If you’re a longtime songwriter like Kendell Marvel, you amass enough friends in the business that you could dip into your (virtual) Rolodex and always work with the folks you know best. But that’s not Marvel’s approach to things. On his new album, Come On Sunshine, he chooses to move far outside his comfort zone (both collaboratively and geographically) to stretch his sound beyond the boundaries of standard country music.
First, a reassurance – The Voice is still there, and if you’re here just for that baritone growl, you’ll be happy. And joining Marvel on the first track on Come On Sunshine is another of country’s best voices, Chris Stapleton. “Don’t Tell Me How to Drink,” also penned with Stapleton, is a sludgy country rocker that has Marvell asserting his barroom elder statesmanship – “I appreciate your concern, but I got a little fuse left to burn.” Best not underestimate him (and also best not forget how great of a guitar player Stapleton is, as he rips off a scorcher of a solo).
Marvel is based in Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, but he decamped to Texas to record with producer Beau Bedford (The Texas Gentleman) and work with new musicians. The shift south benefits the songs. Marvel’s got a way with swampy blues, and “Keep Doing Your Thing” rides on a bottom-feeder-slimy groove as the singer evokes a live-and-let-live philosophy – “There’s more of us in the middle, than there are left or right/More of us wanna get along than wanna fuss and fight.” Overly optimistic? Maybe a little, but the freedom to be left alone is an underrated gift. Marvel’s laissez-faire only goes so far, though – “Put It in the Plate” (written with Dee White) slaps a savage growl on for-profit preachers and religious intolerance – “Pourin’ it on like gravy and grits/Soul food fattenin’ up the hypocrites.” “Off My Mind,” though, is nothing more serious than a late-night party. Written with Dan Auerbach and and Al Anderson and spiced up by Bedford’s boogie piano, the song is a list of (largely unsuccessful) ways to forget – “Tryin’ to get that long, gone, done me wrong girl off my mind,” with Marvel drawing out each syllable to let us know that, yeah, she ain’t forgotten.
Although the environs of most of the songs on Come On Sunshine are murky at best, the record’s title springs from an attempt to pull folks out of the depths of the pandemic. The title track, penned with Devon Gilfillian, is a soulful, organ-and-steel acknowledgement of our recent shared trauma – “Searchin’ for my soul, sure is getting old/Won’t somebody please take off the blinders” – but the chorus, with Gilfillian chipping in on vocals, finds an answer out of the darkness – “Pour me a sky that’s blue/I just need a drop or two.” But “Fool Like Me,” written with Waylon Payne, tackles an old favorite; a blown chance at love – “Took a man to keep you, but to lose you took a fool like me.” Marvel’s voice, echoed in Will Van Horn’s pedal steel, turns what could have been rote country emotion into a hymn-like expression of aching regret. Like much of Come On Sunshine, Marvel’s adaptability and choice of collaborators gives the song, and the listener, a little something above and beyond standard country radio fare.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Never Lovin’ You” – a barroom stomper about love that (for a change) lasts, set off by cool steel, roadhouse piano and a scorcher of a guitar solo.
Come On Sunshine was produced by Beau Bedford and Kendell Marvel, mixed by Bedford and engineered by Jeff Saenz and Joel Raif. All songs written by Marvel, with co-writing credits going to Chris Stapleton, Dean Alexander, Devon Gilfillian, Dee White, Dan Auerbach, Al Anderson, Waylon Payne, Kolby Cooper and Josh Morningstar. Additional musicians on the album include Bedford (guitars, piano, B3, Mellotron, background vocals), McKenzie Smith (drums, percussion), Nick Bockrath (electric guitar), Chris Stapleton (electric guitar, background vocals), Will Van Horn (pedal steel), Ben Barajas (bass), Mickey Raphael (harmonica) and Dean Alexander, Devon Gilfillian and Dan Dyer (background vocals).
Go here to order Come On Sunshine (out September 23): https://www.merchmountain.com/collections/kendell-marvel
Check out tour dates here: http://www.kendellmarvel.com/