Mark Tolstrup

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Mark Tolstrup Northstar
Album Release Show

Caffe Lena
Friday, June 29


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This a film by visual artist/filmmaker Laura Frare based on my song 
City In The Rain

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Saratoga bluesman Mark Tolstrup releases deeply personal Northstar


CD release concert at Caffe Lena, 8 p.m. Friday, June 29


“Yes, this is a really personal record,” says Saratoga Springs bluesman Mark Tolstrup of his new album Northstar, his first solo effort since the 2007 release of The Backroads of America. In the time since that resonator guitar driven collection of classics by the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and The Beatles, Tolstrup has focused more and more on his own songwriting, finding an avenue informed by favorites like Son House and Bob Dylan, but filled with rich insights all his own.


While on that path, the loss of both his father and brother, in quick succession, put Tolstrup in an introspective place, which is heavily reflected in his latest work.


The title track was, in fact, written to be sung at his father’s funeral.


“I wasn’t even sure it was a song at first,” Tolstrup says, but it is. And how.


“Which way do you turn when your Northstar is gone, and the needle stops pointing the way back to home,” he intones as the disc opens. “And there’s nothing to talk about, and there’s no one to blame, but nothing will ever be the same.”


Longtime fans will find all they need to love here, but they should also prepare for a dive into Tolstrup’s psyche. “Free Brother” is the sibling flipside to “Northstar.” “City in the Rain,” the collection’s initial germ, is a broken love song worthy of Randy Newman. And the bittersweet, sax-tinged “I Don’t Know” is a sharp-eyed, late-night look at romance and its consequences.


While Bessie’s Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” and Tolstrup’s own stompers “Hey Hey Baby” (with a full horn section) and “Milk and Honey” tip to the raw and raunchy, covers of Tom Waits’ “On the Nickel” and Albany songwriter Michael Eck’s “Dead Man’s Shirt” (reinterpreted in distinctly Mississippi hill country fashion) hew to Northstar’s familial themes.


Tolstrup recorded the project—which began its life as a simple “ten song demo”—at Chris Carey’s Millstone Studio in Ballston Spa. Much of it is virtually live, with a serious supporting cast including Carey, Rick and Sharon Bolton, James Gascoyne, Oona Grady, Dave Lambert, Jeannine Ouderkirk, Woody Strobeck and Jessica Wern.


“Working with Chris was a joy,” the singer, also known for his combos Streetcorner Holler and Brass & Blues, says. “It’s the best recording experience I’ve had.”


Wern, Tolstrup’s stepdaughter, drums throughout and adds heart-piercing vocals, while Grady’s fiddle lends a true Irish keen to “Nickel” and the instrumental “Requiem for Coyote.”


“Jessie,” he says of Wern’s work, “knows what to do with these songs. I’m not really rock and roll, I lean more towards a New Orleans sound. She’s a jazz drummer and she’s listened to me play for her whole life.”


Tolstrup’s guitar, electric on this outing, is still there, at the heart of everything, even if it bows to the mouth harps, horns and fiddles, as well as the tunes themselves.


“I didn’t have to get more of myself into the songs,” Tolstrup says. “I didn’t need to step forward, because I’m already here. Nobody else could have made this record.”


Tolstrup will be joined by guests from Northstar at a CD release concert

at Caffe Lena, 8 p.m. Friday, June 29.


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Caffe Lena
47 Phila St
Saratoga Springs, NY
Me with Honey Boy Edwards - last of the delta bluesmen. He was 93 at the time of this show. Click on this photo to watch the video on youtube.
On stage at Caffe Lena for my 60th birthday show June 30,2017. Woody Strobeck, Rick Bolton, Judy Wile, Jessica Wern, Mark Tolstrup, Dale Haskell and Ernie Belanger.
Thank you to everyone you came to my 60th Birthday Show at Caffe Lena on June 30, 2017.
"Sometimes you just know a performer is thinking about the drive, thinking about the turn-out, thinking about something other than the song. With Mark Tolstrup that is never the case. He is capable of bringing all of his mental and physical power to bear on each moment of music. He becomes completely at one with his instrument, with the journey of the song, with the rebirthing of it into the present moment. In that regard he reminds me of Kelly Joe Phelps. But when the song is over, he brings all that same energy into developing a repoire with the audience. His confidence and desire to do right by his listeners is unsurpassed. I know that’s why the size of his audience has grown so rapidly here at Caffe Lena over the past few years."  Sarah Craig, manager  of  Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs, NY

"Mark Tolstrup melds rock, blues, ragtime and jazz on Root Magic but sticks closest (and most authentically) to the sounds of the Mississippi Delta: Robert Johnson, Son House and even Muddy Waters. Tolstrup’s aggressive fingerstyle guitar and slide National Steel make this album worth hearing." Chip O’Brian, Blues Revue Magazine

"It's a gem of an album with the guitarist-vocalist balancing a strong selection of rippling, slashing original tunes with nuggets from the song bag of such greats as Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and Leadbelly."    Greg Haymes -Albany Times Union

"Mark, Thanks for holding on to the traditional blues sound and representing it so well."Dr. David Evans - Highwater Records

"He has that raw real sound that separates the posers from the genuine article"   Don Wilcock, Troy Record

"I really enjoyed this album for it’s unpretentious, tasty material and approach."      Bruce Iglauer-Alligator Records

"Thanks again for sending me your great album "Root Magic" Your mix of covers, traditionals and own songs makes it one of the best rootsblues releases I've heard this year."   Thomas Kaldijk, Radio show "Blueprint" Holland.

"When a guy makes a album with only his guitar, he`ll have to be good, because you can hear every mistakes, Mark does not have to think about that, he is not good, he is great, and with a Danish name, and since I`m from Denmark, he can change passport anytime, we would love to such a great musician in Denmark." Kjell Andreassen Radio Holstebro, Denmark
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Mark Tolstrup inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame November 11, 2012