The Mark Almond band has been at best a purveyor of moods. Even the addition of former Mingus drummer Dannie Richmond has hardly given the group the groove it so sorely lacks. In fact, the hiring of Richmond around the time Columbia signed Mark Almond for a reportedly large advance only confirms the feeling that corporate investment and hype have managed to sustain a band that lacks power musically. What else but money would prompt so fine a drummer as Richmond to take up with the limited likes of Jon Mark and Johnny Almond? Why would the new album's liner list company executives, managers and accountant unless they were as vital to the band as the music?
At least Mark Almond 73 features a live side. We're spared the tedious control-room drama that the group's unfortunate fondness for suites produced on their three previous albums (no real difference in recording technique, by the way, marked the switch from Blue Thumb to Columbia). Here at last is a chance to hear what they're like without a curtain of strenuous production.
Definitive moments in concert: Richmond rolls on his snare during Mark's acoustic introduction to "What Am I Living For," ready to land with the full ensemble on the downbeat of the next measure. Mark, though, is grazing in the soppy meadows of his lyrics, oblivious to the drummer's sense of drama; the roll dies out awkwardly because Richmond at least has a musician's obligation to follow the band's so-called leader.
The studio side contains the most pleasing tune on the album, "Lonely Girl"; an easy Latin thing, featuring a ripped-off horn line from BS&T's version of Nilsson's "Without Her." After two choruses, though, it provokes only yawns, like the cloying acoustic hues of the remaining songs.
Even hiring the best sidemen, like Richmond and LA studio bassist Wolfgang Melz, can't make up for the band's appalling lack of ideas. Nor can ornamenting the group with ex-Cat Stevens guitarist Alan Davies or a truckload of percussion hide the emptiness at the core of Mark Almond's painted shell.
Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, September 12, 1973