Marcus King
Photo: Danny Clinch / Courtesy of Big Feat PR

Marcus King Infuses ‘Young Blood’ Into Old Style Blues Rock

Young Blood showcases Marcus King’s masterful ability to wring all the emotion out of a note and hit listeners between the ears with a double-headed weapon.

Young Blood
Marcus King
American Recordings/Republic
26 August 2022

Arena rock meant something different during the 1970s than it does today. Perhaps this was because of the newness of the technologies. That allowed bands to crank up the sound. (Remember when the Beatles played Shea Stadium a few years before they had to broadcast over the public address system meant for announcing what was happening on the baseball diamond.) Or maybe it was just that tens of thousands of patrons could get together in a single venue compared to the relatively small size limits of just a few years before. Whatever. The concerts were parties. The bombastic nature of the shows served as a soundtrack to wild behavior on stage and in the audience. The music was purposely LOUD and theatrical.

It really didn’t matter much who was playing to the attendees. Acts such as Robin Trower, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, Free, and ZZ Top were known for putting on huge, explosive programs. That’s what electric guitarist extraordinaire Marcus King said he wanted his new album, Young Blood, to sound like, exemplified by the classic power trios of an earlier era. Aided by producer Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), King lets it all hang out. When he plays, one can hear bombs bursting in the air, a muscle car engine revving, and the lure of flesh and fantasy. His voice suggests vulnerability behind a tough, defiant face. The two facets mesh in an old-school way. When in doubt, King and company make things even more intense. Crank it up!

The 11 blues rock tracks on Young Blood showcase the South Carolinian’s masterful ability to wring all the emotion out of a note and hit listeners between the ears with a double-headed weapon. Fans of classic electric guitar-driven rock will nod knowingly when King adds a lick straight out of Iron Butterfly, the Steve Miller Band, or Jimi Hendrix. He’s able to play both the song and the instrumental commentary at the same time.

Of King’s talent, this record leaves little doubt. What music like this means today is another question. During arena rock/power trio’s heyday, the music stood for the unity of the audience (young pleasure seekers) in opposition to the mainstream pop that had garnered the respect of the larger society. There was something sleazy about the shows and those who attended. That’s no longer. Blues rock has respectability. People who enjoy it are said to have distinguished taste.

That’s ironic, although not intentionally. When King sings, “I got the Blues / And its worse than I ever had / And they got the Blues, too,” you know he’s embracing affectation like a commodity. King may be depressed. Authenticity is not the issue. There’s just something absurd about music created largely as a minority response to systemic racism being used to express everyone’s pain. What does it mean if we all have the Blues? Arena rock once revealed there were millions of people who found beauty in the conventionally ugly. King’s music restores the tradition in a new context where it can be rediscovered. (Reader: the sound of screeching feedback should be heard for 30-plus seconds before ending abruptly.)

RATING 7 / 10