“Mark McKay is possibly the most accomplished songwriting son that you’ve never heard of adding to the vocabulary of the American songbook.”
– Frederick Magazine
“The power-pop melancholy of Matthew Sweet, the alt country throttle of Uncle Tupelo, and the tattered insights of Townes Van Zandt all rolled into one potent little number.”
– Harp Magazine
“Literate and understated, subtle and charged, Mark McKay makes music that fits alongside the likes of Steve Earle and Springsteen; an alt country force.”
– Village Voice
“Roots rock with a surreal twist.”
– Indiana Daily Journal
You can tell a lot about someone by the company he keeps and the records in his collection. Mark McKay chose to make Shimmer, his third album, with a small combo that includes producer/guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who, more often than not, gives albums he works on the adrenalized honesty of a live performance. As for the music McKay values, the Washington DC native, has appeared on albums paying tribute to Uncle Tupelo, John Fogerty, and Mike Nesmith. McKay’s own sound is straightforward and unpretentious. On engaging rockers such as “Stay Around” and “Rain (Like a Hallelujah)”, McKay and Ambel keep the guitar-based garage-rock raw and crank the volume up to levels that would peel wallpaper. Meanwhile, down-tempo fare such as “Sweet Temptation”, “Nashville”, and the ominous “Full Moon Eyes” spotlight McKay’s ability to tell a story without revealing too much. There’s just enough to entice listeners to spin the disc again to fill in the details themselves. As for McKay’s take on Lucinda Williams’ “Side of the Road” – there’s that good taste once again – it’s an appealing idea to hear a song with such starkly vulnerable lyrics sung by a man for a change, but his version can’t really improve on Williams’ own near-perfect reading.
– No Depression
Mark McKay’s “Live From the Memory Hotel,” contains a surefire crowd pleaser; a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” that sounds as if were inspired by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. But more typical of “Memory Hotel,” nearly all of which was recorded at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, are the acoustic tracks, especially the bittersweet lament “Nashville” and the soulful “Long Lost Louise.” Shaded by Kris Delmhorst’s harmonies and fiddle, both songs reveal McKay’s considerable talent in quiet and affecting settings.
– The Washington Post
On “Ready for the Show” Mark McKay’s got this big voice that’s frayed at the edges, conveying a bit of vulnerability. Mark put out a live record last year, but this is a preview from his upcoming disc, which was produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Yayhoos, Steve Earle), a well-known and much-loved New York roots rock luminary. Mark’s stuff is roots rockin’, but the lead track is a little more on the pop tip, it’s got a great hook.
– Meredith Ochs, NPR
The first song Alejandro Escovedo ever wrote was “The Rain Won’t Help You When It’s Over”. Some writers are just that good from their first shot. Listening to “Live from the Memory Hotel”, I get the feeling Mark McKay might be such an artist. The songs here are filled with pungent sadness and palpable desire, sung with the imperfect voice of a rock ‘n’roll troubadour in the mold of Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen. McKay is rarely off the mark with this half-acoustic, half-electric collection, a live album that includes material from his debut “Nothing Personal”. It’s enough to expect great things from the studio album he’s currently working on with producer (and Steve Earle guitarist) Eric “Roscoe” Ambel. Desperation can be a beautiful thing, and songs like “Constantine Gardens” and “Nashville” are proof. Lyrically, McKay is most effective where he trusts his instincts and ventures into the abstract. A line like “Constantine Gardens appear when you smile/Talk to me, please, bring it back to me” from “Constantine Gardens” may not make much sense outright, but it hits the gut right on target. The smaller moments are microcosms, adding up to much more than simple “loved and lost” tunes.
– Paste Magazine
Mark McKay’s “Live from the Memory Hotel” (Dren 2003) reveals why McKay is poised on the cusp of bigger things. In addition to this cd he has a solid contribution to an Uncle Tupelo tribute disc, a standout version of “Who’ll Stop the Rain” on Chooglin’: A Tribute to the Songs of John Fogerty (Dren), and the fact that he attracted the attention of NYC alt-country production king Eric Ambel (Ryan Adams, Bottle Rockets, Marshall Crenshaw) made McKay the easy pick for the week.
– San Francisco Bay Moniter
Dark acoustic rock can be incredibly engaging and sad when done right, and Mark McKay manages to pull it off. On Nothing Personal, he strikes a pleasant balance between the tunefulness of Freedy Johnston and the open sound of Matthew Sweet. His endearing, pleasant voice is memorable, and he manages to write some memorable songs. Rockers like ‘Ninety Miles’ sound like classic Giant Sand with the honky tonk guitars and McKay’s straining vocals. Yet he can turn it around and play beautiful ballads like ‘Morning in Her Eyes,’ a sweet tribute. This is a genre that has so much potential for bad that it is refreshing to hear an artist who understands how to craft memorable, interesting songs. Fans of the singer/songwriter brand of alternative will enjoy this album very much; a very likable album.
– All Music Guide