The Doc Marshalls
No cover, great eats.
The Doc Marshalls have made a departure with their third full length release, Look Out, Compadre. The one time French Cajun and honky-tonk Brooklyn based band packed its portmanteau and headed down to Nashville. And, with this latest release, the band has made a left turn departing from its classic country sound to one of Americana.
Yea, it’s ironic. The band sweats it out in the urban gritty Honky Tonk jungle of NYC for years playing stellar fiddle two-steps and then moves to Music City, USA, the country capital of the world, to perform guitar driven Americana. So, fans of the the band’s No Kind of Life (2005) and Honest for Once (2008) may be left scratching their heads and wondering to themselves, what happened?
What has happened is that the band had move forward. Gone is the squeezebox Acadiana and Dwight Yoakam rootsy classic country revival sound the Doc Marshalls have been heralded for. But give Look Out, Compadre a serious listening to before making any quick judgments. Like the previous Doc Marshall releases, the song writing on Look Out, Compadre is outstanding. Song writer and band leader, Nick Beaudoing has always been able to bridge articulate, at times riveting, lyrics with the traditional sounds of country. The band’s new open folk Americana sound allows Nick space to expand his writing in a way that allows the music to grow and intertwine around the story he is crafting. Listen to the record’s opener, Here They Come, for an example. Nick starts with a a single guitar strum and vocal,
“Look out, Compadre, there’s glass on the ground. They have us surrounded it won’t be long now.”
The band then steps in with a nuanced distorted electric guitar performance by Josh Kaufan that aptly provides apprehension to Nick’s lyrics of foreboding.
“They have guns trained on every window that’s facing the east and the west, sunrise and sunset.”
The band continues to subtly ramp up the impression of anticipation and unease reflecting the feelings of the storied soldiers.
“And they’ve rolled up their cannon on top of the hill. Stay away from the wall where the horses were killed. And you wait for my signal, the ole’ kettle drum. Let it rip when I scream here they come, here they come, here they…”
It is here that the band kicks in with strong portentous electric guitar for four solid measures to intimate the last stand. This type of song craftsmanship where music and lyric interplay together without the denouement of the expected chorus just wasn’t possible with the tidy verse-chorus type of writing that comes with more traditional country music.
Similar writing and arrangements continue through the record with songs such as Kernow as it dynamically fluctuates toward and away from the listener, even breaking down to just guitar and Rhoades piano at one point, When I Wake which has enough discordant guitar playing to make Lee Renaldo smile and All At Once with its distinctive varied vocal delivery. Each song on this disc allows the instrumentation, melody and lyrics to act as partners in providing the listener a strong storied experience.
Look Out Compadre’s cover art is of a cannon surrounded with smoke and flames firing out at some unknown target outside of disc’s frame. Sometimes to break with the past one must destroy it and the easy interpretation of the artwork is to view the cannonball being fired at the band’s previous musical self. Of course, every cannon provides recoil, a kick back while being fired. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Look Out, Compadre and appreciate how distinct it is from the previous incarnation of the Doc Marshalls. The musicianship is outstanding and supports the excellent song writing. Yet, I must admit, I do hope some of the old band kicks back in the next release. The Doc Marshalls are just too good at the two-step to bid it permanent farewell. Until then, Look Out, Compadre will be my new friend.