via No Depression
There is a new sensation in contemporary music. He has arrived in the atmosphere like a full force gale with a sound and fury that is impossible to ignore. His name is Marcus King, and he has assembled a skillful and soulful group of musicians for The Marcus King Band. They move through styles without obedience to categorical regulation of genre; playing with the technical mastery and heartfelt avidity that makes great music great music. His kind has not emerged onto the airwaves for many years.
In the late 1960s and early '70s, music went through an exciting and eclectic period of innovation and variety. The transgression of borders visible and palpable in political and social upheaval underwent artistic emulation in various genres of popular music. The barriers separating these genres began to break. Fusion was the result.
Jimi Hendrix, first with Experience, and later, and perhaps even more powerfully, with Band of Gypsies, charmed his guitar serpent into dancing along with a form of rock 'n' roll that included elements of funk, soul, blues, and jazz. Sly and The Family Stone refused to adhere to any regulation or label; combining rock, pop, and R&B into an intoxicating brew. Bitches Brew, from Miles Davis, and In a Silent Way, before it, helped mix the other broths of Weather Report and Herbie Hancock - inventors of jazz who enhanced the vocabulary and diversity of their aesthetic with the incorporation of funk and rock. George Clinton, another innovator of great imaginative power, presided over the matrimony of funk and rock on every record bearing the name Funkadelic. Santana exported a Latin engine into the creation of rock-meets-blues-meets-jazz hybrid that continues to rumble down the highway at high speed. On Mad Dogs and Englishmen, one of the great live records of all time, Joe Cocker and Leon Russell lead a pirate band of untamed players through nearly every recognizable style of song.
Subtle shades of border bypassing musical invention remain present in American culture, but it seems that noting remotely as creative and dynamic occupies mainstream territory, where formulas of genre and redundancy of song continue to dominate. The generous exceptions are the offspring of Gregg Allman's almost paternal instinct for finding musicians of wild talent and imagination, and bringing them together. The Allman Brothers themselves were never willing to conform to one style, as any listener could trace their sound back to country, jazz, blues, rock, and Ray Charles, and their innovative influence is undeniable in two former members of the final incarnation of the Southern Rock band - Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.
Gov't Mule, which Haynes started with another Allman Brothers member - the now deceased Allen Woody - is a blues, soul, and southern rock jam band. Their own material often sounds like an orgasmic collaboration between Van Morrison and Metallica, while their live performances feature surprise covers of everyone from Bob Dylan to Temple of the Dog. Haynes is a musical typhoon - a guitar virtuoso, a soul shouter who could keep up with Wilson Pickett, and a brilliant songwriter. His nearest competition on guitar is Derek Trucks, whose current band, The Tedeschi Trucks Band, has the finest of co-captains. Susan Tedeschi, Trucks' wife, shares songwriting duties, and belts out the lead vocals with a stunning combination of soul and grit. Citing Cocker's Mad Dogs as a direct influence, The Tedeschi Trucks band plays blues, soul, and Southern rock - all at the same time. Because of their boundless artistry, but also because of their unpredictability, these are the most fun and fascinating bands in the country.
Now, a new band is seeking to join their rarefied ranks. The Marcus King Band, out of Greenville, South Carolina, aspires to create what King, at only 20 years old, calls "jazz-infused psychedelic southern rock." As if that description did not have enough enticement, he left out soul and country, both of which are also audible on his band's self-titled, major label debut record. The Marcus King Band is a tour of thrills through various traditions of timeless of music, but King is not a nostalgia act. His songs have a modern sensibility that allows him to infuse his influences into an original brand of composition and performance.
It is appropriate that the tour begins in the Southern United States – King’s home turf – because most of America’s genre-bending creation comes from Dixieland. From Elvis Presley’s blend of country and rhythm and blues to an entire class who followed in his footsteps to build a bridge between the blues of Saturday night to the gospel of Sunday morning, the south has always had fertile soil for cross-pollination.
King can proudly claim the endorsement of a modern master as he steps onto the public stage. The aforementioned Warren Haynes produced The Marcus King Band, and plays his famous, face melting slide guitar on one of the record’s standout tracks, the smoking southern rock rave up, “Virginia.” King is able to keep company with Haynes, as he has played guitar since he was a young boy supporting his bluesman father, Marvin King. The emotive intensity of the blues is in every lick, but so is the tenderness of soul, and occasionally, the aggression of rock breaks through the door. Like Haynes and Trucks, King has the discipline to control his sizable gifts so they do not overshadow the song. At his wildest and calmest, the guitar always serves the story of the song, whether it is dripping with tears, sweat, or lust. Derek Trucks lends his magical hand, as special guest, on another highlight – a psychedelic pop anthem, “Self-Hatred.”
When discussing his own influences, King describes an affinity for the bands with “big sounds.” Dean Mitchell on saxophone, Justin Johnson on trumpet, and Matt Jennings on organ build a beautiful wall of sound around the strong rhythm section of Jack Ryan on drums and Stephen Campbell on bass. The entire band plays with chemistry as they travel through the myriad emotions of human life. “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” and “Jealous Man” bring enough joy to the room to make even the most hardened cynic stand up and smile. Later, the angst and anger on “Devil’s Land,” defining the monstrous guitar solo and anthemic, Lynyrd Skynyrd chorus, threaten to tear down that wall.
Like Haynes, King is able to combine his guitar virtuosity with a masterful vocal delivery. The rasp in his voice carries a tough, soulful grit, but he occupies a high register reminiscent of Daryl Hall. Any story in the voice of King takes on an emotional imperative. The departure of a beautiful woman in “Rita’s Gone,” the plea for love in “Sorry ‘Bout Your Lover,” and the declaration of self-respect in “Self-Hatred” – seem like familiar lyrical territory, but King is able to reenergize popular subject matter in his subtle, but powerful singing performance.
King is at his most lyrically introspective, and his most musically tender, on the traditional country ballad, “Guitar in My Hands.” With the strumming of an acoustic guitar, and the whine of the steel guitar, King suddenly takes the listener out of the raucous R&B club and into the quiet country bar. “You don’t love me the same if there ain’t a guitar in my hand,” King sings in an evaluation of the distance between his own humanity and his public personality, and then the music picks up to resemble an Allman Brothers number from the classic, ‘70s period. King’s guitar solo would fit right in on “Blue Sky” or “Jessica.”
Just like the joyful surprise of an Allman Brothers or Santana record, “Guitar in My Hands” seamlessly leads into an instrumental jazz jam, “Thespian Espionage.” The jazz sounds entirely unique to King’s interpretative imagination, but gives reminder to the glory days of Fusion.
One of the most soulful songs of the record, “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That,” features an infectious groove. The horn arrangement bounces in ecstasy, while King’s guitar sounds straight out of Stax. He sings with the passion and spirit of a man who has arrived at home after a long night driving through the rain.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with that, momma / Ain’t nothing wrong” he sings to describe the acts of sweetness and kindness he has enjoyed in his life. The song breaks down at its conclusion, and King softly lets out a wish for a return to that lovely sanctuary.
I want to be back in that moment
Feel the joy that I felt right there
Tell me you remember that moment
Tell me that you still care
The new record from The Marcus King Band is one of those forever desirable, joyful moments.