Accentuated by Mark Sultan’s incredibly soulful voice, these two simultaneously released records contain some of the best songs you’re bound to hear this year. Sultan’s music is timeless. He pulls from Sun rockabillys, Stax/Atlantic soul singers (LaVern Baker), gospel singers (Sister Rosetta Tharpe), and hardcore punk. His knowledge of music is vast. What makes Mark such an effective artist is that he refuses to self-consciously pigeonhole himself into any scene. The titles of these records aren’t misnomers: Sultan’s the real deal. Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want were recorded by Mark with the aid of his Montreal friends over the past year. The caliber of songwriting is flooring. Like the late Gene Clark, Mark jumps from genre to genre. But whereas Clark took a whole album to develop a style, Sultan takes on several genres on just one side of vinyl. That’s not to say that Mark’s songwriting has the intuitiveness or inventiveness of Clark’s (it doesn’t), but I place his work in the same league. Certainly Doc Pomus would’ve appreciated Mark. Praise aside, with these releases a few things are becoming more apparent. Mark Sultan hasn’t come any closer to working with a full band. Sure, Sultan’s pals Choyce and Annie Sexareeno make a few appearances. But in terms of having a regular group to help with song development, Mark has elected to go through the process largely on his own. I can’t say this is entirely fruitful; most of Whatever I Want’sbest moments come when Mark works with outside help: check Matteo Bordin’s great bass lines on “Calloused Hands” or Choyce’s James Burton-inspired solo on “Blood on Your Hands.” (Choyce is one hell of a guitar player.) Mark Sultan is apparently only able to work with In The Red Records—at least for any sustained period of time. (Whatever I Want includes a juvenile dig in the liner notes at perceived enemies.) I think this works to his benefit. I have a lot of faith in In The Red, so much so that I’ve never listened to a post-ITR Jay Reatard or Black Lips record. The amount of artistic freedom Sultan receives from Larry Hardy is something he must value. Nevertheless, I’m at a point now where I’m getting a little frustrated with Mark’s albums. Again, they’re amazing. But it’s on a track like “Livin’ My Life”—with its cleaner production and fuller arrangement—that we get a glimpse of what a full band can do with one of Sultan’s songs. A whole album recorded in that environment would likely reveal Mark’s work at its best. I have a lot of faith in Sultan. And I’m still waiting for that well-rounded record that’ll completely destroy everything else and turn everyone into Mark Sultan fans (which they should be already).
–ryan (In The Red)