The transoceanic twosome of Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb, now firmly established as one of the most popular acts in Central New York, have put many a mile behind them, making fans far and wide. The flattop wizards now face down the inevitable question of what they can do for an encore, delivering a forceful response on the tracks of their new independent CD Onward.
While Loren and Mark, as they are billed on their new album, have established themselves as a premier acoustic act, playing nearly every theater, club, coffeehouse and festival in the area and many venues beyond, their reputation as a guitar duo may limit them, no matter how impeccable their playing. The versatility, evident from Onward’s first three songs, makes a case that this release will help them to engage a broader audience.
The rippling water lead on the esoteric title track, which is first up, flows with the finger-picking artistry that characterized their self-titled 2010 CD. But this time out, Onward, like its creators, travels many far-flung roads. While flawless fretwork will always be their calling card, they cut not only a widely varied trail of instrumentals, but also include a trio of tracks that feature Barrigar’s heartfelt vocals. The homegrown project also embodies the talents of seven local musicians, while half of the songs are written by area composers, including two by Barrigar and Mazengarb.
The follow-up track, Jerry Reed’s furious “Jerry’s Breakdown,” incorporates the tasteful brushwork of noted drummer Rob Spagnoletti and Barrigar’s heavy thumb to set a rollicking pace. The lead trilogy concludes with the CD’s first vocal, the haunting and melancholy “Wish I Could Fly.” It receives the full-band treatment, with Spagnoletti joined by steel guitar whiz George Newton, delicate harmony vocals delivered by Donna Colton and Sharon Allen, Barrigar on bass and Mazengarb doing triple duty on vocals, mandolin and an elegant lead guitar.
“Wish I Could Fly,” like the other pair of vocal numbers, was composed by local songwriter Austin Gravelding, but their common source isn’t evident as each stands on its own in, all three making a strong case for radio play. The instrumentals are predictably powerful. “Halfway Home,” a tune composed by the duo’s mentor, Tommy Emmanuel, conjures wind-blown wheat fields and winding streams. The Barrigar-Mazengarb composition “Traveling Light,” featuring bassist Pat DeSalvo and cellist Gregory Wood, is light yet infectious.
In terms of the other two vocal numbers, “China Blue” is familiar in melody and theme, as a man recalls the penetrating eyes of a past love. Less original than Gravelding’s other songs, it compensates with a simple charm; after a couple of plays, it’s hard not to sing along with Barrigar’s easy-flowing singing. “Healing,” arranged by Mazengarb as a warm and reflective bluegrass song, is the richest lyrically, and instrumentally graceful, with the enormously talented Nick Piccinni’s lush banjo strokes layered over the duo’s guitars. Gravelding’s words are deeply inspirational, reminding that “hurting comes on faster than a freight train, healing comes along in its own time.”
Ironically, the most familiar track is the last, “Always On My Mind,” barely recognizable as the 1982 Willie Nelson hit without his famously ragged voice. In fact, it may take listeners a moment to recognize the graceful reading of the song’s beautiful melody, presented here as an understated instrumental.Onward’s brief liner notes deliver the exciting news that this remarkable duo has made the commitment to a full-time career playing together. While their journey has already taken them well beyond their local stronghold, this new release strengthens their potential to continue to find welcoming fans anywhere they play, knowing that wherever they play they’ll be moving onward.