The drums, the vocals, the guitars… they were made for each other. The balance, the sound, the feeling is all there for a totally put together work. Although this album released at the end of 2013, I’m going to cheat an allow it. The Marshall McLean Band is good. They deserve it.
The opener “Coat of Many Colors” makes a reference to the classic story of Joseph in the Bible. It’s about – well, betrayal, a difficult world, and dreams. Sound familiar? It’s the kind of song that has a nice alt rock vibe to it and a very full sound, but the words seem layered like no one but the writer really knows what it all means.
“Sons of Thunder” is probably still considered alt rock or even folk rock ala Bob Dylan. The steel guitar gives it a slight country flavor. It definitely dwells in that middle ground there. It’s about a love situation but not the typical folk rock romance. This is a song for the Holy Spirit, the tongue of fire. It’s a fascinating song on a fascinating album, with overt Christian lyrics but without the typical worship band style. There’s no inflated chords and feel-good sound effects on this. It’s a raw, emotive track about an encounter with the divine. It’s a rare thing in music, especially at this level.
“Nightingale” might be my favorite track on the album. The guitar opening is stunning and unique. It has both a meandering folk feel to it and a big rock sound. Lyrically the song is about uncertainty. It’s about the listlessness of life. It’s something that I can often relate to and the fact that it sonically resonates with me – well it’s just a darn good song. It’s definitely worth a spin.
The nostalgic track “Irons in the Fire” is chalk full of Christian clichés. I love the line, “Holy Roller lay your hands on me. I’m feelin’ older. I’m not ready to leave. I’ve got irons in the fire now.” It’s about the difficulties of life, in some ways the realities of sanctification of “already but not yet.” Sounding like a country song for sure, it’s a kind of storytelling song with characters that pop up in various parts of the song. The final verse really drives it home with, “The Spirit and the Bride say come, these days you do what you have to, she plays my guitar like a drum…”
“Giving up the ghost” has a bit more of a blues sound, but “Out the Window” returns to a western/country kind of sound. It feels like the deserts of the great Southwest. The imagery of dust devils and turquoise rings confirm my suspicions that the sound intentionally conjures the desert. The imagery of the song is about the meaninglessness of certain parts of life how they go “out the window” but it doesn’t say specifically what those things are. In that regard it’s infinitely relatable. We can all connect with things that we invest our love that seems to be a total waste.
“Hard Times” is a wonderful folk song. Complete with wonderful fingerpicking and a solo male vocal, it sounds like a softer, more eloquent version of what Woody and Townes were up to many years ago. Frankly, the song could be a generational song. It highlights the difficulty of the economic conditions of the early 21st century. “These are hard times to live the dream.” Amen to that, brother. It’s strangely encouraging even it is dramatic sadness. All told, it’s not about money. It’s about a break up. But it’s so thinly veiled and well written, that it works for a lot of listeners. It might be the most transcendent song on the album.
The last song, “Real Thin Line” is a must listen. Somewhere between epic folk song and big arena ballad, it’s a big story. Some of the best lead vocals on the entire album, there’s something grandiose feeling about the song from the very beginning. The best line of the whole track (and the album) is, “it’s that heartbeat between the devil and you… between sayin’ ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too.” The song is about the thin line between “the tension and the outcome.” It’s really a remarkable concept. Not many people even think of these kinds of things, let alone being able to wrap such a complicated philosophical and metaphysical concept into a song. It’s really phenomenal.
Taken together this collection of songs is better than I initially thought. I knew there was “something” here, but I wondered if the variety of sounds helped or hurt the band. I’ve come to the conclusion it helps this album. Ultimately the mix of alternative sounds all serve to portray a lyrical complexity that defies simple listening. Not to put out a direct comparison, but fans of Coldplay will really like these guys. Thinking more about ethos than overall sound, fans of Courrier will enjoy Marshall McLean Band as well. They are definitely worth a spin for fans of alt rock and even, at times, alt country.