Mark Stoffel serves up groove-y "Barnyard Funk".
Is Mark Stoffel best thought of as a creative, sophisticated mandolin player or as a composer of creative, sophisticated tunes? The answer, of course, is “yes,” and the latest proof can be heard on his latest single for Mountain Home Music Company, “Barnyard Funk.”
Backed by some of his favorite friends and colleagues — bassist Ross Sermons, former Chris Jones & the Night Drivers bandmate Gina Furtado (banjo), Irish fiddler Niall Murphy, Chris Luquette (guitar) and ace studio drummer Tony Creasman — Stoffel serves up an earworm that opens with and periodically returns to an irresistibly rhythm-forward passage, seamlessly incorporated into a more traditionally structured two-part tune.
As the spotlight moves from player to player — even Sermons gets a moment out front — the tune insinuates itself into the listener’s memory, echoing generations of simmering soul classics and bluegrass favorites in a distinctive blend. From its opening pulses to the virtuoso unison arpeggios that bring it to an exciting end, “Barnyard Funk” highlights both aspects — composing and playing — of Stoffel’s talent.
“I caught the Bluegrass bug at age 14,” recalls Stoffel, “but before that, I was heavily exposed to soul and disco music thanks to my dad, who was a hobby disc jockey in the late 1970s. Well, I suppose some of it must have rubbed off on me, and I am proud of it! I certainly hope you’ll enjoy this funky little piece. Also, special thanks to my friend Marshall Wilborn who helped me come up with the title, ‘Barnyard Funk’!”
Mark Stoffel recalls the uncertainty of “Curious Times".
When Mark Stoffel released his all-instrumental Coffee & Cake in 2020, Bluegrass Unlimited called him “a road-seasoned bluegrass mandolinist in peak form,” while Country Standard Time pronounced the album “charming,” and several of its distinctive numbers popped up on airplay charts. Now the German-born southern Illinois resident is back with his first new music, an aptly named “Curious Times” that distills what he calls the “somber vibe of uncertainty” pervading the spring of 2020 into an elegant composition.
“The tune came to me one morning during the early days of COVID lockdown in 2020,” Stoffel recalls. “The somber vibe of uncertainty that many of us felt that year has definitely found its way into the melody of the tune. Hence, the title: ‘Curious Times’! I finally got a chance to record it a couple years later at Crossroads Studios in Arden, North Carolina, and I just love how all the players really captured the mood of that tune.”
“Curious Times” features some of Stoffel’s favorite collaborators: labelmate and former fellow Night Driver Gina Furtado (banjo), Irish fiddler Niall Murphy (whom both Stoffel and Furtado first met on a 2018 Chris Jones & the Night Drivers tour of the island), guitarist Chris Luquette (Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen), longtime collaborator Ross Sermons (bass) and legendary studio drummer Tony Creasman. Neatly bookended by two contrasting snippets of one of its melodic themes — the differences in time signatures and tones forming a sort of musical pun on the title’s “Times” — the tune is characteristic of Stoffel’s approach, with three sections each containing a distinctive melody and rhythm, yet all related to one another. And in a characteristically sophisticated move, though mandolin, banjo and fiddle each take a turn at leading through the form, the return of the mandolin signals a more elaborate arrangement that builds in energy until a closing passage leads to the final twist.
“Somber, but upbeat — Bluegrass with a dash of Celtic,” Stoffel says with a smile. “I couldn’t be happier about how it turned out. Hope you like it!”
About Mark Stoffel
Originally from Munich, Germany, Mark Stoffel spent literally decades traversing between two continents before finally settling down in Southern Illinois in 2001 with his wife Mary and his children, Finn and Oliver. Sealing his decision to make the United States his permanent home, he became a citizen in 2016.
A self-described bluegrass music “addict,” he was introduced to the music in 1979, when as a teenager, he wanted a ukulele for Christmas and was mistakenly given a mandolin instead. The flub turned into a virtue, as he parlayed a classic mandolin instructional book; occasional exposure to bluegrass through radio and concerts by touring American musicians; and accumulated experience in folk, rock and bluegrass bands into a lifelong artistic pursuit. During this time, he began to connect with American artists, helping to arrange tour dates and providing hospitality—including to the artist who would become his future employer, Chris Jones. As he spent more time in the United States, his tasteful approach to playing, growing expertise in sound engineering and supportive harmony vocal abilities earned him increased attention — first in regional acts, then with Jones’ singer/songwriter wife, Sally Jones, and finally with Jones himself, whose Night Drivers Mark joined around the time of the band’s 2009 recording, Cloud Of Dust.
Today his tasteful mandolin performances can be heard on countless recordings, including his first solo release, One-O-Five, and a string of Chris Jones and the Night Drivers projects, including Run Away Tonight (2015), Made To Move (2017) and the most recent, The Choosing Road (2019). “Mark is one of the most musical mandolin players I’ve ever played with,” says Jones. “ Mandolin players are really impressed with his playing everywhere we go.” Yet despite his passion for bluegrass, Stoffel confesses ironically that he is highly allergic to — yes, really — Kentucky Bluegrass.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Mark Stoffel (unknown/website).