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CD Review: Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

On the cover of his third solo album, Mark Sinnis, frontman of dark rockers Ninth House stands with his back to the camera, staring into a glaring New York sunset from a rooftop somewhere in Queens. The picture captures the subtext here far less subtly than Sinnis’ songs do: this is a requiem for lost time, lost hopes and by implication a lost time and place. It is a classic of gothic Americana. Richly and masterfully produced, electric guitars, strings, keyboards, lapsteel and accordion weave their way tersely into and out of the mix behind Sinnis’ remarkably nuanced baritone. Sinnis has been a good singer for a long time – he is an extraordinary one here, going down low for Leonard Cohen murk or reaching for Johnny Cash irony. If Ian Curtis had been an American, and he’d lived, he might sound like Sinnis does on this album.

The title track sets the tone for what’s to come, a slow, swaying, sad requiem, Sara Landeau’s sparse tremolo guitar mingling with Lenny Molotov’s lapsteel and Annette Kudrak’s plaintive accordion. It’s utterly hypnotic. The centerpiece of the album, or one of them anyway, is 15 Miles to Hell’s Gate, classic country done chamber goth style:

Fifteen miles to Hell’s Gate
And I’m a thousand miles from home
From New York City

The one that dragged me into a hole
I’m in my own purgatory
Where I pay for my sins each day
And I pay dearly
While my youth slowly slips away

He picks it up a little on the second verse. It’s gently and masterfully orchestrated.

Originally released on Ninth House’s 2000 album Swim in the Silence, the version of Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me [#290 on our 666 Best Songs of Alltime list – Ed.] recasts the song as slow, Leonard Cohen-esque country sway, Sinnis’ pitchblende vocals quite a change from his usual roar when Ninth House plays it live. Fallible Friend, a catalog of failure and deceit, goes for a dusky southwestern feel capped by Ninth House guitarist Keith Otten’s perfecly minimalist fills. An understatedly desperate account of a drunk driver just trying to get home in one piece, Follow the Line takes on a hallucinatory, wee hours feel with Kudrak’s swirling accordion front and center – when Sinnis finally cuts loose and belts on the second verse, she’s there to calm him down. The Fever (not the Peggy Lee standard) could be a John Lennon song, a bitter metaphorically charged tale of alienation and rebellion.

Of the other originals here, wobbling funeral parlor organ makes the perfect final touch on the brooding Skeletons. Scars is gospel as the Velvet Underground might have done it, Out of Reach transformed from its original electric menace to haunting death-chamber pop with Ninth House keyboardist Matt Dundas’ piano and stark cello from star New York string multistylist Susan Mitchell. There’s also the ghoulish country shuffle In Harmony, the uncharacteristically sunny Quiet Change, and the album’s last song, a death-fixated, quite possibly sarcastic gospel clapalong. The covers are also terrifically inventive: Nine While Nine captures the song’s grim grey tube train platform ambience far better than Sisters of Mercy ever did, Otten perfectly nailing the menace of the song’s simple hook; St. James Infirmary rips the deathmask off the song’s inner goth, lapsteel pairing off warily against tense piano; and Gloomy Sunday gets a new final verse from Sinnis, who leaves not the slightest doubt as to what that one’s about.

Sinnis’ first solo album Into an Unhidden Future was a treat for Ninth House fans, a diverse, often radically rearranged acoustic mix of hits and rarities. His second, A Southern Tale was more country-oriented and surprisingly more upbeat. This is the best of them, in fact arguably the best thing that Sinnis has ever recorded. Mark Sinnis plays Otto’s on May 16 at 11, with a date at Small Beast at the Delancey coming up in July.

