Country music doesn’t do much for me. I don’t hate it, but I wouldn’t cross over the road for it.
So why do I find myself in Whelan’s on a Monday night, awaiting the arrival of Marlon Williams. Every so often I go through the list of upcoming acts at Whelans, give them one song on YouTube, and if they pass the “interesting” test – I buy a ticket. €13 with no extortion on the booking fee from Ticketmaster (good old WAV tickets) and here we go.
The Late Late show appearance that must have raised a bit of interest, because the place is pretty full. So, worth the effort of the trip in…. You bet!!
Let’s start where the night started – at the heart of things… the voice. There is a purity of tone and a lilt to Marlon’s voice. Comparisons to Roy Orbison are not far off, but there are some rougher edges that reflect Nick Cave. There is soul and engagement, so the cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” draws us all into his world and gets on to his wavelength.
There is lyrical substance too. “Strange Things” deals with loss and loneliness, in a personal and quirky way with the wit and style of a real story teller.
The band that join in add layers and musicality. These guys have played together around the world and they are tight and accomplished. They move seamlessly from acoustic to electric, showing mastery of both. They also know when to go all out and when to hold back. The beauty of this is when it is time to really give it the full kitchen sink – as in the epic Dark Child – the impact of the high attack guitar solo is even more striking.
There are so many styles on offer here that the whole thing could feel a bit ramshackle. That it isn’t is testimony to the band and to Williams – it is his immaculate voice that carries the performance into the heights.
Let’s pay tribute to the Whelans crowd. To enjoy the true beauty of a solo voice and acoustic guitar, delivering a song as intense as “When I was a young girl” you need rapt attention from the audience. Not always a strong point of the Dublin music goer, tonight it was exemplary!
An encore consisting of a couple of bluegrass songs – yes, I enjoyed even these – was rounded off with a blisteringly intense cover of Screamin Jay Hawkins “Portrait of a Man”.
So this morning it was time to purchase the CD. Easy to find – it’s called “Marlon Williams”!
Does the CD surpass the live experience – yes and no!!
On the plus side, the quality of the vocals comes through in spades. The storytelling comes to the fore. The production quality is high. This is the double edge sword. The raw intensity of the live “Dark Child” and the joyous messiness of the live “Hello Miss Lonesome” are lost. I just wish the CD was allowed the freedom to move away from the polished every so often.
Make no mistake, these are nine quality songs performed majestically. This is what a voice truly is. I am enormously happy to have spent my money on them, and I think you should to. You don’t have to like country music, you just have to like music.
One day Marlon Williams may produce a live album to sit at the top table with “Folsom Prison” and “No Sleep till Hammersmith” (Motorhead and Johnny Cash, not necessarily in the right order!).
Until then, enjoy this CD and watch out for his return to these shores – a live experience not to miss!
Intrigued? – watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KACOtGxdsjI