It has been 24 years since songwriter Mark Houser’s first recording. This is his second. In between he wrote and co-wrote songs for a number of performers, most notably Carrie Hassler and The Roys. Uneven Road ties many of those threads together.
Houser wrote both the title song and “I’ll Be Alright.” Both of them are gentle and medium-paced and both of them use the theme of the need we have for and the strength we gain from loving support. “Uneven Road” succeeds the best of the two mostly for its almost anthem-like melody. But they’re both pleasant and uplifting songs. Similarly pleasant and uplifting is “Lead Me Home,” one of ten songs Houser co-wrote here, in this case with Reed Nielson. Again, the theme addressed is the value of support, but here the support asked for and received comes from God. Given a slow, pleading setting, the emotion it creates is quite palpable.
In the socially conscious vein and one of the best tracks here is Houser’s and Mark Conklin’s look at the Civil Rights struggle, “When Standing Up Stood For Something.” It’s always good when songs break free from the usual thematic axis, and this one does so with importance. In contrast to the positivity is the propulsive opener, “Hard Rain,” written with Jimmy Bilbrey. It’s just an old down-and-outer, but a good one and one that first saw light on Carrie Hassler’s debut. Then there’s “John The Baptist,” the dark, semi-funky tale of a preacher with a past and of the bad end he finds. That’s followed a track later by “Wish I Owned That Land,” in which Houser (and Nielson) rail against the disillusionment that often comes with progress. A heavy sense of tension and anger emerges with that one, but still a highlight song.
Pleasant, uplifting, socially-conscious or ominous, this good debut is strengthened by some of Nashville’s best players and by Houser’s even-tempered and warm baritone vocals. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121, www.ruralrhythm.com.)BW