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May 13, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – Into an Unhidden Future

The debut solo album from ominous Ninth House singer/bassist Mark Sinnis is a remarkably stark, terse collection of mostly acoustic songs including a small handful he’s played with the band. Sinnis proves he’s one of this era’s great Americana song stylists: he can croon with anyone. Vocally, this is an unabashedly romantic album, even given the bitter intensity of many of the songs. Most of them are simply Sinnis’ acoustic guitar and vocals, sometimes sparsely embellished with simple, eerily reverberating electric guitar lines from Brunch of the Living Dead’s Sara Landeau as well as gospel-tinged piano by Ninth House keyboardist Matt Dundas, violin from Susan Mitchell and lapsteel by Lenny Molotov. This is a kinder, gentler Mark Sinnis, a worthy substitute for anyone who misses Nick Cave since he went off to do his hard rock thing with Grinderman.

Sinnis’ dark, rich baritone is a potent instrument, whether roaring over the tumult of Ninth House or delivering with considerably more subtlety as he does here. Johnny Cash is the obvious influence, but there are also tinges of Roy Orbison on the understatedly bitter That’s Why I Won’t Love You, and even Elvis Presley circa His Hand in Mine on the austere ballad The Choice I Found in Fate. Sinnis’ lyrics are crystalline and polished: he doesn’t waste words; his melodies are deceptively simple and run through your head when you least expect them. Some highlights from the nineteen (!) songs on the cd: the haunting Five Days, a bitter look at how the hours are wasted on dayjob drudgery; the Carl Perkins-inflected It Takes Me Home, a long, slow, death-obsessed ride; the rousing Passing Time, a warning to anyone not aware that they should seize the day while it lasts; the Nashville gothic The Room Filled Beyond Your Door, featuring some impressively countrystyle guitar from Ninth House lead player Anti Dave; and a stripped-down version of the anguished Ninth House classic, Put a Stake Right Through It featuring some truly scary playing by Molotov. The production is beautifully uncluttered, obviously influenced by Cash’s Rick Rubin albums. This cd works on so many levels: as singer-songwriter album, as sultry country crooner album (get this for your girlfriend, or someone you would like to be your girlfriend), as well as a fascinating look at an unexpected side of one of today’s finest songwriters. CDs are available in better records stores, online and at shows. Mark Sinnis plays the cd release show for this album at the Slipper Room on March 16 at 10 PM.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Erin Regan and Mark Sinnis at Spike Hill, Brooklyn NY 8/24/08

Playing solo acoustic, Erin Regan turned in a riveting set of stark, bleak, clear-eyed, tersely imagistic tales of life on the fringes. Suicide, divorce, poverty, alienation and despair figure heavily in her songs, delivered with a calm assurance over fluidly fingerpicked guitar. But she’s less Tom Waits than Barbara Ehrenreich, vividly evoking the desolate stripmall hell that lies beyond the yuppies in the exurbs, that the media pretends doesn’t exist. Her characters drive around aimlessly, contemplate petty crime, casually disrespect each other and seem mostly to have given up completely. But just when it seemed that this was her defining style, she flipped the script with a jaunty ragtime song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Moonlighters catalog, sung with a remarkably jazzy panache. Keep your eye on her: if word of her spreads among the kids she chronicles, she will be very popular. She’s playing Sidewalk on Sept 4 at 11.

 

Mark Sinnis’ long-running band Ninth House has been through several incarnations and is currently going through yet another: an educated guess has them mixing the artsy, Psychedelic Furs-ish, 80s vein they were mining about eight years ago with the guitar-stoked Nashville gothic material they’ve been playing lately. Playing solo, he’s invented his own genre: gothic country lounge. Casually fingerpicking his acoustic guitar and backed by Brunch of the Living Dead’s Sara Landeau playing eerie, reverberating, minimalist Twin Peaks lead guitar, Sinnis held the audience captive with a mix of new material and often drastically reworked versions of Ninth House songs. For a guy, he’s a terrific song stylist (why are women so much better singers than the men these days? Blame it on Nirvana?), especially when he doesn’t have to roar over a loud band. If he liked jazz, he’d be good at it. Among the highlights of the set: the opener, a haunting, Tom Waits-inflected minor-key blues perhaps titled There’s No Heaven, another darkly existential ballad on the same theme that appeared later on and a slowly unwinding version of the Ninth House country-goth ballad Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me. If Nick Cave is too pricy for you, Sinnis makes a good substitute.

August 25, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment