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CANCELED: Kendell Marvel
August 20 @ 9:00 pm
- 8PM DOORS / 9PM SHOW
- ALL AGES
- FULL BAND SHOW / STANDING ROOM ONLY
Kendell Marvel wrote and recorded Solid Gold Sounds in a matter of days, but it took a lifetime in country music to get there.
“Country was always my thing.” Marvel says. “My dad got me a guitar when I was 5, taught me a few chords, and I started learning country songs. It probably got me through a lot of times I didn’t even realize when I was kid. It felt like those songs were speaking to me.”
The new project is Marvel’s first release for Easy Eye Sound, the Nashville label launched by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Rather than dipping into their own catalogs, Marvel and Auerbach co-wrote nine of the album’s 10 songs, rounding out the collection with a lush rendering of the Bee Gees classic, “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You.”
Auerbach co-produced the album with Dave Ferguson (Johnny Cash’s American Recordings). As one of the first people to discover Marvel’s new creative direction, Ferguson made the necessary introductions that led to creating Solid Gold Sounds.
“It was very easy and collaborative,” Auerbach says. “These songs had to tell the story about Kendell and his life as a songwriter because I wanted that to be a focus, too. He’s not craving the stage or craving the spotlight. This record comes from a humble place, which I really love.”
In some ways, Solid Gold Sounds is a throwback to Marvel’s formative years, when distinctive artists like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Charlie Rich dominated the radio. Yet the album also reflects Marvel’s life now – as an accomplished songwriter, an incredible singer, and a proud father and husband. Listening to it as a whole, there’s a mature perspective that comes through his rumbling vocals – one that reflects nearly 50 years of his own experiences and influences.
“Kendell has this amazing voice, and when he backs it off a little bit, it opens up and sounds humongous,” Auerbach says. “It’s so resonant and the microphone just eats it up. We got him to
sing a little softer on this record, not to actually sound softer, but so we could turn him up louder.”
“They brought the singer back out of me,” Marvel says. “I’ll always be a songwriter, but I want people to see the artistic side of me.”
To round out the writing sessions, Auerbach brought in collaborators, such as country legend John Anderson on “Hard Time With the Truth.” Other songwriters on the project include “Big” Al Anderson, Ronnie Bowman, Pat McLaughlin, Paul Overstreet, and Bobby Wood. Like these writers, Marvel has had his share of mainstream success but few contemporary country artists are seeking them out these days. Because of that, Marvel decided to quit writing for radio.
“As a professional songwriter, you have to get on the radio. That’s your job,” he explains. “There came a time when the stuff you had to write to get on the radio, I wasn’t willing to do anymore. I’d done pretty well as a songwriter up until that point, and made a few decisions where I didn’t have to put myself in that position. So I said, “I think I’ll make a record.””
Although there’s an undeniable swagger throughout Solid Gold Sounds, Marvel proves to be an exceptional balladeer on love songs like “When It’s Good” and “Musta Kept It For Himself.” He gently offers a message of forgiveness on “Let It Go,” while “Roots of My Raisin’” concludes the album with a nod to the foundation provided by his family.
Marvel’s father worked as a welder in the coal mines of Southern Illinois and would frequently bring his buddies home to listen to his five-year-old son, who had an unusually deep singing voice for a kid. By 10 years old, he was singing with the band in a local dancehall.
At 14, Marvel’s life took a tragic turni when his older brother was killed. His parents divorced shortly after that. For a fresh start, he transferred to a different high school, where he met his future wife. Basketball games and local gigs were keeping him up later and teachers kindly overlooked his morning naps in the classroom. When he was around 17, he was introduced to an artist manager and music attorney in Nashville through a mutual acquaintance. Although Marvel wanted to be a recording artist, he heeded their advice about learning to write songs, too.
“So I honed my craft,” he says, “and my motto was ‘I’ll try to write with people bigger than me.’ I still do that. There are always things to learn.”
After high school, Marvel jumped into performing full time, but feeling burned out and needing to support a growing family, he took a job at a tire factory and essentially gave up on music. Then out of the blue, the Nashville attorney called to check in. Marvel lied and said he was still actively involved in music – and then realized it was, as he calls it, “do or die time.”
At 28, Marvel moved to Nashville. An artist development deal with RCA didn’t pan out, so he turned to songwriting, allowing him the flexibility to see his kids grow up. “I wouldn’t change anything about that,” he says firmly.
Today his deep songwriting catalog offers hits like Gary Allan’s “Right Where I Need to Be” and Chris Stapleton’s Grammy-winning single, “Either Way.” Country artists like Brothers Osbome, Jamey Johnson, Jake Owen, Blake Shelton, George Strait, and Lee Ann Womack have cut his songs, too. Meanwhile, witnessing the rise of individualistic artists like Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, and Sturgill Simpson encouraged Marvel to get back in the game.
