Mike Verge’s latest album Love Is A Tattoo comes during a time in the artist’s life when he had to vent, get things out of his system. An outpouring of emotion in every track, Verge not only projects a lot of feeling with his mighty strong voice, he has his backing band sounding effusively beautifully. His slightly rasped voice comes across loud, clear, rangy, sailing over his sprightly melodies and bouncy rhythms. There’s a timeless quality to each song here, making them impossible to attach to any particular era in music. Listeners hearing this album for the first time would likely have a difficult time saying it sounds like modern rock, classic rock, or oldies. The words and music were written with emotion, not trendy styles.
Title track “Love Is A Tattoo” opens the album with a strong sentiment. That’s quickly followed by Verge’s powerful voice emoting over an acoustic guitar strum and perky keyboards. The listener can feel Verge’s emotional content in his voice and in his lyrics. It’s easy to get swept away by all the wonderful musical flourishes going on in his arrangement.
Verge’s sense of largeness continues with “I Know A Thing Or Two.” This is Tom Waits on steroids. Verge’s wide sounding acoustic guitar and bluesy harmonica has a bossy stop-start groove that carries the song with power. Verge’s world wary view finds a good home amidst his mesh of instrumentation and rasp coated vocal finesse. He comes across like a wise old street poet with a bunch of great player behind him. The lead guitar phrases with as much attitude as the voice, harmonica, and acoustic.
“You’d Rather Be Alone” is a pleasant, smooth flowing, tuneful number that Verge finesses in mid-tempo mode. He makes this one so personal that you feel he’s having a conversation with you rather than just singing a song. Emotive even in this more easeful tune, Verge continues painting a vivid picture of his personal misfortune. Layered with multiple melody instruments over the groove, the music makes you feel all that is tormenting the songwriter.
“Back In Your Heart” is another mid-tempo report from the journey Verge had to take after something didn’t work out the way he thought it would. Here, his slight rasp works wonders to inform the listener about the emotional content of his message. He croons like a sugar coated broken hearted person, his easeful vocal belies what the desperation in the song.
Verge and his backing band rock it up on “That’s The Way.” A foot tapping, beat driven number with much edge in the guitars, organ, and rhythm section, it could be a hit single. Verge fronts this one well, with a mighty heft in his vocal and some hearty sustains, making the listener feel a cathartic release.
“Valentine” is an epic ballad about rejection and love lost, reminding of all the greater singers who sang of such sorrow, from “Every Breath You Take” by The Police to “Black” by Pearl Jam to “Operator” by Jim Croce. It’s also reminiscent of “Remember(Walking In The Sand) in it’s dramatic opening and build up. Verge applies his vocal talent to nailing the right emotional vibe for his message, and he puts it across with true emotional force. His rasp glides over an assertive guitar spike that carries the listener along, into a world of sorrow, disbelief, shock, and, he makes a worthwhile artistic exploration of forlorn abandonment.
“Please Please Please” is another possible hit single for Verge. The chorus is so simple it’s irresistibly catchy. Written about the relationship before the break up, Verge, and his saxophonist, express an at-the-brink intensity, as when one resists disintegration. Verge applies his rasp to his lilting vocal melody with a warmth that brings the song to vivid life. Everyone has felt this way at one point, and Verge, with his backing band, convert that universal experience into a valuable musical experience.
“Heart Of Mine” finds Verge in a more introspective mode. Yet, with his voice and composition skills, he makes it a large experience for the listener to join in with. There’s a width of positive emotion that swirls around this song to make it feel like more than just another pop-rock tune. “Miss You Tonight” travels along a long, lonely guitar phrase. That edge reflects another shade of the love lost concept. The guitar, artfully, bleeds the emotion that Verge is serving up with his rangy vocal lift.
“Try To Remember” features a mandolin melody that makes the listener feel the cyclical nature of the song. The songwriter cannot get away from the emotional content of what he’s experiencing, and it comes across profoundly in this song. Verge, in a clever twist of songwriting, enters the mind his old self during a time when the relationship still existed then declares “these are the good old days,” indicating how that time is as much a part of who he is and how that time is very much alive in the present.
“Do It All Again For Love” finds Verge and his crack team back in rocker mode. Verge croons ever so smoothly here. It’s a treat for the ears to hear his handsome rasp stretching itself over the lilting flow of this tuneful number. Breezy on top, beat driven in mid tempo mode below, this one carries the listener along like a glider with a great, lifting wind. Joyful pop rock idioms abound and make this all good to the last drop.
Verge varies the essential sound on “Shine On,” relying on a roots music application with banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and twangy guitar leads. It’s a nice flavoring of the kind of huge sound and rangy vocal that has marked this album from beginning to end. A little call and response between lead vocalist and backing vocalists hints at old time gospel revivals.
Verge closes out his masterwork with a reprise of the title track. “Love Is a Tattoo (Outro)” ties the entire concept album together neatly with a hopeful message. The singer-songwriter has survived his post-relationship journey and is still around to sing about it. The solo acoustic approach is quite warm and personal, reminding that this entire concept album has been about the emotional survival of one man who has experienced the ravages of post-relationship hell.
Verge has a lot of fine local talent along with the ride, His credits include Matt Pendergast, Rusty Scott, John Powhida, Eliot Hunt, Jennifer D’Angora, Cassie Montgomery, Kristin Cefelli, Ken Romans, Verge’s former Virgil Cain band mates Jen Oberle, Steve Fekete Ken Lubinsky, and many others. As singer-songwriter, Verge has accomplished a lot by focusing a concept album on emotional turmoil and post-relationship stress. He gives his listener a lot to contemplate by concentrating on many dimensions in this story album. Like a fine composer, he also tells his tale with a lot of outstanding rock and roll music. Love Is A Tattoo is a must have for any serious collector of local music.