Commentary on Still Goin' Strong
From Sing Out!
The Kings of Mongrel Folk (Graham & Johnson) are back with a 12 song collection (plus a hidden live surprise) that continues in the tradition of clever songs, well-played. When the duo gets together the music leans toward country and blues, but it doesn’t stop there. The combination of Graham, known for his well-crafted, offbeat songs, harmonica and clarinet playing, and Johnson, known for his Dobro and slide guitar work, creates a hybrid of music that can only be defined as, well, mongrel folk.
Perusing thru Still Goin’ Strong you will find a smattering of bluegrass, klezmer, gospel, traditional and country blues, and even something that sounds like Johnny Cash wandering into a science fiction convention. If any of this makes you curious I encourage you to gain an audience with the Kings. A good place to start is with this latest recording.
From Victory Music Review
Before you listen to a tune the cover will get you grinning on this, another outing from well known Puget Sound mongrel folkies Mark Graham and Orville Johnson. A pitifully hulking man on crutches, his home in flames in the background, glares from beneath his bandaged head determined to carry on, hence the title. The title song features a getting-thru-it-all lyric fused with humor and powered musically by Tim O’Brien’s guest fiddling and Graham’s harmonica. The material here is not as fall down funny as some of Graham’s earlier stuff like Oedipus Rex, but Corn Kingdom Come isn’t bad, with its punny tribute to bootlegging and , who knows, Robert Mitchum? Johnson’s Always Something is a delightful dead ringer for a Jimmie Rodgers tune. The musicianship as usual is first rate with bits of klezmer, old-timey, blues and New Orleans in the mix. Their voices harmonize well. Especially on the wry After the Fall. The production is excellent, allowing plenty of space for the various slide guitar and clarinet figures going on in the music. This is a fine CD of good songs and superb musicianship.
From Green Man Review
Mark Graham is known for his singing and harmonica/clarinet playing with Kevin Burke’s Open House and he’s put out several solo albums with cute lyrics. Orville Johnson is known as a roots dobro player and slide guitarist, a prolific sideman as well as having a few CDs on his own. This mongrel folk duo blends blues, bluegrass (Tim O’Brien plays fiddle on the title track), country, and some other stuff. It’s a mix of music played for its own sake…
My favorites here include a cover of Shadrach, one of my favorite gospel songs from the Art Linkletter show. Graham’s low pitched voice is great, and the harmonies are as smooth as the walls of the fiery furnace. Another standout is a Graham composition called High and Lonesome. This is about a country DJ who dies and becomes a spirit.
Orville Johnson is a joy to hear on his steel guitar. He is particularly fine on Dead of Night, After the Fall, and Come Back Baby, three in a row, right there. Mark Graham heats it up with harmonica and clarinet on a number of tracks. The musicianship is wonderful…
Commentary on The Kings of Mongrel Folk™
From Sing Out
My dictionary defines mongrel as “a cross between different breeds, groups or varieties.” With traces of bluegrass, jazz, blues and folk, this album seems to qualify.Actually, five of the 14 tracks are written by Mark Graham, one of the most original and hilarious songwriters around, and they’d be reason enough to own this recording. Because it’s been covered by other singers, the best known Graham song here might be “Their Brains Were Small,” a hilarious comparison between dinosaurs and humans. But I was equally delighted with “ Last Words,” the ultimate description of sibling rivalry, wherein a dying man’s brother asks him, ”Could I have all your stuff when you’re dead?” And I roared over Graham’s wild ode to Oedipus Rex ( You killed your Pa and you married your Ma/They don’t even do that in Arkansas” ) Orville Johnson has a couple of fine originals here, too: “ Blueprint for the Blues” and “ Wnen Love Has Gone Away .” The rest of the album ranges from a Sleepy John Estes blues and “ Stormy Weather” to an outlaw ballad by Norman Blake and Allen Toussaint’s “ Freedom for the Stallion.” Except for one guest guitar spot by John Miller, Graham and Johnson do all the singing and instrumentation. Graham is a justly famed harmonica player and he shines throughout the album (including his instrumental showcase “ Hoof n’ Mouth” ); he also does a great job with clarinet on some songs. Johnson multi-tracks excellent guitar, dobro, mandolin and percussion besides doing most of the lead vocals ( except on the Graham originals.) Overall, this is an entertaining collection of diverse material, performed with taste and skill, and boosted by the inspired nuttiness of Graham’s songs.
From Dirty Linen
On this lively cd, quirky songwriter ,Open House member, and harmonica/clarinet whiz Mark Graham is paired with guitarist/producer Orville Johnson for a fine program of originals and covers like “ Stormy Weather” and Sleepy John Estes’ “ Everybody Ought to Change.” The overall effect is that of an eclectic, laid-back jug band with two rather different front people ( hence the “Mongrel Folk” moniker). Johnson is a laid-back bluesman,while Graham appears as a comic crooner. The blend of styles works nicely, whether on a harp instrumental like “ Hoof n’ Mouth,” a country ballad like Norman Blake’s “ Billy Gray” or one of Johnson’s bluesy originals like “ When Love Has Gone Away.” The real treats here, though, are Graham’s witty numbers such as “ Oedipus Rex” (Greek tragedy hoedown) “ Neighbor of the Beast” ( a gospel ballad detailing the travails of the guy whose street address is 667) and the oft-covered evolutionary fable “Their Brains Were Small and They Died.”