Marlon Williams – Self Titled Debut – A Review

Read our review of the debut self-titled album from Marlon Williams

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Marlon Williams at Melbourne’s JamGrass Festival 2014 Photo By Jim Jacob

Marlon Williams is a special talent.

I first saw him live at a regional Victoria (Australia) cafe one night (2014), sharing the solo stage with a couple of up-and-coming artists, Melody Pool and Christopher Coleman.  It’s fair to say I was not quite prepared for him.  The delivery and song material had an intensity and high level of emotion, soaked in Hank Williams with a country-pity-me sensibility.  A bit too much sentimentality for the thirty or so people there, or so I thought at the time.

The second occasion I saw Williams on stage was later that year at a roots/bluegrass/alt. country festival (JamGrass) in urban Melbourne.  This time, he somehow had managed to assemble a band of crack and highly regarded musicians.  And the result was mesmerizing.  I saw someone who looked like he was born to be on stage, to perform, to entertain us in his own unique way.  Part Hank, part Elvis and part Roy Orbison.  It was one of my best gigs of the year.

Now comes along his debut, eponymous release.  What will this interesting young artist deliver next?

But first, a little background.

Marlon Williams hails from the port town of Lyttelton in New Zealand, grew up singing in the Christchurch cathedral choir, before his dad turned him onto country music in his teens.  He founded an outfit called The Unfaithful Ways (at the tender age of seventeen), with his high school friends and their science teacher, and quickly gained national attention, touring with Band of Horses and Justin Townes Earle and picking up a Critics Choice award nomination at the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards for their debut album Free Rein.

Williams met acclaimed country singer Delaney Davidson in 2011, and the pair began performing as a duo.  Over two years they released three volumes of the series, Sad But True: The Secret History Of Country Music Songwriting, garnering critical acclaim, including the New Zealand country song and country album of the year in 2013.

Relocating to Melbourne Australia in mid-2013, Williams began performing solo around town and built a cult following playing a residency at local venue the Yarra Hotel.  His reputation has built, with sold-out tours of Australia and New Zealand.

Marlon Williams returned to his family home in April 2014 to record his first solo album (via Caroline Australia/Universal NZ), having decided to make the record at home with his long time producer Ben Edwards at The Sitting Room studios.  They had also worked together on The Unfaithful Ways EP and LP and Williams’ three duo albums with Davidson.  Williams says, “it was the same as it has always been.  There are 5 doors between the studio and mum’s house, so we didn’t leave Hawkhurst Road for the entire recording period, except to get beers”.

“It is frequented by Ben’s two dogs and one cat, plus his partner and new baby.  I did all the writing in a little glorified dolls house, which is in between the studio and the house, down the garden path.  I would run there in between takes to try to finish songs.”  Williams’ intent with this album was to make his voice the centerpiece.  He felt that no matter how disparate the style got, he could rely on the tone of his voice to weave everything together.

“It gave me the courage to bring in a noise band, a 60’s r’n’b band, then strip it back to guitar and voice” says Williams

Williams also recruited a familiar cast of players, with The Unfaithful Ways’ bandmate Ben Woolley on bass and backing vocals, Davidson on guitar, Aldous Harding on vocals, Joe McCallum on drums and Anita Clarke on violin.  New recruits included John Egenes on pedal steel and members of noise band Asian Tang including drummer AJ Park and guitarist Rang Lloyd.

The result is an eclectic group of songs, which showcases the versatility of Williams’ amazing voice.  Aside from his prodigious talent, the key thing that hit me when I’ve witnessed him live is that singular vision, his willingness to take risks.

And so is the high-risk approach evidenced on Marlon Williams.  Firstly, the song selection.  Nine tracks, four penned by Williams alone, two co-writes (“After All” with Davidson and “Dark Child” with Tim Moore) and three covers (“I’m Lost Without You” by Teddy Randazzo and Billy Barberis, Silent Passage (Bob Carpenter) and “When I Was A Young Girl – traditional).

marlon williams album
Proceedings kick off with “Hello Miss Lonesome” and it’s a belter.  A pumped country rockabilly number that could easily be the soundtrack of a late 50’s or 60’s Western, a wide landscape, rustic and in vivid Cinemascope too!  Sounding a little like Gene Pitney, it’s a very promising introduction.  “After All” is rockier and provides plenty of room for that voice, it’s catchy and immediate with a nice outro.  “Dark Child” takes this up a notch, not in tempo but in feeling and intensity – a slow, burning reflection about familial love and heartbreaking loss, it swirls and pirouettes, full of drama and sadness.  A triumph.

“I’m Lost Without You” is more soulful in style – simultaneously tender and operatic.  With strings and a strong percussive thread, Williams’ vocals are gripping and his mysterious, wonderful synthesiser prominent.  “Lonely Side Of Her” is stripped back, Williams and acoustic guitar well entwined, with Harding’s vocals precisely adding depth later on.  “Silent Passage” has a supreme melody and builds beautifully, with Egenes’ pedal steel and Mikey Somerfield’s violin highly effective.  Beautiful from start to end.  The slightly spooky “Strange Things” provides food for thought.  “When I Was a Young Girl” is the song that has turned heads at live shows.  During its significant length (almost 6 minutes), you can hear a pin drop, such is the attentiveness of audiences.  The studio version is also a vocal tour de force, a plaintive tale of passion and yearning.  “The closing track “Everyone’s Got Something To Say” finishes the collection beautifully, the voice, one guitar and a wall of vocals.

This album is a wonderful reflection of a unique and hard-to-ignore faculty.  I doubt I will hear anything like it for a while.  Have a listen yourself.

Marlon Williams has the looks, the passion and the voice to stand out in the music business.  But more important than those attributes I suspect is his overwhelming singular vision.

Marion Williams is a special talent, you’d better believe it.

Marlon Williams Basement D3

Via Riot House Publicity

 

Read our review of the debut self-titled album from Marlon Williams

Read our review of the debut self-titled album from Marlon Williams

Read our review of the debut self-titled album from Marlon Williams

Read our review of the debut self-titled album from Marlon Williams

Read our review of the debut self-titled album from Marlon Williams

 

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Author: Rob Dickens

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