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Sidewalks and Skies: Mark Brown’s In Vacuo

February 1, 2010

Mark Brown — In Vacuo (Main Street Records, 2001)

From the pavement to the firmament, Mark Brown’s Main Street Records release In Vacuo confidently addresses ruminations pertinent to both, and in a manner that balances sober contemplation and hope. This he does by employing the solid guitar work and delicate melodies deftly employed by other notable indie/alt-folkies like Elliot Smith.

From the upbeat entreaty of “Call You Home” (whose conceit revolves around annoying telemarketers), to the gently plaintive “Geena”, Brown’s work leaves the impression that he did his homework. “Who’s Your Baby” competes on par with the most melancholic Archer Prewitt, while the vocal harmonies of “Green Locust Leaves” will ease the pain of knowing that Simon and Garfunkel will never release another “Bookends.” Some of the quirky twists and turns in Brown’s fretwork and songwriting can be attributed to the ubiquitous specters of Nick Drake and Bob Dylan, but this is hardly to In Vacuo‘s detriment (the “tribute” part of attribute seems more fitting in this case). If this album can evoke the work of these luminaries, then Brown is in fine company indeed.

Whether it is an emotional emptiness that informs or compels Brown, or self-awareness cultivated through intentional isolation and reflection, In Vacuo certainly arrives as an album of substance. And, to quote “Torch”, “he makes it look easy” – if he sounds this good now, his future output will be met with much enthusiasm.

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