4 out of 5 stars
One look at Kendall Marvel’s bald head, unadorned gaze, long white Rip Van Winkle beard, and hulking, tougher-than-leather persona, and it’s clear he’s serious about everything he does. do. In this case, it’s about creating tough, honest outlaw country inspired by the no-BS style of Waylon Jennings and Chris Stapleton.
The latter is particularly noteworthy. They wrote dozens of songs together, and Stapleton’s notoriety helped Marvel establish himself as a performer by allowing him to open shows. After being a backstage songwriter for decades, Marvel started making albums in 2017 at the age of 46. In 2019, fellow Nashville resident Dan Auerbach will provide label and production assistance for Marvel on the highly-received Solid Gold Sounds. Release.
For album number three, Beau Bedford (The Texas Gentlemen) took over the production reins. He also provided the Dallas-based backing band, which Marvel had never met before recording these ten fearless tracks. Unsurprisingly, Stapleton plays a fairly large role in the creation of the record. He co-wrote two selections, sang backup on a few others and contributed guitar to another. While Marvel’s sound is similar to its pal, there’s sure to be room for more of what Stapleton is delivering to sheds full of adoring fans.
The baritone’s dark drawl and soulful Marvel swamp dominate these honky tonk and classic country-informed tunes, with an edge when driven by the singer’s gritty approach. From the dark dreamy “Hell Bent on Hard Times”, where he brings a bit of George Jones and blues to the dark ballad (No reason not to turn back / I guess I’ll just go blind), to spunky ZZ Top meets slow rocker Tom Waits, “Put It on the Plate,” a no-prisoners attack on fake preachers, there are no weak moments.
Marvel isn’t playing anything it doesn’t believe by stating in the pre-release notes, “I’m 51, which means I’m long past the stage of catering to anyone, I tell just the stories I want to tell.” One is Waylon’s dull stomp in “Habits,” where he takes on the voice of a hoodlum who knows he needs to change but can’t reform his bad habits by singing. God only knows how many suns I’ve seen rise from the county jail / Lotta daddy’s paychecks wasted on this redneck’s bail.
But that doesn’t mean he’s beyond showing his tender side, which he does exquisitely on “Fool Like Me,” where Took’s chorus a man to keep you, but to lose you takes a idiot like me, is set to a melody so memorably bittersweet you’ll sing it after one round. It’s a high point of both this album and Marvel’s recorded career as it exposes another side of his crass swagger. Closing weeper “Dyin’ Ain’t Cheap” ends the set on another poignant note as Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and pedal steel bring sensibility to a tale about how to live is not easy and to die is not cheap.
Kendall Marvel got off to a late start as a frontman, but he’s making up for lost time with three unapologetically powerful country albums over the past five years, including Go Sun is arguably the best.
Photo credit: Laura E. Partain / Sacks & co.