REVIEW: Kendell Marvel – ‘Lowdown & Lonesome’

From the opening and title track, Lowdown and Lonesome, Kendell Marvel is a man you want to listen to, kicking off with lyrics like, ‘Well I ain’t ever been to Folsom/but I’ve damn sure done my time/tryin’ to please a woman, tryin’ to walk the line’.

Anyone who double references Cash for a starter has my attention.

Especially with the continued metaphorical lyricism, ‘on this whiskey river, ain’t no paddle, ain’t no boat/ this 90 proof I’m clinging to is keeping me afloat’.

The Marvel-co-write song (Gatiss/Houser) originally appeared on Randy Houser’s 2010 They Call Me Cadillac album, and is testimony to the two decades of hit making song writing that the southern-Illinois native, Marvel, has crafted. After penning hits and album tracks for a truck-ton of artists, including Gary Allan, George Strait, Aaron Watson, Lee Ann Womack, Brothers Osborne and the Stapleton, Marvel released his debut album in October 2017, and UK fans can buy the CD from 18th May 2018. Streaming options are also available, and that’s how I discovered his sound, once I realised he was supporting Brothers Osborne on their UK tour.

So, what is Marvel’s sound?  A high intensity hybrid of country, southern rock, darn-good guitar, blues and vocals, perhaps. Definitely marvellous (sorry, not sorry).

The central, timeless, theme on Lowdown and Lonesome, is of heartache and heartbreak, from a natural storyteller. What I love about the album is the alternate track balance between infectious boot scootin’ boogie-woogie and straight-to-the-core ballads. Here’s a man who knows how music works.

Up next is the gorgeous Gypsy Woman. Shadowed by a steel guitar – y’all know my love for this staple country sound – this is just one of several unrequited love songs on the album, and displays Marvel’s ability to hold a listener still for three minutes as they journey within the song.

The harmonica and held-vocals on up-tempo Heartache Off My Back create the sound of a train blowing through the heart of America, supported with lyrics like, ‘I think it’s time to let the train fly off the tracks’.  Who hasn’t wanted to run alongside a locomotive after a sour relationship?

The fictional ballad of Watch Your Heart echoes the theme of heartache, this time a melancholy harmonica replacing the steel guitar, ‘If there’s an out I’ll likely take it/so watch your heart, don’t let me break it’. Beautiful, if raw, but in reality these songs are art, not life, and a reminder of the heart of country songs; the capacity to create characters and their tales.

Untangle My Mind (a co-write with Stapleton and Jaron Boyer) brings us back to the bluesy boogie-woogie (thanks for the often under-used keys in country, Kendell).

Tryin’ Not To Love You offers a driving big truck pace with the heartbreak, alongside lyrics like ‘made a big mistake when I let you go, I bet you knew, yeah I do/it was gonna be hard, so hard, tryin’ not to love you’. I dare you not to drum your fingers and shimmy your shoulders to this track, even if you’re in public.

Hurtin’ Gets Hard gets real; till I walk in the front door, and turn on the lights/And that’s when it stops being easy, that’s when it all falls apart/When I’m here and you’re out wherever you are, that’s when the hurtin’ gets hard.

Closer to Hell is a mid-tempo song to showcase the lyrical skill of this two-decade grammy-nominated musician, ‘Well my sweet little baby lit out of here like a bat out of you know where, so I’ve been drinking day and night/till the dog ain’t got no hair’.

The final two songs on the album mirror the first two, a beautiful ballad and a bar-floor boot scooter. The care with which the album is presented – simple, timeless theme, mature sound arrangement and trip-off-the-tongue lyrics – mean I’m torn with wanting to see Kendell on stage again, or hear he’s back in the studio.

That Seat’s Saved is Alan Jackson spoken storytelling; ‘that one’s taken, I’m sorry, friend, but I’m hoping any minute now, she’ll walk in’. Classic country sadness, tinged with harmonica and steel guitar. A modern-day George Jones, reminiscent of the legendary, He Stopped Loving Her Today.

Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye, a rousing Charlie Daniels cover, rounds off the album,

‘She probably thinks that I’m moping around the house/she probably thinks that she’s the one thing that I couldn’t live without/wouldn’t it surprise her I got a sympathiser, as long as these bottles hold out.

Another electric guitar/kick drum collaboration to bring the folks to the floor, which handily segues into Lowdown and Lonesome.

Thank the devil for that repeat button, eh?

Heartaches and heartbreaks never sounded so good,

Plus, I love the 1950s-inspired album artwork.  Buy it, admire it; buy copies for your buddies.

Emma Jordan
@dgtlwriter