Can white men sing the blues? Can Scotsmen play Americana? Well you can argue the first question till the end of time but if anyone asks you the latter just thrust this disc into their hand, end of argument. This is the Marshals’ debut album following an excellent EP and single released over the past 18 months. If either of those whetted your appetite then here is the main course.
“You can have My Heart” welcomes you in to Wyntown territory. Chunky guitar and hoarse vocals are backed by what sounds like the Glimmer twins “whoo whooin’” in the background. A thumping great piece of guitar then whips up a storm before singer Keith Benzie comes back in with the title refrain. This is followed by their celebrated cover of the LA Guns song “Ballad of Jayne.” Originally recorded for a tribute album to “hair bands” and then released as a single, it fits right in here. Done as a ballad laced with sweet pedal steel and stinging lead guitar it is excellent. The interplay between guitarist Iain Barbour and pedal steel player Iain Sloan is exquisite and exhilarating. “Snowflake” is a country-tinged romp with a dark story in the lyrics. “48 Hours” almost literally revs up the twang guitar with organ and a clipped guitar solo on a song about a picaresque greyhound bus ride.
On their first release The Marshals unveiled a song called 11:15, an epic retelling of a historical flood. On a brace of songs here they again stretch out with impressive results. “Thunder in the Valley” slouches along, slow, deliberate, at times majestic with stately piano. “Gil” is another historical tale, the story of Gil Elvgren, an American illustrator which captures the age of innocence when classic pin up girls (such as those enjoyed by WW2 service men) were not seen as sleazy. The song seems to contrast his artistic worth with the eventual debasement of advertisers using his talent to sell tyres and beer. All this in a very attractive country waltz setting that like other songs here has a bittersweet sense of joy and sadness. “All That I Want” is a plaintive love song with some tasty tortured guitar work at the end of another 6 minute song. .
The band romp towards the finishing line with “Nelly My Love,” a sunny love song with jaunty guitar duelling. It segues into “Divine Compassion,” an apocalyptic anti war song with heavy martial drumming from Keith Jones and moody guitar, told from the perspective of a traumatised veteran.
“Two is Company” ends the album on a brighter (although bittersweet) note with cracking (almost power pop) guitar solos and a driving rhythm.
Overall this is a stunning album with guitarists Barbour and Sloan shining throughout while Benzie’s vocals are impassioned and heartfelt. Drawing from the likes of The Drive By Truckers, Wilco and Neil Young, The Marshals manage to forge a sound of their own. I’d recommend that you buy this album and go see them at the earliest opportunity.