“Those artists were saying things that most people weren’t saying, and they were writing what they knew,” Marvel observes. “They were doing it on their terms. That’s inspiring for a guy like me. Everybody wants to do their own thing, and if you can do that, and be your own person, I think you’re a fool not to do it.”
Imbued with the grit of vintage country music and the grace of gospel, Leah Blevins’ debut album is a scrapbook of sorts, a collage of feelings and memories from a decade spent working in the big city of Nashville while missing the small town she left behind. “It’s a timestamp of my twenties,” says the Sandy Hook, Kentucky, native. “Here are all the stories and all the experiences from that decade. Here are all the mixed emotions I’ve felt about things I’ve gone through and people I’ve met along the way.” First Time Feeling turns tribulations into what Blevins calls “bundles of triumphs,” which lend weight to her well-observed lyrics and gravity to her soulful vocals. “It’s about coming into womanhood, but it’s more than just a coming-of-age story. It’s me discovering that I’m capable of writing a song on my own. I’m capable of staying sober. I’m capable of all these things that once felt so far out of reach. Within those walls these songs had to be unapologetically honest.”
Or, as she puts it on the bluesy opener “Afraid,” “Have you ever been afraid, with nowhere to hide? Scared of nothing, but you’re running inside?” The growling guitars—played by friends and co-producers Paul Cauthen and Beau Bedford—sound like wolves at the door, as Blevins introduces the themes that drive this record: the reality that we’re all afraid of something, that we’re all running from it even though we’ll never get away from it. She summons those fears in songs that are both plainspoken and artful, which is apt for someone who considers herself a poet first, a singer second. “Back when I was seven or eight, I was just fascinated with words. Writing was always an outlet for me. It always felt like a release and a relief, almost like going to church.”
Church and music were the family business, especially on her mother’s side. Her grandparents, aunts, and uncles sang in a gospel group called the Harbor Masters, touring throughout Appalachia in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Once Leah and her twin sister Lacey were old enough, her Papaw taught them to sing harmony. “He would sit us down and we’d rehearse. ‘Okay, he’d tell us, this is the part where you come in.’ My grandparents were two of the best people on the earth, and I have so many fond memories of being with them.”
Blevins describes her parents as free spirits who nurtured their children’s musical talents. Her mother was a dental assistant and phlebotomist who cranked the Dixie Chicks loud; her father, a dentist and Elvis impersonator turned state politician, brought home instruments and equipment he found at estate sales and flea markets. But they split when the twins were young, so Leah and her sister shuttled back and forth between her parents’ houses, her grandparents’ farm, and her older sister’s home. She spent a lot of time singing in churches, but she also spent a lot of time around drugs and alcohol. “I’ve had a lot of misfortune in my life,” she says, “but I look at it now with peace in my spirit because I know my parents both went through a lot in their own lives.”
Blevins addresses them directly on “Magnolias,” with its sharp piano shuffle setting the scene as she sketches out the “picture-perfect Sunday morning” in the first verse: “Sister’s on a low note. Mama’s playing piano keys. Papaw, won’t you teach us that sweet harmony?” It’s a beautiful tableau, summed up perfectly on the chorus: “You are magnolias, roses on a chainlink fence.” While the music they sing together and the churches they visit promise redemption, Blevins understands that she must find her own way. “Leavin’ all that mess I made to burn behind me,” she sings, hitting those final syllables forcefully and soulfully, as though leaving makes her lighter and allows her to soar. It feels like a full, nuanced autobiography in just four minutes.
First Time Feeling is an album about leaving. Just as she had to leave Kentucky, she had to leave her beloved Nashville—a city that has nurtured and inspired her over the past ten years—to make this record. At the invitation of Cauthen, whom she met at a Van Morrison tribute concert in 2016, Blevins booked sessions at Modern Electric in Dallas. “I fell in love with Texas. I stayed at this old hotel in a room with no TV, so it was just me and my notepads and journals. It was totally quiet—a really beautiful time.”
In the studio she, Cauthen, and co-producer Bedford (of the Texas Gentlemen) recorded fast, using mostly first takes to the capture the spontaneity in her vocals, to preserve the intensity and immensity of the emotions in these songs. With its sanctified organ and Byrdsy riff, the title track recalls both the sensuality of Lucinda Williams and the everywoman perspective of Loretta Lynn, as Blevins sings about making the mundane feel momentous again: “Kiss me like you don’t know all my secrets, touch my body like you’ve never seen it.” “I was in a relationship with someone when I wrote that song, and I remembered wanting that feeling of young love, that excitement you had in the initial stages. Everybody wants that spark.”
Blevins leaves “First Time Feeling” open-ended: Finding that sensation will be difficult but not impossible. Even the darkest songs on this record hold out hope for a happy ending. “I want people to find something relatable within these ten songs. But for me they’re a reminder that all the pain that I went through—which isn’t that different from the pain every human goes through—it’s all mine. By making this album, I’ve taken it, I’ve owned that pain, I’ve made it mine, and I’ve wrapped it up with a bow on top.”