When a new song comes on the radio, what determines whether you add it to your favorites or tune to a different station? Everyone has their own criteria when it comes to forming first impressions of a song or artist, but personally the quality of the singer’s voice can make-or-break my opinion. That’s why I enjoyed Mark Whitaker’s debut album, Nowhere to Land, which incorporates elements of folk, blues, and bluegrass. Whitaker’s clear, full voice is perhaps the strongest feature of the entire album. You could listen to him sing for hours and not grow tired of hearing those beautifully rounded vowels betraying just a hint of his natural Maryland accent.

Like other artists, Whitaker often relies on his vocals to supply dramatic crescendos, but rather than raising the volume until he’s singing at the top of his lungs, he has a way of leaving the listener in suspense with a sudden pause before bursting forth again with gusto. Even in these moments, Whitaker hits notes with careful precision, though the listener almost wishes he would occasionally allow his voice to shine forth louder and unbridled.

While Whitaker can mostly thank good genetics for his pipes, he owes his overall success as a rising performer to countless hours spent mastering the piano, the bass, and the banjo, which is most prominently featured on the album. The opening lines of “A Day With You” immediately highlight his prowess as a banjo player with a fast-paced, plucky bluegrass melody interspersed with soaring violin accompaniments. The lyrics add to the song’s carefree tone with lines like, “A day with you reminds me / Life is only short when it’s timed.”

As soon as the final notes of the first track fade out, “Along the Way” instantly plunges into a moodier yet not-too-dark meditation on heartache and stress. A more active, dynamic bass line and the Western twang of the banjo provide an excellent change of pace and suggest a wide stylistic range. But although Whitaker does add diversity to subsequent tracks with female vocal harmonies, clapping, and long instrumental interludes, he loses some energy and momentum towards the middle of the album by failing to significantly vary his sound from track to track. “The River” and “Chances” are the most problematic among the lackluster middle songs, lacking enthusiasm and distinctiveness.

Nevertheless, the album recovers with “When the Weather Breaks,” which begins with minimalist plucking and builds into layers of harmony and a fantastic banjo interlude. The track for which the album is named, “Nowhere to Land,” may not be among the album’s top three songs, but its tender, easy flow rounds out the latter portion of the collection and helps the album wrap up on solid footing.

 

Album Review: Mark Whitaker - Nowhere To Land
Pros
  • The vocals are wonderful
  • Great banjo and violin interludes
Cons
  • Songs in the middle sound too similar
  • Ends with less energy than it began with
7Overall Score

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