Over the past few years The Wynntown Marshals have gone from strength to strength. Their 2013 album, The Long Haul, was generally accepted as one of the finest examples of UK Americana music of the past decade and led to the band being signed to Blue Rose Records, a label whose roster shows that they are not easily impressed. Terrific as it was The Long Haul was conceived during some turbulent times for the band with drummer Kenny McCabe joining just before recording began and keyboard player Ritchie Noble climbing on board after the album was finished. The End Of The Golden Age follows two years consolidation for the current line up including a hefty slew of live shows (which get better and better each time Blabber’n’Smoke sees them). While The Long Haul portrayed a band triumphant in the face of adversity here they’re riding a wave of popular acclaim and success.
Fans of The Marshals will be gratified to find that there’s no major change in direction or sound here, instead there’s a sense that the band have shifted up a gear. Their roots are still to be found in the melancholic songs of Wilco and the fiery guitar bursts of Neil Young while singer Keith Benzie continues to mine a rich narrative seam that embodies classic American landscapes and his own experiences. Noble adds a subtle richness to the mix with his keyboard skills (on Hammond, piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, synth and glockenspiel) fully embedded, a sound explored by The Marshals on The Long haul but fully realised here. It’s perhaps best noted on the pale fire of Idaho where his piano is stately and measured as Iain Sloan’s pedal steel keens away with the song itself sounding as if Neil Young had discovered an outtake from Déjà Vu. Elsewhere some judicious horn additions from Bruce Michie add to the sonic palette.
The album opens wonderfully with a blissful guitar intro that actually recalls the bucolic Canterbury rock of Caravan on There Was A Time before Benzie’s hoarsened voice leads the band into a corkscrewed country rock song with organ swells and skirling guitars that betray their Celtic roots. Dead Sunflowers is a sinewy number that recalls Canada from the previous album. A fulsome tenor sax introduces the starry-skied regretful love song Being Lazy with Benzie sounding like Jeff Tweedy at his most laidback while the production captures each and every squeak of the acoustic guitars. With lyrics by bass player Murdoch Macleod, Being Lazy captures the band at their best; Benzie inhabits the song, the keyboards cosset the melody as the guitars strum along with an occasional whiff of pedal steel, a wonderful song. Red Clay Hill is a fiery burst of outright Americana rock with tough guitars and swirling organ as Benzie sings “Last night I dreamt that I took a walk in an Ansel Adams picture” before being joined on vocals by Hannah Eton-Wall (The Redlands Palomino Co). The song soars wonderfully and there’s a magnificent guitar mash in the middle firing in all directions. The Girl On The Hill inhabits the same territory as Being Lazy. A winsome dappled brook of a song, sparkling guitars and pampered keyboards lift it aloft belying the possibility that it’s actually a murder ballad, the lyrics pointing in that direction but somewhat coy regarding what actually happened.
Over the years The Marshals’ have generally provided a would be epic on their albums and here it might be the mysterious tale of a man’s involvement with a killer whale on Moby Doll. As usual it builds from a slow narrative into a propulsive thriller and hopefully it will be a killer live. The album ends with the celebratory (and joyous) title song, a brief memorandum from Benzie regarding a past relationship which celebrates joy and sadness buoyed by an uplifting jangle fest of guitars, a fine curtain closer.
The End Of The Golden Age is released in May and there’s talk of a vinyl edition as well. In the meantime they’re touring Germany before the album launch at The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh on 12th June.