MARK HUMPHREYS/ALBUM REVIEWS & PRESS
"THE RIVER ROAD"
"Humphreys' lyrics capture the betweenness of things, a sense that we're all travelers on our way to somewhere else, that each moment is both singular and transitory, worthy of attention, yet already passing into memory."
--Sing Out! Magazine
"SONGS AT THE MOON"
"The performances are strong and tight, and Humphreys clearly feels at home, opening his voice wide and giving us his
best. Many of his songs are love songs, by turns wistful, practical and lonesome, but never bitter. In these, and in the more
philosophical "Amazing Days" and After All," there is grace and wisdom that give his music real soul."
"Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Mark Humphreys' third recording is hard not to like. His strong, imperfect, very
human voice compellingly animates real-life stories, memories, and allegories, all artifacts of an observing eye that
alternately cannot and will not refuse to see . . . nothing on 'Leap Day' stays down, rising on simple, direct instrumental
arrangements and, most of all, Mark Humphreys' upbeat vocals and lyrical conceits."
"This successful concept album revolves around the people who make up the population of Southern California. It begins
in 'Omaha,' telling of the Nebraska boy lured to California by the oranges and gold, who lived an ordinary life, dying on his
front porch in the shadow cast by fireworks at Disneyland. From this acoustic start, Humphreys rocks into the metaphysical
creation of Los Angeles and all its blights and furies in the title song. The moving 'East of Cheyenne' finds Everyman
abandoning his family in Wyoming on their journey to his wife's new job in California. 'Cry If You Want To' vividly
describes big city violence and the anonymity of death all too common, in this case, in L.A. The final song, 'Telephone
Road,' finds our hero desperately trying to reach L.A. after his car dies on the outskirts of town . . . Angelenos is a first-rate
effort. Humphreys has something to say and he says it well."
--Sing Out! Magazine
"This ambitious second album from L.A. songwriter Mark Humphreys is built around the theme of living in Southern California, the hows and whys that brought people there, and the problems and joys and day to day struggles they face. At his best, on the anthem like track 'Angelenos' or the catchy 'Martha Loves David,' he gets beyond the standard cliches and captures honest emotions and offers a true vision of what it's like to live in Los Angeles."
--Dirty Linen Magazine
Los Angeles Times
After the Rain, a Night for Love Songs
By Al Martinez
It was one of those nights after the rain, when the evening slumbered in a stillness that casts spells. There wasn't even a breeze.
You know the kind of night I'm talking about. There's a softness to it that lingers on the memory like perfume in a woman's hair, taking you back to other places and other times. It's the perfect night for a love song.
I realize this kind of dreamy attitude toward music probably dates me, because there's no cacophony to the tunes I'm talking about, no hip-hop monotony, no heavy percussion going on. But if it dates me, it also dates the singer I'm talking about.
His name is Mark Humphreys. He's a big, shaggy guy of 41 who gave up boozing to write songs and play a guitar at coffeehouses and small nightclubs from here to Tallahassee.
I saw him in the center of a stillness called Ventura Boulevard where Studio City and Sherman Oaks overlap. He was playing at Lulu's Beehive, a place about the size of Aaron Spelling's kitchen, with a counter, some wooden tables and a postage-stamp stage.
Lulu's reminded me of the kinds of coffeehouses that used to abound in the '50s, where guys like Humphreys got up and played or read their own poetry and then disappeared into the night, like the lights of a passing car.
Humphreys was born in Los Angeles and is one of its quintessential sons. He wanted to be an actor first and then got hooked on music, formed his own band, drank too much, gave up the band, sobered up, wandered, fell in and out of love, got a job and here he is.
He had his last drink in '89 and supports himself at home and on the road as a paralegal, hauling his guitar and a laptop computer to cities like Baton Rouge and Mobile and Shreveport and Colchester. Right now he's probably at a Motel 6 in Marietta, Ga, playing at a place like Lulu's where you can get a ham sandwich and a cappuccino for under $10.
Humphreys has been after me like forever to hear his songs or listen to his story, which has more twists and turns than a mountain road. He became a musician, for instance, when a friend showed him how to pick out a single chord on a guitar. It resonated in his soul. Still does.
"It was an epiphany," he told me that night at Lulu's. "I rented a piano, bought a book about chords and taught myself how to write songs."
He's been playing at clubs and coffeehouses ever since and later formed his own record company, Trough. He produces CDs in the garage of his rented Sierra Madre home, mostly of him singing and playing his own tunes.
