Some albums seem to defy description. They don’t quite fit in any one category, no matter how much some might try to put them there. Mark “Pocket” Goldberg’s alluring Off The Alleyway is one of those musical misfits–and proudly so. It would be easy to give it a blues tag, because all those elements are surely there. But that would be shortsighted. Goldberg’s character-filled voice can run right alongside Willy DeVille or Bobby Charles, depending on the song, but he remains very much his own man. No doubt life experiences have notched their groove on his heart, but it’s in what he does with those episodes that make this music so unforgettable.
There is quite the cast of characters playing with Goldberg, ranging from special guests like James Gadson, Jay Dee Maness, Terry Evans, Barry Goldberg, Teresa James and the Texacali Horns to a band with the funky singing drummer Debra Dobkin, guitarist Nick Kirgo and keyboardist David Fraser. Goldberg himself handles upright bass along with lead vocals and songwriting duties, and has such an easeful atmosphere about him it feels like he’s been doing this since the invention of dirt. There is absolutely no sweat or strain showing here; instead the vocals sound like they’ve grown out of some ancient ground and shine with the light of a true believer.
What ultimately makes Off The Alleyway such a stunner is that Mark Goldberg has tapped into the eternal hope that lives inside great music. Whether he’s singing about down home women, being behind bars, low down blues or just whistling life away, there is the thread of soul woven through everything he touches. If The Band had been based in Southern California, or Dr. John had decamped earlier in the San Fernando Valley maybe they would have made music like this. But what matters most now is that Goldberg has found the big pockets to put his creations in, and everything fits just fine. Now it’s time others climb in.
Mark "Pocket" Goldberg: Press
A harmonica howl lays down a track for Mark ‘Pocket’ Goldberg to head on in and take over on his album ‘Off the Alleyway’. Mark Goldberg is all things bass from the low rumble of a voice to the upright he plays. On ‘Off The Alleyway’, Mark takes the lead role, a departure from his work as part of the Roots backbeat, working as a touring musician for artists such as Mick Fleetwood’s Blue Whale (with Joe Walsh & John Mayall), Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells. Canned Heat, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, James Intveld and Rosie Flores.
There is a healthy dose of head nodding blues (“Lost Another One Blues”, “No Mercy For The Wicked Blues”), bar blues fire (“Down Home Woman”, Honky Tonk (“Best Be On My Way”), Tex Mex (“Bumps in the Road”, “This Train”), lonesome Country (“No Prison Bars”) and gut tugging rumblers (“Bounce”, “Walkin’ Away”). Mark ‘Pocket’ Goldberg draws from a well of sound. The common factor is in the groove bass lines (that I am guessing provided his nickname) and his trademark gravel growl. Though the music switches seats, Mark is, at heart, a singer/songwriter that lets his words play with all the kids in the neighborhood.
By Paul Zollo
Mark “Pocket” Goldberg * Off the Alleyway * Fantastic. This is very much the real deal. A brand-new blues classic is in our midst. A masterpiece gumbo of timeless gusto and groove – the fluid, living blues – a substantial injection of joyful roots music welcome now more than ever in these rootless times. It’s the new record by Mark “Pocket” Goldberg, long a beloved fixture on the L.A. music scene. Within the first measures of the opening song, “No Mercy for the Wicked Blues,” you know you’ve come to the right place. Here comes a great grinding groove, wailing harmonica, beautifully raw and metallic slide guitar, and Pocket walking through the blues on the big bass while singing with the ragged authority of a bluesman doing it for many more decades than he’s been alive. It’s like walking into one of those late-night jam sessions that the best cats play after their real gigs, just music for music’s sake, great musicians playing the greatest songs long after the waking world is asleep.
These songs resound like new classics already. The man has dug deeply into the traditions of the blues – the raw Chicago blues, the blues of Willie Dixon – with whom he performed (it’s true: when Willie, the father of blues bass needed someone to play while he sang, he called up Pocket). Like Willie, Pocket not only knows the heartbeat of the blues as emanating from a stand-up bass, he knows how to write a great song. He also reaches beyond the realm of that time and place, yet everything he touches is informed by the deep vibe of Chess Records and its ghosts. He knows great records are about precision, sure, but more about the groove, the performance, the soul and swing of musicians interacting. The level of musicianship on this is just astounding, centered around the deep pockets that Pocket defines with drummer-percussionist Debra Dobkin, Nick Kirgo’s delicious slide flourishes, solid rhythm and stinging electric guitar solos, glorious horn section dynamism and the harmonica and accordion vigor of David Fraser. Kirgo and Pocket produced this along with Dobkin, and Kirgo did the mix – and a great mix it is, as there’s a vast diversity of elements woven throughout this tapestry, and yet the soundscape is warm and clean.
