Marcus King is a genius. Bonafide. A child prodigy on blues guitar, he experienced tragedy, suffering and struggle as a teen that came through so clearly in his first three albums, that Clapton sought him out. That trio of releases were done with his own band, but this is his first stand-alone material, and it feels like a major push to establish him as the next …? Which is the query here. The raw blues have been largely tamed, and it’s more King’s vocals which are the focus, a high, anguished voice, raw, intense, but perhaps pushed too far past his register.
It’s as much soul as blues, with country and gospel feels. What it isn’t is alternative. It’s not alt-country or even vaguely approaching Americana. That’s not to say it’s without talent, which is almost overflowing here. Produced and co-written by King and Dan Auerbach and featuring seasoned session players that backed Elvis and Dusty, it oozes class. The production work sounds marvellous, the blending of the musicians beautiful in moments. The material though is unremarkable, the dozen songs worked up by the pair in just three days. Highlights are ironically the two tracks Auerbach lets King rip on guitar. On ‘Say You Will’ Auerbach utilises his distinctive Black Keys fuzz, and in ‘No Pain’, just lets King finish the album with a massive solo. Pedal steel is used well a couple of times in the album, but far too many tracks are bland, either OTT or MOR. In ‘Too Much Whiskey’, it’s almost as if they’ve thought “remember how that ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ song helped break Chris Stapleton out?” Except that track was exceptional and heartfelt, and this one is just average.
This album will likely do very well, it is roots rock mainstream made to high standards, but not edgy, risky or dangerous, and perhaps that is the intended purpose – bland sells well with a push. ‘El Dorado’ suggests we are searching here for gold? In fact it just refers to the model of car he is leaning on, on the cover. He is currently touring, and fans will likely walk out of those gigs with their jaws dropped. Not a reaction anyone is going to have after a listen to this.