From Blues to Soul
The prodigiously talented Marcus King has joined forces with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach to release his first solo album, El Dorado (17 January 2020; Fantasy Records), and in doing so has broadened his palette to incorporate much more soul.
King, who has been touring with his own band since he was 15, comes from a long line of musicians. “His granddad [who played with country artist Charley Pride] had a Gibson, his dad had a Gibson, and now Marcus has a Gibson — it’s all ingrained in his brain,” says Auerbach. King is well known for his skill on the six strings, but on his latest offering Auerbach has encouraged him to emphasize his voice, which is what really attracted the producer and co-writer in the first place. “It’s staggering how good he is, how crazy-good his vocals are,” he says.
Auerbach took King to the Easy Eye Studio in Nashville where they hooked up with veteran keyboardist Bobby Wood, drummer Gene Chrisman, and bassist Dave Roe. “I think it was really nice for him to get into the studio and let his guard down, mix it up with some different musicians,” he says. “We wrote as many songs as we possibly could and just let the cream rise to the top.” And the bluesman responded well to the fresh stimulus: “I feel really proud of it,” King says of the new album.
The experienced guitarist is still only 23 and is therefore perfectly entitled to kick off his new record with the acoustic driven Young Man’s Dream. However the heavy blues riff that opens the following track, The Well, will help reassure his longtime fans that he is not going to abandon his roots anytime soon. Here King ruminates on the challenges of living the rural life and closes the song with a nice instrumental.
The nostalgic Wildflowers & Wine highlights King's vocals on a track that is further enhanced by female backing singers and an electric organ. This sentimental love song also features a lovely bluesy solo on King’s Fender guitar, which kicks in at around 2’ on the live version.
Catchy Southern rock and soul are evident on many other tracks such as Break and Sweet Mariona - neither of which break new ground musically but nonetheless make for easy listening -; while Too Much Whiskey recalls the sound and the subject matter of country legend Willie Nelson. More imposing are One Day She's Here, Turn It Up, and the gospel-driven Beautiful Stranger, which again showcase King’s strong vocals and capacity to tell an engaging story.
The album closes with the Southern rock number No Pain, which is full of raw emotion, beautiful finger picking and string orchestration.
King was due to promote El Dorado in 2020, partly in tandem with Chris Stapleton, but all that had to be scrapped because of the pandemic. However that is unlikely to dent the ascending career of a man who has already been anointed by stars of the stature of Bonnie Raitt, Bill Murray and Eric Clapton, the latter of which once hugged King and told him how much he loves his music. Blues, southern rock and soul; King seems comfortable producing top quality songs from any genre. “It still doesn’t feel real at all,” he says.