Al He will perform at the historic Troubadour, along with four other artists for a prize of $25,000 and an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show.
It is not hard to understand why he was selected out of the thousands screened by the Guitar Center staff and judges; his unique brand of songwriting and performing stands out anywhere. With a voice that can shape-shift from soft and seductive to urgency and pain, he grabs hold of your ears and burrows into your heart. Like his earlier album, Someday Soon with the Satisfied Mind band, his new EP, Electric Soul Magic is a winner, regardless of how he does at Guitar Center finals next week.
Marson spent 6 years traveling country, living here and there, writing songs, falling in and out of love, collecting experiences – some good, some not good at all. Electric Soul Magic distills that experience - both the lows and the highs but mostly the lows - into five heart-piercing pleas for peace in the center of loneliness. We hear those cries, distant and wounded, swathed like a defenseless child in acoustic guitar rhythms, overdubbed choruses and modulated percussion. We have no choice but to respond.
Marson sucks us into his solitary world with lines like the captain says the whole thing is going down/please remain in your seats/there’s a beauty in where you are when you are /where you want to be in the lead off song, “Here With Me” and then demands in the chorus, If you are here with me/ be here with me. We are here with him as the song rolls forward, gaining momentum until it is unstoppable. Our stomach tightens and our body sways -- we are so here with Marson. But while the music carries away our heats and kinesthetic, our mind asks, how can something so plaintive feels so good? That’s the Marson magic, the Electric Soul Magic.
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Marson changes tempo as he opens “Love You Safely” with simple clicking drumsticks, painting the emotional picture of a trepidations encounter that he wants so badly, but is afraid of – actually afraid of himself. As tight snare hits set the beat, a bass builds a muted backline and a guitar adds color to Marson’s pain-pitched voice. We understand his reticence: before we get close/and take off our clothes/I think you should know/ I don’t really feel like I can love you safety. Whose safety? Hers? His? I suspect it is his safety the song aims at. It is why he is lonely, and why the song is a shimmering thing of beauty.
But the loneliness is not unremitting, at least not in Marson’s musical forms. “Stuck in the Mud” is down and dirty blues rock, complete with electric guitar riffs and high-energy sophisticated drumming -- a head bobbing, foot-tapping counterpoint to the title and the lyrics of two people in a relationship that is stuck. Marson then doubles down with “You Don’t Need a Man”, opening with a funky guitar and solid R&B rhythm powering his talking blues. As he gathers energy, the funk gets deeper, the rock guitar ratchets up and Marson goes into soprano territory: you don’t need a man/cause baby I’m a man/and your sure don’t need me. Sour grapes? Marson captures it with a soaring cry and full throated rock powering out an emotion we have all felt at some time in our lives.
He eases down a bit at the end of the EP and glides across familiar ice in “Piece by Piece”, skating smoothly across the memories of the loss of a deep relationship, swinging us around in the bright cold. Gone are the funky guitars, the soaring cries, the guitar riffs. In their place is maybe the purest Joe Marson, talking personally across the table from us, sipping a drink, pondering the could-have-beens and the should-have-beens. Piece by Piece” is the weathered bronze bookend of the album, signifying the point where the search for a satisfied mind in love is over, the realization of satisfaction with present is now what is left. Soft and gentle, “Piece by Piece” laps at us like a slowly rising tide, each incoming wave dampening us with a little more remorse, a little more melancholy, a little more of the special magic that is Joe Marson.
Electric Soul Magic takes you on a delicious journey into a lonely heart, one that you will want to take again and again, letting the warmth of his voice sustain you through the iridescent ice of his lyrics.
Host, Music FridayLive!