Very occasionally an album comes along that stops you dead in your tracks, knocks the wind out of your sails and demands that you pay attention. Marvin Country! is one such album. The work of Marvin Etzioni, one time member of Lone Justice and producer of the likes of Counting Crows, Peter Case and Toad The Wet Sprocket (remember them?)it’s a double disc CD with various “star” names guesting which had our antenna twitching. After all aren’t such beasts often a recipe for disaster? All doubts were dispelled as soon as the virtual needle hit the grooves (and there is a vinyl release which I presume will be magnificent in its own grooviness) and as song after song tumbled out of the speakers, each and every one great in its own unique way we realised we were in the presence of an album which in its ramshackle and splattergun approach pretty much approaches the pinnacle of current Americana music.
While Etzioni plays much of the music himself including various keyboards, mandolin, mandocello, casio, bass, drums, porchboard, synthesiser, mellotron and some scintillating electric guitar he opens the borders of Marvin Country to the likes of John Doe, Steve Earle, Maria McKee, Buddy Miller, Richard Thompson, Gurf Morlix, Greg Leisz and Lucinda Williams. While it’s fair to report that they all add something special to the mix even without their presence the album would stand up on its own.
With his songwriting credentials pretty much confirmed via his tenure with Lone Justice Etzioni has at least one stone cold bona fide classic here with Lay It On The Table. A tear jerking duet with Lucinda Williams and weeping pedal steel from Greg Leisz you should be hearing it over any decent airwaves very soon. You Possess Me, the opening song and another duet (with Maria McKee this time) is almost as good. However any notion gained from the curtain raiser that we’re in for some sweet modern country is dispelled by the following song, The Grapes of Wrath. John Doe takes the vocal duties here on a turbo charged rocker that sounds like vintage Dylan delivered by a souped up Chuck Prophet with a great big fat guitar sound that humbbucks like hell. Speaking of Dylan Etzioni proclaims Bob Dylan Is Dead on a tremendous acoustic thrash that is exhilarating in its iconoclasm and clever in the allusions within the lyrics. Etzioni throws up several other tremendous songs throughout the album such as the Cash like A Man Without A Country and the country punk Living Like a Hobo while You are The Light with vocal accompaniment from The Dixie Hummingbirds is simply superb. If all of the above were to constitute the album then it would be highly recommended but there is more, so much more, to hear on the second disc. Much of the delight in listening to this is in the rollercoaster feel of lurching from thrash to country to gospel to folk but on disc two (or side three if you do get the vinyl) Etzioni throws a fine curveball with a suite of what might be best called “oddball” songs. Where’s Your Analog Spirit? is a synth drenched protest song reminiscent of Roger McGuinn’s space rock. Etzioni plays around with sound samples on Gram Revisited, a primitive sounding tribute to Parsons and the goofy sounding What’s Patsy Cline Doing these Days? He then slips in anther cracking song with Hard to Build a Home which could not only end up as a country classic but also refers back to a song on the first disc, Son of a Carpenter. Aside from any biblical possibilities this is just more evidence of the very keen mind that made this album. The run up to the end of the album is packed with gems. The guitar solo in the bluesy Trouble Holding Back (by Trevor Meanor) is audacious and ridiculously spellbinding while the mournful horns of There’s A Train is one of the album’s highlights. The simple God’s Little mansion could be an old Carter Family homily.
We haven’t even mentioned the fine lazy cajun Richard Thompson vehicle It Don’t Cost Much and Gurf Morlix’s turn on Son of a Carpenter but if we were to go on this review would never end. Suffice to say that this album sits up there with the likes of Terry Allen’s superb Lubbock (On Everything) as a great example of left field maverick Americana. In order to try and offer a sense of its reach there are two samples below which demonstrate the breadth of the album.
Once you get beyond the (fine) artwork on the sleeve that might lead some to presume this is a long lost prog rock classic there’s a little gem concealed within with a sultry and slow Americana burn. Pardekooper is so laid back as to be almost horizontal, J.J. Cale comes to mind here although there is little similarity in their music. A more appropriate comparison might be to the laid back country blues of Ramsay Midwood coupled with the sinewy and sultry sound of Lucinda Williams. No surprise then to find out that the album is produced by Williams’ occasional collaborator, Bo Ramsay. Ramsay indeed provides some scintillating and spine tingling guitar throughout.
Pardekoopers’ songs have apparently been picked up by the likes of the True Blood TV series and he does provide that occasional sense of menace but overall this is a handsome set of well delivered and well written southern gothic sounds steeped in sin and redemption, low lit neon dives and cold light of day regrets. Pardekooper delivers the lyrics with a husk in his voice, half spoken, half sung while the band slowly burn. Several of the songs are immediately impressive, the opening Where I Come From sets the bar pretty high as Pardekooper croons over such a sweet guitar lick with a fine sense of ennui. The sloppy blues of the title song burrows its way into the listeners ear while Walk Away is a perfect example of cryptic story telling with sublime guitar and a grand resigned air. A great album and recommended for those who dig the likes of Jim White and the deep American south.
They just keep on coming. Marybeth D’Amico is yet another of those singer/songwriters who might never become a household name but who can deliver as fine an experience as many of her better-known peers. Her first album Heaven, Hell, Sin and Redemption, as its title might suggest was an exploration if the seamier and darker side of life. On this second album she tackles weighty subjects such as the Berlin Wall (she lives in Germany) and the aftermath of natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms. When she gets down to relationships she looks on the dismal side, her characters appears to be fixed, unable to change their destinies which on the whole don’t bode well. Recorded in Texas with producer Bradley Kopp (Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmie Dale Gilmore) and featuring a fine band behind her several of the songs surge strongly with soulful organ and crunchy guitars very much in Kathleen Edwards’ style. Chief of these is Don’t Look Back which is a terrific song with a radio friendly sound. Inside Out is more reminiscent of that other Williams, Lucinda, bluesy with some fine slide guitar work from producer Kopp, D’Amico sings of someone trying to salvage some honour following a break up, putting on a brave front but inside failing miserable, retiring to her room to cry. Powerful stuff. The jaunty acoustic picking of Reborn lifts the mood of the album although it appears to be about a woman saved from suicide by the birth of her child. No matter, this brief shard of light is swallowed by the following Der Grenzer, the song about the Wall. Taken at a funereal pace with martial drumming this is a modern folk song that chills. D’Amico remains in folky mode with Star Crossed, another song that sounds as if it was forged many years ago.
Overall then is a very strong album and it’s almost guaranteed that the likes of Bob Harris will be playing it soon.
A welcome addition to that select group of female performers who fuse sultry vocals with bluesey country rock, Kasey Cubero is indeed, on the strength of this album, almost up there with Kathleen Edwards, Lucinda Williams and Sarah Borges. The twelve self penned songs are all impressive and while one or two of them may sound like Sheryl Crow circa “All I Wanna Do” (impressive enough I think) there are several here which are superb both in the writing and in the delivery. With a brace of immediately attractive radio friendly songs such as “It’s Alright” and “I Want More” (a tremendous song which conjures up the freewheeling wide open vistas that drive all great American rock songs) Cubero scores high. Add to that the slow burning sensual delight that is “Under my Skin” and the sweet pedal steel of “Fill Your Cup” and this record does indeed burrow under your skin.
While there are some detours into acoustic blues with “Two Trains” and “Old Cadillac” overall the sound is a burnished, streamlined classic Americana with guitarist Josh Davis excelling throughout with some fine spine tingling moments.
For a relatively unknown artist this is an exceptionally assured album. Ms. Cubero is coming to the UK shores later this year, check the website for details in the meantime here is Under My Skin
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