New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: w.d.fortay

Dark Americana Bandleader Mark Sinnis Revisits His Old Haunts Upstate

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.

Dark Crooner Mark Sinnis Releases His Catchiest, Hardest Country Record

There’s not a little irony in that baritone crooner Mark Sinnis’ catchiest and hardest country record comes out of the most difficult and arguably most complicated time in his life as a recording artist. His latest album, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves – streaming at Spotify – picks up the doomed tangent he began in 2012 with It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter. At that point, his marriage was on life support this one traces the despair that followed in its wake, yet paradoxically it’s Sinnis’ most hopeful album ever. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

As you might expect from Sinnis’ most traditional country album, there’s plenty of reverence for and references to to a century of tradition. The Elvis homage In Tupelo opens it; a homage to New York’s one and only country station, 1050 WHN, which aired at that frequency on the AM dial from 1941 to 1987, closes it on a similarly nostalgic note.

In between, there’s On This Thanksgiving Day, a cruel Johnny Cash-flavored anthem chronicling Sinnis’ departure/eviction from his Westchester home (he’s since resettled in North Carolina). There’s the towering, angst-fueled, Orbison-esque bolero that serves as the album’s title traack, inspired by an actual flower Sinnis discovered the day he moved out of his home in the frigid winter of 2014. It graces the album’s back cover.

Why Should I Cry Over You is a brisk, propulsive minor-key honkytonk blues number. There are a couple of older songs dating from Sinnis’ days fronting gothic-tinged art rock band Ninth House, notably the haunting When the Sun Bows to the Moon – “You create your own atmosphere, breathe your own tainted air” – and the creeping, low-key, doomed Jealousy.

There’s surprisingly upbeat, optimistic material here too. Love, Love Love (You’re Such a Four Letter Word) is a funny and wickedly catchy update on Don Gibson-style 1960s country-pop. Five Days, Seven Nights looks back to the roots of alt-country and bands like the Mekons, but with more finesse. Where It All Ends, a 70s style country ballad, serves as the album’s quietly triumphant coda.

Siting at the Heartbreak Saloon wouldn’t be out of place in the classic-era Merle Haggard songbook. And the album’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got, is one of the all-time greatest kiss-off anthems ever written. See, on the surface, this retro chick – as he tells it, Sinnis’ ex – looks like a classic car from 1956 or so. But wait – pop the hood! Fans of classic country from Lefty Frizzell, to Waylon and Willie, to Jack Grace will love this album A period-perfect and smart, tersely recorded performance from multi-instrumentalists Stephen Gara-  who plays everything from banjo to bagpipes – ass well as W. D. Fortay on lead guitar, Ken Lockwood on fiddle, Brian Aspinwall on pedal steel and trumpet, Lee Compton on lead trumpet, Mike Gross on bass and Michael Lillard on drums.