(2010 Mere Poet Records)
Mark Croft took several bold moves on his way to completing Evening Flood, his fourth recording. Not one to be caught sleeping on the best and latest music industry trends, especially those relating to indie artists, Croft formed his own independent record label, Mere Poet Records. Then he hooked up with Illinois-based publicity company Carrie On Productions who also handle Madison-based songwriter/performer Michael Brandmeier. Also on the roster at COP is Anthony JW Benson, who runs Injoi Music where he functions as a manager, advisor, life enhancement coach, marketing/communications consultant and producer. A Londener now living in the Southwest, Benson became the producer (and no doubt a lot more) for the Evening Flood project.
There’s more. Croft makes no bones about making these moves to elevate his career to the next level. You can read about more of that in this profile/interview.
The enlistment of an entirely new set of professionals to surround him, including the band members who played on the sessions, has benefited the resulting album in several ways, most notably the sound. Recorded at Masters Recording Studios (formerly Flyte Tyme) in Edina, Minnesota, Evening Flood sounds absolutely fantastic. Whether or not great production values matter you, this record sounds as good as anything out there. Enlisting Grammy-winner Tom Tucker (Prince, Sing, Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt) to mix surely had a lot to do with that and gives you some idea of the prolific company Evening Flood keeps on the production level.
Croft breaks new ground on the opener. “Evening Flood” may be the best-written, most succinct pop song he’s done yet. Everything gels here, the melody, the hook, the vocal performance and the accompaniment. “Good Enough,” co-written with Brandmeier, comes in a close second. A heartfelt song about moving on, this one also has a distinct Top 40 Country aspect. The funk gets turned up for “The Gas is On,” a song inspired by the Gulf oil spill events with rousing vocal harmonies, snarling guitar and a punchy bass line.
While last year’s The Possibility of Disaster hinted at darker emotions and deeper subject matter, “If She’s Gonna Shake It” and “One Mississippi” sound awfully safe, though littered with catchy lyrical phrasing and expertly played. “Amen & Hallelujah,” a gospel-infected tune with choir-like backup vocals is another example of well-crafted pop that doesn’t cut very deep.
A couple of other songs work better in terms of propelling Croft forward and investing more of himself into his music rather than simply funking-out or storytelling, particularly “In My Defense,” a mid-tempo ballad that lays a lot of his frustrations bare. “Cripple Me” features Croft’s deft acoustic guitar playing, though the scatting sounds a bit carefree and at odds with the tone of the rest of the song.
While Croft does a great vocal interpretation (the vocal performances are excellent throughout the entire album), the inclusion of Peter Gabriel’s “Washing of the Water” seems at odds with his purpose of raising the bar for his own music and taking it to the next level. That being said, Gabriel has heard the version and commented positively on it so that can’t hurt.
In a way, it seems that Croft is poised to move on from Madison. Whether that’s true at the moment or not, those who rise above the bar have a hard time getting up to the next rung here. And while he’s been met with a fair amount of indifference in Madison (WORT doesn’t like “that kind of music” for instance), he has also achieved a large amount of commercial radio play on Triple M and draws consistent crowds to his gigs. Croft can hold his head high on the basis of his solid reputation, four fine albums, and a loyal fan base that will follow him, wherever that may be.