Concert Review: Mark Trammell Quartet (April 17th 2014), Kalamazoo, MI

I apologize for the lateness of this concert review, but so many other things conspired to keep me from actually sitting down and WRITING it. Now I offer it as a parting gift to Pat Barker, whom I now feel more fortunate than ever to have caught before his retirement! I wish I could provide pictures as well, but alas, all picture-taking was strictly verboten at the start of the event.

The Mark Trammell Quartet guys are arguably the best representatives of good old-fashioned traditional quartet singing on the road today, and this concert finally allowed me to see in person what “all the fuss is about” (and walk away with some merchandise, including all four signatures on their latest album, and no I don’t intend to sell!) Here is my attempt to capture some highlights of the experience. It will double as something of a review of Your Walk Talks, which I haven’t officially reviewed, but which I love, and many of whose songs they staged that night.

*“How Long Has it Been?” I’ve heard lots of versions of this song, but there was something about the way they handled the harmonies that gave it a special touch and left me with a nice warm glow inside!

*“Don’t Stop Running” They staged this a few songs in, but it’s the opening track of Your Walk Talks. The Western-styled strings and exciting lyrics grab your attention from note one, unlike your typical light ice-breaker. It made me want to run, except I’m not Pentecostal, so I couldn’t quite get my feet to cooperate. Nick Trammell gets a solo on this one, and I was curious to hear whether anybody else hears a resemblance to Chris Allman in his tone. Though my mom was actually comparing him to Rodney Griffin. Either way, it seems like Nick Trammell could join Greater Vision and we might not notice. 😀 Nick also penned this track, providing further evidence of his impressive songwriting capabilities.

*“God’s Been Faithful” This mid-tempo ballad is a new Scotty Inman/Dianne Wilkinson number, second track on the new album. Mark Trammell has a brilliant step-out on this one. I realized that I had seldom really listened to Mark’s voice before. Even on a quiet song, he gives it this majestic polish. Looking at a flyer I used for notes, I see that I simply wrote “Mark!” next to this title.

*“Echoes From the Burning Bush” The spirit of the Cathedrals descended on the stage as the boys took on this chestnut with gusto. I loved how MTQ evoked the Cats, not only with their vocals, but with the way they worked the stage. For example, leaning into a circle and gripping young tenor Dustin Black’s elbow to emphasize his step-out. If I may be permitted to utter this without being accused of heresy, I find Pat’s bass tone even more pleasing than George’s.

After this number, Mark introduced the members. Particularly amusing was his introduction of Dustin Black: “Is he married or single? The answer is he is single and desperately looking.” As Dustin shook his head emphatically, Mark continued, “The thing that puzzles me about that question, is 99% of the people that ask it are over the age of 65.” Dustin brings a pure, pleasant tone to the group, occasionally reminiscent of Gus Gaches. He still needs to bring up the power and breath control to match, but further experience and training will help with that.

I also loved Mark’s schtick with Nick: “This one belongs to me… My wife and I have been married for 35 years, this is our only child, and this is what we have to show for 35 years.” This set up a spontaneous moment of gold with the audience when we laughed and Mark complained, “I didn’t laugh at your kids when you came in!” A lady replied “We didn’t bring ’em,” and quick as lightning Mark came back, “If they’re anything like you, we’re very happy!” Mark then went on to talk about Nick’s baby girl, and how she has a way of smiling and saying “Papa?” that will get you to do anything she wants. Here Nick interjected, “I’m trying to teach her how to say ‘Lexus?'”

Somewhat surprisingly, Mark didn’t mention the fact that Pat is coming off the road in his intro, but perhaps Pat had asked him not to do that every night, because it was too depressing! Mark talked about their camaraderie that goes beyond merely sharing the stage together, and he shared his theory about why Pat makes friends quickly: “We all share a certain compassion for the simple-minded.” He also revealed, “I’ve known him since he was a teenage boy, and I’ll tell you he was one of the most aggravating teenagers. Some things have not changed over the years.”

*“Wedding Music” I’m sure some very miffed little old ladies would have stormed the stage with torches and pitchforks had Pat not strutted his stuff on this classic for us.

*“I’ll Take it to the Grave” The team of Rebecca Peck (read my interview with her here) and Dianne Wilkinson has been churning out killer tunes for Legacy Five and the Kingdom Heirs recently, and this head-turning barn-burner can be added to their laundry list of new home runs. Easily the best track on a new project full of stand-outs, it’s even cooler live. Standing ovation, encored twice.

*“Your Walk Talks” Another Pat feature. He played this tongue-twister reminiscent of “Can He, Could He, Would He?” to the hilt.

