Every once in a while an unexpected gem turns up out of the blue and ‘Tending the Blues’ the debut album by Belfast Blues man Mark Braidner is one such gem.

Mark is well known on the Belfast blues scene for being a skilled player and a very humble and unassuming gentleman. His debut album is steeped in the blues, but not the self absorbed “Woke up this morning. My baby left me” blues. This is pure swinging bar room party blues with more than one nod to 1930s New York swing and Dixie Land Jazz.

The opening song ‘Root, Hog or Die’ quickly establishes the tone of the album with its honky tonk piano and horns. There’s beautiful slide guitar which we think is played on a National Steel guitar and we can’t help but think of Cab Calloway as the song rolls along.

‘Did You Mean What You Said’ is another stand out track and Mark’s vocal flows effortlessly over the boogie shuffle of the song. Again the horn and slide guitar playing are just beautiful. ‘Malted Milk’ is slower in tone and more of a traditional blues drinking song. Mark’s Vocal on this one sounds eerily like Robert Johnston in places as he nimbly picks and strums his way through the song and we find ourselves imagining this playing out on scratched vinyl over an old gramophone player.

‘Jesus Gonna Make up my Dying Bed’ is our favourite track on the album. It’s Eastern sound and drum beat make the perfect mash up between George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. We don’t know what tuning Mark used when recording this song, but it also reminds us of the late Rory Gallagher and his experimentation with Celtic tunings on songs such as ‘Out On The Western Plain’. Electric guitar mixes with slide, swirling keyboards and vocal to provide a wonderfully mystical sound.

Other noticeable songs on the record include a cover of Barrett Strong’s ‘Money’, ‘To Tight Rag’ and the instrumental ‘Shibheg Shimhor’ which features some sublime guitar playing, but we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg here. In total there’s fourteen songs on the record which may sound like a lot, but they fit together well and the collection flows well, almost too well as it seems to fly by leaving us looking for more.

There are many strengths to this album, most noticeably Mark himself, but the one we think is the strongest is the recording / production. If there is a perfect way to record a modern blues album then this should be used as the template. The sound is warm and authentic. Mark’s picking can be heard clearly on all the songs as can his wonderful slide playing. Nothing is over mixed and all the instruments sound great. The record sounds like it has been recorded on old analogue equipment and has all the warmth and feeling of a vinyl record. We would just love to hear a version with scratches and crackles put in as it would make it perfect. (It worked for the Who on ‘Live at Leeds’).

This is a good time record, and one that’s the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon in the sun on the porch with a cold beer and we like that sort of thing.

You can buy the album on Mark’s Bandcamp.