"Every dime I get goes toward what I'm doing," he said, talking about his national tours. The one he's now on will last
four months. "I have no money and no savings. I must be nuts."
There's a kind of folk singer's sweetness to his voice that works with the love songs he was singing that soft and stilly night. He took to the stage in jeans and a plaid shirt and sang like a guy with tears in his eyes about the last time he kissed a woman named Jane.
When our days were speed and light/We never had the chance to see/All the ways a face can hide/Such lonely company.
As with all good folk singers, Humphreys' music tells stories, and when he sang about Jane, it was a tale told about love that came to an end, about laughter that became tears, about the night they said goodbye.
There were maybe a dozen or so people in Lulu's. A couple of men played chess, others ate, a few listened. The applause was sporadic, like the uneven tapping of rain. I clapped like hell to fill the silence. There are no standing ovations in a coffeehouse.
A lot of the songs were about the women he knew and the rainbows that emerged when the storms had passed. They were about love's softness and its sadness. They were about beginnings and endings.
Humphreys is a born romantic, and I guess I am too. I've been married to the same woman for almost half a century and am still dazzled by the fluorescence of her; there's still magic by moonlight.
So here's to a love song at a place called Lulu's when the stars were dark and the night as still as a sigh and L.A., for just a moment, was a city without noise at a time for lovers.
Reprinted from the Los Angeles Times, April 28, 1999 Edition. Reprinted by permission. Copyright 1999 Los
Angeles Times. All rights reserved.
Loving the Hard Way: Mark Humphreys Follows a Lonely Road to His Music
By T.M. Lowe
Mark Humphreys is an unlikely romantic. A self-trained musician, a composer and singer above all else, he believes in hard work. He has also known hard times.
Humphreys left a rising, L.A.-area rock band, Motel Six, in the early '80s because he was a self-described "drunk." In the years when he was alienated from his muse he picked up the paralegal trade--a pragmatic profession that allows him to see all sides and still, occasionally, helps make ends meet.
When asked who he would most like to be compared to he said Neil Young and Lou Reed--"because they are survivors."
He is a craftsman, composing the melody of a song before he takes to wordsmithing the lyrics. Our recent talk was long and interesting. And while he proclaimed his pragmatism throughout, it was the answers to my last few questions that revealed the romantic within--the person that will charm and amaze you at Linnaea's on Saturday night.
New Times: What is the most romantic thing about being on the road?
Mark Humphreys: I'll be as succinct as I can. I could go on for days about this. This is a magnificent country, and to be able to see it, from the ground, traveling on four wheels, smelling it, feeling the changes in the air, the changes in the people, but mostly the freedom. To be able to stop the car, to get gas or just because you want to. To be able to look around and say, "Look at where I am." I'm free to move wherever I want to go and experience the land and the culture.
We are becoming much more homogenized as a culture, but there is still so much diversity in different regions of this country. And to be a single person, choosing my own way and deciding for myself this is where I'll be today, this is where I'll be the next day, is romantic and it's awe-inspiring. I think I was born with the urge to do that and thank God that I was able to realize that and explore it. I never want to stop exploring it.
NT: What's the worst thing about being on the road?
MH: The loneliness. It's not always a bad thing. But sometimes you miss having human contact with someone who really knows you. The Internet helps a lot. E-mail helps because you can instantaneously talk to someone back home.
But there is touch and the sound of a voice. And the sight of someone, being able to be close to someone; to be able to touch them, smell them. Just to be around someone that you know and you're comfortable with. It hits me--like I said, I've been on the road for about seven months. There have been maybe three or four times this year when I've had a day when I really just wanted to hug somebody that I love. It doesn't happen very often.
Most people wouldn't be able to do what I do. Most normal people need to have that every day. Need to be around people that they know and love every day, or most days. I don't need it that much, but I am human and I do miss it. It's one of the sacrifices that I'm willing to make.
The last time I felt something like that was about a month and a half ago. I was in Nebraska, and I was staying in a hotel that was right on the edge of a cornfield; right beyond the cornfield were railroad tracks. The sun was coming up over the cornfields. It was still mostly dark and there was a passing freight train. You saw the lights coming from miles away. The train was coming from the west, and you were looking west and the sun was coming up like a backdrop, gradually lighting the scene. It was beautiful. And at that moment I wanted to share it with somebody. That day I felt terribly lonely.
