Dark Americana Bandleader Mark Sinnis Revisits His Old Haunts Upstate

by delarue

Today’s Halloween episode concerns an eerie coincidence in the career of dark Americana crooner Mark Sinnis. You can watch the video – or get the scoop here if you’re multitasking. See, a few years back, Sinnis was shooting video in an upstate New York cemetery. Needing some headstone imagery, he lay down on a random grave. Later, while editing the footage, he was stunned to discover that Mary Ann Slauson, the woman interred there, died on Sinnis’ birthday…in 1846. Pure chance, a message from the great beyond, or a past-life revelation? To this day, Sinnis isn’t sure – but he got a song out of it.

Now based in North Carolina, he’s regrouping his epic Hudson Valley band 825 for a couple of pre-Halloween weekend shows on Oct 28 at 8 PM and then on Sunday afternoon, Oct 29 at 4 PM at Sue’s Sunset House in Peekskill; cover is $5. If you’re wondering what relevance those shows could have for residents of the five boroughs, the venue couldn’t be easier to get to – it’s about a block north of the Peekskill Metro-North station. Be aware that the last train back to Manhattan  Saturday night leaves at half past eleven, with a transfer at Croton-Harmon. You can also catch a nonstop train back to Grand Central an  hour earlier. 

Sinnis and the band played a weekend stand there this past summer, without any rehearsal…and slayed. These guys know his material inside out. Trumpeters Lee Compton and Brian Aspinwall gave some of the material a mariachi feel, when Aspinwall wasn’t playing pedal steel on the more oldschool C&W numbers, or keys as well on a couple of the more subdued tunes. Drummer Michael Lillard kept a swinging country shuffle or honkytonk sway going; bassist Mike Gross took some serpentine leads as the Saturday night show got crazier.

Multi-instrumentalist Stephen Gara started off both shows on banjo but also played jawbone and finally bagpipe toward the end. Lead guitarist W.D. Fortay – formerly known as Smokey Chipotle – aired out his vast assortment of classic country, rockabilly and retro rock licks, playing a couple of gorgeous hollowbody Guild models through an old Fender tube amp with the reverb way up.

Sinnis saved the weekend’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got – a propulsive, corrosively vindictive minor-key number – for the Sunday show. One of the weekend’s few covers, Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons was also reinvented as a revenge song with an inventive, oldtime chain-gang blues arrangement. Otherwise, Sinnis’ song titles pretty much speak for themselves: The Undertaker in My Rearview Mirror, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves, and I’ll Have Another Drink of Whiskey (‘Cause Death Is Not So Faraway), to name just three. It’s hard to remember a crowd having so much fun watching a band sing about imminent doom and unrelenting despair. Although with Sinnis, he’ll always have another song about death, but whiskey is not that faraway.

A word about the venue: it’s something straight out of a David Lynch film, a real oldschool upstate New York roadhouse. Local characters gather to watch football and the later it gets, the stranger the clientele becomes (the football crowd tends to filter out after the game ends). The one concession to the 21st century is the microbrew selection; the kitchen serves burgers, fries and such. Service is laid-back and unpretentious, as you would expect at a place like this. The onion rings are highly recommended: homemade, thick, haphazardly hand-cut and fried to a crispy brown crunch in generous amounts of batter. They go well with Tabasco.