Marcus King admits he felt a bit nervous going into the recording of the current Marcus King Band album, “Carolina Confessions.” That would make sense considering his group has been gaining increasing attention thanks to heavy duty touring and strong reviews for the band’s 2016 self-titled debut album.
But that’s not what had King a bit on edge when he and the group arrived to record “Carolina Confessions.”
“Me personally, and I think I can speak for the band here, too, to say that any sense of comfortability or, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve done this before, we’ll be fine,’ any of that sense was kind of knocked out of us as soon as we got to Studio A in Nashville,” King said, mentioning the studio used by producer of the album, Dave Cobb. “And that’s because the magnitude of being in that studio where that many hits were recorded and some of our favorite artists have recorded there, certainly ghosts that are in that room, it really humbled us back down to the young Southern kids that are still in shock.”
The fact that King recognized the history of RCA Studio A — which was saved a few years ago from redevelopment and has been preserved to look much as it did decades ago when artists such as Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson and the Oak Ridge Boys cut albums and hit singles there — points to a quality that appears to separate the singer/guitarist from other musicians around his age of 23. Where many such young musicians know of music going back a decade or so, King clearly has listened to and learned from musical styles that date back a half century or more, such as the output of Sun Records in the ‘50s, the Memphis soul of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and other artists during the 1960s, vintage blues, as well as country and jazz.
“I try to tap into that as a writer and as a performer,” King said of his deep roots in American music. “I just like to give people an insight to what I hear in my head, whereas if you could put a microphone inside of my soul, I want you to hear what’s in there. And that consists of a lot of different styles of music. It’s not just one style going on in there.”
On “Carolina Confessions,” there’s an acoustic country thread to “Goodbye Carolina,” which blossoms into a spacious soulful rocker. Blues and soul compatibly collide on the sweet mid-tempo tune “Homesick.” The horn lines to “How Long” and “8 a.m.” give those songs a decided Memphis soul feel. “Where I’m Headed” has some the smooth-flowing country and soul of Allman Brothers songs like “Melissa” or Midnight Rambler.”
It all makes for an album that’s mature, varied and rich for a band on its second album (with the current band lineup) and fronted by a 23-year-old. But then, King got a head start on most musicians when it came to developing.
Growing up in Greensville, S.C., in a family where his father had a band and his grandfather was a musician, King was just 4 years old when he got his first guitar and was learning to play. He did his first performance at age 8 and by age 10 or so had joined his father’s soul-rooted band for a four-year stint, which taught him key lessons about music, performing and running a band.
King didn’t waste any time striking out on his own, and in 2014, he met Warren Haynes, guitarist/singer in Gov’t Mule (and previously the Allman Brothers Band), who was impressed enough by King to sign him to his Evil Twin Records label. That label in 2015 re-released the first Marcus King Band album, “Soul Insight.” That album, originally self-released in 2014, featured a different lineup than the present unit.
So in a sense, it was the 2016 self-titled album — the group’s first on Fantasy Records — that served as the debut for today’s Marcus King Band, which includes King, drummer Jack Ryan, bassist Stephen Campbell, trumpet/trombone player Justin Johnson, sax player Dean Mitchell and keyboardist DeShawn Alexander.
Produced by Haynes, the self-titled album gained considerable notice, reaching No. 2 on the “Billboard” magazine Top Blues Albums chart as the Marcus King Band worked its way around the country on multiple tours.
Now, with “Carolina Confessions” having arrived in October, King said he is happy to have new material to blend into the group’s headlining shows, which can run close to two hours with encores.
“We’re incorporating a lot of the (new) material,” King said of the live show. “We try to do a different show every night. Especially if we’re doing a two-night run, we don’t like to repeat songs. That’s always kind of been our thing. We just like to have an ever-evolving batch of tunes, incorporate some new covers here and there and a lot of the new material and some of the old as well.”