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Mark Karan - Walk Through the Fire
CD Review by Jud Conway on 6/25/2009   

"This album is meant to be listened to loud. Turn it up!" is the proclamation on the back cover of Mark Karan’s first official solo release, Walk Through the Fire, out on June 30th through Quacktone Records/DIG Music. The general consensus within the KindWeb community is "…it’s about time!" What makes the timing all the more poignant is that the ever-busy Karan has been battling cancer for the past few years. According to his publicist, Karan actually wrote the lyrics to the title track while undergoing chemotherapy.

Putting it lightly, Mark Karan is a staple of the jamband circuit. He has worked with everyone from Dave Mason to the Rembrandts, and is probably best known for touring with Grateful Dead-related acts like The Other Ones and Bob Weir’s RatDog. In addition, he fronts the "supergroup" Jemimah Puddleduck, which features legendary drummer John Molo (Phil Lesh & Friends, John Fogerty), keyboardist John "JT" Thomas (Bruce Hornsby) and bassman Bob Gross (Albert King and Delaney Bramlett). All that being said, Walk Through the Fire proves that Mark Karan is also a top-notch singer/songwriter/interpreter/arranger in his own right.

Produced by Karan, himself, Walk Through the Fire was recorded over a period of several years in multiple locations on both the west and east coasts. While the album is dominated by Karan’s soulful vocals and melodic guitar-playing, the musical landscape is peppered with contributions from Karan cohorts and collaborators like Delaney Bramlett, in one of his final recorded appearances, a cappella legends The Persuasions, Little Feat’s Bill Payne, The Rowan Brothers, Jefferson Starship/Jorma Kaukonen Trio’s Pete Sears, and many other notables, including Hammond B3 maniac Mike Finnigan, bassist Hutch Hutchinson, and percussionist Wally Ingram. Predictably, the core band is oft-composed of various members of Jemimah Puddleduck.

Songwriting credits for Walk Through the Fire are split evenly between Karan originals and a half dozen inspired covers. One of the album’s many highlights is Karan’s own "Leave a Light On," featuring Chris and Lorin Rowan on background vocals. Other key tracks include the Robert Johnson classic "Love in Vain," topped off with a priceless co-lead vocal by the late Delaney Bramlett, and the album’s New Orleans-flavored opener, Alex Call’s "Annie Don’t Lie," complete with background vocals by The Persuasions. Another memorable cut is the Karan original "Rock Your Papa," which features Wurlitzer by Little Feat’s Bill Payne, as well as vocal support from The Persuasions. Karan also turns in great readings of Robert Hunter’s classic "Easy Wind" and the lesser-known Randy Newman track, "I Think it’s Gonna Rain."

While listeners will be thrilled with the high level of musicianship evident on "Walk Through the Fire," they will also be struck by the depth of honesty and emotional intensity permeating the whole of Mark Karan’s first solo record. To give an idea of just how "real" is the nature of this record, Karan plans to donate all proceeds from the title-track to the Oral Cancer Foundation.

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