Mark Moldre – An Ear to the Earth – Experimental singer songwriter captures the past in song

[Note: This album is from 2013. We rarely cover albums more than a year old.]

Not since I first heard Pokey Lafarge have I been so impressed with an artist’s ability to capture a bygone era. A bit of the 1930s in sonic form, Mark Moldre‘s old soul transports listeners back to the Great Depression’s saddest of speakeasies. It’s quintessential American and straight from Australia. It’s freshly old. It’s minimalistic and full band. This album of contradictions is just what your sophisticated music palate has been dying to hear.

“Won’t you rock me gently as I fall asleep tonight cuz everything I need is here.” That romantic sentiment flows from the plodding and sweet first track. Full of the kind of minor chords of the era, it’s clearly emerging from the cousin of the blues. It’s jazz with a full heart and it sings with just the right kind of jangly fun.

The third track “Madeleine” is a subtle lament. “I’ll follow her again tonight… as she sinks into the sea.” There’s a reference to a “green light” which of course makes us think of Gatsby (perhaps intentionally?). It’s not so driven as the first two tracks. Sounding like a bit more of an experimental and theatrical track, it’s complicated and mysterious. The “tango” second part of the song is out of this continent, if not out of this world. “If I could change the color of your hair and softly kiss your lips beneath the bell tower…” Mysterious and sketchy, it’ll keep listeners wondering.

“Where will I be?” is a great existential and marginally spiritual song. It’s blues and a little bit of deep south loathing. In the best way possible. The following “I don’t know what’s become of her” has a completely different flavor. Less blues and more narrative form, it’s even a bit western feeling. “Killer Anxiety” has a funky beat and some bizarre lyrics. It’s got island flair and an uncertain direction, but it’s certainly a unique track.

“Last Card” is a traditional country/cowboy song. The travelling standup bass is perfect and one of the best parts of the whole album. “I’ll call your name out with the Sirens. I’ll lure you from your front yard. But as I stare into my hands my dear, well I realize I’m playin my last card.” Well ain’t that the blues? Trust me, though, it’s written like a cowboy song. Quirky and quaint, it’s just the right kind of empathy dripping from a comfortable melody.

“O Dreamtime Blues” seem to be the lyrical equivalent of a dream. They capture a deeply creative mind wandering through the mysterious. It’s followed by “Smalltown,” a track that harkens to the opener with that old time feel to it. Let it be said that no one will accuse Moldre of only using the same three chords like oh so many singer songwriters. Instead, he writes with a Lennon-esque sophistication of turns and developments, evident on “Smalltown.” It waxes and wanes with minor chord progressions that quite possibly your ears have never heard. It’s one of the only songs I’ve ever heard that could sidle up to Yellow Submarine without anyone batting an eye.

The album highlights a singer songwriter with a variety of musical styles. It may not be for everyone, but the experimental nature of it will surely strike a chord with some. The sheer unpredictability from track to track is certain to find fans who want something eclectic for a party or to get some conversations started. Moldre’s versatility is worth the listen and his clever turns of phrase on several of the songs are rewarding for the close listeners.

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