“We’re experimenting with some new sounds. ”Those were the words of 22-year-old Marcus King when I spoke to him back in March of this year. Patiently answering my questions via cellphone about his upcoming gig with Chris Robinson and “As The Crow Flies” from gate B3 in the Nashville airport, he was nice enough to touch briefly on the band’s new record as well.
Having just completed a mixing session that afternoon, King proudly told me the title was “Carolina Confessions” and his excitement by what he and the band had laid down in Nashville’s famed RCA Studio A was apparent in his voice.
While still a young man, King possesses the soul and experience of a much older musician. The band’s breakout 2015 release “Soul Insights” and the self-titled “Marcus King Band” in 2016, introduced the world to King’s raging talent as a guitarist and soulful vocals.
Both records featured an eyebrow-raising mixture of prodigious blues, soul, and edgy Southern rock guitar as the guiding force of each song from start to conclusion. “Carolina Confessions” builds on King’s recognized virtuosity, while marking his emergence as a songwriter not just by creating a dozen or so vehicles to cradle his incredible solo work, but in writing to feature the talents of his band as a whole.
The bio notes for the record from the band website read, “We immediately hit it off with Dave because of the way he works. There’s six of us, and we have our own arbitration process; he was really understanding of the fact that this is A BAND.” The opening notes of the initial track “Confessions” serve notice of the above, as DeShawn “D-Vibes” Alexander’s tickling piano licks and supporting Hammond B-3 lead into Jack Ryan’s drums, Stephen Campbell’s bass, Justin Johnson’s trumpet, and Dean Mitchell’s saxophone all filling the track before King’s guitar announces his presence.
Produced and mixed by Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, John Prine, Chris Stapleton), “Carolina Confessions” is a sonic treat of six artists meshed together. Cobb has transitioned the guitar forward expressions of the previous two records into a more rounded sound that hopefully creates the blueprint for the Marcus King Band moving forward.
Each song is a well-crafted composition, with more soul/R&B flavor versus the psychedelic Southern jams prevalent under mentor Warren Haynes. Fans looking for King’s undeniable guitar chops still get what they came for though, and the brooding “Welcome ‘Round Here” elicits the feel of earlier works. But the journey of each track is more focused on the whole package of band and vocals with some tasty new solo guitar tones from King.
I was fortunate to see them perform both “8AM” and “Side Door,” at a small venue in September. Lengthy jam and improv sections were added to both tunes even though the studio versions stand up just fine, thank you. The latter song in particular has a big rising soul feel, with horns punching through King’s vocals as Alexander’s keys ruminate below.
The only thing that’s hard to quantify from “Carolina Confessions” is choosing a favorite track. Not to blow sunshine up anyone’s backside, but the forward button on your listening device of choice likely won’t see a lot of action. Top to bottom, the whole damn record is that good. My personal pick might be “Autumn Rains.” Perhaps one of the new sounds King mentioned in March, its acoustic guitar backing, wonderful rhythms and breezy vocals marry in a classic driving down the highway song. King’s closing guitar solo takes an already pleasing song and ratchets it up another level.
The closing track, “Goodbye Carolina,” contains at least the dual meanings of King leaving his native South Carolina meshed with the suicide of a dear friend. It’s written and sung with a depth that should enable fans of the Marcus King Band to move away from the fact that the leader is only 22 and simply relish and appreciate an outstanding band as one of the great talents in the genre today.
The chorus of “Where I’m Headed” offers the phrase, “Well I don’t Know Where I’m Headed Baby // But I Know I’ll See You There.” With a complete effort in “Carolina Confessions,” the Marcus King Band is headed in a wonderful direction.
— Michael Smyth
The Marcus King Band
Release: Oct 5, 2018
Label: Fantasy Records