Madison singer-songwriter Mark Harrod isn't big on the idea of fate. At least he wasn't until he competed in the Project M songwriting contest hosted by 105.5 FM earlier this year.
Harrod went through quite a lot without the cushion of "everything happens for a reason." After graduating from UW-Madison in 1999, he moved to Chicago to work in finance and make some music, too. However, just a few months later, he found himself in a titanium halo, recovering from fractured spine.
The result of a diving accident, the injury made him slow down and take a hard look at what he wanted to be doing with his life. He decided in favor of music. He still hadn't made a decision about fate, though. That took until this spring, when he was chosen as a Project M finalist.
Harrod didn't win the competition, but he gained a host of new collaborators and the resources he needed to record his debut album, Quietly Marching, which came out Dec. 6.
"I've never been a believer in fate, [but] getting to know the musicians and staff involved in Project M was as close to fate as I'll admit," he says.
While the album features other Project M songwriters such as Scott Lamps, Nick Matthews and Whitney Mann, it digs deep into the Madison music scene to find some other gems as well. On the track "Body & Bones," these gems take the form of horns and clarinets thanks to members of Mama Digdown's Brass Band and the Youngblood Brass Band.
A poppy, jazzy horn line kicks off the tune along with Harrod's Midwestern croon and a touch of piano before the band breaks it down, adding unexpected twists at all the right moments. A vaudevillian clarinet solo even finds its way into the song near the end, bringing with it images of trained tigers, acrobats and burlesque dancers.
Harrod's vocal stylings don't sound like those of a minstrel or a cabaret performer, but they work because they provide an interesting contrast. They're a bit reminiscent of Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas, but it's the Rob Thomas of "Smooth," his legendary duet with Carlos Santana, Harrod is conjuring. There's a bit of desperation in his voice, but also a sultry bite. And though he's delivering a love letter with his lyrics, Harrod lets the melody do most of the talking. It's a brilliant approach: By the end, you're wondering not only if he got the girl, but also if his message was destined for you.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.