*“Man of Sorrows” Mark set up this number beautifully (yet ANOTHER Peck/Wilkinson collab). The tune is lovely. My only complaint is that the arrangement refers to “Oh What a Savior?” a little too bluntly, even inserting the chorus as a second traditional bridge after hat tipping “Man of Sorrows,” the hymn. The new song is strong enough to stand on its own.

Just before intermission, the guys did another funny bit with mixing up famous people who have the same last name, playing Pat as the ignoramus and Dustin as the surprisingly encyclopedic know-it-all, even for people he shouldn’t recognize as a young spring chick. After he distinguished between Perry Mason and the real inventor of the Mason jar, Mark asked, “Where did you find that out?” and Dustin replied “Twitter.” There were only two problems with this bit: First of all, it would make a little more sense for Dustin to answer “google” or “Wikipedia,” since that’s a more natural way to research odd facts than Twitter. And secondly, Dustin actually had the wrong name for the inventor of the Mason jar! It’s John Landis Mason, not George Landis Mason as Dustin informed us. I found that out with google. So much for Twitter. 😉

*“Wonderful Time Up There” Mark complained that “our bass singer really does enjoy his singing,” but he also encouraged the audience to “have a spell” if we enjoyed Pat on this number, and I think we obliged him! Pat is not only a great singer, but a great showman. All singers should study how he works a stage, not just basses.

*”Thanks to Calvary” Hearing Pat deliver this new Cathedrals cover with such feeling moved me deeply. It has always been one of my favorite George Younce songs. Mark introduced it by saying the truth of this song is something we can claim regardless of how earth-shaking (or not) our testimony may be.

*“When the King Comes to Claim His Throne” Another new Wilkinson tune, this is one of my favorites from the new project. It features some great harmonica and counterpoint in the chorus.

Here Mark shared that they are actively searching for a piano player. In particular, they are looking for “someone who is a man, who would like to travel with men.” I thought that was funny. I wonder if he’s had women volunteering themselves, or a female friend, so that he has to explain that little detail directly!

*“The King is Coming” Mark shared that if he could sing just one more song, he would pick this one. If I recall right, it got a standing ovation!

*“The Sweetest Song I Know” I had forgotten about this Stamps-Baxter chestnut. What a cleverly crafted convention number, weaving “Amazing Grace” throughout as just one more bit of melodic counterpoint.

*“I Want To Know” Mark had to admit that this was the group’s only number one song. Pat shook his head sadly. “Only number one song.” “This is true.” “In 12 years.” “Right. In 12 years.” Mark then confessed that they’d performed it so often that he was thoroughly “sick of it.” So “If you like it, you can enjoy it, and I’ll just stay sick.” Here my mother leaned over and whispered “He rivals Gerald!” But truth be told, I absolutely loved it and couldn’t help chiming in on tenor. The thing is so catchy. It was probably Pat’s most impressive vocal moment. Behind Pat was the unfolding saga of Nick at the soundboard, giving the song more than one encore spin despite Mark’s protests. Suffice it to say we all had ourselves another spell.

*“Statue of Liberty” This was a fitting closer, and beforehand, Mark did his tradition of asking servicemen in the audience to stand. And thankfully they were all men, so I felt no qualms about clapping when they stood. Mark talked about how protected and privileged we are as Americans, not to know what it’s like to live through war on our soil. And you know, I think about this often, and it’s especially timely this year as we come up on the anniversary of WWI, the Great War that laid Europe to waste and left so much devastation in its wake. Mark is absolutely right: We Americans have no idea what it’s like to have our homeland torn to pieces, bread trampled underfoot, bombs flying, sickness spreading. Although nowadays, domestic terrorist policy quite honestly may have more effect on our national security than our far-flung, ill-planned military campaigns, there’s no question that if we look to wars of the past like WWII, we owe this security to the men who fought them on the beaches, the fields, the streets and hills of strange lands. I was glad to be reminded by MTQ that freedom, indeed, is never free, whether bought by the blood of a soldier or the blood of a Lamb.

I was fortunate to meet the guys of the quartet before and after the concert. To get to shake Mark Trammell’s hand and personally thank him for his legacy was an honor. And to get to meet Pat for the first time was a delight, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it would also be the last. For a second I wondered if I should ask him to do a little “Hard Trials” and play George to my Ernie, but I thought it would be imposing too much. I still half wish I had just gone ahead and created the moment though.

So, were any of my other readers able to catch MTQ in their last few weeks with Pat Barker? I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed the review, have a spell in the comments below!

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