Dave Pilot reviews Mark Wayne Glasmire (Traceway Records)
Mark Wayne Glasmire’s an unusual guy, and his music isn’t anything that just grabs you by the throat and screams “hell yeah it’s outlaw time” the way so many fans expect these days. Which makes him a bit easy to miss at first listen. There’s something familiar laced throughout his songs, but it can be difficult to put a finger on. And there’s not really anything country per se about his sound, although he at times is marketed that way. But down under the covers there’s just something magnetic, something that draws you back. Glasmire’s tunes are relentlessly pretty, sometimes almost glossy. Not in the way that the standard Tim McGraw crap is calculated to be pretty. It’s sort of like the difference between the girl at the club who’s purposely gussied up and enjoying all the male attention under the neon. If you’re smart enough to ignore her, somewhere back in the quiet corners and away from the fray there’s a woman who’s possessed of actual beauty, in multiple layers of something more substantial than makeup and a push-up bra. And that’s the difference between a Glasmire tune and anything Music Row throws out. The years Mark spent in Nashville honing his songwriting craft are definitely reflected in his music, but that fatal, soul-killing adherence to formulated structure and hooks just didn’t quite take. Which is a blessing.
Dig into Glasmire’s history and you’ll find experiences ranging from a steeltown childhood in Bethlehem, PA through winning something as tangible as the B.W. Stephenson songwriting contest at Dallas’ legendary Poor David’s Pub. Kids who grew up in blue collar Pennsylvania during the era Glasmire did understand the value of work and the importance of ethics. Those qualities are ingrained in that region the way love for Friday night lights permeates the Texas landscape. It’s readily apparent on any Glasmire record that dedication to his craft trumps everything else. So in that sense, the childhood roots still bear fruit. Perhaps it’s that quality which makes his music relevant here in Outlaw territory. He doesn’t sound like Waylon in any sense. And if you’re one of those who think Lee Roy Virgil and Hellbound Glory are the latest incarnation of sheer greatness, you’re likely to miss Glasmire completely. It’d be a mistake to do so, though. Where those guys from HBG tend to sound raw and authentic in a Ryan Bingham way while they revel in debauchery as if it’s a badge of honor, Glasmire’s crystalline tenor bores in on concepts of accountability and self-respect. The sound is most often reminiscent of names you recall from the ‘70s, in particular James Taylor and Dan Seals. More recently, the best comparison is perhaps Donal Hinely, a musician who also continues to forge his own path through waters which might appear at first blush to be familiar.
There’s substance to Glasmire’s lyrics, however. His overall feel and angle is upbeat and even saccharine if it’s contrived. But one gets the sense through repeated listens that this isn’t pap; it’s actually what Mark Wayne believes and it’s truly how he strives to live his life. It’s difficult to peg anyone as a weakling when they find reasons for optimism and unbridled hope in this travesty of a world we inhabit. And it’s refreshingly surprising to find an artist so thoroughly dedicated to crafting music of both substance and beauty these days. Glasmire’s an anomaly in the sense that he’s opened shows for both Guy Clark and Dierks Bentley. The former makes sense from an artistic and literary perspective; the latter’s just another lost soul who can’t decide if he wants to be himself or be big in Nashville. That Glasmire’s work can appeal to both says something substantive.
This latest seven song EP won’t be for everyone. If your tastes preclude acceptance of anything less than a Rebel yell and a fifth of Beam, don’t waste your time. But if you’re of a mind to recall that one of music’s greatest joys can be found in its sheer beauty, you owe it to yourself to give Glasmire a listen. He’s providing a beacon in the wilderness reminding us that what is most often labeled trite and sappy may in fact be what’s truest and best. Not sure how you get more outlaw than that. And he does it without falling into the pre-fabricated trap of a Brooks and Dunn hellhole. When Jackson Taylor sings “Saved,” it resonates because we understand Jack’s back trail is a terrifying place and the fact that he can love at all is a miracle that means we all have hope. There’s a place for that sort of music, and in this reviewer’s mind it’s some of the best ever written. Glasmire reminds us, on the other hand, that it’s possible to live that same sort of hard-bitten life without having grown calloused and cold. Turns out there’s a place for that, too.
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Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs. When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline. When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas.
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