The Phantom Tollbooth

American Bleak House
Artist: Mark Brine
Label: kjk Records
Length: 11 tracks/48:41 minutes

Mark Brine is a singer/songwriter hailing from Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His roots are in the 1960s folk scene and his music continues in that tradition.  In a style reminiscent of Bob Dylan or John Prine, Brine sings songs of protest and despair.  There's not much that's cheerful here. Songs such as "American Nightmare" mourn the loss of the "American Dream.." "Amen" speaks to the negative influences of the pop culture on society.  "P.C. Blues" takes issue with the political correctness running rampant in our country.  Spiritual issues are brought up in "In God They Trusted" and "Plea for Forgiveness."  "Nobody Hears the Heart" laments the world's misunderstanding of Jesus' message.

Accompanied mainly by his own acoustic guitar with the occasional addition of mandolin, cello, fiddle, and a bit of percussion, the sound here is very stark and stripped down.  Brine's voice has a whining quality at times which tends to grate.  When he sings straight, there is a nice folk, laid-back sound to the music which would have improved the overall quality of the album with greater use.

For those who enjoy protest-style folk music, Brines' contribution might make an interesting addition to your collection.  Others of us might prefer something with a bit more life to it.

Janet Friesen 9/18/99