Released 2/19/16 via Dead Oceans
“I’ve been trying to find new life in old material,” Marlon Williams said.
I was fortunate enough to talk with the New Zealand native about his new album before he performed Feb. 9 at the Bishop. Mentally apply a thick accent to those words and swoon.
Williams released his self-titled debut album earlier this month via the Bloomington-based label Dead Oceans, that boasts the likes of Mitski, The Tallest Man On Earth, Phosphorescent and others. Since the album has been out in New Zealand for over a year, Williams said he’s had to try new things with his old songs in order to keep his performances fresh.
Finding new life in old material could be a metaphor for the album in general. Williams is a throwback. He’s a tall, dark and handsome cowboy who traded in his Stetson hat for a wide-brimmed fedora. In New Zealand, he grew up listening to Graham Parsons and early Elvis records, which is patently obvious from the first few bars of “Hello Miss Lonesome” to the final fade of “Everyone’s Got Something To Say”. Crooning his way through all nine tracks with amorous swagger, Williams appeals to the romantic in all of us.
He’s quick to classify himself as a country artist, but that word seems to have fumbled its definition in 21st-century America. “Bro-country” has overtaken the genre that was once defined by dark novelists, Johnny Cash and horseback rides into the western sunset. Williams sings of jailhouses and wars, not a never-ending summer of blue jeans, beer and fornication in the back of a Chevrolet. Just when all seemed lost, Williams washed the makeup from country’s face. It’s invigorating.
Like any country artist worth his boots, Williams is a true storyteller. A warm acoustic guitar and harmonized “oooh”s from backing vocalists serve as his language. His eerie account of a dead lover named Lucy in “Strange Things” is haunting enough to deserve its own late-night campfire. Violins, folk percussion and the occasional pedal steel bolster the tender intimacy of this album. They stomp out any expectations of a flimsy singer-songwriter collection. Williams stretches high notes in “Hello Miss Lonesome” and “When I Was A Young Girl” to let everyone know he’s not messing around.
Oddly enough, Williams didn’t even write his personal favorite track. “Dark Child” was written by one of his friends, he said. It’s arguably the strongest of the nine. As the song and album illustrate, he thrives in minor keys. The slight quiver in his timbre seems to work best with forlorn accompaniment. “When I Was A Young Girl” is another great example.
It’s also another cover. In fact, there are four covers on the album it total: “Dark Child”, “I’m Lost Without Her”, “Silent Passage” and “When I Was A Young Girl”. The fourth was first popularized by Nina Simone, but Williams said he enjoys inverting the genre in his version. He captures every bit of emotion the song has to offer with a raw acoustic guitar and the voice of a broken heart. When the album concludes with “Everyone’s Got Something To Say”, Williams never strums the final chord. It sounds unfinished. The song is, but the cowboy isn’t. Marlon Williams is just getting started.
- Hello Miss Lonesome
- After All
- Dark Child
- I’m Lost Without Her
- The Lonely Side Of Her
- Silent Passage
- Strange things
- When I Was A Young Girl
- Everyone’s Got Something To Say
Make sure to check out: