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Old Man Markley

Down Side Up – 2013 (Far Wreck Chords)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Old Man Markley

Old Man Markley is a good old-fashioned political band, only this Los Angeles act - with its punk activist spirit - plays hardcore bluegrass music. John Carey leads the group, which also includes an autoharp player and washboard-ist, through 13 tracks of many times angry old timey music. Although Carey makes Old Man Markley sound like a hillbilly, Tim McIlrath-fronted Rise Against, with most rock instrumentation replaced by unplugged elements, his natural harshness is sometimes leavened by Annie DeTemple's vocal sweetness. She sings lead on Come Around Here and provides backing vocals on many tracks.

Much like Rise Against, Old Man Markley takes an 'us vs. them' mentality when addressing social ills. Blood on My Hands suggests the government and other powers that be take advantage of the populace because regular citizens are not vigilant enough to keep these evil ones in check. Furthermore, Carey protests, "These walls feel more and more like a cage" during Blindfold over a banjo and mandolin-spiced bluegrass groove as he describes the way Americans walk through life, seemingly with eyes closed. He adds a more optimistic note with So Much More, which suggests everybody has true value in society.

Bluegrass music has always delved into the deepest issues of the soul. However, it's unusual to hear it used as a political tool, the way Old Man Markley wields it. With "Down Side Up," Old Man Markley gives listeners a loud wakeup call and a swift kick in the pants and in a most unexpected musical style.