For a very long time, I wanted nothing to do with country music. I don’t think I had anything against the music. Rather, the images of cowboy hats, vast American territory, and whiskey didn’t really appeal to my own identity. However, there’s something about a certain strand of country music that has lately blossomed and attracted new listeners. Whereas previously one started off with Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, etc. and made inward forays into the much vaster world of country music, today’s indieheads go back in time after being introduced by Jason Isbell, Alison Krauss, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Sturgill Simpson. Country twang no longer a necessity (and perhaps even sought after), these artists made country cool again in a world where Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, and Kelly Clarkson dominate the pop charts. Whether it all started with a Taylor Swift matters little, for now even newcomers to the scene can point at say, Lisa Leblanc, and proclaim “this is real country music!”
Marlon Williams adds to the already interesting discussion. He’s got blazing fingerpicking, country licks, soulful croon, and the straw hat going for him. The first time I heard ‘Hello Miss Lonesome’ I couldn’t even tell he wasn’t American (for, isn’t that what makes it so darn ‘authentic’ as a genre?). For starters he sings ‘I see you’re back in town’; they don’t say ‘in town’ on the other side of the world. Then there’s this electric guitar trill part right at the end of the first chorus which sound like it could have been taken from a cowboy movie. But give that song a bit more time and you hear an electric guitar howl, tremolloed like at the Summer of Love. Later, one of the biggest kicks on the next song on his debut self-titled album comes from a guitar solo that sears.
No, this New Zealand artist is shaking things up and rattling the paradigm, packing in a bit of punk sensibilities. As able as he is to rock out, he can also use strings to magnificent, heart-pulling effect on songs like ‘I’m Lost Without You’ and ‘Strange Things’. Along with his particular voice (making one think of Anohni) and punchy rhythm guitars, it turns the former into something reminiscent of 60s style Italian pop. It’s also worth noticing his variable timbre, ranging from a deep echo to angelic notes on high, suitably demonstrated on the ballad ‘Dark Child’. For a debut album, Williams has certainly made a case. From quieter solo acoustic pieces showcasing masterful songwriting and storytelling to rowdier numbers, long may Williams bring country music to the masses.
Marlon Williams plays the Divan Orange on the 29th of September with his band The Yarra Benders. Julia Jacklin opens. Doors: 8:30 p.m. // Show: 9:00 p.m. $16.50 + s.c. Tickets and information here.