The Marcus King Band’s eponymous new record, their second studio album (after 2015’s Soul Insight) and first with Fantasy Records, is an impressive offering by a band that continues to make massive strides toward superstardom. “This album is a reintroduction to The Marcus King Band,” says Marcus King, the band’s guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter, “A lot of parts were written or improvised in the studio. We cut all of the band tracks live in the studio, in order to capture the essence of our live shows.”
Warren Haynes, the rock guitar elder statesman to whom 20-year-old Marcus is frequently compared, played a vital role in the recording of The Marcus King Band, producing the entire album and lending some guitar licks to “Virginia”. “Warren is a wealth of knowledge,” says King, “Working with him on this record was not only a dream come true, but the best decision for the direction the band is moving toward.”
The respect between King and Haynes is mutual. According to Warren, “Marcus is the first player I’ve heard since Derek Trucks to play with the maturity of a musician well beyond his age,” Warren Haynes says. “He’s very much influenced by the blues, but also by jazz, rock, soul music, and any timeless genres of music. You can hear the influences, but it all comes through him in his own unique way. He has one of those voices that instantly draws you in, and his guitar playing is an extension of his voice and vice versa.”
While such high praise from such a well-respected artist may seem like hyperbole, it couldn’t be more spot-on when it comes to Marcus. King more than lives up to the hype on The Marcus King Band, an incredibly strong collection of 13 tracks that showcase the extensive abilities of the young artist and his talented band (Matt Jennings – keyboards/organ, Jack Ryan – drums/percussion, Stephen Campbell – bass, Justin Johnson – trumpet/trombone, and Dean Mitchell – saxophone).
“Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With That” is an upbeat but laid-back love song led by sunny horns and guitar licks about getting back to a simple, happy moment, where “singing me a melody so sweet,” as delivered in Marcus’s earnest drawl, is the perfect harmony of substance and presentation.
“Devil’s Land”, loosely based on King’s grandfather who worked on a farm in his younger years, sees Marcus assert his vocal prowess early, with the swagger and storytelling abilities of a much older bluesman. Matt Jennings’ organs add texture to the swelling tune, before Marcus leads a fiery guitar onslaught reminiscent of a Haynes solo.
“Rita Is Gone” was written about the character Rita on Dexter, who (spoiler alert) meets a gruesome end in the show. Despite the dark nature of its source of inspiration, “Rita Is Gone” is a cheerful horns-led melody that can’t help but get stuck in your head.
“Self-Hatred” sees the band take a turn into some more psychedelic space, thanks in large part to guest Derek Trucks’ signature slide sound. But make no mistake—despite the presence of the highly-regarded guest, Marcus makes it known that there is more than one virtuoso on this track, handily trading licks with Trucks.
“Man You Didn’t Know”, which follows sing-along “Jealous Man”, sounds like a song that Tedeschi Trucks Band would play, a bittersweet lament about saying goodbye, with an inventively wistful solo from King and help from JJ Grey & Mofro bassist Todd Smallie.
While the first half of the album showcases Marcus’s guitar, singing, and songwriting abilities, the rest of the band asserts its presence on “Plant Your Corn Early”, with each piece adding to the song’s undeniable groove. The keys and horns lead the charge with a thick, funky jam dotted with relentless drum fills from Jack Ryan that help give the song the vibe of a live performance.
That “live show” feeling continues into “Radio Soldier”. The song’s attention-grabbing arpeggiated guitar and driving 16th note back beat bleed into a drum corps-like breakdown for the chorus, before building tension to a cacophony of radio feedback and effects, making for one of the album’s most adventurous tracks.
There are many instances on The Marcus King Band when it’s clear that King is writing from a place of sincerity and personal experience, perhaps none more so than “Guitar In My Hands”, where he laments, “You don’t love me the same when there ain’t a guitar in my hand”, wearing his life’s scars on his sleeve.
“Thespian Espionage”‘s bouncing bass line and crashing cymbals give the song a film-noir vibe from the start, before excellent flute parts by Kofi Burbridge and King’s jazz guitar melodies take the listener on a journey in this instrumental tune.
Rollicking southern rock heater “Virginia” was the perfect choice of songs for the album’s inevitable Warren Haynes sit-in. After a top-notch piano solo, the band gives due reverence to Haynes’ solo, creating sonic space as King welcomes him with an emphatic “Jump out now!”
After “Sorry ‘Bout Your Lover”, another pretty country-flavored ditty where King’s vocals take the lead, the album comes to an end with “The Mystery of Mr. Eads.” The quick instrumental serves as a perfect coda for the album, the music over which the The Marcus King Band‘s proverbial credits would scroll, featuring some muffled ramblings for added texture (King translates part of it as “the physiological precondition is indispensable intoxication” for those keeping score).
With this all-around great new record, Marcus and company have truly arrived–and with the wealth of talent, guidance, and veteran know-how at their disposal, the future looks bright for The Marcus King Band.