Guitarist Marcus King Finds His Voice on 'El Dorado'

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen / Courtesy of Easy Eye Sound/Fantasy

Marcus King has a raw ache in his throat that makes him sound as if he's coarsely whispering the words. Even when he's singing about a "Young Man's Dream", King's vocals suggest the experience of age.

El Dorado
Marcus King


17 January 2020

South Carolina native Marcus King enjoys a reputation as a young, hotshot guitarist. As the leader of the Marcus King Band, the 23-year-old phenom has wowed live audiences with his rockin' Southern blues power and released three heralded discs full of hot licks. Now King is going it alone, although not all by himself. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced King's debut album at his Easy Eye Studio in Nashville with veteran keyboardist Bobby Wood, drummer Gene Chrisman, and bassist Dave Roe. The result suggests King is much more than just a string wizard. He has written (co-written) a lively batch of songs about his experiences and observations and infused them with an enthused spirit of soulful wonderment. It sounds like he's having fun, even when life hurts because feeling bad is still better than no having no feelings at all.

Auerbach has said that while he was familiar with King's guitar playing chops, it was the South Carolinian's voice that attracted him to this project. King has a raw ache in his throat that makes him sound as if he's coarsely whispering the words. Even when he's singing about a "Young Man's Dream", King's vocals suggest the experience of age. Think of early Rod Stewart vis a vis "Gasoline Alley" as an equivalent comparison. One can easily understand Auerbach's fascination with King's singing.

But saying one treasures King's crooning over his axe-wielding is reminiscent of that old Alberto Vargas Playboy cartoon about a lecher drooling over a woman's ample bosom saying that he's really just a leg man. Sure, who doesn't appreciate a great pair of gams, but King is one of the greatest rock/blues guitar players of today. The fact that he has an interesting voice is a plus, but his virtuoso instrumental talent is what's really special about him.

King does play up a storm on several tracks. Consider the heavy blues riffs that open "The Well" that are hard enough to pound nails before King starts lamenting the burdens of rural life. He takes a wailing rock solo midway to express the effort it takes to conquer one's circumstances, and then after a short continuance launches into an instrumental coda to wrap up.

Other songs, most notably the poignant "Wildflowers & Wine", focus on King's vocals (and that of a background choir of female singers). Auerbach's production purposely gives the track a nostalgic Stax-lite vibe with lyrics about "old scratchy records". The bulk of the other material, such as "Sweet Mariona", "Break", and "No Pain" are also evocative of past Southern soul from a previous era.

Other cuts such as the haunting "One Day She's Here" and the gospel-infused "Beautiful Stranger" shine behind the more equitable mix of King's playing and singing. He doesn't engage in pyrotechnics but allows his fingers to carry the rhythms and forward the melody with the help of his fellow band members. And when he does allow his digits to fly on "Too Much Whiskey", King captures the excitement of living on the edge, with the addition of a verbal nod to Willie Nelson and a harmonica homage to Mickey Raphael.

Listeners in search of guitar gold would find this more on King's records with his band than on his solo effort El Dorado. Besides, this album takes its name from the Cadillac automobile of that name rather than the legendary city of myth. There is a sense of motion to the record as a whole, which would make it a good driving companion. King may be looking in the rear-view mirror as he motorizes, but this record reveals the young man is moving forward in new ways.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.