Mark Despault,
Natural Revelation
(self-produced, 1996)

Rambles has ample proof that independent/self production can offer up some amazing musical gems. There's also a huge amount of lesser-quality work being released. Unfortunately, Mark Despault's Natural Revelation falls into that latter category.

The songs on Despault's self-produced CD were written over a period of 17 years -- 1974 to 1989. Not that that's a bad thing in itself -- music doesn't have to be current to be relevant; in my opinion, one of the qualities of good music is its ability to transcend time. But Despault's music comes across as dated and clichˇd.

The first track on the CD, "Natural Revelations," carries a lilting Irish air, yet Despault's delivery comes across as strained and overly forceful. The movement to the next song, "Water Flows," is too quick a change from contemplative to upbeat and bouncy. Despault's delivery doesn't improve much, either. While he has a strong voice, his range is limited and lacks inflection and expression.

The third song, an instrumental version of another song on the CD, "The Singer," really can't even be considered a song, or a version, for that matter. It tops out at a minute and a half, without providing any real extension of the original song. I found myself wondering why Despault even included the track separately, instead of melding it with the original.

"Easy Come and Easy Go" makes Despault's storytelling interest more obvious, but his lyrics just aren't suprising or original enough. Too often, he seems to take the easy way out, falling back on standard lines and themes. The same holds true for "Child's First Song," Despault's reaction to the birth of his second child. While the subject matter holds endless possibilities, it simply falls flat here with too many generalizations.

Despault points out in the liner notes that the rhythm of "Show Me" has "tripped up many musicians"; it's interesting and compelling, yet the lyrics that accompany it overshadow it with their commonality: "I've always loved you / But I couldn't show you / Just didn't know how to get through / You are my only love / Don't want to leave you / But if you say to then we will part."

I wish I could say that the rest of the songs on this CD are better, but I can't. They all fall prey to the same mistakes made in the songs I mentioned above. It's not that Despault is a bad musician; his guitar playing is strong and his voice is pleasant. It's just that there's nothing new here. Hopefully, the next 17 years will see Mark Despault working on something fresh and original and learning from the past. There's certainly enough time to do so.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]