This is quite simply a stunningly good album. Marlon Williams probably knew expectations were high for Make Way For Love, his second outing, and the Christchurch born singer songwriter and his band The Yarra Benders meet them with ease. It’s a superbly produced mix of ballads, like the standout Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore (a duet with his former love Aldous Harding), and more uptempo songs like What’s Chasing You and Party Boy. Pinning down the musical genre isn’t easy. Alt country? Americana? Maybe both, with the album closer, the title track, giving us the swing of a Maori showband. Some songs are given a simple treatment, and others are sumptuously delivered. Love Is A Terrible Thing is mainly voice and piano, while Can I Call You builds into a multi layered production piece.
Above all, Williams’ voice takes centre stage. His singing truly is a gift. He can dip down to rich and deep tones, and soar to some ethereal higher place. If you are going to sing a collection of songs about love you better sound like you mean it and you better sound like you’ve lived what you’re singing about. Marlon Williams hits the mark on both points.
As we reported last November – when Williams spoke to Crave! and other media after playing a four song selection from the album – this was written in the aftermath of a relationship break up. Although the album is bookended by two hopeful songs, Come to Me and Make Way For Love, the rest is an exploration of love’s darker territories.
In Party Boy, we find defiance: “If I catch you sniffing around my pride and joy, I’m sorry boy, you party at the bottom of the sea”; in What’s Chasing You, a confession of failings: “oh why do we do what we do when we lie, we give shape to the struggle”; and in The Fire of Love, a bitter farewell: “And now the boys are feeding on every gift she brings, and I’m left alone to tremble like an adolescent king”. The observations are mostly reflections of what the singer is feeling, but in I Know A Jeweller, Williams looks outward: “if you ask him for the going price of gold, well he’ll look you in the eye, till he knows that you’ve been sold”.
He’s a young man – still only 27 – but this is a mature work. It’s insightfully written and wonderfully delivered. When meeting Williams last November he gave the outward appearance of a typical modest Kiwi. But you sensed the ambition in him, to keep improving and strive for something great. He’s well on the way.
Marlon Williams and The Yarra Benders are now on tour in the UK, before heading over to North America, back to Europe and then on to Australia. They’re due back here in May for four concerts, starting in Wellington on May 19th, and finishing in Auckland on May 25th. The tour, and the new album, Make Way For Love, are highly recommended.