Centre College professor Mark Lucas is undoubtedly a talented teacher, but the recent release of his CD Dust proves that his talent also extends into the musical realm.
Lucas, who grew up in Georgetown, Ky., began learning piano at a young age and taught himself guitar in high school. In his twenties, he played in the acoustic duo Lucas & Graham, and he later became one of the four members of the roots group BILLYBLUES.
This group consisted of Lucas, Centre’s director of communications, Mike Norris, and two Danville natives, Colin Raitiere and David White. But when the group called it quits after 10 years, Lucas says that he “still had a whole bunch of songs that I had written and wanted to do.”
24 Months/24 Songs
So for two years Lucas worked away in the basement of his home, writing lyrics and composing music. “I didn’t count,” he noted. “I just kept going,” until he finally came to a stopping point with 24 songs to show.
An Americana Concept Album
Dust, which Lucas describes as “rough-edge Americana,” is comprised of 10 of these songs, eight of which he wrote himself. All the songs to some degree relate to the theme conveyed by the CD’s title. A traditional tune, “Lost John,” is his own adaptation of a folk song and features 2010 Centre graduate Joey McGill playing the upright bass.
The other not-totally original song, “Bivouac of the Dead,” also has an interesting Centre connection. The lyrics come from the famous poet and Centre graduate Theodore O’Hara, who wrote “The Bivouac of the Dead” in 1847 to honor Kentucky troops killed in the Mexican War. Today, the poem is well known and is displayed at Arlington National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Normandy and many other graveyards. After reading a portion of O’Hara’s verses outside the Danville courthouse, Lucas felt compelled to transform the words into song.
But O’Hara’s poem was not the only written work that inspired Lucas. The English professor acknowledges many literary influences, including Robert Frost for the track “Gold” and Flannery O’Connor for “The Sideshow.” Both songs are especially meaningful to Lucas.
“The one that I think is the best,” he said, “if I try to be objective, is ‘The Sideshow’ because I think it’s the most original and the edgiest.” This song was also a turning point for Lucas, who says “I found my own sound” in its creation. Many of the sounds were created by Lucas himself, who sings and plays the acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards and percussion on this album.
High Praise for Dust
KUSH Radio in Oklahoma describes Lucas as “an original voice, somewhere between Ray Wylie Hubbard and Tom Waits.” KFAN Radio in Fredericksburg, Texas, declared that “the project is gorgeous,” and ISA Radio in France said Lucas has “a unique musical personality.”
Dust recently made the AMA Top 5 Most Added list two weeks running and is now in rotation on stations from Virginia to California. Songs from the CD are also being played in Canada, France, the Netherlands and Australia.
John Rusnak, a web and communications assistant at Centre and a member of the popular local band Dump Truck on the Run, says, “My favorite song from Dust is ‘The Sideshow.’ I like the upbeat tempo, and the musical stops create tension throughout the recording. The organ is a nice touch, too—it adds a carnival atmosphere to the descriptive lyrics about a circus sideshow. Plus, the tune is written in a minor key, which makes me like the song even more.”
Mike Norris comes to the same conclusion. “It’s easy to like every song on Dust, making it hard to choose a favorite.(‘Last Things,’ ‘GTT’ and ‘Bivouac of the Dead’ are particular standouts.) Still, my nod goes to the instant classic, ‘The Sideshow,’ a perfectly realized marriage of words and music. The lyrics evoke the sad, humorous, grotesque atmosphere of a freak show, while the music says circus/carnival from the first calliope-like note. If the melody were any more infectious, a vaccination would be required before purchase. This, like several other cuts, could easily end up on the soundtrack to a movie or TV production.”
Fellow musician Phnomphone Sirimongkhon, also of the communications office, agrees, saying, “I like Mark’s voice, his guitar-playing style, and, of course, the lyrics and genre. Every song he wrote for this CD tells a great story. His guitar chords are simple, clean, and pure, and I love the way he incorporates the fiddle, dobro and harmonica. I wish I had this level of musical talent!” He adds, “My favorite on the CD is ‘Last Things.’”
And the College’s photographer, Chris Floyd, affirms other appraisals of Dust: “First, I think the album is very well recorded, produced and engineered. My favorite songs are ‘Last Things’ and ‘The Sideshow.’ ‘Last Things’ shows that three chords and the truth always works, while ‘The Sideshow’ has some good dynamic changes. All in all, a good album, and I love the synchronicity of the music with the album design.”
And there is still more creativity to come. The remainder of Lucas’s songs makes up his follow-up albumCathead Biscuits, which is due to release in 2011.