Veteran wordsmith delivers knockout record on long-awaited return.
“Been a long time coming someone said…maybe so, maybe not. Just trying to do it … whichever way I’d be better suited for tendering a nicely weighted bucket of disorientation while still trying to squeeze the shit out of a halfway decent folk song” notes Mark Germino in the sleeve notes for ‘Midnight Carnival’. And while it sure has been a while since his last release, this sublime record of depth, weight and wit is well worth the wait.
‘Midnight Carnival’ is Germino’s first commercial release since ’Rank and File’, well over two decades ago back in 1996. Germino is something of an enigma – part poet, part singer-songwriter and part novelist. Having arrived in Nashville in 1974 from North Carolina, he spent much of the next decade performing clubs at night while working as a trucker during the day. He was eventually signed but despite releasing three major-label records in the late 80s/ early 90s – and having his songs covered by none other than Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn – he never hit the big time. With no new output in nearly twenty five years, it seemed he had simply disappeared.
How wonderfully improbable then that this exceptionally strong record should appear after so much time elapsed. Backed by a stellar group of seasoned musicians in the shape of multi-instrumentalist Michael Webb (Poco, Bobby Keys), guitarist Kenny Vaughan (Lucinda Williams, Marty Stewart), bassist Tom Comet (Webb Wilder, Kevin Gordan), and drummer Rick Lonow, (Burrito Brothers, Ryan Bingham), Germino and co work their way through bawlers and ballads, each imbued with a depth and sincerity which can only be gained from years of hard toil.
Reminiscent at times of John Hiatt or Steve Earle and the Dukes, ‘Midnight Carnival’ kicks off with the upbeat ‘Traveling Man’, which sees Webb and Vaughan coalesce on accordion and electric guitar. The harmony laden ‘Lightning Don’t Always Strike the Tallest Tree’ is magnificent, ‘Peace Train’ is witty and smart, while ‘Blessed are the Ones’ is tender and reflective. But this record really comes into its own just after the halfway mark with ‘Koraleah’, ‘The Greatest Song Ever Written’, ‘Carolina in the Morning’ – which features the late, great Rusty Young on pedal steel on one of his last recordings before he sadly passed away in April – and ‘Finest American Waltz’. These are outstanding works of literary set to song, where the characters and places are brought to life through vivid imagery, moving testimony and smart, incisive phrases.
From start to finish, this is a knock out collection of songs that may well have been a long time coming, but is all the richer for it.