Album Review: Kendell Marvel – ‘Solid Gold Sounds’

The short version: While the sonic palette on ‘Solid Gold Sounds’ provides a nice fusion of different time periods in country music, the songs themselves rarely are interesting.

  • Favorite tracks: “Hard Time With The Truth,” “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You,” “Easy Rider”
  • Least favorite track: “Musta Kept It For Himself”
  • Rating: 6/10

The long version: These days, when artists say they’re making classic country albums, it doesn’t sound completely far-fetched. When singer/songwriter Kendell Marvel says it, however, it’s a bit confusing, at least coming off his debut album and going into his next one.

Marvel’s debut album, Lowdown & Lonesome, certainly showed an edgy personality in the vein of, say, an ‘80s Hank Williams Jr. record, but more often than not, it also leaned into the clichéd side of outlaw country; Marvel, too, wasn’t always a subtle singer. But ahead of his newest album, Solid Gold Sounds, Marvel looked to sand away those criticisms, first by working with Dan Auerbach of Easy Eye Sound (and, of course, the Black Keys), and then by focusing on his vocal ability with a smoother country record that looked to reach even farther into the past. So a promise to make a classic country album really just scans as Marvel tapping into a different time period.

Despite the unlikely collaboration, while I would say Solid Gold Sounds is a slight step above Lowdown & Lonesome, not all of my issues with that album have gone away on this one. The production is better, and Marvel himself has improved greatly as a singer, overall. But there also comes a point where artists lose themselves in their experimentation, and while this sound works for, say, Yola or Dee White, Marvel isn’t as good of a fit.

Still, to give credit to Solid Gold Sounds, Marvel’s tone and cadence have vastly improved, and he’s just as capable of leaning into swaggering blues-inspired country rock as he is on tracks that require a subtler nuance. Also, there are no issues with his flow or oversinging this time around, and even on tracks that don’t quite stick the landing in other areas, Marvel has enough earnest charisma to salvage them.

And if you saw my mentioning of Yola and White, you’ll know what kind of sound you’re getting into – ‘60s-inspired country where the tones are smooth, the acoustic guitars have warmth, the strings shimmer and the pedal steel and fiddle have a lighter air to them to support the melodies – the Nashville Sound, in other words. With Marvel, specifically, he also leans into that aforementioned brand of hard-charged, blues-inspired outlaw country, only this time tipping his hat toward the ‘70s rather than the ‘80s.

While that sounds like a combination that should contradict itself, the album is surprisingly consistent, though there are moments that stick out more than others. The buildup of the low-simmering, darker acoustic guitar driving “Hard Time With The Truth,” leads to a stomping chorus where the electric guitars are thicker and carry a potent groove, and the old-school strings compliment the sinister atmosphere well. Yet other tracks like “Blood In The Water” and “Cadillac’n,” which both go for that same style, aren’t as effective. Whereas “Hard Time With The Truth” knows how to cultivate atmosphere, the more polished tones undercut the groove on “Blood In The Water,” enough to where I’d like to call it an attempt at grimier, swampier southern-rock, and can’t. On that track, too, the vocal mixing places the backing singer on equal footing with Marvel, drowning him out in the mix and not flattering the track at all. And while fairly corny and stupid, “Cadillac’n” is another track that doesn’t benefit from the polished production, especially when it’s arguably got the meatiest groove to it that just seems compressed.

Given, though, what this album mostly sounds like, it’s not surprising to hear that the lyrical content doesn’t exactly do any heavy lifting, one of the issues brought over from Marvel’s previous release. The issue on Solid Gold Sounds is one of consistency, as while Marvel can tap into some more complex emotions on, say, “Hard Time With The Truth,” he often lacks a level of detail in his writing, hence why “Roots Of My Raisin’” reads more as a checklist of typical nostalgic elements over an actual place in one’s mind. And when you combine the slower, soulful tones of, say, “Musta Kept It For Himself” with lyrics that scream of schmaltz and uninteresting sentiments (in this case, an ode to how, if God made anything better than the woman Marvel is with, he must have kept it for himself), it leads to songs that are utterly cheesy and nondescript.

Granted, lightweight lyrical sentiments may be the point of this album, but of the two religious songs on this album, it’s telling how much “Musta Kept It For Himself” pales in comparison to the Bee Gees cover of “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You,” which tackles faith in a more complex manner while never undercutting the atmosphere Solid Gold Sounds cultivates. Again, too, it’s not like Marvel can’t tap into deeper, complex emotions. “Hard Time With The Truth” comes with the notion that he’d like to settle down, but he’s got too many inner demons to keep him from moving on. On the other hand, we get a track like “When It’s Good,” which tries to sell a noticeably toxic relationship with a carefree attitude and simply … doesn’t, and you have to wonder why the couple in “If You Know What’s Good” spend more time talking about breaking up instead of actually just getting it over with, which doesn’t seem like it’d be too hard, given their portrayals in the track.

Elsewhere, “Let It Go” and “Easy Rider” offer good sentiments, but only a surface-level analysis of their situations that keep them from being memorable, especially when, in the case of the latter track, Marvel performed this much better when it was just called “Gypsy Woman.” And “Cadillac’n” … well, it’s about as stupid as the title implies.

Ultimately, while the sonic fusion of sounds on Solid Gold Sounds is more consistent than one would expect, the songs themselves are rarely memorable. Marvel has improved as a vocalist, and Auerbach’s production is mostly solid, save for a few aforementioned blemishes. But it’s also the kind of album that coasts on mood and atmosphere over actual substance, leading to an album that, while not bad, is largely forgettable.

(Light 6/10)

Buy or stream the album.

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