New Zealand’s Marlon Williams is a transfixing character who pulls you in with both his kinetic energy and inspired vision of blues, country and folk on his debut album.
At only 25 year, Williams already feels like he is channeling decades of hard-earned experience and stories into his nine-song opus. He certainly has a wealth of musical journeys underneath his belt that started when he was singing in the Christchurch cathedral choir as a child in his home country. His dad soon began him on a diet of old country records and by 17 Williams had founded the critically acclaimed The Unfaithful Ways with high school friends and their science teacher.
He followed this up by teaming with country singer Delaney Davidson in 2011 and they released three albums together as a duo, receiving the award for best country album and song in New Zealand for 2013. Uprooting to Melbourne, Australia, that same year, Williams has been on a steady upward arc with his solo material that has seen numerous sellout tours at venues across Australia and New Zealand.
That very early melding of the church and country has shaped definitely shaped Williams’ aesthetic. For one, his voice is a sweeping force of emotion that is as delicate and powerful as a barn owl in the night. His smooth tenor is dramatic in scope and he sings with the force of man who has spent some time grappling with existential quandaries, of with which the church is very experienced. You take that with his knowledge of people such as Roy Orbison, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins and you feel their ghosts almost playing along with him.
“Hello Miss Lonesome” barrels out of the speakers like a wild mustang on the plains with its supercharged rhythm and gripping story of Old West opportunity. “There is gold in the river and diamonds in the mines” wails Williams as a high and lonesome harmony sweeps underneath him like in the cowboy songs of old. “Strange Things” is a melancholy tale of Williams being haunted “in the bed that Lucy died,” with fiddles and wisps of saw and pedal steel letting you feel ghostly tingles up the back of your neck, the same ones that keeps Williams up at night.
Almost growing lonelier by the song, the singer laments with only his guitar and deeply mournful cries on “When I Was A Young Girl” as a woman contemplates her twisted love life on her deathbed. The stories seem well beyond Williams’ years, almost tall tales that are told around the campfire after a day on the range with whiskey in you and the vastness of space over you. But his conviction in delivery makes these characters flicker in your mind and have you wondering if there is any truth to them.
The more you listen to the album the more it feels like it could soundtrack a Western epic set in the modern wastelands. He beckons the dramatic flair of a Sergio Leone on a cover of Billy Fury’s “I’m Lost Without You.” It retains its orchestral-pop form that carries you along in his jilted waves, which Williams subtly subverts with an ominous synth solo that puts the tune somewhere between the musical past and future. He continues to modernize those cowboy sounds on the slow burning “Dark Child,” which boasts gentle acoustic strumming and forlorn pleas from Williams. The middle of the song erupts into a cacophony of reverb and thrashing guitars that the singer lets softly die out in an extended musical outro that feels like the last moments of consciousness as he slips into his own dark recollections.
Williams proves on his debut that he is a fantastic crafter of songs that can tell a story with both his music and and his words. By the end you’ll be eagerly waiting for his next batch of stories to entertain you through the night.
- Marlon Williams
Release: April 1, 2016
Label: Dead Oceans
Notable Tracks: “Hello Miss Lonesome” “Dark Child” “I’m Lost Without You”