With Dirt, Mark Selby stretches beyond the fairly direct blues-rock boundaries of his 2000 debut More Storms Comin’. Selby has had a lucrative run penning songs for such radio-friendly folks as Trisha Yearwood, the Dixie Chicks, Jo Dee Messina and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. On his own, however, he adheres to more rugged principles, letting his muscular blues-guitar playing and rich voice, which calls to mind the bruised soulfulness of The Band’s Richard Manuel, carry the day.
The smoldering opener, “Reason Enough”, is a fierce declaration of intent. The stark bull-headedness of the lyrics (“I don’t want to stay here just ’cause I don’t have to leave/Don’t wanna play it safe just so I won’t ever bleed”) and Selby’s gritty guitar work (all hard-rock fills and surly slide) indicate an artist gleefully throwing the doors open on his comfort zone. The laid-back blues-rock of “Back Door To My Heart” invites the inevitable Hendrix comparisons with its open-string, tremolo-heavy sound, yet sweeps aside any anxiety-of-influence with a soaring, southern-fried middle section.
“If The World Was Mine” is fairly innocuous in its pop sensibilities, but it also happens to be one of the prettiest tunes Selby and his collaborator/wife Tia Sillers have ever written. And it’s a testament to Selby’s deepening range as a composer that he follows it with the classic brothel-Americana of “Moon Over My Shoulder”. The tumbling piano, boozy horns, soulful vocals and screaming guitar leads add up to a dead ringer for The Band in their lithe years. (In another sleight-of-hand, the juxtaposing follow-up, “One Man”, announces itself with a gut-crunching riff that calls to mind the Smithereens’ “Girl Like You”.)
Dirt is an apt title, for on this sophomore outing, Selby isn’t afraid to skirt the safety and polish of his chart-topping compositions for some earthy work that merges diverse passions, from ruminative prettiness to straight-up rock to the blues accents he rode in on.