Pocket’s level of songwriting excellence is as high as his musicianship, and with a wide range. If Stephen Stills and John Fogerty wrote a song together, it might sound something like “Lost Another One Blues,”built on a vigorously solid groove between Pocket and James Gadsen on drums, and with the best swampy horn chart I’ve heard in ages, arranged by trumpeter Darrell Leonard and performed with his Texicali Horns. The legendary Barry Goldberg reminds us how great Wurlitzers can sound when someone great plays them – his rhythm part on this one sparkles and then leads into a great and spirited solo, that then segues another great Kirgo guitar solo, as bright and bluesy as Clapton at his best. “Whistlin’ Away” is a lovely ballad, like when Tom Waits stops to sing something slow and pretty. Written with David Morgan, it’s a sweet and gentle detour, but not a lightweight one. Willie Nelson could sing this; could be a country classic. “Bumps In The Road,” with its jaunty beat, brings to mind Willie Dixon’s reminder that the blues aren’t always down and out, and often sing of survival and triumph. It’s a message woven throughout all this music, and is the essence of this song: it’s not what happens that matters, it’s how you take it. “Down Home Woman” is pure blues fervor while “This Train” is haunting Americana, timeless in its slow shuffle, a train song you could hear hobos singing in the whiskey moonlight. “Best Be On My Way” sounds like something cooked up in the basement by The Band with Levon Helm digging into the vocals and drums. And it all concludes with the bouncy “Bounce,” which is just drums & voice, fusing a kind of African drum & percussion track with Chicago gospel vocals (arranged by Terry Evans) and a great Pocket vocal in the center. This is a man who knows his own mind and his own music, knows how to kiss a groove into perfection, and knows how to write songs with a graceful simplicity. And simplicity, as all musicians know, is a complicated business.
If you’re tired of bloodless and relentlessly robotic music, and who isn’t, take this album as have I as a perfect antidote to all that ails us. In times like these, when people are more fragmented and crazy than ever, flooded by the overload of information and junk-mail, authentic music – music by humans for humans - is needed more than ever. This is real music for our increasingly unreal lives, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
By John Rhys
I first heard the "way deep" voice of Mark Goldberg as the result of hearing a record made by our old friend, John Herron. That CD is called Big Buck and is loaded with great songs. A couple of the fine contributions on that CD were offered by Mark "Pocket" Goldberg. I put Off The Alleyway on the player while I was working in my kitchen a week or so ago and found myself cooking to this poignant CD the rest of the week. Everyone who came within the listening sphere asked who it was. That was good enough for me for sometimes I am far too close to the musicians I would review. I had heard many of these songs before but the superior recording and mixing by Rick Cunha and Nick Kirgo helped bring the songs to real audio life. I'm sure there are many new ideas added as well, along with the addition of some super players and performers to layer in their talents. I knew I liked the songs before; I hear them better now. Mark performs with a wonderful sense of humor and panache; a true musician and player, not to mention a writer with intelligence and pathos. A man who studies his work and manages to finalize his ideas in music. This new release is a wonderful tribute to so many people, places and things that I, too, have admired and respected. My hat is off to Mr. Goldberg and his illustrious group of friends for making an album of small masterpieces. This is rare in an age when most companies want songs to fill their catalogs whether the songs are decent or not. Mr. Goldberg is backed by some truly gifted musicians with Ms. Debra Dobkin on Drums, Percussion and Vocals. Mr. Nick Kirgo on Electric and Acoustic guitars. Remarkable David Fraser on keyboards, Accordion, Harmonica and vocals. All held together by the fastidious playing of Mark "Pocket" Goldberg on Upright Bass. Other great musicians are Hollywood studio icon, James Gadsen on drums for two cuts. Electric Steel man, J.D. Maness on two tracks and Mr. Barry Goldberg playing Wurlitzer Piano on one track. Below is a list of other tremendous musicians who helped complete this CD. Mike Thompson....Trombone Darrel Leonard....Trumpet Joe Sublett....Tenor Sax Erica Sorenson....Acoustic Guitar Terry Evans....Background Vocals Teresa James....Background Vocals Billy Watts....Background Vocals Greg Prestopino....Background Vocals Lauren Adams....Background Vocals The album was produced by....Nick Kirgo, Debra Dobkin and Mark Goldberg.
John Rhys http://bluepower.com November 21, 2010
"This Train" performed at Kulak's Woodshed.
Nick Kirgo on guitar, Dave Fraser on accordion, Pocket on bass/vocals, Debra Dobkin on drums and Lauren Adams on background vocals.