Guitare Xtreme Magazine # 88 : Echauffement et improvisation
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“Forgive me for I have sinned,” Marcus King implores, on the gorgeous, contemplative “Confessions,” an essential track from The Marcus King Band’s third full-length album, Carolina Confessions. “The pain that I put you through is killing me inside/Thought if I could make you leave/Then you would see/I ain’t worth a damn anyway.” This highly revealing moment from the multi-talented, confident 22-year old artist gets to the heart of the album’s fundamental themes, guilt and the quest for absolution. Carolina Confessions is confirmation of a preternaturally mature artist coming into his own; it’s a sprawling, scintillating work that affirms King as one of today’s most engaging, singular songwriters. He may be young, but King’s eloquent songs, expressive guitar playing, and ecstatically soulful singing mark this gifted, thoughtful young prodigy as a force to be reckoned with.
King has been writing songs, performing onstage for half his lifetime and fronting his own groups for nearly a decade. Since he was a teenager, he’s been trading licks with famous fans and mentors Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks whenever their paths have crossed. Haynes was so blown away by the then-19-year-old’s artistic precocity that he signed King to his Evil Teen label, released the band’s debut album, Soul Insight, in 2015 and produced the band’s self-titled follow-up a year later.
Produced and mixed by Grammy Award-winner Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, John Prine, Jason Isbell) and recorded at Nashville’s iconic RCA Studio A, Carolina Confessions finds King and his five bandmates—drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax player Dean Mitchell and keyboard player DeShawn “D-Vibes” Alexander—taking a major leap as an expansive and dexterous musical unit.
“We immediately hit it off with Dave because of the way he works,” says King. “There’s six of us, and we have our own arbitration process; he was really understanding of the fact that this is a band. His production style is not so hands-on, and we’d all seen what a good producer does—and more importantly what he doesn’t do—from working with Warren on the last record. We went into the studio straight off the road, and I didn’t have an opportunity to even send a cellphone recording of the songs that I’d finished. So, we made it a point to start with those songs and build them from the ground up. That kept it very fresh.”
King penned all the material himself, except the swaggering “How Long,” which he co-wrote with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and veteran songsmith Pat McLaughlin. “Every tune on this record is based around a central theme, which is that none of us are blameless at the end of a relationship,” King points out. “Basically, Carolina Confessions is about me leaving my home town, explaining why I would do that, and why I felt like it was taken from me—just sharing in some of the blame of why a relationship didn’t work.” Separation, from loved ones or one’s dreams, is another strand running throughout the new album. “Hear the sound of my highway/I get stoned as I pray/Think I’ll just fade away / who’s gonna care?”, he sings on “Where I’m Headed.” But the downcast lyric is belied by the uplift of the music, which conjures the ache of loss and the comfort of family. In the lilting “Homesick,” the song’s narrator has turned his car around and can hardly wait for his odyssey to be over: “So damn tired of this ride/Turn the headlights off let the moonlight guide/Lord it’s gonna guide me back home.” “Welcome ’Round Here,” which opens with a mournful slide guitar before the band slams the track into overdrive, was triggered by the Trump travel ban, instituted right after the election. Some tracks were massaged into shape through an incremental process of trial and error, including the essential album closer “Goodbye Carolina.” King recalls, “I’d written it about a really dear friend of mine who had committed suicide, so there’s a deeper meaning, and I realized the happy-sounding major key vibe of the verses weren’t working.