NT: Ironically that's the best and worst of being on the road, all right there. The romantic beauty and the inability to be sharing it in the moment. But at the same time I think that's a lot of what keeps you writing. There has got to be a way to share this thing that ends up inside you.
MH: Hopefully that's something that I will be able to do with this next album. Because I am my own booking agent there is always something to do. So I don't do much writing on the road.
I need to start writing my next album. I've got so much to write about. All the experiences I've had, especially over the last two years when I've toured so much. All about how big this country is and equating the human emotion of love and passions and longing with the Earth and this country and the continent.
There is a commonality with the individual and his or her passions and the land and the sky and the culture and its passions and regrets. I want to write about that. I haven't quite figured out how to do that. Hopefully next year I'll take some time off. I've got the title, I"ve got it together in my head. Now I have to do the work.
NT: What does no one ask you about that you would like to talk about?
MH: Why. I never get asked, "Why are yo doing this? Why do you choose such a hard way of pursuing your dreams?"
I guess the answer to that is what I really want people to know, artists to know: Artists get so caught up in the unfairness of life. The unfairness of how difficult it is to express yourself and make a living at it. The thing that I want to say is that my experience has been "stop thinking about anything else except why you do your art." And all of a sudden nothing else matters. I do this because I'm happy when I do this.
I think most creative people are very cynical about the idea of happiness. [They think] that it is just not possible in this life. But it is. It is just being able to knock everything else out of your consciousness, and suddenly everything else is part of the process.
And you stop worrying about if you're going to make a lot of money or if you are going to be famous or whether you are
going to be recognized by this critic or peer. You are doing it because you love it, and all of a sudden you are happy and
the people you love are happy. You are able to love more. You are able to be more generous. You are able to be more
loving to everyone and the world. That's the thing that I've never been able to express in any of the interviews I've done.
Thanks for asking.
Reprinted from NEW TIMES MAGAZINE, San Luis Obispo Edition. Reprinted by permission. Copyright 1999 New Times. All rights reserved.
A quintessential troubadour
By Caryn Gilbert
If singer-songwriter Mark Humphreys had his way, everyone would spend a year traveling across country.
"Not in the air," emphasizes the San Gabriel Valley native, who will play Friday at Bean Town in Sierra Madre. "But actually seeing and feeling the country and meeting people. They would realize how similar we are and how things really are the same wherever you go."
And Humphreys knows about what he speaks. A quintessential folk troubadour, he has toured the country alone several times since releasing his 1993 debut CD and has even published a book of his experiences.
"It's just you and your guitar and you're alone with your own thoughts," explains Humphreys, whose fervent vocals and melodic story songs place his music, appropriately enough, within the realm of Americana. "It's a very scary and sometimes disturbing thing because after a while you run out of the standard things to think about and you really start examining your life and that's how the book came about."
But while it is clear that Humphreys loves his life as an independent artist, his current contentment has been hard won.
He remembers that, as a teenager teaching himself piano chords from an Elton John-Bernie Taupin songbook, he had his heart set on being a rock star.
"I spent basically the earlier part of my adulthood in my 20s and early 30s kind of obsessing about getting famous and trying to get a record deal," he admits.
Humphreys spent the mid-1980s pursuing fame and fortune with his band Motel Six, only to find himself face to face with his demons when the bottom fell out.
"I had a lot of anger and I was not happy," he explains. "I drank a lot. I'm an alcoholic and that clouds everything."
He quit drinking in 1990 but continued to languish musically until late 1992, when he had the epiphany that would take both his music and life in a new direction.
"Something snapped," he says of the home recording project that would become his first album. "I said, 'Maybe this isn't as good as I can do but until I put this album out I'm not going to get any better.' And from that point forward it's just been one leap of faith after another."
Humphreys' renewed determination has paid off. Since his pivotal debut CD, "A Lust and a Longing," he has released three other well-received albums with a fifth CD currently in the works. And with five other L.A. area artists now signed to his independent label, Trough Records, Humphreys says he is living his dream even if it isn't as he originally envisioned it.
"There is nothing wrong with dreaming but only up to a point," he says of his personal and artistic evolution. "At some point you have to decide, 'I'm going to be fulfilled.'"
He remembers the day seven years ago when he sent 300 copies of his first CD to radio stations all over the country.
"It was the most glorious, happy feeling I ever had and now I get to live it on a daily basis," he says. "My dream was to have my music out in the world and it's out there."
Copyright 2000 Pasadena Weekly. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.