Over 40 years is a long time to wait for anything, much less the sequel to an album. But when that album is Markology II, the first guitar album released by fiddle virtuoso and legend Mark O’Connor since Markology in 1978, it’s well worth the wait.
There is probably a generation of fans who grew up between these two albums that don’t even realize O’Connor is every much the virtuoso on guitar as he is on violin. It should come as no surprise, however. O’Connor has ping-ponged between bluegrass, acoustic folk, Southern progressive rock, and classical music throughout his career, sharing the stage with everyone from The Dregs to Béla Fleck to Yo-Yo Ma.
There are many multi-instrumentalists around — musicians that are at least passable on a variety of instruments while excelling on one. O’Connor however, is equally jaw-dropping on guitar as he is on fiddle. Throughout Markology II, O’Connor’s fingers fly across the frets, barely giving the listener time to catch their breath and process what just happened before a run even more impressive passes by. It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that he was forced to quit the guitar in 1997 due to chronic bursitis in his right elbow. It took 20 years, but he picked up the guitar again and began working on what would become Markology II.
Kicking off with a radically rearranged take on “Greensleeves,” Markology II catches the ear immediately due to O’Connor’s beautifully warm tone. In fact, two tracks, “Ease With the Breeze” and “On Top of the World,” reprised from the first Markology collection, were played on the same 1945 Herringbone Martin D-28 O’Connor played on that first album and that he’s owned since he was 14 years old (the first album was recorded when he was 16). Even more remarkable, those tracks were recorded using the same strings that were on it since O’Connor last played it over 20 years ago. For his sublime take on “Shenandoah,” he uses a 1924 Gibson K-4 mandocello.
One of the most impressive moments on Markology II belongs to “Flailing,” a tour de force of blues runs, toe-curling speed, and melodic wonder. O’Connor’s enthusiasm is infectious throughout “Kamala Boogie,” where you can hear how much fun he’s having just by the way he strikes the strings.
O’Connor, who produced, engineered, and mixed Markology II, dedicated the project to the great Tony Rice, who played with him on the first album in 1978. Rice’s spirit hovers around the edges here, always present, always inspiring, but it’s definitely Mark O’Connor’s show, and it’s a thing of beauty.