It’s been a turbulent few years for The Wynntown Marshals with arrivals and departures (including guitarist Iain Barbour and drummer Keith Jones) that might have derailed lesser bands. However they’ve ploughed on with their other guitar wizard Iain Sloan picking up the baton dropped by Jones as the band’s indefatigable publicist and also employing an impressive array of strings to broaden their sound while bassist Murdoch McLeod has blossomed into a fine writer as evidenced by the two songs he’s penned here. With front man Keith Benzie remaining at the helm the Marshals are still recognisably The Marshals but there is a subtle shift in their sound as they seem more assured and confident, adding layers of sound in the production and leaving behind their more “twangish” Nashville flourishes. The end result is a triumphant return with The Marshals consolidated as a magnificent four piece after the long haul of the past few years.
They kick the album off with a bang with the frantic road trip of Driveaway’s muscular beat which pulverises along with a cracking guitar solo from Sloan soaring above the driving organ. A Kerouac inspired tale of cross country driving it captures the adventure and spirit of open highways as it sparks and fizzes and is a fine way for the band to announce their return to the fray. Canada is a Byrds’ like jangle fest with Benzie bemoaning a pair separated by oceans as he sings “I would get there if I could/but I admit I find it hard/I feel stuck in this corner/Like a stamp on a postcard.” Despite the yearning in the lyrics the song has a joyous and uplifting feel with some superb backing vocals from the band members. The epic Crashing (Like The Reds) showcases the band’s fuller sound which reflects the sophisticated country pop of Wilco’s Summerteeth album and, going further back, the polished power of L.A.’s wrecking crew. While it’s a rocker of the first degree the deftness of the changes along with the chiming guitars and crashing chords elevate it to sonic heaven. Murdoch’s North Atlantic Soul is another song that wraps itself in a multilayered tapestry of sound with waves of acoustic guitar buried under a sweeping pedal steel and another superb solo from Sloan. There’s plenty of variety to be had here. Curtain Call is a gentle, reflective and chilling tale of addiction, failure and suicide which features cello and violin. The opening lyrics “Here I sit in this dingy room/Alone with needle, tourniquet and spoon” could be from any number of rock’n’roll drug damage songs but Benzie pulls off a fine smoke and mirrors trick as the words reveal the song to be set in the bygone age of Victorian stage magicians conjuring up images from The Prestige.
There is in addition a fine wallop of that chunky Americana sound that the Marshals do so well. Low Country Comedown ebbs and flows like the Mississippi with the guitars churning away while Change of Heart chugs along in fine Stray Gators style with a chunky rhythm and sweet pedal steel while some Beatles’ styled psychedelic guitar corkscrews in the background. Benzie is accompanied on vocals here by Diane Christiansen (from Dolly Varden) and they truly sound like a heartbreaking couple.
The icing on the cake here is the awesome and sublime Tide. A mesmerising smorgasbord of wave washed guitars and swirling keyboards with parched vocals it swells like a tidal bore before hitting the shore and falling apart in trickles of sonic beeps and squiggles. Lyrically it’s faintly reminiscent of Crosby Stills and Nash’s Wooden Ships and indeed the vocals and the intricate guitars would not have been out of place on Deja Vu ( and would have made it a finer album!).
All in all The Long Haul is a worthy successor to Westerner as the Marshals expand their sound, widen their horizons and above all deliver a solid set with not a clunker in sight. The album will be available in July via their website and there’s a launch gig on July 12th at Broadcast in Glasgow. If you can’t wait that long they support Chuck Prophet at Oran Mor on May 1st and they promise to have some copies on sale.