Billy Marlowe. Show Me The Steps

It seems somewhat fitting that in the wake of last year’s rediscovery of the likes of Sixto Rodriguez and Bill Faye that Blabber’n’Smoke was sent this album of songs recorded (and only briefly released) in the eighties by an unknown musician. Were Billy Marlowe still on this earth it’s a fair bet that there would be a demand to see and hear him play these songs and catch up on the acclaim that’s been missing for so long. Unfortunately, unlike Rodriguez, Marlowe is gone, dead at the age of 53 after what appears to have been a troubled life although his sister’s description of him as an eternal optimist seems apt given the life affirming sentiments contained in these astonishing songs.
Having left home in the sixties Marlowe lived an itinerant lifestyle eventually going to Canada to escape the Vietnam draft. However on returning to the States he was jailed for two years. In 1983 he pitched up in response to a small ad in the Village Voice placed by Steve Satterwhite who was looking for an artist to test run his new recording studio and over the space of a year this album was built, released briefly on vinyl it soon disappeared.
With a sound that recalls a soulful Dylan or a metropolitan Butch Hancock Marlowe recorded these songs with a select few NY musicians (who have gone on to work with numerous artists including Dylan, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen). They provide some superb backing with inspirational fiddle licks and gliding steel guitar decorating the songs. In addition a freshly arrived in New York Shawn Colvin sings on several of the cuts. At the heart of it all however is Marlowe himself. It’s as if having struggled for years he has been let off the leash and grasps the opportunity wholeheartedly. His songs are bittersweet poems and he delivers them in a voice that can resemble Dylan’s at times although he carries a truckload of emotion compared with Dylan. In addition several of the songs are so sure of themselves, so perfectly formed that it’s hard to believe that they emanate from a man who had spent most of his life stumbling from one obstacle to another. Born Again (take that, Dylan fans) is a major work, a song that is almost perfect with a stately arrangement as Marlowe sings of being “ragged, tattered and torn, wishin’ I was born again.” There are several other songs that approach this summit. Mama Was Right tugs at the heartstrings as the violin soars into the blue. You Got My Heart is a simply sung simple love song that should be ringing out from radio stations galore. Finally the vibrant and driving Salvation Railroad is four minutes of soar away bliss where the steel guitar shimmers, Marlowe sings with a magnificent wearied abandon and the female voices flutter around him.
All in all an astoundingly good album that’s been unfairly buried for so long and which captures a lost innocence that was buried under so many wasted lives in the seventies and eighties. Read more about Marlowe including a fine testimony from his sister here


8 thoughts on “Billy Marlowe. Show Me The Steps

  1. Hi Paul,
    My name is Charissa, I am Billy Marlowe’s daughter. Steve sent me an e-mail with a link to your blog. I just wanted to take a minute and thank you so much for your kind words about my father and his music. Words can not describe how much this means to me and my family. Thank you once again and i am thrilled that you liked the cd.
    Warmest Regards
    Charissa Ruiz
    Billy Marlowe’s Daughter

  2. Paul, Nice review. And in each song there is a line or two that just seems to settle in the brain. Thirty years later and they still make me tear up. “Fish jump right in the boat here, they don’t even wait/ Girl drives the truck good, but she swings on the gate.” “Little girl kisses like her mama does, little boy gets to be like his daddy was” Album is sooo sweet. I’m happy Billy is finally getting some recognition. I wish he could have seen this.

  3. Dear Paul:

    I’m Billy’s sister, Tricia…and I just wanted to tell you thanks for sharing Billy’s music. It’s so very heartwarming to know that his gift is being heard, and your words mean so much to us. We miss Billy every single day but find great comfort in the fact that he is alive through his music. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for the great review and further information. I’ve just discovered his music but it seems like I’ve known his songs all along. And to add to the previous comments: there are many reviews/articles/blogs about Billy Marlowe on websites in Dutch, which is my native language. Goes to show that great music will be appreciated anywhere, once the people get to know it.

  5. Pingback: Rory McNamara with The Ring Of Truth Trio. Dangerous Business. | Blabber 'n' Smoke

  6. I’m a little late to the party..having been a close friend of Bills in Kansas circa 1965-68..I saw the beginning of the music..and then he disappeared..always thought we would meet up again..only found out about his death 6 months ago..hit hard..actually haunted me..gone these many years..but to me he just glad to have his music..hope to meet his children some day..
    Rindge Nh

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