Based on the sounds of this album, six years and a thousand concerts the world over have instilled unimaginable artistic maturity in Marcus King. South Carolina’s meteor with a cowboy hat was already massively talented at 18, when he introduced his three year-old Marcus King Band to the world, via the audacious blues rock, and jazz-amalgamated “Soul Insight.”
But on “El Dorado,” his solo debut, King leaps into realms light years from the instrumental firestorm of the first album’s “Fraudulent Waffle,” or even “Goodbye Carolina,” the gritty, horn-fueled Southern rocker that closed “Carolina Confessions.”
Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys deserves a good measure of the credit for the penetrating allure found in the newest grooves. Auerbach knew he could push the young artist out of his jam-band comfort zone, and co-wrote every song with King and either Pat McLaughlin, Ronnie Bowman, Paul Overstreet or Bobby Wood. The latter four are all celebrated songwriters in the country and roots realms. Auerbach also produced and played guitar within the large group of Nashville hotshots he assembled for the sessions.
“Young Man’s Dream” opens the set with King stripped naked in voice and on acoustic guitar, Jagger and Richards and the spirits of bygone Nudie-suited hippies goading him into a country-soul dreamland. “The Well” then stomps and detonates, King’s otherworldly voice evoking the likes of Humble Pie’s Steve Marriott, while his crunchy guitar riffs and electrifying solos match that tenor with abandon.
Although King’s renown revolves around his incredible knack with an axe, which he displays in abundance here, he’s just as much an astounding singer. Listen to him croon in the breezy, pedal-steel-accented country of “Sweet Mariona,” and the gentle, grandiose soul of “Beautiful Stranger,” and marvel at his scratchy, old soul pipes.
The barroom-rollicking “Too Much Whiskey” suggests that The Band may have been on in the control room just prior to recording, and the relentless hot stuff of “Turn it Up” contains traces of the Stones, full-blown. King’s huge fountain of inspiration spouts brilliant moments like that often, and the dichotomies at play, and marriages of style, all work startlingly well. But in the end, these well-crafted songs grab hold by their fresh heat and original sparkle. “El Dorado” alternately roars and glides, and it always takes you to the right place, in grand style.
— Tom Clarke
Label: Concord Records
Release: Jan. 17, 2020