Mark Baughman’s Working Theory – No Prophet Here – Album Review
For those that seek out more in the music they rock, we salute you.
I’ll be real with ya as always – Mark Baughman’s Working Theory’s latest record No Prophet Here is built on a whole array of intrictate musicianship, Progressive tendencies & involved songs that are generally a much tougher sell to the masses these days than bands they’ve listed as influences like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and The Who had to go through back in their primes. While the mainstream has certainly shifted their palette throughout the years…let’s make sure we acknowledge the fact that those millions of fans haven’t gone anywhere – as in, yep, the Top-40 will resemble something entirely different, sure – but the people out there that have always loved music that pushes to provide us with more of a journey in sound & style are still out there. If anything, they’re more starved for something new than others.
While I can’t say one way or the other that this will be the record that fills the hole entirely out there for everyone, I’d imagine a lot of people will still find a whole lot to listen to well worth their while as well. My immediate first impression revolved almost entirely around the instrumentation and the cleverness to be found in the composition of this lineup at its core…this is, mind you, after I got over the shock of hearing the most amped-up guitars this side of Kenny Loggins starting up the record with “A Country Like This” – I’ll admit, I wasn’t ready for that & I’m probably still not. Soon afterwards though – I actually went drifted towards the opposite direction…I almost ended up having a harder time convincing myself that Mark Baughman’s Working Theory doesn’t serve as a vehicle for the words, more than the music.
So yep, for a brief moment in time, I rocked gently back & forth through the very first seconds of “A Country Like This” just praying & hoping I wasn’t about to be in for a full record full of “Danger Zone”-esque tunes…and thankfully, it wasn’t long at all before Mark Baughman’s Working Theory started making moves that created the separation & variation I was desperate for. Things began to move quickly in the right direction for me…the beat from the drums is exceptional, the way the lead-guitar chimes in with a beautifully brilliant melodic hook along the way is freakin’ fantastic, the vocals are strong & have character & personality, and the guitar solo just past the mid-point of “A Country Like This” immediately confirmed there’s a whole lotta next-level musicianship to be found on this record. Lyrically, I think they’ve got some great stuff goin’ on here too…if I’m hearing this correctly, there’s a solid mix of insightful observations to be found, and a fearless approach to the words that is unafraid to call things out as they’re perceived to be. The virus of course being the topic du-jour for just about everyone these days, and this record itself having come out nearly a year ago now…MBWT still hasn’t escaped the theme, as I suspect not many artists/bands will over this next decade to follow. While this first cut will go into that somewhat towards the end in the final verse, ultimately the song itself is more of an observation on government control, oppressive rules, and the spirit of resistance surging through the music. I’ll be as honest with ya as I always am – some folks are gonna agree with him, others aren’t – that’s just the reality of writing in an intentionally polarizing style – but the most key thing to expressing your point of view in any situation is to do it with pure conviction, and Mark Baughman’s Working Theory instantly proves they’ve got plenty of that on all fronts. In my opinion, it’s that melodic lead-hook from the guitar that puts the icing on the cake here; hooks in general aren’t always the main focus on this record and “A Country Like This” gives you more than most will, but I found it impressive that what I felt like was the strongest aspect of this cut was actually one of the more minimal ingredients overall. It’s a really well-played song from start to finish, don’t get me wrong – all these tracks are, undeniably – I’m just saying that where we all tend to expect the main hooks that make a lasting impact on us seem to largely come from the microphone, MBWT gives you plenty to consider for those top spot honors of what you like most by the spectacular musicianship they share between them.
The stomping storm of “Skin In The Game” comes out swinging for the fence with low-end heavy grooves. Huge bonus points for the saxophone solo mid-song, supplied by Jeff Miguel – I’m all about stellar surprises like that showing up in tune these days…it’s far too rare to be found, and what good ol’ Jeff adds to this one cut alone should confirm exactly why it’s always a welcome instrument to be found inside a song. Dude plays will stunning skill & passion, and he really adds an entirely different dimension to this cut that takes it out of being an agro-Rock tune into that much more of a meaty & well-balanced experience overall. I love that it’s a cut designed to instantly get your attention; “Skin In The Game” will have no problem whatsoever doing that through the chops on display in the music, and if you’re listening closely to the lyricism once again, you’ll find a whole lot to think about as you listen. Someone will have to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m hearing the music of MBWT like those artists you know & love like Neil Young, The Boss & Pink Floyd and how they were able to innovatively twist their lyricism to reveal what they wanted to say by quite often detailing the opposite. As in, you hear a lot of what Mark sings and it seems as if it’s coming from the perspective of mayhem & mischief – but if you’re digging in further, you’ll realize he’s actually pointing out a ton of the flaws in our thinking & actions that actually lead to the behaviors we display in society today. At least, that’s the way I’m hearing it – y’all know me, I tend to dig into my tunes just a little bit more than the rest. As far as singles go, ”Skin In The Game” would make a stellar choice to put out there as a gateway into No Prophet Here…it’s got everything from a point of view, to solidly defined hooks in both verse & chorus, and of course, the killer musicianship & relentless passion that this band seems to be more than willing to supply at every turn.
Excellent combination of talents in the collaborative efforts on “Somebody’s Daughter,” where Mella Barnes delivers a remarkable moment from the microphone with the bold tones of her soulful/jazzy style ringing out loud & proud into the music surrounding her. All in all, this cut has a genuinely gripping atmosphere to it that’s almost lighter in its vibes comparatively to the opening two tracks, but seemingly that much more intense in the overall results. Love the way the keyboards from Marco Cremashini make an impact on this classy-meets-classic groove they’ve all got goin’ on…”Somebody’s Daughter” is delivered with real confidence & conviction, by a band that has no problem at all moving together as a unified force. It is extremely hard not to argue that Mella steals the show here…in my opinion, she really does. Not intentionally, obviously…I’m not a believer that people jump on another artist’s track to hijack the thing, that’s not what I’m saying…I’m just saying her performance is THAT noteworthy on “Somebody’s Daughter” that EVEN with ALL the amazing things happening between the songwriting & sound of this song, she’s still this cut’s most standout element at all times. Mesmerizing, hypnotic, emotionally powerful, stylistically slick…I mean, you gotta hand it to her – you couldn’t ask for a better pairing between the vibe of the music being made by Mark Baughman’s Working Theory and the vocals of Barnes on the mic for “Somebody’s Daughter” – this is finding the right players to suit the song and supply the strengths we wanna hear to a specific moment in time. Wise choices being made here.
While a track like “The Fever” has much more interpretive qualities to the songwriting that could easily generate many theories as to what it’s all about, I think that’s always a good thing when it comes to music. Allowing listeners to jump to their own conclusions and fill in the blanks a bit on their own always makes for a more immersive experience on the listeners end in that regard, and I’d imagine there’s gotta be a certain level of joy on the artist’s behalf of hearing what people may or may-not think something is all about. For those of you out there that would be questioning where MBWT might fit sound-wise…whether it’s too Progressive for ya to handle or not…I’d challenge that cuts like “Skin In The Game” wouldn’t be too distant of a cousin to something like Soundgarden, and a cut like “The Fever” wouldn’t actually be all that far away from something you’d find on a record like Purple by Stone Temple Pilots either. What MBWT does is ultimately still a whole lot different than either of those comparisons, but on the fringe of the overall sound, you’ll hear those similarities. You could argue a track like “The Fever” has just as much in common with David Baerwald or David Bowie and I’d be willing to listen to ya. Let it be said & let it be recognized – Brian Petry is a warrior BEAST of the drum kit…I haven’t shouted him out yet, but I should have plenty already…he’s a massive difference maker every time he sits behind the kit and an all-around inventive player when it comes to how he approaches the drums on this album. I also felt like having Mella as the guest-star on the previous cut ended up serving Mark really well in his return to the mic on “The Fever” – you really notice that switch back to his lead, and the vibrant & lively performance he puts into this cut makes that much more of an impact on us as a result.
