Marlon Williams, the 24-year-old country/bluegrass singer from Lyttleton, New Zealand has signed to Dead Oceans for the worldwide release of his self-titled debut album, following a domestic debut last spring in New Zealand where it reached number four in the charts and subsequently received five New Zealand Music Award nominations.
The national acclaim he’s had is hardly surprising: it only takes a split-second to be won over by the power of his unusually well-crafted country voice. He recalls the likes of Elvis, and Willie Nelson, and Neil Young without aping any of them.
Williams developed his voice in school choir and in Christchurch’s cathedral ensemble before graduating to do classical music at the University of Canterbury. Outside of institutional musical training, he had a band, The Unfaithful Ways, which he formed in 2011 and they made a name for themselves in New Zealand. But that same year Willliams began collaborating with Delaney Davidson, who has a much more gravelly voice than him, and they made three volumes of Sad But True: The Secret History Of Country Music Songwriting, garnering the New Zealand Country Song and Country Album of the Year Awards in 2013.
Meanwhile, Williams began making solo appearances and by 2014, he had a fan base in Australia and New Zealand and went on sold out tours and major festival appearances. Spurred on by the overwhelming acclaim he went and recorded his album with producer Ben Edwards. Given his richness of experience before he entered the studio, it makes sense that the nine tracks here are as so assured.
The album’s delights don't rested solely on the wonders of the vocals, though. Opener ‘Hello Miss Lonesome’ shows how much of potent force the four-piece band are when they’re in full swing. It’s a full throttle introduction with a rhythm that recalls a lot of Johnny Cash’s most amphetamine induced live performances. ‘Afterall’ continues to keep up the pace and is the track that nods to Neil Young the most. Elsewhere, ‘Dark Child’ has a beautifully twangy guitar sound that matches Williams’ subdued baritone; the stripped back song is easily the most arresting cut on the album as he throws so much of himself behind his lyrics of sorrow and regret.
Other highlights include a cover of Teddy Randazz's orchestral pop ballad ‘I’m Lost Without You’ and Bob Carpenter's achingly beautiful ‘Silent Passage’.These covers sit in seamlessly with the rest of the album and don’t jar the flow of the nine tracks whatsoever. Thes album is a dynamic listening experience and tends to rotate dramatic, loud instrumental passages that extenuate the drama in Williams’ vivid lyrics and soulful stripped back moments.
The ability to lead such captivating songs with only a guitar mean that Williams has been able to do his first UK tour as the only man on stage. But soon his full band will be over here bringing this album to life and it’s at this moment when people see these performances that this album is going to start making a real impact.
8Cai Trefor's Score