Mark Fosson

at the Un-urban Coffeehouse

Lost and Found

By Joel Okida

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Mark Fosson's music got waylaid back in the 1970s by an unfortunate incident that slowed down a young man's climb up the industry fretboard. He lost his record and his contract when legendary guitarist, John Fahey, proprietor of Takoma records, who Fosson had signed with, was forced to sell the company to Chrysalis. But not with Fosson or his record. That event took him on a long roundabout way of getting back to those roots, but if his recent show on the Westside is any indication, the talent that Fahey noticed way back then, has never left him.

Now, some 30 years later and with that unreleased record recently (2006) reissued on Drag City and aptly entitled, The Lost Takoma Sessions, Fosson has stepped back into a still fickle and corporate run music world, but also back into a more accepting, appreciative and burgeoning acoustic folk scene. That recording was made in 1976-77 and could not find another record label home. The music era was alive, but the heartbeat was coming from the disco, new wave, and punk trends that unfolded as the spiraling late 70s crashed and burned into the 80s. The acoustic guitar was not the instrument of choice or fashion and certainly the 12-string became doubly esoteric.

However, in the way art, fashion and film recycle all that came before, sometimes successfully, other times less so, so it goes with music. In this case, folk music and acoustic instruments have reappeared, often in hybrid mergings of psychedelia, world, pop, and blues. Other times, we see a new generation attempting to pick up the feel of those pivotal times and a single troubadour on stage, guitar in lap, is once again, a common sight.

This brings us back to Mark Fosson and his guitar(s) and a return to the craft of seriously playing and singing about a few life lessons and stories of the heart. Fosson released a new collection of tunes in 2006 in addition to the previously unreleased, all-instrumental Lost Takoma Sessions. Jesus on a Greyhound (New Light Entertainment) has a 1960s-ish feel which, in comparison to today's often anorexic songwriting, is a good thing and the self-penned songs do pay attention to catchy melody and smart lyric. Home spun songs like Old River Rd. and the title tune are songs bred out of a single observation or passing remark and built into a short story. And there's still a bit of his native Kentucky in him that comes thru in his vocals that add a shade of warmth and mercy to any given tune. Away from the ballads and modern blues tales of Jesus on a Greyhound, Fosson, in person, switches gears for his12-string instrumentals, where he bears down and then stretches out with style and technique. Thankfully, it's captured on the Lost Takoma Sessions recording, but better still is the fact that he's playing those forgotten songs once again.

Somewhere far away from the extraterrestrial tappings and slappings of exotic 12-stringers, Preston Reed and Michael Hedges, due west of Robbie Basho and perhaps with a side glance to former Takoma label mates, Leo Kottke and Peter Lang, Fosson, with every riff and each pluck and pick gets these transcendent muted tones and burnished resonance out of his 12-string, never dropping a dead-end cliche in the melody. Those early years opening for Fahey may have left lasting influence, maybe pushed him to bend and bar his own sound or maybe he already had a distinctive style and polished it regularly over the years.

A few weeks ago, in the unassuming minimalist setting of the Un-urban Coffeehouse, a cozy, but enthusiastic crowd got to witness some music hewn from the fingers of a master player. Beyond the style and the technical know-how, is what you'll find missing from many a slick guitarist: the artistry and the beauty. You can get a hint by listening to his "Creeper" documented on internet video, but the sound is nowhere near the soul squeezing tone that you get in live performance. As it should be. This is music to hear right in front of you and a musician who invites you into a few chapters of his life. Just follow those fingers.

For more about Mark Fosson, go to http://www.markfosson.com

Joel Okida is a struggling artist, struggling writer, and struggling musician. It occurs to him that life is all about the struggle. Fortunately, he did not take up acting. However, he's not half-bad as a zydeco dancer and the ability to make a mean gumbo and lovely walnut tortes has gotten him by.