Brother Mark
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Brother Mark

Band Americana Folk

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BILLYBLUES BLENDS PAST, PRESENT

Few things are more American than the humble rambling of an acoustic guitar accompanied by the metallic whistle of a harmonica. Their casual disregard for any sense of elegance strips the accoutrements away and exposesa the root of all great music--melodic irony. As Mark Lucas has said in reference to the roots-inspired band named BILLYBLUES: "Dark humor accompanied by a three-part harmony."

Like many bands that play in the vein of American roots music, BILLYBLUES molds the conventional into the singular by fusing tradition with progression. The band isn't a slave to the fingerpicking past, but it does pay homage to the icons of American folk music with its rustic reverberations. BILLYBLUES borrows what it likes, plays what it feels, and pretty much does whatever it wants.

Formed ten years ago when Centre College professor Mark Lucas and New York transplant Colin Raitiere started playing guitar together, BILLYBLUES has undergone an evolution that added Mike Norris, David White, and a substantial fan base. Norris--who also happens to be Centre College's director of communications--had a chance conversation with Lucas in the faculty club that resulted in his becoming a member of the band. As a harmonica player, Norris helped flesh out the trio's folk-influenced sensibility.

"He didn't have just a harmonica--he had a suitcase full of harmonicas," Lucas laughed. The apparent hyperbole of this statement quickly dissipates when one hears Norris's range on an album like "Third Shot." Harmonica equipped, the band started down a road that would produce some of its best material.

Raitiere then picked up the mandolin, which added a further dimension to BILLYBLUES' sound. His self-taught skills have created a unique playing style that Lucas calls "barbaric, idiosyncratic blues mandolin." Raitiere's ad hoc acquisition of this folk standard has given the band an organic stamp that adds to its roots credentials.

A few years, a mandolin, and a suitcase full of harmonicas later, David White--a professional drummer who has played with Jerry Lee lewis--injected the band with a strong dose of rhythm-section energy that marked a stylistic departure for the band. Since White started playing with BILLYBLUES, the band has moved in a more raucous direction.

"It's been roots rock since Dave started drumming. It's louder now. We draw inspiration from early rock, blues, and rhythm and blues," Lucas said.

While BILLYBLUES was perfecting its lineup and repertoire, it also began to gain a following beyond Kentucky. According to Norris, the internet has been particularly helpful in getting the music out to people who otherwise would not be able to hear the band. A video of "Every Kind of Fool" was recently added to YouTube, which Norris believes has provided "one of the breakthroughs" the band has had.

"If you do a Google search, there are an enormous number of hits," Norris said. "We've been reviewed in England, Germany, Belgium, and one of the former Soviet countries. I've even seen a site in Japanese."

Although BILLYBLUES has come a long way in the past ten years, there are still certain stylistic threads that have stayed constant over time, which give the band a stable but unique sound.

"The thing that characterizes BILLYBLUES is the three-part harmonies. There are always carefully constructed harmonies in everything we do," Raitiere said.

With one of Lucas's songs featured in "American Songwriter," a single-song option taken by Buddy Cannon--a producer who has worked with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton--on one of Norris's tunes, and a performance scheduled for Third and Lindsley's in Nashville, BILLYBLUES is building the reputation that it deserves. For further information on concert dates, band history, and merchandise, visit www.billyblues.org. - Chase Martin (4/15/08)


"If you're gonna have the blues, you'd better hope you get the kind that makes you this happy. The members of BILLYBLUES take turns at the mic and writing, coordinate fine harmony, and wring sweet notes out of their hollow-body guitars. Lucas' catchy licks on the resonator guitar bring back the vintage sound you've been missing, while his memorable tunes like "Jesus Is My Whiskey" and a tribute to the "El Camino" leave you humming cheerfully. Norris' slick harp playing (check out the solo on my favorite, "Pretty No More") is all the brass the blues needs. Raitiere nods to Reverend Gary Davis and Robert Johnson. Those greats' effect on Colin is evident in his cool Delta vocals." - Glenn Jackson (1/21/00)


Billy Bop Reviews article on BLIND DATE:
The music is a poppy kind of blues, mixed with authentic rockabilly and folk–blues influences. Tracks like “Junk in the Trunk”, “Dirty Man” or “Lead Me Not” explain exactly what this means. The band produces a nice clean sound, which is musically very appealing.... Next to their clean sound is the fact that all members share the vocal parts, often creating close harmonies. This and the brass from Mike’s harps are exactly the things to look out for when talking about Billyblues.

Opener “Junk in the Trunk” is a classic rockabilly tune and a great way to open the album. Great shake, rattle & roll if you ask me! With "Every Kind of Fool” the band brings you a tune that musically comes close to Robert Cray.

On “Man of Few Words” we can hear the band doing a classic 12 bar blues. Nice performance indeed and certainly done with a feeling that reaches out to the original blues artists. Closing track “Drifting and Drinking” is a standout. Lyrics like “I met a woman / Just what you want a woman to be. / Then that woman tried to make a family man of me,/ I left that woman / In Kingsport, Tennessee. / Drifting and drinking, / the road’s the place to be. Drifting and drinking, / whiskey’s cheap, the road is free” are definitely worth your time . . . . The combination of the lyrics & and the delta slide guitar are quite the thing!

The happy sound of Billyblues might be in big contrast to what most people expect of a good blues album, but it certainly does remind us that blues doesn’t have to be sad or blue anymore! The genre developed and went many directions.

Mr Blue Boogie
- Billy Bop Reviews, Belgium (Jan 7, 2007) - Billy Bop Reviews (1/7/07)


Discography

LPs with Billyblues: Where the River Meets the Mountains (1999), Moods of St. Mildred (2002), Third Shot (2004), and Blind Date (2007). BROTHER MARK solo project scheduled for spring '09 release.

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Bio

Brother Mark is Americana artist Mark Lucas. Kentucky-born. Raised on country, soul, and mountain traditional. Writes story-songs that explore dark corners of American folk history. Layers acoustic instruments in an unusual mix with Hammond B-3. Gritty vocals channel the strange characters who inhabit the songs. Live act is acoustic trio with guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and three-part harmonies.

Brother Mark's solo Americana album, Rough Lumber, is slated for spring '09 release. Thirteen stories, each springing from a different point of view and historical moment. "Shrewd, lyric-driven country noir." "Backwoods gothic of both raw immediacy and patient craftsmanship."

Lucas played, sang, and wrote with the roots group Billyblues for ten years. The band was known for the dark wit and weathered three-part harmonies of its originals. Billyblues recorded four albums (three DIY, one on the indie label OneTooth), garnered radio and TV play, and toured in the southeast.

Interview in Jan.-Feb. '08 American Songwriter magazine. Author of books on southern fiction and art when not writing music

For more: www.brothermarkmusic.com