Review: Marcus King searches for gold in ‘El Dorado’

The road to the golden city is paved with love, loss and lessons

Marcus King shows mastery in a variety of genres in ‘El Dorado’.

More than a throwback sound, Marcus King’s genre-bending creates lush and intense soundscapes in 2020’s “El Dorado,” released Jan. 24 through Fantasy Records.

In a time when a resurgence in concept albums takes listeners on an audio journey complete with intros, outros and fully realized messaging, Marcus King gives us a collection of songs with no collective meaning other than to be enjoyed.

In King’s “El Dorado” residents picnic in idyllic meadows with well-worn records and cheap red wine (“Wildflowers & Wine”), bemoan the realization of a relationship dying (“Break”) and are baptized in the fire of blistering blues riffs at the church of rock and roll (The Well).

It is hard to believe that the soft honeyed vocals of tracks like “Beautiful Stranger” came from the same person responsible for the gritty swaggering vocals of tracks like “Say You Will.”

King’s impressive range extends past his voice. Genre influences span from country to blues-rock, including 70s soul and R&B.

“Say You Will” is a fuzzed crunchy blues track complete with a backed chorus so reminiscent of The Black Keys that it has to be an homage to the album’s producer, Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. In an interview with Garden & Gun, however, King said influences were Mountain, Joe Walsh and Eric Clapton. Regardless of influence, it is a blistering blues-rock track that is eagerly devoured.

The pure simplicity of “Sweet Mariona” gives the grief and acceptance contained in the lyrics room to breath accompanied by simple acoustic guitar and the occasional wail of pedal steel.

While King hasn’t spoken on the possible meaning behind the song, it could be a conversation between himself and a close friend from middle school who died at 13. It was the loss of this friend that started his songwriting.

King told Scott Simon of NPR, “…she passed away in this violent car accident and it became a really heavy thing for me to try to cope with. That’s when I started singing, because up until that point, the guitar was a place for me to truly express myself in its entirety. And at that point, I just couldn’t express myself any further. And that’s when I started writing and singing and I felt much better.”

“Too Much Whiskey” lightens the mood with fun, rollicking country flavor as King tells the tale of a man who followed a woman all the way from Tennessee to New Orleans, LA, only to lose her in the end. After many a day of drinking and feeling sorry for himself, he decides that it isn’t worth ruining his life over and heads back home after a final cup of coffee at the famed Cafe du Monde.

“El Dorado” is a strong showing for the 23-year-old musician and solidifies his place as “one to watch.” He has proven himself to be masterful and versatile, a wild card with a Midas touch.

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