Praised, mentored and produced by none other than the titular leader of Gov't Mule, Warren Haynes, precocious twenty-year old songwriter/guitarist/vocalist/bandleader Marcus King faces some heady expectations with the release of he and his band's second full-length LP and first for Fantasy Records via the Evil Teen imprimatur.
But The Marcus King Band addresses those expectations with confidence, panache and imagination right from the start of this eponymous record, firing on all cylinders from the beginning of "Ain't Nothing Wrong with That." A band as versatile as this sometimes has to deal with an embarrassment of riches in terms of arranging and style, but that opening hints at a grasp of dynamics the sextet more fully explores on the "Devil's Land," a guitar dominated number where King's emotive singing is almost as prominent as the crisp electric piano and organ of Matt Jennings' that contrasts his own fretboard expertise.
Using this album as a blindfold test might confound even the most astute musiclover because King and company so fully grasp the diversity of sound at their command. "Rita Is Gone," for instance, utilizes hornmen Dean Mitchell and Justin Johnson's sax and trumpet respectively over a lightly bouncing rhythm drummer Jack Ryan and bassist Stephen Campbell handle with a delightfully light touch. Such finesse and maturity as the group displays stylistically no doubt derives from the tone set by its leader, whose introspective nature permeates "Self-Hatred;" Derek Trucks' intricate picking and slide threatens to steal the track, but it's likely he had to exert more than a little effort to match the soaring ensemble work to which he adds.
Still, the former guitarist in the Allman Brothers Band must've felt at home here: The Marcus King Band compares altogether favorably with the Tedeschi Trucks Band and may in fact play with even more abandon on a track like "Jealous Man." Certainly King himself applies only enough restraint to his guitar solos to make them more potent and that's exactly what happens here, particularly as he so smoothly complements the horns (and vice-versa). But there's also a ferocity to this musicianship impossible to miss during the razor-sharp interaction of all the MKB components on "Plant Your Corn Early."
This is an ensemble itself thrilled by the discovery of its fast-evolving sophistication and that's in part what makes the group's music so joyfully infectious on "Radio Soldier." At the same time .The Marcus King Band promises to be equally durable as a collection of tracks: working with engineer extraordinaire Jim Scott, Haynes' made sure not to prettify the sound in so doing insuring the edges cut through consistently---not just when he plays slide on the spontaneous combustion of "Virginia."
Anyone who hears this album will no doubt relish the prospect of seeing the group in concert where in offering the leader's nouveau-folk on "Guitar in My Hands" as well as the spirited instrumental likes of the cleverly-titled "Thespian Espionage," they continue to carry the torch straight ahead (and proudly) from the halcyon days of Dixie rock. As sophisticated in its own earthy way as Doyle Bramhall II's Rich Man, The Marcus King Band is also one of the best records of 2016.
Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With That; Devil’s Land; Rita Is Gone; Self-Hatred; Jealous Man; The Man You Didn’t Know; Plant Your Corn Early; Radio Soldier; Guitar In My Hand; Thespian Espionage; Virginia; Sorry ‘Bout Your Lover.
Marcus King: vocals; electric guitar; acoustic guitar; pedal steel guitar; lap steel; Jack Ryan: drums, percussion; Stephen Campbell: bass; Justin Johnson: trumpet, trombone, background vocals: Matt Jennings: Keyboards, organ; Dean Mitchell: saxophone; Warren Haynes: guitar (track 11); Derek Trucks: guitar (track 4); Todd Smallie:bass (track 6); Kofi Burbridg: flute (track 3); flute & Wurlitzer (track 10); Joe McEwen: cowbell concept (track 11).