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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Marcus King, O2 Academy Bristol

I can't think of any artist today who's remotely similar to Marcus King. He has something special beyond guitar virtuosity, soulful vocals, and well-written songs.

He has so much soul combined with technique, you simply cannot turn away. Almost a Ray Charles mixed with Hendrix-like guitar innovation and skill. Close your eyes and Al Green is up on stage in front of you.

Then there is King's guitar playing. Equal parts Duanne Allman, Steve Cropper, and Derek Trucks, this is guitar playing full of heart and soul.

Marcus King has incredible skills as a guitarist, but overcoming personal demons and finding true love has not only strengthened him but improved his songwriting and vocal abilities. He brought all of his tools to the O2 Academy in Bristol.

The now well-established band leader blew away the raucous crowd. King released a new album called "Young Blood" and the band worked out several of the new songs at the show including the distorted, blistering guitar-heavy set opener “It’s Too Late."

A song about a failed relationship and conveys his thoughts perfectly with the attitude we’ve all wished we’ve had at some point after a break up.

King and slide guitarist Drew Smithers set the tone early with scorching solos that complemented each other’s playing.

Late in the set, the last of the new songs called “Lie Lie Lie” featured a monster jam with King and Smithers taking turns on intricate solos culminating with both wailing away.

This track features some of Marcus’s fiercest guitar playing on the release which is perfectly paired with the powerhouse drums and bass on the track.

Much of the new material as well as Marcus King’s older songs could be considered retro, in a 70’s southern and classic rock vein. However, King’s music is really rooted in the blues and soul and he paid respect to Marvin Gaye by playing the track “Trouble Man.”

A 27-year-old guitar phenomenon and innovative songwriter, Marcus King can simultaneously switch from swaggering rock to supersonic soul, having written songs and performing onstage for half his lifetime.

All five members of the band - drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax player Dean Mitchell and the keyboard player - create a blistering, yet soulful unit that has honed their synergy through endless touring.

You can tell a lot about a musician by the artists they choose to cover. During Marcus King’s epic performance tackles tunes by Marvin Gaye, The Allman Brothers Band, Tower of Power (Squib Cakes) and Elton John’s Madman Across The Water.

But these are no straightforward copy-pastes; King reimagines and inhabits these songs with all the skill and confidence of someone who’s been playing shows since the age of eight.

Apart from the experience, he’s certainly got the range. The son of a blues guitarist who also had his hand in the gospel scene, King’s earliest influences included southern rock (Duane Allman), country (Waylon Jennings), and - apart from his dad - the likes of B.B. King.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the fuzzy opening groove of “It’s Too Late” could have come out at any point since Elvis legged it into the Studio that day, and still sounded like it belonged.

There’s a soul to his music. There’s a groove to his music. But there’s more. There’s a screeching skill to the sound. He pulls off the neat trick of managing to sound like nothing else, yet everything else.

Even the blues ones are ramped up this time around. “Pain” is shot through with a desperation but its more than that. It recalls The Cold Stares, and its harnessed some darkness from somewhere.

“Good And Gone” has a bit of a 70s glam groove and you best believe that hook soars, baby. It flies.

King delivers variants on Texas-style blues in a pair of songs. “Pain” depicts being adrift and messed up on drugs; on “Good and Gone” the guitarist sounds more like the hustler than the hustled.

The glimmering psychedelia of “Trouble In Mind" and stoner lumbering of “Confessions"and "Goodtime Charlie's Got The Blues" demonstrate just how effectively King can commandeer different arenas of guitar glory. He is hitting new peaks as he matures and pours more of himself into this music.

Apart from those reinterpretations of diverse classics like "Trouble Man" and "Comin’ Home", the three-piece brass section - who double as percussionists when it’s time to really rock ("Lie, Lie, Lie"; "Good And Gone") - add the necessary warmth to soul shuffles like "Wildflowers & Wine" and extra fuel to the fire during epics like "One Day She's Here" and the Allman Brothers' "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed".

Hell, there is even time for a drum solo from the wonderfully bearded Jack Ryan.

But King puts just as much passion into his singing as his playing. He belts his way Joe-Cocker-at-Woodstock-style through barnstorming "Good and Gone". He even channels gospel on "Madman Across The Water".

But it’s the touching, homesick "Goodbye Carolina", that has King sounding his most tender, his most exposed, his most honest. Sometimes, just sometimes, less really is more.

It had everything: blues, soul, gospel, country and good old-fashioned roots and roll. It's hard not to get too carried away with superlatives when it comes to Marcus King, but hell this man can play.

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