In the early 1990s, hard country singer Mark Collie managed to crack the Country Top Ten, but he was one of many artists who faded away as tastes changed. I always liked, him, though, and he's one of the rootsier '90s guys, with a bunch of old records that are worth tracking down. Here's a quick look at his work...

Discography - Best-Ofs

Mark Collie "Hardin County Line" (MCA, 1990)
(Produced by Doug Johnson & Tony Brown)

A fine, rootsy neotrad set from a Tennessee native with a surprisingly heartfelt love of honkytonk twang. There are hints of a possible sappy streak popping-out further down the line, but this debut disc was admirably old-school and pure. If you like good, simple hard country with clean guitar lines and not a lot of other musical clutter, this is a fine album to check out.

Mark Collie "Born And Raised In Black And White" (MCA, 1991)
(Produced by Doug Johnson & Tony Brown)

Collie was, without a doubt, a superior country singer, and this album starts out with several first-rate twangtunes, including some delicious, thumping honkytonk... Even the slower numbers have plenty of twang, and stripped-down acoustic-based arrangements, centered around guitars, dobros and steel. What happens, though, is a slow slide into formless roots-rock mediocrity, with a whiff of sweaty Springsteen-isms that, frankly, don't do much for me. I liked the first third of this album a lot, but got bored soon after that.

Mark Collie "Mark Collie " (MCA, 1993)
(Produced by Don Cook)

This album has his two biggest hits, "Even The Man In The Moon Is Crying" and "Born To Love You" (#5 & #6 on the charts, respectively...) but it's a lesser effort, in terms of Collie's keeping to his real-country roots. There are a couple of straight-ahead hard-country tunes, but there's a lot of strained, overbaked material as well, and a poppier feel overall. Yeah, Collie's still more down-to-earth than most of his Nashville contemporaries, but this wasn't his best album. It's worth checking out, but ultimately it's pretty borderline.

Mark Collie "Unleashed" (MCA, 1994)

Mark Collie "Tennessee Plates" (Warner Brothers, 1995)
(Produced by James Stroud & Mark Collie)

Collie was still going strong on this rootsy outing, with his honkytonk roots intact amid somewhat slicker arrangements and a strong taste of Southern rock. For the most part, this is pretty down to earth; just as the generic rock guitars break in and start to wail, they rein things back in and keep it simple. Collie's vocals are the album's main anchor, and he brings the songs home, time after time. He really was quite a good country singer... Wonder what he's up to now...?

Mark Collie "Rose Covered Garden" (Highway 64 Records, 2006)

Mark Collie & His Reckless Companions "Alive At Brushy Mountain State Penitentary" (Wilbanks, 2012)
(Produced by Tony Brown, Mark Collie & David Z.)

This sizzling live album -- recorded back in 2001 -- is one of those recorded-in-prison concerts that country dudes love to make...... And there's a reason: convicts are pretty damn miserable in lockup, and they make very appreciative audiences. So this disc crackles with energy, and half of it's from Collie, and half of it's from the inmates. Also in the show is Kelly Willis, who sings lead on two great songs -- "Heaven Bound" and "Got A Feelin' For Ya" -- stirring up an eager audience. Collie concentrates on material that's appropriate to the venue, songs about dudes who screw up and get thrown in jail, with more than couple of songs that mention death row. You'd think this kind of stuff might bum the prisoners out, but they love it -- cheering, whooping and hollering along. Long out of the Top 40 limelight, Collie lets his gruff, rough-edged, hard-country, working-class bad-boy self run free, and he clearly connects with the prisoners. There are a lot of great songs on here, with one highlight being "Rose Covered Garden," a spooky prison ballad from his last album. But really, the whole album is great. Whether you're an old fan or Collie's new to you, check this one out. Trust me: it's the real deal.

Discography - Best-Ofs

Mark Collie "Even The Man In The Moon Is Cryin' " (Universal, 1997)
A handy best-of set drawn from his early albums on MCA...


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