Mark Huff – Down Riverto
Tennessee-based singer/songwriter Mark Huff first caught my attention back in 2016 when he released his extended play Down Riverto critical and audience acclaim. I was fascinated by his particular variety of Americana, which to me spoke far more to mid-century folk music than it did to country, something that’s becoming a bit of a trend as the decade winds down. His latest album, Stars for Eyes, sees Huff’s sound take full shape and bear down on the weight of its spirited stride. I grabbed a copy of Stars for Eyes when it was released last March through Exodus Records, and to say that I walked away impressed with what I heard might be the understatement of the year.
From start to finish, this album flows with the consistency of a gripping novella, progressively building our tensions at the start of the record (the explosive “Prison Door,” followed up by the laid back title track), letting them peak without restriction (the swaggering “Nightingale”) and then washing away the ash from the fireworks with plaintive poetry and relaxed harmony (a stunning cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Almost Like the Blues”). Despite the somewhat scattered narrative and eclectic arrangements, Stars for Eyes doesn’t have any hick-ups that inevitably disrupt the transition from one song to another; instead of feeling like a choppy collection of roots rock nattering, this record feels like an anthological disc meant to show us the many different sides of a songwriter.
While I firmly stand by my assertion that Mark Huff is a lot more of a folkie than he is a country singer, there’s nevertheless some very compelling crossover content that could find some success among even the most diehard of country music fans. “Carolina Blue” and “Big City Down” both stuck out to me as tracks that could easily find a home on the country charts, while “I Know You Don’t Want My Love” has a sort of haunting, adult contemporary quality to it that reminds me of late 90’s country artists who briefly had grand influence over all of pop music. “God in Geography” is a similar situation, and to be fair, there isn’t a single track on Stars for Eyes that doesn’t push the genre boundaries a little bit.
The irony is that in the last four months that Stars for Eyes has been out, I’ve noticed that Huff’s fan base has expanded significantly in the indie rock community, something I didn’t necessarily predict when I first gave his new record a listen back in March. Transcendent songwriters who exhibit as much talent and charisma as Mark Huff does rarely find themselves pinned down to one brand, and it looks like that’s going to be the case for him as well. Call him Americana, call him pop, you could even call him country now and again. I get the impression none of those monikers mean much to Huff. For him, it’s about the music, and never has that been more evident than on Stars for Eyes.