CD Review - Mark Tolstrup: Root Magic|
by Glenn Weiser
Metroland, January 5, 2006

Mark Tolstrup
Root Magic

Even though it’s a long way from upstate New York to the Mississippi Delta, Glen Falls acoustic slide guitarist Mark Tolstrup’s second disc, Root Magic, will take you down to deep blues country faster than would the Starship Enterprise’s transporter beam. Produced by former Dave Bromberg and Paul Butterfield Band bass god Tony Markellis and joined by Janis Joplin alumnus Richard Bell on piano, Dale Haskell on drums, and Markellis on bass, Tolstrup’s steel-bodied guitar and earthy baritone vocals affirm that it’s hard to go wrong when you stay close to the wellsprings of American music. The 14 tracks of his second release feature five originals as well as covers of Robert Johnson, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Leadbelly, Bob Dylan, and Hank Williams Sr. in solo, duo and band settings.

The 48-year-old Tolstrup is a solid bluesman who goes for grit more than flash, his sound being closer to Son House than to Robert Johnson or contemporary slide wizard John Mooney. Because the fingerpicking guitar style he favors was designed to be self-sufficient, he’s at his best when playing solo or backed only by Markellis’ bass. That’s not to dismiss the band tracks, though: Bell’s piano and Haskell’s drums lay down a sinewy groove that is worth a listen even if you wish Tolstrup had used a sharp-toned electric guitar for some of these cuts.

First among the more noteworthy tracks is Tolstrup’s self-penned title song, the lyrics of which start out like a compendium of voodoo practices, and then, referring to music as well as botany, advise the listener that “if you want the roots you got to dig deep in the ground.” “Careless Love,” on the other hand, is one the oldest and best-known blues songs to which Tolstrup gives an unusual twist by strumming the rarely heard tiple, or soprano guitar. In “Motherless Child,” Markellis’ bowed bass adds an aptly somber undertone to the old spiritual.

Root Magic should convince blueshounds that Tolstrup has been digging in the right places.

Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2006 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  

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