Kacy & Clayton & Marlon Williams – Plastic Bouquet
New West Records – 11 December 2020
Marlon Williams first came to my attention with his 2018 album ‘Make Way For Love’ and particularly the track ‘What’s Chasing You’. In these days of streaming, where an algorithm can randomly offer the listener something based on things you have previously listened to, that song popped into my head and was instantly pleasurable but frustratingly difficult to place or date. It sounded fresh but with trace elements that took me back to the fifty’s era of Les Paul & Mary Ford echo and resonance. Marlon Williams it appeared was a man out of time, rather like a Richard Hawley without the Northern British grit but possessing a hint of something far more exotic. Further investigation revealed that this singer had in fact built a deserved live following thanks in part to high profile appearances and supporting slots with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Brandi Carlile and Lorde. He has emerged victorious numerous times at the New Zealand Music Awards and has even gained a profile in the world of acting thanks to appearances in ‘A Star Is Born’, ‘True History Of The Kelly Gang’ and ‘Lone Wolf’.
Kacy & Clayton, the Saskatoon-based purveyors of an irresistible strain of cosmic, very Byrds sounding, Americana, made one of my favourite albums of both 2017 and 2019 with ‘The Siren’s Song’ and ‘Carrying on’. The fact that they were both produced by Jeff Tweedy, the Wilco man who has also produced icons like Richard Thompson and Mavis Staples and is known for a musical ear to match his top-drawer songwriting, should tell you that these two are making music of real quality. For this rustic, rather retro-sounding duo to join forces with a solo act like Marlon and his grandiose, Orbison-esque dramatic string-laden production may not seem like such an obvious pairing, but it is clear from the get-go that these guys are working from the same core recipes. Namely, an appreciation for the Wrecking Crew era of studio craftsmanship and understanding the importance of core song craft to work those principles around. It is not retro in a reductive way, no matter how much the moustache of Clayton Linthicum may resemble late sixties James Taylor, these young guns are making music that very much belongs to now. I am very much for those sounds and sensibilities being kept alive in the name of vital new music in the same way that I am against acts dressing up in vintage garb to make records that sound like photocopies of albums that have already been made. The key is in the inspiration and motivation; when Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams make music they are copiously fuelled by an abundance of both.
They have joined forces in what Marlon describes as an attempt to bring the hemispheres of his own Christchurch, New Zealand and Saskatoon together. Of his collaborators he says “they embody everything I love about North American folk. There is a rural weariness where they are telling tales that have been told a million times in their own way. I feel the strength in it”. The sessions were produced by Kacy Lee Anderson and Marlon Williams together, taking place in Saskatoon and Nashville. Essentially Kacy and Marlon are taking centre stage on what amounts to a duet’s album. Sometimes, like on the simmering ‘Your Minds Walking Out’ (sample lyric “I’m going east and you’re going south, I’m trying hard to straighten you out”), Kacy takes the lead as Marlon appears with some suitably bruised backing vocals. The contrast between the two is delightful, like Nancy & Lee in reverse, it is not often that it is the male voice bringing the softer, sweeter tones to the mix.
‘Arahura’ is a vehicle for Marlon to take lead voice and it is one of the closest in texture to the style found on his own albums. Here, in particular, we get to appreciate Clayton’s contribution, especially in some spectacular descending chord punctuations drenched in twangy echo. ‘I’m Unfamiliar’ has a punchy strut and some sumptuous garage band keyboard. However, the collaboration is arguably best realised by all three players on the mid-century modern styled opener ‘Isn’t It’. It has been described by Kacy as a “tale of fear, lust and a lack of self-possession”. Recalling the impossibly high and pining vocals that Marlon conjured up during the recording she joked “is this humanly possible”? For his part Marlon simply calls it a country song but one with “aggression and symbolism to the lyrics. It’s really resonated with me in an abstract and forceful way, almost like punk”. It certainly has conviction in the way it legitimises these three working as a collective; Kacy has the strength of personality to drive the narrative, Clayton punctuates the story with guitar lines that keep the structure solid as Marlon croons in from the skies and fills the stories with laid bare emotion. This is a fine album in its own right and a worthy addition to the respective catalogues of both acts.
Order via Bandcamp: https://marlonwilliams.bandcamp.com/album/plastic-bouquet
Photo Credit: Janelle Wallace