There are a few cuts where you’ll find the concepts become that much more clear as you listen, like they do throughout “Racing To The Bottom.” Quite likely right up there with my favorites in this entire set-list, Mark Baughman has written an outstanding song here that powerfully delivers, fully realized by a performance that gets the most out of every musical morsel for ya. It’s an artistically designed track with a whole lot to say…and one of the highlight examples of where Mark’s storyline songwriting meets reality in the most brilliant of ways, becoming more relevant & related to where we are right here & now in the present, while also giving you the important framework & context as to why things are the way they are. And it’s grim! I ain’t gonna lie to ya, it’s a grim tune. It might sound fantastic, heck, even purely beautiful at times…but make no mistake, you take a deeper dive into the lyricism to be found and you’ll be lucky if you don’t find the meanings of this cut staring right back at you like your face in the mirror. It’s why a line like “sitting in your living room, watching as we’re racing to the bottom” makes the resounding thud in our hearts & minds like it does – that’s the impact of message & music created as one…and it’s pointing our apathy of inaction straight back towards us, while also reminding us of the severity in the cost of speaking up as well. “Racing To The Bottom” shines a bright light in the dark on the confusion we feel in the push/pull of when to act & when to speak up…and it’s a stark reminder that doing what’s right takes a toll on the many out there willing to battle, both mentally and physically. Plus like…c’mon now…as you tick by the third minute, you’ll discover a wealth of sensational musicianship and solos that are straight-up off the charts good. “Racing To The Bottom” is as insightful as it is entertaining…altogether almost too damn vivid with its details…but I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
The effect of having such thought-provoking material laced into a record like this, is that it will make a track like “Victoria” seem a bit more…normal by comparison? The cohesion you’ll find you’re looking for mainly comes through how Mark writes his material and the poetic design of his lyricism…dude’s got an incredible way with his words when it comes right down to it. There’s an argument to be made that you’re listening to a more standard love-song on “Victoria” at the end of the day when examining the set-list, but at the same time, I feel like MMWT has chosen wisely by allowing cracks of light like this track to shine on the record and provide a bit of audible relief for those out there looking to just enjoy what they’re listening to without having to dig too deep. The comforting mellow of “Victoria” has a warm sincerity to it…it’s an inviting sound all-around, and the supporting cast within the music & the backing vocals deserve a ton of credit for encompassing Mark’s lead vocals with these endearing vibes.
That being said…I know why I’m listening & what I’m listening for at this point on the record when it comes to my own personal taste. You’ll never find me opening hatin’ too hard on a love-song – I think they’re all essentially built of pretty pure intentions – but I’d by lyin’ to ya by omission if I didn’t say it was those deeper cuts that Mark Baughman’s Working Theory provided on this album that hit the target more closely for me. Returning to the low-end grooves & lyrical depth of a cut like “This River Won’t Flow” was fully welcomed over here is what I’m saying. MBWT embraces hybrid style & sound throughout this album with ease in the strengths of their musicianship, and when they flex it like they do in Blues/Rock combos like this one, they get maximum miles out of their material. I do hesitate to even put a Blues/Rock stamp on this cut, because I generally think that label suggest absolutely nothing new to be had at this point – but that really isn’t the case when it comes to this song. “This River Won’t Flow” has a ton of tangible twists & turns and an all-around energy that makes it so much more rewarding to listen to, even if it could be boiled down to some kind of Blues/Rock combo at its marrow. Stellar production & clarity the entire distance through this record from start to finish, you really get an opportunity to appreciate the role it plays in these songs with the clarity you’ll find on “This River Won’t Flow.” Great rhythmic design to the way Mark sings the verses, excellent way to finish the hooks of the chorus with finesse & emphasis on the melody – all the elements stack up strong, including more outstanding contributions from the keyboards to be found – you really end up feeling the sensory vibes this band is capable of and fully appreciate the amount of detail they put into “This River Won’t Flow.” Mark’s got a genuinely insightful way of delivering compelling stories inside his songs, and I’m diggin’ it.
