From his early releases with The Unfaithful Ways and through three duo albums with fellow New Zealander Delaney Davidson, Marlon Williams has always been tagged as one to watch. Though this solo debut has been a long time coming he has toured and built a strong reputation as a live performer across Australia and NZ and that experience has filtered through on this superb album that never falters or loses its sense of wonderment across thirty-five playing minutes.
There is a timeless and sensitive quality to Williams music. Americana and country music are the obvious touchstones but there is much more at play. Dark, haunting undertones drift through first single ‘Strange Things’ while a streak of gothic melancholia populates many of the other songs with their titles alone including the words – lonesome, dark, lost, lonely and silent. There are certainly strong influences rooted in folk music on the album. From his beautiful take on the title track of Bob Carpenter’s 1974 album Silent Passage to the mesmerising drama-laden delivery of ‘When I Was A Young Girl’, he shows his musical range can travel from folk songs to the galloping western tale of the opening track ‘Hello Miss Lonesome’ and beyond.
The point on which most of Williams’ accolades will continue to fall is without doubt his voice. It is a rare occurrence that a singer can inhabit originals and interpret cover versions with such a unique and commanding personal style. The ex-choirboy still relies heavily on those formative and defining singing lessons, soaking words in rich and tremulous vibrato and shifting from a controlled hush to a spine-tingling falsetto and wail as he does on ‘When I Was A Young Girl’, a song that is very much the vocal and atmospheric peak of his live shows. The last singer to command such range and richness of tone was Jeff Buckley. He too was a stylistic magpie who blended styles to form his own and Williams owes much to Buckley’s balanced vocal gymnastics and sense of self-belief in his voice.
Classic debuts often take time to sink in and earn such status. In this case Marlon Williams has arrived fully formed due to cutting his teeth on the live circuit and collaborative writing. These songs conjure up the ghosts of Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley, Nina Simone and Roy Orbison, tug tearfully on heartstrings and will encourage late night drinking as the needle repeatedly returns to the start of this wholly impressive album.
this review was first published un undertheradar.co.nz