“Qualifiers” is Mark Rogers’ second release and is a veritable exercise in simplistic beauty.
Rogers utilizes simple layering to a great effect in crafting diverse and memorable soundscapes throughout. Subdued leads play off classic chord progressions and crafty songwriting skills in order to create songs that qualify Rogers’ patently human ideas in a tangible way.
While the tracks found on Qualifiers aren’t minimalistic by any means, they do exemplify the product of cohesion by way of self-containment. Rogers is content to utilize classic verse-chorus formulas on every track on “Qualifiers,” but surprisingly, this doesn’t do much to detract from the versatility contained on this EP. In fact, each of these six tracks is easily discernible, as Rogers moves between genres effortlessly. In the EP’s short runtime, Rogers presents six hook-laden songs that span country-tinged pop-folk, stripped-down Americana, and even lounge-act jazz. The vastness of this musical spectrum is tied together by Rogers’ flexible mid-range vocals, which are painted in emotion and characterization.
The production is gorgeous throughout, with warm, natural-sounding tones ensuring that every instrument comes through clearly around Rogers’ vocal melodies. Rogers’ voice itself is subtle and honest, and he shows an immense talent for conveying the many emotions outlined in the lyrics. Rogers’ lyrics range from both scenic and abstract imagery to more direct and introspective ideas, but his ability to capture the spirit of his lyrics remains constant throughout this EP. When he sings of lost love, such as on You Can’t Lead Me On, his voice tinges with longing. When he sings of better times ahead, he conveys triumph and hopefulness. Rogers ability to lend his voice to the many genres found on “Qualifiers” creates a common thread that prevents the EP from sounding contrived in its diversity.
The EP begins with No Bigger Fool, a fairly straightforward pop-folk song that begins with the lines “Second time around the yard, and your heart is on the mend.” Right away Rogers showcases a few of the songwriting tools in his arsenal that make this EP solid throughout, The aforementioned verse-chorus formula is bookended between a short, but effective midsection, in which the brightness of the song is given some resolution by way of some minor sounding chords and vocal melodies.
The albums title-track, “Qualifiers,” is slower, more stripped-down song, which entrusts a few Americana-style guitar leads, and Rogers’ vocal abilities with much of the heavy-lifting in regards to conveying the emotions contained in Rogers’ lyrics.
The Blues Are Passing By is perhaps the most starkly disparate track on “Qualifiers”, and it provides a welcome shift in tone and tempo around the midway mark of this EP. As the name would suggest, this song is comprised of bluesier minor chords, and vocals steeped in dreary melancholia. This foundation is accompanied throughout by a jazzy piano lead that takes on a voice of its own alongside Rogers pensive vocal melodies. The piano leads veer and drifts into improvisational jazz solo territory, but Rogers careful ear for subtlety ensures that these leads serve the song without being gratuitous or self-indulgent.
The final track, The World Changed Forever, is unquestionably the rawest expressionistic moment on the album. Comprised entirely of an acoustic guitar line and accompanying vocal melodies, Rogers sings dreamily about vestiges from a world that is subjective to his experience as a forlorn narrator. His refrains of “The world changed forever when John Lennon died”, and it’s variation “The world fell to pieces when John Lennon fell” create an atmosphere of detached longing, the likes of which are his alone to describe. Moments such as these on “Qualifiers” showcase that Rogers’ greatest asset as a songwriter is his humanity and vulnerability.
Rogers’ manages throughout “Qualifiers” short runtime to bring you inside of his meticulously crafted world by way of his expressive, and abstract lyrics, which are bolstered by his ability to serve his songs with restraint. With a tasteful ear for arrangement and subtlety, he provides glimpses of this world of longing and lost innocence, in which “our working class heroes” are dead. But true to the human condition, between these bouts of despair, and detached yearning, Rogers manages to convey through his music an important message of hope for a brighter future. The blues are just passing by, indeed.