ALBUMS: Marcus King Sets Out To Conquer

The young guitar slinger begins a new royal reign on El Dorado

Marcus King. (Art: Ron Hart)

Artist: Marcus King

Album: El Dorado

Label: Fantasy Records 

★★★★ (4/5 stars)

There’s been any number of artists who, over the past several decades, have opted to strike out on their own at an early age and make their mark in the adult environs of the modern music biz.

Michael Jackson, Tanya Tucker, Stevie Wonder and Stevie Winwood were all considered prototypical prodigies due to the fact that despite their youthful status, they demonstrated their superior skills at an adolescent age. All succeeded of course, and though some of them faced a tangled trajectory, each went on to achieve artistic immortality.

Granted, child singers, like child actors, are often looked upon as novelties, but those that have the talent and tenacity quickly overcome that jaundiced view and find the singular stardom they so decidedly deserve.

Like the aforementioned artists, Marcus King is surprisingly young for someone who boasts such a remarkable work regimen. A fourth generation musical prodigy who’s been adept as a guitarist, singer and songwriter since his teens, he’s travels in a musical circle that includes such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, men he considers mentors. He took the reigns of command early on, helming his own outfit while he was barely in his teens.

Marcus King El Dorado, Fantasy 2020

Still, it’s somewhat surprising to find the 23 year-old King opting to go solo at this stage in his career. The band that bears his name has boasted an upward trajectory for the better part of the past decade. And truth told, the musical mix found on his debut solo set El Dorado — a definitive blend of roots, blues, rock and soul — doesn’t veer at all from the template established under his band’s collective banner. The three earlier albums released under the aegis of the Marcus King Band— Carolina Confessions, The Marcus King Band and Soul Insight — established King and company as prime purveyors of a rugged R&B sound that’s similar in stance to such archival outfits as the Allman Brothers, Tedeschi Trucks, Gov’t Mule, and other ensembles that revere a vintage southern sound. 

While King’s voice betrays his youthful demeanor due to a decidedly higher pitch, he has no problem mining classic conceits without veering into any grittier terrain. The aptly titled “Young Man’s Dream,” the emotive ballad “Break” and the soaring, soulful strains of “Beautiful Stranger” and “Love Song” find him in an emotive mood that’s surprisingly assured for a young man of such tender years. Likewise, when he bolsters the bluesier strains of“Wildflower & Wine” or amps up the energy on songs such as “The Well,” “Turn It Up” and “Say You Will,” King’s command of that edgier terrain is also well assured. 

Part of the reason this elevated effort succeeds the way it does is due to an all-star backing band helmed by producer Dan Auerbach and featuring drummer Gene Chrisman, keyboardist Bobby Wood and bassist Dave Roe, all accredited musical veterans whose previous credits include Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Johnny Cash. It’s an auspicious group to be sure, and it suggests that King might have opted for their participation over his usual band of colleagues simply because they could assure King would be received with a decided degree of prestige and recognition. If King was in fact seeking to find his own ‘El Dorado’ which Spanish explorers once referred to as the legendary City of Gold — it’s clear he’s already coming close. 


AUDIO: Marcus King El Dorado (full album)


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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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