If you look on their main website, you’ll learn that once you’re IN Mark Baughman’s Working Theory, you’re at the very least, an honorary member for LIFE – which is entirely rad. Clearly this is a growing family still to this day with the addition of singers like Mella Barnes, who seem to not be able to help being anything less than extraordinary – this lady crushes microphones with confidence & grace, and has an uncanny way of tapping right into the strengths of the melody & emotion in Mark’s songwriting as one. The results on cuts like “Somebody’s Daughter” earlier on, and “What I Became (Please Take Me Home)” towards the end of the set-list shine like diamonds on this record, and you gotta hand it to this band once again for making the best choices possible to get the most out of their material. “I don’t understand what keeps holding me here, but this is not me – it’s what I became” is one of the most powerful lines you’ll find on this record, and that’s saying quite a lot, because there are literally plenty to choose from. But consider that line for a moment…chances are, you’ll find you relate to that in profound ways that speak right to who you are at your very core, and resonate deep inside ya. Either that, or I’m revealing a whole lot about myself through projection here – but that’s the case for so many of us I’d assume…life has a twisted way of morphing us into something else that we’re not if we’re not too careful. “What I Became (Please Take Me Home)” actually has a ton in common with the emotional melodies and crafted songwriting I love so much in bands like Better Than Ezra with its combination of beautifully warm vibes and complexities on display throughout the thought-provoking lyricism. What I love more than anything else is the journey this particular song takes us on…you really feel the way these words continually connect and how they mirror so much of what we’ve been through ourselves – and to hear the all-out remarkably uplifting thread this song carries at its core…sounds like real hope. Sure there’s melancholy…sure it’s downtrodden at times as well – but listen closely – through Mella’s inspired vocals and the sweetness in the melody surrounding her as she sings, you’ll find there’s an unbreakable spirit that is weary, but still intact, alive, and kicking. “I know what matters…blessed with a gift…one last chance to find what I missed” – think of this song as representing the down, but not out.
All of these songs work within a larger concept that grows clearer from the start to the finish, and you’ll find characters like “Victoria” from earlier on resurface towards the end in this album’s title-track. Mark’s guitars on “No Prophet Here” are some of my favorite on the album…but let’s be real too, he’s a master of the axe when it comes right down to it, and he’s proven that proficiently throughout the distance of this whole record. I think he puts in a really grounded & connected performance on the mic as well…”No Prophet Here” is another stellar example of his insightful songwriting and how it expands from an internal point of view into relatable emotions, thoughts, and feelings we can all identify with. Is “No Prophet Here” gonna be the happiest tune you’re gonna hear in 2021? Heck no! But that shouldn’t at all be the definition of what makes a great song – I mean, in my world, it’s the sadder stuff that tends to connect the most, and “No Prophet Here” had no problem delivering that vibe through its melancholic observations, prayers and pleading. Like I’ve been tellin’ ya from the get-go, one of MBWT’s greatest assets is the storytelling nature of these songs and the poetic lyricism to be found – not only is it all incredibly well detailed & compellingly crafted, but Mark proves time & time again to be fearless when it comes to all that he’s willing to include in his imagery & words. As a result, you can see songs like “No Prophet Here” completely vividly in your mind as you listen, and through the melody & delicate beat supporting his vocals, the picture becomes clear, and we realize what a spectacular mix of fragility & vulnerable resolve he’s captured not only in this particular song, but the record as a whole.
Brightening up the atmosphere in the final cut “We Could Be Angels” – Mark Baughman’s Working Theory makes the right moves to spark up the vibe at the end of this record and conclude it on an uplifting song that’ll get people reaching for the repeat button. Which I highly recommend you do incidentally…the more you listen to this album, the more I can promise ya that you’ll get out of it. The spirited sound of “We Could Be Angels” works brilliantly, and stokes the finale of this record with a refreshing dose of brightness that radiates the strength of their musicianship combined and a conclusive cut that finishes No Prophet Here in style with its welcoming aura. Like we’ve arrived at the pearly’s ourselves – Mark reminds us that there are many angels right here with us on earth, and toasts a tribute to the many women he’s met throughout his life that have helped him grow. Ultimately, it’s a pretty beautiful tune when it comes right down to it, and definitely a great note to go out on – complete with the inspired guitar solo that comes beaming into this song on its way towards the third minute, MBWT gives you one last cut full of their most colorful sound and uplifting vibes as well. No less thought-provoking than the rest with Mark’s penchant for observatory wisdom in his lyricism, but a much more all-encompassing & accessible sound to leave us on with “We Could Be Angels” that’ll put some of that good-good inspiration through your speakers with the passion & sincerity it takes to make it all connect.
Find out more about Mark Baughman’s Working Theory at the official website at: https://www.workingtheoryband.com