MARVIN ETZIONI – MARVIN COUNTRY
2012 – Nine Mile Records
When I first saw this two disc set and noted the number of duets I nearly didn’t bother listening to it. I warmed to it a little when I saw that those duets were with artists of the calibre of Maria McKee, one of the co founders with Etzioni, of Lone Justice way back in the 1980s, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Buddy Miller and Richard Thompson to name just a few. In effect a veritable whos who of left of centre roots music. I still have reservations about it though, due not only to the diverse talents of the artists but also because the album is such a huge mish mash of styles and song types with no theme or thread to hold it all together. I love albums with diversity but this just goes too far, and yet in spite of all this there is
still something appealing about much of the music. Maybe part of this is down to Etzionis quirky vocals or the huge variations in songwriting or maybe even that overwhelming diversity! The album quite literally covers everything from punk, country, alt.country, gospel, Cajun, blues, folk and ‘experimental music!’ Of course, we all know of his songwriting quality, which fairly obviously is
essential to have any chance of succeeding in this undertaking, but often on this two disc set some of the songs are spoilt by his self indulgent experimentation.
Disc two in particular sounds a little over experimental and too self indulgent, but does include several very good songs that work really well, in fact those that don’t work, due to the over experimentation are probably decent but the effects detract from the quality. There is quite a lot of what appears to be programmed drums, some of it horribly addictive, some just horrible! All of the songs on this decent, if patchy album are written by Etzioni but with three being co writes, including
one really good accordion driven duet with Richard Thompson on It don’t cost much. As with the vocalists the instrumentation is also packed with high quality artists of quality, including Gurf Morlix, Duane Jarvis and Grey De Lisle.
The album gets under way with a pleasant country duet with old band mate Maria McKee on You Possess me, and includes some lovely steel guitar playing, which is then followed by the punked up, 1960s garage rock of The Grapes of Wrath another duet, this one with John Doe. Marvin is then
accompanied on the gorgeous unadorned gospel of You are the light with the Dixie Hummingbirds, in turn followed by what, for me, seems a disappointing duet with Lucinda Williams in Lay it on the
table. I found Lucinda’s vocals quite monotonous at times, with her voice sounding at its most laconic, although it is a pleasantly haunting ballad with lovely steel guitar, if a little over orchestrated as well as a little over long. On the simply acoustic guitar accompanied Man without a country,
stylistically and vocally he sounds a lot like Johnny Cash in his reflective later days and could easily have been on his last album, similarly, the quite harrowing Miss this world also
hugely evocative of the late great ‘man in black.’
It’s easy to see why this is a two disc set, because disc two is the one that contains most of the experimentation and those horrible electronic drum sounds! Gram revisited seemed a rather
pointless exercise, as did What’s Patsy Cline doing these days, part 1 and 2. Hard to build a home is quite a good folksy country song that works well, with it’s piano lead and those programmed
drum sounds! Trouble holding back has a little funky bluesiness but is nowhere near good enough to run for seven and a half minutes and the mellotron hinders rather than helps but there is some good guitar playing though! There’s a Train is slow and funereal with strummed guitar and brass but does work quite well and the alternative version to the Steve Earle accompanied on disc one, Ain’t
no work in Mississippi is much better on disc two with the accompaniment of the Holy Brothers. God’s little mansion and album closer Hold fast your dreams are both excellent, slow moody ballads, with the latter being accompanied by steel guitar and piano.
It’s as if, due to the fact that he hasn’t recorded an album of his own for ten years, he has had to pack every idea into this double c.d collection. It was unnecessary and with a fair amount of editing and less experimentation could have been a much higher rated single disc album. However, despite being overloaded with too much diversity it is still an album that I expect to return to on occasions, conversely, because of some of that diversity. Musical taste is difficult to fathom at times!