stockert's clearly still searching himself), but if you're not touched by the raw humanity and the genuine passion running through Chatelaine Saloon, you probably never knew the questions in the first place. The final track, 'Hush,' moans it's way deep down into your ears with sad slide guitar, wispy acoustic pickin', and Stockert's cracked, broken voice summoning up the ghosts of Hank Williams, Nick Drake, and The Scud Mountain Boys simultaneously, literally putting the proverbial cherry on top of this batch of well-crafted, heartfelt, spiritual tracks. And although the album (or it's author and players) never can seem to make up it's/their mind(s) about whether this is a beer-soaked, bleary-eyed Saturday night drinkin' record or a 'damn-I-can't-believe-I-did-that-shit' Sunday morning confessional, by the time you've reached the end your soul makes that decision for you. The cool thing? It's different every time. Try it yourself- and whether you end up with the perfect soundtrack for creating future regrets or one to live them out with, there's no doubt you'll dig the music along the way. Available in all your finer local mom-n-pop record shops. Chicky Chicky Boom!!
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