A Record Review
By OLIVIA LANE
Carrying equal parts heart and soul of a veteran Southern rocker with a gritty voice to match, at the age of twenty-three Marcus King has already pioneered a league all his own. Beginning as the ostracized delinquent that drew nothing but disapproving looks from kinfolk back home in South Carolina, King has now instead been turning the heads of industry professionals and dedicated fans alike, worldwide.
Igniting the flame of his solo career after having spent all of his time since he was fifteen with a six-piece band that totes his name comes King’s debut solo record, El Dorado. As if the young gun needed any further proof that the trajectory of his career is going to be ground-shaking, this record serves as just that. Categorized by tumbling guitar solos and a tempestuous way of piercing each and every emotion he feels into the core of his audience, this record is sure to be remembered as a milestone in King’s career.
Perfectly placed as number one in the track listing, hindsight based “Young Man’s Dream” begins with a deep breath, almost as if King were attempting to prepare himself for the nostalgia ahead. The track is set to the mindset he had as a seventeen-year-old kid who chose to leave everything he knew behind to pursue the music that set his soul on fire. Most of the song stays rather reserved musically, up until King speaks directly to the listener: “Life is over ‘fore it all begins/But if you’re looking for a way back in/You can say you knew me way back when, back when.” The bounding guitar that follows acts as a transitory moment of sweet reminiscence, after which King realizes that even though over the years almost everything has changed, he still finds himself at a crossroads in trying to fulfill that dream he had all those years ago.
“Wildflowers & Wine,” like King himself, stands alone. The ethereal choral backing vocals on this track leave a distinct aftertaste of warmth evoked only by lasting love. In an interview with Billboard from 2018, King expressed the intermediate state that a life on the road leads to and how he never really had a solid grip of his surroundings while on tour. What he did have a solid grip on, however, was his loyalty to his ‘little lady,’ Haley. When speaking about a song called “Where I’m Headed,” King gushed to the interviewer, “I’m saying to her that I don’t know where I’m headed, but I know you’ll be there.” And, as beautifully detailed on “Wildflowers & Wine,” after all his time, she is still by his side. Whimsical strings are the backbone of the gentle “Break,” a tune in which King addresses the issue of emotional instability in a relationship, pleading “Don’t let your heart/Break for nobody but me.”
If there were ever any doubt about King’s ability to make a guitar scream, take a listen to the last minute and ten seconds of “Say You Will.” The just-shy-of sinister, straining tone of his vocals assure the listener that blues-rock influence is clearly heavy in King’s stylistic choices. “Too Much Whiskey” puts the Southern in his Southern-rock repertoire, complete with harmonica solos. Though known to blush and shy away from compliments comparing him to his chief heroes, The Allman Brothers Band, it is damn near impossible not to hear Duane Allman’s finger-gliding influence on this one. The moments of slide guitar are undoubtedly “Blue Sky” legend-esque, namely at 2:17. “Love Song,” on the other hand, boasts that despite King having his roots in jam-band/Southern rock, this man has nothing if he doesn’t have soul.
The title of the record itself speaks volumes about King’s perspective on what seems like an endless quest to make that dirty-footed kid from South Carolina not only proud, but also satisfied. There are many moments on the record where King’s vulnerability stems from his own questioning of his future, and — staying true to his heroes of the blues — a lot of the rawness that King expresses tends to have an air of doom to it. “No Pain,” for instance, sounds like King is speaking from beyond the grave, with lines about not feeling any more pain and the prophetic writing on the wall being true.
On El Dorado, I hear a man who should not doubt nor question his perpetual prowess and staggering talent in any capacity. From sneaking in through the back of a club in North Carolina at the age of fifteen to sneak Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes his demo, to now performing on stage at The Grand Ole Opry with his grandfather’s guitar, that young man’s dream is very much fulfilled even at this early stage in King’s career. This record, like all of King’s music, is an invitation to the inner-workings of his heart as well as his mind. King is known to say that he uses the neck of his guitar as an extension of his emotions, and it sure shows. Marcus King not only sings the blues — he sucks them dry. Every ounce of pain and heartache; every bit of hard luck; every lousy feeling of isolation; King is a master at not letting even a single syllable go to waste. The place that inspired the title of this record may be forever written off as an ancient myth with riches that are never found, but King’s El Dorado offers a different kind of treasure: that of Marcus King himself, and Marcus King is a city of gold in his own right.