Paul Mark & The Van Dorens

Paul Mark & The Van Dorens
Smartest Man in the Room

Radiation Records (B007VOKC60)

By Georgetown Fats
July 2012

Years ago when The Beardo at the Bandana Blues Podcast introduced a certain wide-eyed fledgling blues reviewer/critic to Paul Mark & The Van Dorens, Mark and his band immediately became a musical enigma. Years later that same critic is still stumped.

For the uninitiated, Paul Mark seamlessly blends the vocal growl of David Johansen with the observational wit and cynicism of the late-great George Carlin while laying down Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque guitar work on the majority of the 13 track release. On Smartest Man in the Room, Mark, once again backed by The Van Dorens, is back to prove it is possible to be an original musician and artist by churning out sometimes snarky but always enjoyable blues rock.

On the highly political “Smartest Man in The Room,” Mark cuts to the quick with a scorching and snarky track exposing those who go into public service to only feed their own egos. Clever enough to keep his own politics out of the song, the Youtube video and CD artwork are different stories entirely; Mark creates a humorous and rocking musical narrative to the all-too-familiar partisan politics news station broadcast. It is not a question of is it a far-left or far-right political candidate who will try and paint their opponent in the musically venomous broad strokes of “Smartest Man in The Room,” but just how long it will take for an attempt to hang this mantle of shame on their opponent.

“When God Finds the Time” finds Paul Mark firmly entrenched in the pulpit offering testimony taking shots at the deeply religious. Lyrically filled with his usual wit and wisdom, but supporting a musical piece created mostly in the studio, it will be interesting if “When God Finds the Time” is ever attempted in a live music setting.

Blending the U.S. housing market collapse with the ‘failed relationship’ blues idiom, “One More Coat of Paint” is a track few contemporaries of Paul Mark & The Van Dorens would dare produce. Loaded with double entendres and metaphors, the lyrics are absolutely not for the easily offended. Or, maybe the lyrics for “One More Coat of Paint” are intended for the easily offended? Only Mark knows for sure, and my guess is that getting a straight answer out of Paul Mark would be damn near impossible.

Covering Bob Dylan with a version of “Don’t You Tell Henry,” Paul Mark & the Van Dorens apply a heavy dose of New Orleans swing to their standard blues rock sound. While having never knowingly heard Dylan’s original version of “Don’t You Tell Henry,” after thoroughly enjoying Paul Mark & the Van Dorens’ version, little could be gained personally by listening to the original version.

Paul Mark & The Van Dorens remain an unsolved mystery; Paul Mark & The Van Dorens should be a lot more popular with both the blues and radio loving crowds. Hopefully with Smartest Man in the Room, Paul Mark & The Van Dorens will start to receive both the adulation and the bookings this blues rock powerhouse deserves. Blues rock shouldn’t have to be dumbed-down for mass appeal; by continuing to not offer formulaic songs on Smartest Man in the Room, Paul Mark & The Van Dorens offer up a formula that some musicians should consider provided they have the nerve to do something a little different.

<- back to Features