Greenville’s Marcus King Band has spent the last two or three years becoming one of the fastest-rising groups in the country.
Led by their namesake’s fiery, jaw-dropping guitar skills, the six-piece group has toured the world, been featured in Guitar Player magazine, appeared on “CBS This Morning” and “Conan,” and watched as their eponymous 2016 album (produced by Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers Band) rose to No. 2 on Billboard magazine’s blues charts.
So the smart thing to do when it came time to record their follow-up album would’ve been to lay down 10 blues-rock scorchers, the kind that emphasized the guitar wizardry that King has been spinning out since he was 8 years old, and give the people what they wanted. But that wasn’t in the agenda for King or his band.
Their just-out album, “Carolina Confessions,” does have its share of awe-inspiring six-string work, and there are a couple of grinding blues-rockers like the smoking ballad “Confessions” and the sinister, album-closing epic “Welcome ’Round Here.” But for the most part, “Carolina Confessions” is an expansion on the band’s sound, working in horn-spiked R&B numbers (“How Long”), wistful acoustic ballads (“Autumn Rains”), nimble, spacious funk (“Homesick”), and nods to country-gospel (“Where I’m Headed”).
King says the album, produced by Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile) is a response to the evolution of his band over the last three years.
“We’ve grown a lot together as a band and developed more of a vision of what we wanted to do,” he says. “So my writing style changed because of that influence.”
In the Upstate, we’ve known about the 22-year-old King’s guitar skills for quite a while now, so his incredible solos on “Carolina Confessions” won’t be much of a surprise. His singing, however, has taken a quantum leap. King sounds soulful, confident, and in command of his voice on the new album, singing in a husky growl reminiscent of the great Gregg Allman.
“I feel more like a singer now than I ever have,” King says. “There was always part of me that was insecure about my voice, and I still am sometimes, but now it feels like an extension of what I want to say on guitar. I’m able to express myself fully with my voice and my guitar playing now, and it’s nice to have another outlet.”
King says that some of his newfound confidence has simply come from the hundreds of shows the band has spent the last few years playing, and some of it has come from watching the other artists they’ve performed with.
“I watched people like [former Black Crowes singer] Chris Robinson, who really influenced me with the way he used his voice,” King says, “and his confidence onstage and offstage.”
As for working with Cobb, one of the most in-demand producers on the music scene right now, King says it was a collaboration that felt like it was meant to be.
“First of all, he’s a fantastic human being, and I knew that within the first five minutes of talking to him,” King says. “He’s from Savannah, Georgia, and I’m from Greenville, so we had similar upbringings. We had a great dialogue right off the bat, and I knew it was going to be kismet. As a producer, he’d say what he was thinking and from there we’d work it out as a band. He’d also play acoustic guitar on the tracks and be in the room with us recording, so it was a more intimate approach to production.”
But it wasn’t King’s increased confidence as a singer or a good relationship with his producer that fueled the expansive sound of “Carolina Confessions.”
“We’re trying to blur the lines,” King says. “It’s something I’ve always thought was important. We don’t want to be regarded as one particular genre, whether that’s blues or rock. We encompass the idea of Americana roots music, from funk to country to gospel, jazz, and rock ’n’ roll. We have people in the group that are coming from all these different schools of thought.”