Read somewhere that Marah was supposed to be the future of alternative country, or some such. I sure don’t hear it. What about the banjo?, you say. So what. They’ve got a horn section on Kids In Philly too, but that don’t make them alt-dixieland. They call themselves “the last rock ‘n’ roll band” on their website, something of an overstatement, that “last,” but more like it. And however overstated, you gotta like the attitude. It’s not as if we’re suffering from too many bands believing rock ‘n’ roll still matters.
It’s a faith Marah shares with Springsteen, which is among the reasons he’s name-checked in all the reviews. That, and the way, like the early Springsteen, the places the singer’s been—Christian St., the Taproom, Point Breeze, the Golden Donut—and the things he’s seen—school yards and payphones, dumpsters in alleys and pigeons on a wire, scenes of the crime and dogs with a limp—all the concrete details of a specific city’s streetlife, tumble out of his mouth fast and furious, like he’s afraid it will all vanish before he’s had a chance to tell you all about it.
But the comparison has its limits. Where Springsteen piled on the details in the service of mini-dramas, Marah creates aural collages, constructing scenes rather than telling stories. Too, this is Marah’s Philly, not Springsteen’s Jersey Shore, so when the singer has places to go he doesn’t slip behind the wheel of a big-block Chevy, he hops the bus.
Still, it’s the faith that matters, and it’s the faith that fuels the rollicking “Point Breeze,” which sounds just like the street party it describes, and the Phil Spectorish anthem “Round Eye Blues,” a Vietnam vet’s nightmare that belies the fact that Marah couldn’t have been but tots when the last chopper lifted off the roof of the embassy in Saigon, and the barely controlled chaos of “Christian St.,” horns pile driving the chorus as the singer shouts “come on, come on,” as if it’s the most important thing he’ll say all day.
These guys wear their musical influences shamelessly—the harmonica on “Faraway You” is a dead ringer for early Springsteen, and there are echoes of Lou Reed (“The History of Where Someone Has Been Killed”), the folkish side of Faces (“Barstool Boys”), and, inevitably, Philly soul (“My Heart Is The Bums On The Street”)—and, really, there’s no reason they shouldn’t. It’s a helluva legacy after all, this rock ‘n’ roll, and what sort of true believers would they be if they squandered it?
// Notes from the Road
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