Album Review — Marcus King’s ‘El Dorado’

If you’re expecting the same rocking sounds of The Marcus King Band in Marcus King’s debut solo album, you’re going to be a little disappointed. After all when an artist steps away from their band to release a solo record, I think it would be unrealistic to expect the same sound. Otherwise what’s the point of going solo? And while different can sometimes be bad (see Zac Brown with Sir Rosevelt), in this case it actually turns out quite good with Marcus King’s El Dorado.

The album doesn’t get off to the best start with “Young Man’s Dream” as the opener. Choosing such a mellow song to open the album doesn’t exactly invite you in to want to hear more. The theme makes sense with King looking back on the dream he set out to conquer when he left home years ago and realizing he’s still chasing it. But I’m a big believer in a higher tempo song as an opener. So I would have switched the second song “The Well” into the opening spot with it’s loud, guitar-driven sound, which is also more familiar to listeners who have followed The Marcus King Band. The bluesy and smooth rifts are instantly infectious and pair perfectly with the dynamic voice of King’s.

King really pours the soul on in “Wildflowers & Wine.” The heavy soul influence on this album is really what makes this album shine in my eyes, as King is just as comfortable with soul as he is with rock. The lyrics in this song, written by King, producer Dan Auerbach and Ronnie Bowman, do a fantastic job of describing the love and passion in a relationship and King delivers them with the kind of fire needed to really drive them across to the listener.

“One Day She’s Here” is about ruminating over an on and off love. Lyrically this is fine, albeit one of the weaker moments on the album regarding this aspect. It’s just a bit too repetitive for my liking. “Sweet Mariona” sounds like something The Eagles would cut with it’s easy-going country rock sound. The instrumentation is what makes this really shine with the shimmering pedal steel guitar and light acoustic touch, as it gives the song an appropriate reflecting feeling.

One of my favorite moments on the album is “Beautiful Stranger,” as it shows off King’s great falsetto voice. The lyrics sets the scene well of a man approaching a woman in a bar and wondering of the possibilities they could have if they’re no longer strangers. The secret sauce though of this song and really this album is the subtle country sensibilities that permeate it. This song after all was written by King, Auberbach and longtime country writer Paul Overstreet. While this isn’t a country album of course, El Dorado does take a lot of influence from the genre, as it’s molded with the sounds of rock, soul and blues throughout.

“Break” reminds me of the Michael McDonald era of The Doobie Brothers with it’s theme of heartbreak combined with it’s smooth sound and King’s falsetto. I’m glad that this song doesn’t go overboard with the production though (it avoids over-polishing the sound), instead allowing King’s voice to be more front and center. “Say You Will” is this album’s only other guitar-driven rock sound that is more in line with The Marcus King Band and of course it sounds great. While I enjoy the more soulful, bluesy detour of this solo album, King really does thrive within the more rock driven sound on songs like this one.

“Turn It Up” is great driving music. It helps of course with it’s chorus (“Driving 90 miles an hour down a dead end street/Cold steel under my feet” and “Testing my nerves, taking the curves”), but most importantly it’s swanky, swaggering funk-influenced sound makes me picture myself driving down the highway. I guess when it comes to driving music you know it when you hear it would be the best way to describe it. I said before this album has subtle country sensibilities. Well it’s not so subtle on “Too Much Whiskey,” with it’s honkytonk sound and name-dropping Willie Nelson’s iconic album Shotgun Willie (and the “Whiskey River” reference). King nails the classic country drinking song and I love the harmonica that pops up throughout.

I feel like “Love Song” is very much a love it or hate it type song, as I can see why some might find this song to be too saccharine for their taste. But I fall in the enjoy it camp, as I feel the lyrics have genuine heart behind them. And I think it’s King’s passionate delivery that makes this song work for me. The album closes out strong with another high point in “No Pain.” Written by King, Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin, it’s a short and simple song about what I perceive to be about acceptance in the face of death. It’s possible it was at the hands of alcohol addiction as the lines “I fall off of that wagon/Won’t be no last call” allude to. There’s not that many lyrics, yet it’s able to get across a clear and impactful story to the listener. It’s excellent songwriting and shows less is more can be a highly effective approach to storytelling.

El Dorado may not be the album you expected from Marcus King, but it’s without a doubt a great album. It shows another side of King and the range he has as an artist, being able to draw so effectively from a wide variety of genres. King and Auerbach not only craft this intriguing mix of sounds, but the songwriting is quite solid too. El Dorado is an album that can be appreciated by fans of several genres and most importantly shows Marcus King is a promising young artist who is poised to become even better with time.

Grade: 8/10

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [June 1991]

220px-meet_in_the_middle_single

This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from June 1st, 1991.

  1. Diamond Rio – “Meet In The Middle” +3
  2. Doug Stone – “In A Different Light” +3
  3. George Strait – “If I Know Me” +4
  4. Paul Overstreet – “Heroes” +3 (The production is a little much for me, otherwise this would be +4)
  5. Mark Chesnutt – “Blame It On Texas” +3
  6. Dwight Yoakam – “You’re The One” +4 (Holy mandolin!)
  7. Joe Diffie – “If The Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets) +3
  8. Garth Brooks – “The Thunder Rolls” +4
  9. The Oak Ridge Boys – “Lucky Moon” +3
  10. Clint Black – “One More Payment” +3 (Holy Western Swing!)
  11. Lorrie Morgan – “We Both Walk” +3
  12. Tanya Tucker – “Oh What It Did To Me” +4
  13. Ronnie Milsap – “Are You Lovin’ Me (Like I’m Lovin’ You)” +3
  14. Randy Travis – “Point Of Light” +3
  15. The Judds – “One Hundred and Two” +2
  16. Alan Jackson – “Don’t Rock The Jukebox” +3
  17. Pirates Of The Mississippi – “Feed Jake” +4
  18. Alabama – “Down Home” +3
  19. Dolly Parton & Ricky Van Shelton – “Rockin’ Years” +4
  20. Ricky Van Shelton – “I Am A Simple Man” +3
  21. Highway 101 – “Bing Bang Boom” +2
  22. Pam Tillis – “One Of Those Things” +2
  23. Mike Reid – “‘Till You Were Gone” +4
  24. Travis Tritt – “Drift Off To Dream” +3
  25. Kathy Mattea – “Time Passes By” +4
  26. Terry McBride – “Can I Count On You” +3
  27. Mark O’ Connor – “Restless” +2
  28. Clinton Gregory – “(If It Weren’t For Country Music) I’d Go Crazy” +4 [Best Song] (wouldn’t we all though?)
  29. Billy Dean – “Somewhere In My Broken Heart” +3
  30. Carlene Carter – “The Sweetest Thing” +2

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +94

Wow! Quite the reversal from last week! Indeed, this is one of the best charts we’ve ever had. Sure, not every song on here is perfect, but the overall quality is simply stunning. I felt no need to award a “worst song” award this week since it wouldn’t have really made sense. The worst here is still good.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!