Marcus King’s lineage defines his musical acumen. Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, King is a fourth-generation musician. He pinpoints his great-grandfather’s fiddle-playing as the catalyst for his family’s musicality. Indeed, King maintains the ancestral creative proclivity. He is renowned for his guitar-playing and incendiary live performances as part of the Marcus King Band, earning him widespread acclaim as a guitar virtuoso. With the recent release of Carolina Confessions, King positions himself equally as a galvanized songwriter. Imbued with sumptuous narratives, the album brims with stirring lyrics and perdurable conviction.
Carolina Confessions finds King focused on malfeasance while striving towards redemption. “8 a.m.” depicts King wallowing in misery and defeat when he sings “If you could see me now, you’d be glad you left me / If you knew my mind, you could see that I’m lonely / Sitting in my den drinking, wasted at 8 a.m.” Dean Mitchell’s saxophone bawls in response to King’s bemoaning. Similarly, in “Confessions” King admits his faults yet seeks absolution when he asks, “Forgive me for I have sinned / Forgive me for how long it’s been.” The track, and the album as a whole, masterfully contend with the difficulty in managing guilt and the grit required to seek forgiveness. Carolina Confessions is indeed that; a confession of King’s remorse and a divulgence of his psyche.
However, the album also emits a revelatory energy. In the opening “Where I’m Headed“, King exclaims, “‘Cause I don’t know where I’m headed, babe / But I know I’ll see you there.” The inclusion of gospel-inspired background vocalists and King’s loquacious guitar solidifies the track’s demonstrative positivism. “How Long” further exhibits emotional buoyancy when King sings, “If anybody asks about me / Tell them I’m on my way / Since yesterday / ‘Cause I came running just to find you.” Finally, in “Autumn Rains”, the rain symbolizes purification of his transgressions: “I don’t seek shelter ’cause I’ve always loved the rain / there’s autumn rains down by the river/ Singing sweet songs that wash my pain away.” Here the rain is the restart King pursues. Unquestionably, Carolina Confessions’ positivity is underwritten by culpability. For King, consciousness is essential before one can reach a place of contentment.
The emphasis of brass instruments on “Goodbye Carolina” is arresting and reflective of the instrument’s symbolism. Western European folklore believed brass instruments, specifically the trumpet, could relay messages to the spirit world. The sound of the trumpet was said to be so powerful, that it bridged the divide between the living and the dead thereby reopening a communication channel. This understanding aptly fits with “Goodbye Carolina’s” portrayal of suicide and immediate loss. As King so artfully laments, “I’ll see you on the other side of the Blue Ridge sky / But now I’m going / Hate to tell you goodbye.” As the song progresses, it is apparent that affinity still exists and heralded by the trumpet’s clarion call. Mitchell’s saxophone and trumpeter Justin Johnson provides the last audible music as the track fades out. The unceasing music creates a clear image of the companionship continuum despite the gulf caused by death.
“Welcome ‘Round Here” is an anthem for the current decisive political climate. The track illustrates the ease in which individuals spurn others who demonstrate disparate beliefs. For King, the root of castigation is judgment: “Heard the things you sing about in your songs / Well you talk about treason, you talk about lust / Keep your heathen ways away from us.” King understands the greatest tragedy results from a division within a family. Especially when family members profess to love one another then easily turn towards rejection. The declaration “don’t you show your face ’round here again” ultimately supersedes familial allegiance. The lyrics are tenebrous yet agonizing as any contemporary dispute could cause such a breach. These types of estrangements are even more quizzical when love is avowed but not strong enough to bridge the discord.
Magnificent songwriting aside, the caliber of the band’s musicians is notable. Deshawn Alexander’s keyboarding is illuminating. On “Side Door” he adds a welcomed glitter to the heavily emphasized brass instruments and electric guitar. Mitchell’s and Johnson’s brass instruments create a fortified interplay that often adds flourish without extravagance. King concretizes his position as a guitar virtuoso. Expressive and ornamental, his guitar playing exhibits a profundity demanding listeners’ concentration. “Remember Me”, for example, hears King evoking the blues while relying on his guitar to fully convey his emotions. When King stops singing, the instrument takes over the narrative imitating the desolation. With the steadiness of bassist Stephen Campbell and drummer Jack Ryan, the entire ensemble blazes.
The Marcus King Band fuses stellar musicianship and imaginative songwriting to create an electrifying album. Carolina Confessions is a thrilling release from an august musical group.