Live Review: Mike Oblinger at Rockwood Music Hall in New York, NY

Material: After logging years on national tours, backing artists like Garth Brooks, Amy Grant and Pure Prairie League—not to mention a few Emmy’s for songwriting—Mark Oblinger has added solo performing songwriter to his resume. While on a tour in 2015, Oblinger began presenting his own material, transforming himself from a backing artist to a solo one. Straddling country rock, blues and folk, these genres serve as a foundation for themes addressing an array of human struggles, from love lost, to various soul- searching endeavors. Somber at times, the lyrics are conversely laced with silver linings.

In “Pressure Makes Diamonds,” when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, or in this case, diamonds: Sometimes your world just falls apart/bust at the seams/leaves you nothing left to chase but empty dreams.../ pressure makes diamonds... In “No Regrets,” perhaps the most commercial of the set, though ultimately we don’t get what we want, we don’t mourn it: Time comes again/it’s right here my friend/it’s not what you choose/no more what you lose/when time comes and takes your “Little Bird” tells us to get off the fence and fly, an apt metaphor for taking chances and going after what you want.

Musicianship: Keeping company with the musicians that he has, it’s no surprise that Oblinger is a top-shelf musician. With spot-on guitar work and a voice that’s easy on the ears, he has proven technical skills. Both Daniels and Lawson, each a strong vocalist in their own right, along with Oblinger, create a smooth and consistent harmonic balance. Daniels delivered a rockin’ mandolin solo in “No Regrets.”

Performance: Sidemen have the unique vantage point of observing the headliner while making vital contributions; perhaps even learning through osmosis; however, one step away from that spotlight can be a bigger leap than it appears. While Obinger’s affable presentation connected with the audience, he can afford to step out and own the stage even more, while still maintaining his mild-mannered vibe. Throwing in one big cover song in his genre would also go a long way to getting more fans on board with his originals.

Summary: Mark Oblinger is a musician of high caliber who pens thoughtful and intelligent songs. The more time he devotes to solo shows will give him the opportunity to fully grab the spotlight that the role demands.

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Players: Mark Oblinger, acoustic guitar, vocals; Chris Daniels, electric guitar, mandolin; vocals, Linda Lawson, vocals