Stranded Between Stations
Stranded Between Stations, the debut CD from Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers, answers the age-old question: "What does an album recorded in a barn in the dead of winter in Buffalo sound like?" Whether or not the listener can actually hear the straw, the bitter cold, and the frost on the microphones is anybody's guess. What's definite is that harmony, melody, and tunefulness have rarely sounded so warm. For Norris, this new album is the culmination of a long gestation period that followed the breakup of his old band, girlpope. Norris led that group for over a decade taking the helm at legendary live shows, dalliances with major labels, and critical kudos. "After the band split, I wasn't even really sure that I wanted to keep playing," says Norris. "Once you've done something for so long, it can be easy to forget why you started in the first place." After a year of false starts and self-loathing, Norris began work on a new batch of songs. Soon, he enlisted bass player/vocalist Andy Vaeth and guitarist/vocalist Roger Bryan to demo his new material together with drummer and longtime friend Chris Cassell. Wasting no time, the band was booked as the opener for a local appearance by the Pernice Brothers before a single rehearsal had even taken place. The Buffalo News immediately hailed Norris' newest collection of songs as "smart, literate, and tuneful" and quickly hailed the group as "one of the most exciting original bands currently making music in Buffalo." In the ensuing months, the Backpeddlers shared the stage with the Violent Femmes and former Dream Syndicate front man Steve Wynn. However, the group focused most of it's energies in the recording studio. This meant honing the group's "sound" and meticulously arranging a tight set of material for their debut release. Fans of Norris' old band will tell you that girlpope's stock and trade was brash, aggressive rock. However, the Backpeddlers naturally leaned in another musical direction. From the start, they embraced subtlety, color, and lyrical introspection. "It wasn't a conscious decision," stated Norris. "But the tone of the songs I was writing really required a more gentle, understated arrangement." From up-tempo rockers "Handclaps" and "Walk Out" to country-tinged weepers "Wrong Again" and "Tired Eyes," Stranded Between Stations moves effortlessly from upbeat and buoyant to dark and wistful. Critics have been quick to note that Stranded Between Stations pays homage to the bittersweet refrains of songwriters like Neil Young, Gene Clark, and Jeff Tweedy, but Norris cites the British songwriters of the sixties as his main influence. "After all these years, I'm really still a devoted fan of that music," confesses the singer/songwriter. "That's what I always come back to and it certainly informs my material." Again, the Buffalo News seems to agree, describing The Backpeddler's new album as "The Basement Tapes recorded with Ray Davies instead of Bob Dylan." For Norris, the fact that the disc is finally out is enough praise. "You never know what to expect in life or in music. A year ago, I was quite sure that I was finished with music, and that music was finished with me. But the guys in the Backpeddlers have reaffirmed my love of playing and I think the record exhibits a lot of that enthusiasm, in it's own quiet sort of way."