There’s something familiar about Mark Harrod’s voice that takes a moment to place. Someone who opened a High Noon show? No, that’s not it. Something heard from an afternoon stage at Summerfest over the crush of crowd noise? Maybe. A contestant on WMMM’s Project M? Actually that could have been it, if I listened to the radio. Then it hits me as he sings the line about the “clock on the wall” from “Cold,” the second track from his debut solo release Quietly Marching. He sounds exactly like Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas, or more accurately, like I remember him sounding back when I used to listen to the radio. It’s a confident and sincere voice, with a hint of treacle, that says defiantly, “I will be famous.” It might not be the message he intended as he was recording the record with the help of some of his fellow Project M participants, but with his mainstream sound and broad appeal that’s what I hear.
It was the connections he made as a result of the elimination contest (which he did not win) that made this record, which follows two band recordings with the Mark Harrod Project, possible. Fellow contestants Whitney Mann, Nick Matthews, and Scott Lamps all make appearances, as well as Ida Joe, who plays violin and sings in the Compass Rose with eventual winner Mike Droho. It was Lamps who made the biggest contribution; in addition to adding bass, guitar, percussion, organ, vocals, microkorg and loop to the record, he also co-engineered and co-produced it. Mann’s contributions aren’t as obvious. On “Looking for an Outlet” and “Maggie” she is part of a chorus of voices, though that may be her keening near the three-minute mark of the latter, “I’ll cry out loud, tonight the tears fill up this face and turn in to clouds.” Yes, it does say “in to” in the liner notes, which could have benefited from a good proofreading throughout.
The most unexpected of his collaborators turn out to be the most important, and what lifts this disc out of generic mediocrity. On opening track “Searching for Love,” Garrett and Ryan Kornman lend a subtle tenor saxophone and flugelhorn, respectively, to the gentle love song. Garrett returns on “Cold,” his urgent baritone sax pumping life into the song. All the stops come out on the next track, “Body & Bones,” which features multiple members of Mama Digdown’s Brass Band and the Youngblood Brass Band, who join forces in a chorus of horns and percussion to make this the best track on the record. Garrett makes two more appearances, on “Body & Bones” with a jazzy clarinet solo mid-track and again with his emphatic baritone sax on the title track, which also features Charley Wagner’s trumpet. Unfortunately track four sees the last of the horns—a different sequence might have kept things more interesting.
I admit to being a little put off by his message on the back of the CD booklet, which seems unnecessary, not to mention a little conceited. He implores us, “PLEASE do not burn/copy this record for others. Every time you do it makes it that much more difficult to stay a musician.” “If it’s worth hearing,” he continues, “it should be worth buying. Thank you.” Frankly, I couldn’t disagree more. I can’t count the number of CDs I’ve bought because someone originally gave me a copy of it. Admittedly, I may be atypical, but at the very least someone who can’t afford the CD might come to a show in the future if they’d had a chance to hear it. Well, at least he says please and thank you. There is something to be said for good manners.