Yep. That is TOTALLY a Depeche Mode reference. Why? Because it's one of the last great '80's records, it's one of the best '90's records, and simply because I can. It also has a degree of relevancy but we can get to that later.
My first week here in Jax culminated in me seeing Sea Wolf and The Album Leaf at Jack Rabbits http://jaxlive.com. I thought, if this is any indication of what this place holds in storeIm down! But then the inevitable costs of relocating quite hastilyanother story for another timecaught up and, needless to say, my next few weeks were mired in Redbox as entertainment and the regret that only comes from missing shows you know you had zero business missing, alas such is life. But a few weeks into this unfortunate cooling off period I started to hear murmurs from my near anemic current social circle of a free show happening down by the beaches. I thought, man, this would be a great idea, take my lady to a free show and its also a nice drive which is always lovelyI mean what have we got to lose who is this John Mark McMillan http://thejohnmark.com guy?
So I checked out some of his tunes online and it seemed like it could be interestingI could take it or leave itbut a free shows a free show (right, Chris Skeene? http://chrisskeenephotography.com). A little more research as means of killing time during my days uncovered that he also has limited edition vinyl at shows and, being the music nerd that I am, my interest began to wax (pun intended?). Finally the day arrives and I am so ready for some good loud fun and, in classic fashion for my family, we arrive late to no parking and an in progress showlucky for us, however, we were just in time for the fireworksԅ
Now I am not one easily given to the giddy schoolgirl emotions that define your average fanboy, but I am also not entirely immune. I can remember a few occasions when my fan composure is just irreparably lost upon witnessing a live show: Pedro the Lion as tour support for Jets to Brazil in 99, twothirtyeight in 01, Anathallo supporting Underoath in 03 (yes that really did happen and top it off, it was in a failed seafood restaurant called Moby Dick?!?!), mewithoutYou 03, The Secret Machines supporting The Fire Theft at Jack Rabbits in 04, Aloha supporting mewithoutYou and Sparta in 07, Paleo (house show at the Charles Mansion) in 08, and Dinosaur Jr. in 09. These were seminal moments in time. Moments that forever shifted my perspectives in various ways but while those shows absolutely stand out in my mind as monuments of the profound impact music has had on my life, none was quite so immediate and lasting as that free show out by the beaches in the summer of 2010.
John Mark McMillans music, founded in artistry and deep-rooted sincerity, touched a nerve with me that night. His sound is epic yet grounded in folk sensibilities. Throw in some atmospheric guitars, thundering rhythm section, a voice that is part Johnny Cash part Springsteen, and lyrics that ooze with belief and spirituality as well as evocative visualizations that are at once poignant and deeply personal yet inviting and familiar to the listener. I learned that he also has some pretty intense ties to Jacksonvillenot the least of which is his bands sonic architect, James Duke and his brother Jon, as well as Jaxs current indie princes Sunbears! http://sunbearsmusic.com. Needless to say I went home with all 3 limited edition vinyl and spent the next year and a half tracking down every JMM release that I was aware ofmost long out of print, wearing out his current release The Medicine, and generally jonesing for his next release, which, would matriculate in the form of Economy.
With its release on November 1, 2011 Economy more than fulfilled my ever-growing expectations. It is best listened to loud which is my preferred volume anyway. The sonics will pour from your speakers with a delicate ferocity that sounds as if The E Street Band is a freight train running through Sam Phillips Sun Studios, all while The Edge does the navigating. Its a big rock and roll record that has some modern flourishes but really doesnt stray far from the foundations firmly laid down in a bygone but thankfully not forgotten era. Its tone is celebratory, but not one of frivolity. This is the kind of celebration that can best be described as release. The kind of release that Andy Dufresne must have felt as he lifted his arms to sky, as he felt the rain wash away the foulness and stink that literally and symbolically had covered him for so long. He felt the overwhelming warmth of freedom.
Thats a beautiful essence to nail in a record and I have to say I have heard very few other albums come close, but this one is special for sure. It kicks off with the one/two punch of the southern-fried NYC post-punk (a la Interpol) infused rocker Sheet of Night and the perfect Daylightthink Springsteen meets early Petty while walking the line of the out of control aspects of Dylan going electric. Rather than bringing the usual mid-album lull we have the trifecta of Murdered Son, Economy, and Who is This, each is evocative and stirring both in its structure and musical cues as well as the raw emotion of the lyrics and their delivery. But the ultimate release, in classic form, comes with the glorious closer, Seen a Darkness, a raucous sing-a-long that chugs like a locomotion gaining speed to its final destination: the final phrase You have called us loved, you have called us wanted. One time we were bruised, we were bankrupt and haunted. In those short lines we see just why such a celebratory chord was struck: rejection gives way to redemption and the peace found in the latter.
John Mark McMillan has a knack for dividing audiences, but so has many a great performer or artist or philosopher or really anyone who may have something of worth to offer in this life. He is in no way perfect nor, I doubt, would he ever feign to be, but its those very imperfections and vulnerabilities that cut so deep, that feel so hopeful, that feel like home. But in the immortal words of the great Levar Burton, "Dont take my word for it!
Article by Paul Thomas Chapman