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In 2001, singer-songwriter Mark Collie, with the accompaniment of an elite band of musicians, was spurred to perform at Tennessee’s Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary – one of America’s most notorious penal institutions up until its closing in 2009. The reason: to spread the infectious vibe of hope and redemption.
Drawing inspiration from country icon (and good friend) Johnny Cash, Collie took note of not only Cash’s celebrated 1968-69 live albums recorded at California’s Folsom and San Quentin prisons but how his 1958 performance affected Inmate #A-45200: the man the world now knows as Merle Haggard. “Without Johnny going to San Quentin,” Collie says, “there might not have been a Merle Haggard. A lot of lives were changed or made better as a result of that music.”
This transformative quality moved Collie to undertake a live prison recording. He wrote a batch of songs focusing on themes of crime and punishment just for this event, exploring the lives of those incarcerated with poignant detail and compassion.
“God allowed me to get in there and share something that might make a difference,” states Collie. “I believed the songs could matter. I wanted to make something that people could find hope in, or redemption, or restoration, or forgiveness.”
Culled from the two performances at the prison, Alive At Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary displays Collie’s musical dexterity, traversing a breadth of styles: country, blues, gospel, bluegrass, and rock ‘n’ roll. He is backed by the exemplary musicianship of guitarist Dave Grissom (John Mellencamp, Joe Ely), keyboardist Mike Utley (Jimmy Buffett, the Dixie Flyers), guitarist-mandolinist Tommy Burroughs (Memphis’ Riverbluff Clan), his longtime accordionist Hassel Tekkle, bassist Willie Weeks (the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, B.B. King), drummer Chad Cromwell (Neil Young, Mark Knopfler), and guitarist-fiddler-vocalist and solo star Shawn Camp. Special guest Camp takes lead rides vocals on two tracks, including “Dead Man Runs Before He Walks.” Additionally, Texas blues legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown guests on “Someday My Luck Will Change,” and Austin-based critical darling Kelly Willis joins the fray on “Heaven Bound,” “Got A Feelin’ For Ya,” and “Why Me Lord.”
Mark Collie & His Reckless Companions provided an unforgettable music event, and Alive At Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary captures it beautifully.