ALBUM REVIEW: Mark Knight and the Unsung Heroes – Days of a Dreamer
I’ve been listening to music made by Mark Knight since I was in my teens (and to be fair he wasn’t that much older). I saw Bang Tango tour the UK in 1992 when they played my home away from home – Rock City in Nottingham, and I was so impressed I headed for Sheffield a few days later to catch them again. ‘Love After Death’ hadn’t been released then but the ‘Ain’t No Jive… Live’ EP was just out. Those two releases would be Mark’s last recorded music with the band and by 1995 he’d left.
Mark went on to form The Worry Beads with Tigg and Kyle from Bang Tango, a band that played a bluesy, rootsy rock and roll mix and released a great album ‘Iron Spittin’ Horse,’ a live album ‘Live at the Mint’ and an EP ‘Broken Down’ (Don’t bother looking on Discogs and thanks to Mark for my copy of the former). Next came the rock and funk of Gravy before a first solo album ‘Perfect American Family’ in 2006.
I trekked from Australia in 2010 to meet Mark for the first time at Paladino’s where Bang Tango Redux (All the original members except Joe) played their second show and went round to his producer’s studio with him to listen to what would become the second Mark Knight record ‘Bone Rail Tight’ before getting a sneaky listen to the first, yet to be mixed Unsung Heroes record ‘Road Sick Eyes’ on my next visit to L.A.
2015 saw a third self-titled solo record before the wonderful ‘Don’t Kill the Cat’ from the Unsung Heroes and now here we are mid-pandemic with a third Unsung Heroes record ‘Days of a Dreamer’, I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s been a long and winding road to get to this point. And this record may just be the most important of Mark’s career so far,
For those unfamiliar with their back catalogue, The Unsung Heroes play a brand of music that I like to call Calicana’ (not sure that will catch on!) – it’s a heady mix or Rock and Americana with a huge variety of other sounds shot through it – everything from Reggae and Swampy Blues to the savvy Pop Rock of Tom Petty and even a touch of Country.
Featuring a solid line up of musicians at it’s core with Knight on guitar and vocals along with Eddie Montes (bass), Edward Shemansky (drums) and Kyle Stevens (guitars) the record sounds wonderfully rich. Produced by Knight and Shemansky and recorded primarily at Knight’s Los Angeles home, ‘Days of A Dreamer’ delivers 13 new songs that honestly don’t miss a beat.
As well as the band the new album also includes background vocals by special guests George Adrian (Jay), Angie Bruyere (Angie & The Deserters), Keith England (The Allman Brothers) and Scarlet Rae (Rose Dorn) with additional bass by Reeve Downes (Rhino Bucket), Kyle Kyle (Bang Tango) and Wayne Lothian (The English Beat) as well as Adam Hamilton (L.A. Guns) providing additional percussion.
It all adds to the patina of an album that has a huge and equal amount of soul-searching and love in its grooves. Born out of lockdown you can feel the self-reflection, relate to the wonderful storytelling and fall completely for its ebb and flow. At the end of the day its just a rock and roll record, but one with so much packed in it sounds like a sonic journey through Knight’s past, present and future. Above all at the end of the day it fixes it’s energies on hope.
When you first hit ‘play’ you can feel the energy. There’s a huge and deserved confidence about this album and it all starts with the rip-roaring riff to ‘Rusty Bones’ which might be the heaviest we’ve ever heard The Unsung Heroes, but like the rest of the album it’s a song that’s far from the expected with a sudden reggae breakdown that turns it all wonderfully on it’s head. This simply had to be the opener, and it only hints at what is to come.
‘Wise Choice’ of course is a great single and has that Tom Petty echo from earlier albums that connects it, and yet here sets it apart. Knight has really found his own voice on this one and it’s more malleable and fluid than you might imagine, and he still he has that unerring judgement of a great tune. It’s track three though, the title track, that shows you this time it’s different and more varied. The song has echoes of early U2 from the ‘Boy’ and ‘October’ albums and his voice sounds perfect for the moody lightly alternative Americana Pop rock. There’s a beautifully restrained solo that doesn’t fill you up with too many notes and a nice urgency to the melody and breakdown. It’s a somehow fuller sound, and there’s even a great line about squirrels and nuts that we laughed about in our forthcoming interview.
‘1000 Times’ is the sort of compelling storytelling that Knight excels at; and ‘Fools Like You’ starts out with another rocking opening but soon falls into almost spoken word lyric before a crushing chorus. It’s a song that lyrically sounds like a rebuke that will either result in a changing of ways or a parting of them, pushing the past aside as it does.
‘Open Wounds’ is the almost-ballad of the album, there’s a nice gentle female backing vocal and a real Country Americana feel, as well as a solo that sounds so fresh it might have just been laid down! There’s a wonderful juxtaposition with ‘Judge Me’ that follows – a raucous country-fried rocker! I love the wailing guitar that opens and the drive it gives the composition. It’s a drinking song set in a past that we’ve all lived and can either choose to celebrate as we reminisce, or reject, though we can’t change or rewrite the script even if we wanted to.
‘Another Man’s Woman’ that follows Mark agreed had a nice slice of ZZ Top in the mix – it’s a rocking tale of woe and great fun. Again the track listing proves inspired as it brushes against ‘Dark Roots’ one of my favourites musically that opens so lush and green before becoming languid and reflective. It’s another inspired lyric and a great song. Mark’s favourite ‘Checking Out’ follows and I have to agree with him – it’s a great song – a dark tale of deceit that opens with percussion before telling a tale of woe and deception. The harmonies just take it to another level.
‘Lost on the Road’ had to be a Blues, and Blues it is – a style that really suits Knight’s vocal which on this album sounds better than ever, There’s a wonderfully ‘swampy’ almost Chris Isaac vibe in there that really works. As we close out the album things become mellow: ‘Mid July’ the penultimate track has a nice acoustic twang to it. It’s the only song here that didn’t immediately connect but one that just grows and grows in stature with each listen. It’s a song of hope and change that makes you want to jump out of that comfort zone.
The album closes with the aptly titled ‘The Party’s Over’ which surprises as a female vocal cuts across the acoustic guitar and the song turns into an unexpected duet that is pure country marbled Americana. It’s a song you feel touches the heart of the writer like so many here, and tells you just a little more about the very talented Mr. Mark Knight.
If you want to listen to an album that drips with real honesty both in its musicianship and its lyrical content, an album that isn’t afraid to tell its stories and open wounds because it knows that is the way to heal and learn something real from life’s journey, this is that album. It’s a perfect storm of great songs and sharp insights driven by a real story teller who knows that we all experience the highs and lows of life, but we all have a chance to make it through. ‘Days of a Dreamer’ couldn’t be more aptly titled. We all need to dream because in those dreams there is a path to a better world.
This is an exceptional collection of songs: diverse and yet fluid, brooding yet hopeful. It’s a complex mix and one of those rarities that you know you’ll love for years to come and one that in these days of instant gratification goes against the flow and can be savored at leisure.
Look out for our track by track interview next week and more on next month’s podcast.