Overall Score: 9/10 Songwriting: 7/10 Musicianship: 10/10 Production: 10/10 Pros: A feast of Southern rock and soul by an artist with the talent to bring it all to the table Cons: Some of the songs may be a little too close to stylistic theft for fans of certain bands
Young Blood is South Carolina’s Southern rock hotshot, MARCUS KING’s second solo LP and his first on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label. It’s no surprise Rubin was drawn to King, whose rootsy, classic rock and soul sound is a type of archetypal heritage music that Rubin tries to recreate with his acts. Of course there’s no need for King to try and return to some sort of form as the kid is at the top of his game right now, and for a 26 year old, it’s already been a fair old stretch. The son of a respected blues guitarist MARVIN KING, and playing live since he was knee high to a Les Paul, King has been living the life since quitting college at a very tender age.
Things started to take off when Dan Auerbach of BLACK KEYS took the production reins on King’s solo debut; recognising the potential of King’s soulful, JANIS JOPLIN-esque wail and astonishing six string skills. The resulting album El Dorado (2020) was a mainly restrained, tasteful affair, more AL GREEN than BLACK KEYS, sitting comfortably alongside Auerbach’s recent work with YOLA. King has subsequently found himself playing to ever bigger rooms, so this time out it was agreed that a set of rockier, more direct numbers were needed to add to the live set. The result is Young Blood: same producer but a very different vibe.
Despite all this apparent success, King was not in a good place prior to the recording, with drug and alcohol abuse problems exacerbated by almost constant road work and a failing relationship. King was haunted by visions of his own mortality and went into the studio fully expecting the album to be his last. The song titles make it plain – It’s Too Late, Rescue Me, Blues Worse Than I Ever Had etc. The downbeat nature of the lyrics, however, in no way reflect the majority of the music contained within, which is rowdy, confident, soulful but aggressive. He may be going, but he’s not going quietly.
Opener It’s Too Late bustles in, sets its beer down then rips into a furious Texas blues and from there on in there’s very little let up. Lie, Lie, Lie has classic ZZ TOP chug and a set of solos from right out of Billy Gibbons A game. Early ZZ TOP are a regular touchstone on this album and Southern rock fans may have great fun spotting the other influences, but shouldn’t consider them outright theft, King having grown up with this music, it’s been his life and he’s no tourist.
Rescue Me slows it some on languid, swampy blues as King cries “hold me down, don’t let me get any higher” either fighting to save his soul or at least get back to sobriety. The gospel-inflected Pain continues the theme, another chugger with a serpentine lead guitar line, the backbeat laid down by his band, drummer Chris St Hilaire and bassist Nick Movshon is phenomenal, the whole band sound rattled, raw and bleeding.
Perhaps surprisingly King bought in 80’s soft rock maestro Desmond Child to write with him for this album and Blood On The Track is the result. It begins in a funky CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL groove, its laidback lowrider switching up into a chorus that sounds not unlike Take Me To The River. Child’s probably filled the brief, helping to create the most commercial song on the album, but the lyrics feel less genuine and we don’t feel King is feeling it in his vocal performance as much as on the other songs.
Much more fun is the single Hard Working Man, which echoes Sharp Dressed Man in the intro, but then burst out into a poppy, STEVE MILLER BAND tribute. It’s such an outrageous steal, but it’s great to hear a young ‘un tip his hat to Miller‘s irresistibly sunny, psych blues! Elsewhere there are less blatant, but equally entertaining nods to LYNARD SKYNARD on the back-door-man strut of Good And Gone and rebel anthem in waiting Whisper. There’s even a bit of heavenly Aretha Franklin grit and groove on Dark Cloud.
Finally, in the end, King lets his guard down, the fight goes out of him and he admits he’s got Blues Worse Than I Ever Had. The music is a gentle rocking, like a tiny boat in a vast ocean, with gorgeous sympathetic backing vocals that could almost be THE EAGLES, as could the solo which has all the seen-it-all-before, plaintive, humanity of a JOE WALSH scorcher. The tempo and fight kicks back in at the end of the tune, that fiery lead fading things out on a high.
Lovers of classic rock, especially of the southern fried variety will lap up this album and the sheer quality of the performances will quell any feelings of over-familiarity. The music feels timeless in a way that a lot of hard rock doesn’t, the mix of blues, gospel, rock and soul is seamless and beautifully rendered, hitting that sweet spot between nostalgia and raw emotion. Omens be damned, MARCUS KING is set to be around for a while yet..
Young Blood is available now via Snakefarm.
For more information on MARCUS KING, like his official page on Facebook.