Mark Edgar Stuart’s Folk Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner 

Mark Edgar Stuart releases all-star rock-and-roll EP.

For all the “folk” in its title, Memphis songsmith Mark Edgar Stuart’s just-released EP Folk Beef boasts more electric guitars and horns than I’ve come to expect from the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist. The result is excellent, and, if not a cure for the quarantine blues, at the very least a welcome distraction.

The EP was recorded by Pete Matthews and Toby Vest at High/Low Recording, and it rises to the high bar set by the recording duo.

click to enlarge mes_folk_beef.jpg
“Color Wheel” finds Stuart doing what he does so well — grappling with life’s Big Issues and making them personal and approachable through the lens of his perspective. Sickness, death, love — the Memphis songwriter has handled heavy issues with dexterity before, and “Color Wheel,” Stuart’s account of his growing understanding about his own white privilege, is no exception. 

“I’d rather be wrapped up with ya, baby, than to be out on my own. I got no plans. I’m happy at home,” Stuart sings on “Happy at Home,” a rockin’ number that sounds like it was written in quarantine. In fact, unless the great Dolly Parton released a quarantine anthem that slipped by me, I see no reason why “Happy at Home” shouldn’t be the official Tennessee tune to combat coronavirus. Somebody cut Stuart a check and put this song in a PSA about social distancing. 

“99 Percentile Blues” finds Stuart having fun taking — and landing — shots at the current administration. “This land is my land, not your land, and your land is my land, too,” Stuart sings. The song doesn't take itself too seriously, but Stuart’s lyrics have barbs. 

With crunchy guitars, wailing horns, and faintly warbling keyboards, “Goobertown (Rerun)” is a delightful bop of an instrumental. It feels not unlike being over-caffeinated with nowhere to go.

click to enlarge Mark Edgar Stuart - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Mark Edgar Stuart
The gem of the EP is, to these ears, “Faxon Wizard.” The song is firing on all cylinders, but the harmony vocals (Luke White’s angelic tones, perhaps?) are the piece that pushes it over the edge.

“Over and over, like pages we all turn. Turn on each other until we crash and burn,” Stuart sings. “Crash and burn on your front porch. I’ve been here all night long. Don’t leave me hanging out here on my own.”

The so-called Faxon Wizard is a recurring character on Stuart’s social media — a be-robed and staff-carrying man who can be spotted walking in Stuart’s neighborhood. Whether the lament is from the perspective of the famous Faxon Wizard or only inspired by him — or just named after him, Stuart only knows. But sweet bearded sorcerer, the song is a boon to the ears and the soul.

I didn't intend to do a song-by-song review, but here we are at the EP’s final track. “Superstar Hillbilly Nova” tells the tragic true story of Jimmy Ellis, an Elvis impersonator. It’s a late ’50s rock-and-roll shuffle complete with Jordanaires-esque backing vocals. It's silly and fun. 

Stuart’s knack with a clever word is a draw to listeners and musicians alike. The players on Folk Beef are an all-star cast of Memphis’ rock-and-roll, Americana, and honky tonk set. They include Art Edmaiston, Johnny Argroves, Landon Moore, Al Gamble, John Whittemore, Krista Wroten, Jana Misener, Luke White, Rick Steff, Alex Greene, Toby Vest, Scott Bomar, James Godwin, and Matt Qualls. Everyone’s contributions help Stuart fashion a textured and endlessly listenable little record.

And seriously, “Faxon Wizard” is so damn good.

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