Carolina Confessions

The Marcus King Band

Fantasy Records, 2018

http://www.marcuskingofficial.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/14/2022

Whether or not Southern Rock actually began with the Allman Brothers Band, they surely solidified it from an idea and an attitude into a specific, distinctive sound: greasy, fervent blues-rock with soaring guitars, spiced with both r&b and gospel, and strong musical and lyrical roots in the region in which most of its best-known artists grew up.

The Allmans were undoubtedly an important influence for Greenville, South Carolina singer-songwriter-guitarist-bandleader Marcus King, but listening to the gritty, impassioned vocals he lays down on these songs you can’t help thinking he’s also listened to a few Black Crowes records, not to mention Janis Joplin. On Carolina Confessions, King and his crack band—Jack Ryan on drums, Stephen Campbell on bass, Justin Johnson on trumpet, trombone, and tambourine, Dean Mitchell on sax and flute, and DeShawn Alexander on keys, with Kristen Rogers contributing harmony vocals on four tracks—lay down a set of richly textured Southern Rock that honors those forebears while ploughing fresh ground of its own.  

Opener “Confessions” features the core band at their best: tight, often ferocious ensemble playing by the whole group behind King’s passionate, whiskey-drenched lead vocal; it’s the kind of coiled-up number that feels like it could break out at any moment into either a delirious party or the end of the world. Either way, whatever happens, it’s gonna be big. After dancing on the edge of release for five and a half minutes “Confessions” gives way to “Where I’m Headed,” a tune whose uplifting essence and expansive guitar solos—especially the closing slide explosion—suggest a fondness for Tedeschi Trucks Band, i.e. earthy roots rock with a hint of jam band transcendence in the mix.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Homesick” is just what it sounds like, a melancholy number about missing home (“My heart is due back south”), while “8 A.M.” feels like it encapsulates the heart of the group’s sound in its third minute as the horns sway and King’s guitar stings. “How Long”—the one co-write here, for which King teams with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and Nashville songsmith Pat McLaughlin—opens with an ecstatic rhythm and blues jam, channeling Muscle Shoals as guitar, horns, a pulsing rhythm section and snazzy Hammond accents meet in exuberant communion. I defy you to keep still while this one plays.

The second half of the album opens up with a pair of ballads—“Remember,” a rather haunted acoustic number, and “Side Door,” a warm electric blues. “Autumn Rains” greets you with rich harmonies and layered acoustic and electric instrumentation, building to a lilting, lyrical, rather Claptonesque electric solo. By contrast, “Welcome ’Round Here” opens dark and atmospheric, led by a steady, deliberate kick drum and crunchy reverbed chords, then adding King’s haunting, desperate vocals. At 1:08 the song explodes with muscular horns and guitars before falling back again 30 seconds later, creating a tidal-surge push and pull that keeps building steam to a dynamic, powerhouse finish.

Closer “Goodbye Carolina” offers a poignant “Dear Jane” letter to King’s hometown as he explains why he must move on. “Tell me your goodbyes / Where I’m going I won’t have those reminders of what I lost / What was taken away from me / And I hope you’ll understand I was a broken man in my hometown / Need to find my own peace.” In the sixth minute, guitar, horns, and organ join together in a sky-hugging jam that’s both ecstatic and mournful.

It's no surprise at all to find that the crisp-yet-organic sound and smart, everything-you-need-and-nothing-you-don’t arrangements on Carolina Confessions took shape under the guiding hand of ace producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlisle, Chris Stapleton, Amanda Shires, Sturgill Simpson), a top-shelf sonic craftsman whose legend only continues to grow.

Albums like Carolina Confessions remind us that music is more than just sound; it is an artifact of culture offering a full-bodied representation of a time and a place and a way of life. Richly textured and passionately delivered, Carolina Confessions establishes that the Marcus King Band is the real deal through and through.

Rating: B+

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