Album Review: King Margo – ‘Waters Rise’

I’ll be honest – my initial interest in this duo sprang from seeing Gabe Lee’s name as a producer for their sophomore album. But focusing on the act in question, King Margo – comprised of Lucciana Costa and Rachel Coats – is definitely an outfit I wanted to see take the next step after visiting 2018’s Barely Gettin’ By. The ramshackle presentation left something to be desired, for sure, but the strongly assertive, kiss-off-focused writing definitely hooked me in a good way, and after hearing a more fully fledged sophomore effort … well, it’s a bit tough to categorize. On one hand, it’s easy to see it as a more diverse stylistic effort, spanning between a lot of ‘90s country compositions with a smattering of southern-rock and soul thrown in for good measure; it’s no surprise that it’s well-produced and often sounds gorgeous and way more fully formed as a result.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel like this is one of those efforts that can feel a bit scattershot in forming a more unique artistic identity and throwing multiple sounds and ideas at the wall without finding a more consistent core, not helped by the writing sanding away a lot of the darker edges I loved from that debut. I mean, there’s still “Floodlights & Sequins” here, a song that feels like a long lost ‘90s-inspired country-rock number in the vein of something you might have heard from Mary Chapin Carpenter at her most upbeat … just, you know, framed as a hookup track where the women here seduce potential partners and rob them to make a living; seedy as hell but enjoyable and fun in a really dark way!

But it’s also weirdly sandwiched between “Your Fix,” a soulful (but tepid) love song, and “A Good Woman,” a track with a lot of the observational detail present in their writing I do like but also a bit old-fashioned in detailing the importance of good home values for a potentially lasting relationship – and even the former is sandwiched between the aforementioned “Floodlights” and “Crazymakin’ Town,” a delightfully nasty little southern-rock kiss-off track.

I’m just saying, it can cause some whiplash upon first listen. And while I wouldn’t say either vocalist is necessarily a powerful presence – and that, like with most duos, I wish there was stronger interplay between them in the framing and writing – I do think they’re versatile enough as emotive presences. And that’s one reason why a duet with the aforementioned Gabe Lee in “Dishes Ain’t Done” is an easy highlight, a track that downplays the drama of their darker cuts and ups it from their more straightforward love songs to frame a relationship that’s a little more real – one where the house is messy because they’re constantly working and finding time for one another gets more and more difficult, but also one where the love is strong enough to hold on and make it work – possibly even what saves them and keeps them going (it’s the opposite of Lee’s own “Common Law,” but it works on an almost equally great level!). And against the gentle brush of mandolin and ragged fiddle for added warmth, I believe it.

Of course, given that I’d argue the duo’s strongest asset is their songwriting chops, I’m not surprised to hear them pull off something like “Wildfire” equally well, a track where our character knows her partner is still in love with someone else no matter how much they try and shake them. So against the gentle waltz cadence you hear that equal sway of a painful decision needed to be made by her in just letting them go. And I love that they end off the album with an apocalyptic barroom anthem in “The Big One” that’s so tongue-in-cheek in its self-referential framing that it becomes an absolute blast, where they know the album will end soon anyway and figure it’s good of a sendoff point as any.

On the other hand, they also opt for more imagery and metaphorical-driven material that can be a bit more hit-or-miss, like the oddly island-inspired “The Line” that can feel a bit schmaltzy and reliant on generic platitudes, or the oddly heavy and overblown “Knowledge is a Gun” where it seems there’s a good core there that never really manifests or gets pushed further. But it’s also what gives us the profoundly beautiful and empathetic “Monsters” with a lot of warm orchestral flourishes – really, outside of the haze on “Knowledge is a Gun” feeling a bit overdone, this is a fantastic-sounding album. So it leaves me on an odd note with this project overall, where even if I think it is solid – if still inconsistent – this duo has potential for more, and I’m looking forward to hearing to what can be done down the road with a bit more refinement. There’s still plenty of great tunes for now, though.

  • Favorite tracks: “Crazymakin’ Town,” “Floodlights & Sequins,” “Dishes Ain’t Done” (feat. Gabe Lee), “Monsters,” “Wildfire,” “The Big One”
  • Least favorite tracks: “Your Fix,” “Knowledge is a Gun”

Buy or stream the album.

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