Mark Yakes,
Poems & Music, Vol. 1
(Rickshaw, 2004)

Mark Yakes has produced a truly unique album of 38 tracks, 28 of which are spoken poems; the remaining 10 cuts are songs on Yakes' four-string guitar. Fans of poetry can agree that to recite poetry well is a rare gift. Most poetry readings leave me cold, if not comatose, but Yakes has an interesting voice, well-modulated and sufficiently gravelly with a variable set of intriguing accents to keep me listening intently to his words.

Yakes' poetry is witty, often ironic, sometimes silly, occasionally very silly, and always captivating. His piece about a bill to outlaw the letter "g" is so tongue-in-cheek, it's a wonder he can speak, but he still ends it with a particularly apt observation. Interspersed with the poems are some great tunes, reminding the listener that Yakes is the guy who played Ronnie Scott's in London at the age of 25 and later recorded an album for the Dutch jazz label Keytone.

The poems are modern and don't necessarily rhyme. My current favorite is "Cellar of Things," a wry cautionary tale of excessive acquisition: "He got the stuff from China, he got the stuff from Greece, he got the robes that Confucius wore, with the original Golden Fleece ... he got the dress that Monroe wore when she posed for The Seven Year Itch, inside a case that was fashioned from the bones of a 17th-century witch...." This deliciously chilling poem reads like a poetic "Tales of the Unexpected." Yakes switches tracks abruptly with the fluffy, quirky "The Yellow Bus," which should go past when lovers kiss. The enchanting "Vole Dance" is a sprightly instrumental demonstrating his nimble fingerwork on the guitar. He ends this section with the succinct, Spike Milligan-esque "Antelope."

The second section of the album features the laidback, soulful jazz song "Mr. Moon" with some sexy sax courtesy of Steve Cutmore and Richard Heath and unobtrusive percussion by Paul Brook. He also recites "Muriel," a poem about a closeted lesbian who "lived in Cambridge in 1923" and "had the perfect plan, to be reborn on the other side as a strong and handsome man ... and then she kept her silence, and didn't breathe a word, but on the day she died, she simply smiled, or so I've heard." This section also includes the instrumental "The Brink" with sensuous tones of Spanish guitar music, the Tom Lehrer-like "Carmelites," the philosophical "Life is Beastly" and the tangential "Tracy Watkins," in which Yakes demonstrates his indefatigable use of rhyme.

The final section concentrates on shorter poems, mostly childlike, and in some instances can appear the weaker for it, lacking the balance of the previous sections. It applauds "Ducks," warns against baking "carrot cake when what you really want is steak," continues on the gastronomic theme with "Sitting in a Restaurant" and is mainly saved by the continuing excellence of the music.

A melting pot of styles makes up Yakes' own very distinctive, intelligent poetry, reminiscent at times of the simplicity of Dr. Seuss, sometimes emulating the puckish yet clear-sighted whimsy of Wendy Cope, but always unmistakably Mark Yakes. He entertains with his poetry and downright seduces with his music. The hour disappears, and I can highly recommend time travel with Mark Yakes.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 13 November 2004

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