This revealing moment from the multi-talented 22-year-old musician cuts to the heart of the album’s fundamental themes – guilt and the quest for absolution.
‘Carolina Confessions’ is confirmation of a young, yet mature artist coming into his own; an expansive, emotive body of work affirming King as one of today’s most engaging, singular songwriters, a true force to be reckoned with.
King has been writing songs and performing onstage for half of his lifetime, and fronting his own groups for nearly a decade. Since his teenage years, he’s been trading licks with famous supporters and mentors Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule, The Allman Brothers) and Derek Trucks (The Allman Brothers, Tedeschi Trucks Band); indeed, Haynes was so blown away by the then 19-year-old’s virtuosity that he signed him to his Evil Teen label, releasing the band’s debut album, ‘Soul Insight’, in 2015 and producing their self-titled follow-up a year later.
And now there’s ‘Carolina Confessions’, produced & mixed by Grammy-winner Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) and recorded at Nashville’s iconic RCA Studio A; a 10-track outing that finds King and his five band-mates – drummer Jack Ryan, bassist Stephen Campbell, trumpeter / trombonist Justin Johnson, saxophonist Dean Mitchell & keyboard player DeShawn ‘D-Vibes’ Alexander – taking a major leap forward as a wide-ranging and dexterous musical unit.
“We immediately hit it off with Dave because of the way he works,” says King. “There’s six of us and we have our own arbitration process, and he was really understanding of the fact that this is a band. We went into the studio straight from the road, so I didn’t have the opportunity to even send him a cellphone recording of the songs that I’d finished. We made it a point to start with those songs and build them from the ground up. That kept it very fresh.”
King penned all of the material, with the exception of the swaggering ‘How Long’, a co-write with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach & veteran songsmith Pat McLaughlin.
“Every tune on this record is based around a central theme, which is that none of us are blameless at the end of a relationship,” King reflects. “Basically, ‘Carolina Confessions’ is about me leaving my home town, explaining why I would do that, and why I felt like it was taken from me – just sharing in some of the blame of why a relationship didn’t work.”
Separation from loved ones or one’s dreams is another strand running through the music…
“Hear the sound of my highway / I get stoned as I pray / Think I’ll just fade away / Who’s gonna care?” he sings on ‘Where I’m Headed’; but the downcast lyric contrasts with the uplift of the music, conjuring up the ache of loss and the comfort of family. Meanwhile, in the lilting ‘Homesick’, the song’s narrator has turned his car around and can hardly wait for his odyssey to be over… “So damn tired of this ride / Turn the headlights off let the moonlight glide / Lord, it’s gonna guide me back home.”
‘Welcome ’Round Here’, the lead UK single, opens with a mournful slide guitar before the band slams the track into overdrive; it was triggered by the Trump travel ban, instituted right after the US election…
“It really pissed me off,” exclaims King, “and that was the immediate inspiration. But then I started thinking about the kids who leave their homes in the South because there’s a lot of intolerance – family members who don’t accept their own children, what they want to be in their lives and who they really are. That’s what this song is truly about, so I wanted to give the flavour of the mountains, of home.”
In the lyric, an elder dismissively demands, “Let me live my life / Way that I was raised / Boy, I recommend you do the same”.
Some tracks were coaxed into shape through incremental trial and error, including essential album closer ‘Goodbye Carolina’. King recalls, “I’d written it about a really dear friend of mine who had committed suicide, so there’s a deeper meaning, and I realised that the happy-sounding major key vibe of the verses wasn’t working. So the next day I explained that to Dave, then I went back out to re-cut the verses myself, and we found that melancholy vibe I was searching for.”
The album’s cover image – a photograph of a ramshackle confessional, its screen door swung open, sitting surreally in the undergrowth – is suffused with Southern Gothic mystery, straddling redemption and damnation. It’s a striking visual metaphor for the spiritual struggle so vividly portrayed in the songs on ‘Carolina Confessions’…
“My mother was a Catholic and my grandmother on my mother’s side was also Catholic,” points out King. “I wasn’t raised Catholic, but the idea of confessing your sins was always really powerful to me.”
King is a Blue Ridge Mountain Boy, born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina – a fourth generation musician, who can trace his lineage back to his fiddle-playing great grandfather; his grandfather was a fiddler and a guitarist, while his father, Marvin King, is a singer / guitarist who has toured nationally since the ’70s, both with his own band,Marvin King and Blues Revival, and various other artists.
“I guess to some degree it does feel like I’m carrying a torch and trying to rekindle some of that flame and that energy that my grandfather had and my father also has. My father is still my favourite guitarist and my biggest influence, and also my biggest supporter. More than anything, I’m trying to make him proud.”
It’s fitting that the primary guitar on ‘Carolina Confessions’ is a ’62 Gibson 345 that belonged to Marcus’ grandfather…
“My grandfather’s light shone so bright through his eyes, he was just so happy to play…”
Marcus King doesn’t strive for authenticity – it’s bursting out of his DNA in every note he plays and every word he sings. This focussed, firmly rooted artist isn’t just perpetuating the proud legacy of American rock and soul music; with the captivating, highly personal ‘Carolina Confessions’, he and his great band are adding their own eloquent chapter to that rich narrative.