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There's country, there's alt. country, and there's Marvin Country. It's a magical place, way off the map, populated by back-porch philosophers, hobos, brokenhearted lovers and spacemen, and presided over by the man the L.A. Times called ''one heck of a songwriter,'' and Billboard compared to John Lennon.
Grammy award winner Marvin Etzioni has been known over the years as producer (Toad the Wet Sprocket, Counting Crows, Peter Case), sideman (T Bone Burnett, Dixie Chicks, Grey Delisle), and songwriter (Cheap Trick, Victoria Williams). Even before there was No Depression, Marvin was the co-founder of Lone Justice. It's safe to say Marvin is revered in Americana circles worldwide.
Says Marvin Etzioni, ''For me the real country writers are Leonard Cohen and Dylan, or Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder, or Charles Aznavour and Jacques Brel. To quote Merle Haggard, 'I wear my own kinda hat.'''
Marvin Country is his ambitious fourth album. The 18 songs on his new double CD are variously original, traditional, tender, quirky, emotional and wise. There's back-porch country, barroom weepers, clapboard-church gospel, haunting folk, dusty blues and songs for which a genre's not yet been named. On some of them Marvin goes it alone; a multi-instrumentalist, he plays mandolin, mandocello, guitar, bass, piano, Mellotron, porchboard and keyboards. Others feature a distinguished cast of guests - including duets with Lucinda Williams (a heart-wrenching Lay It On The Table), Steve Earle (Ain't No Work In Mississippi), Richard Thompson (It Don't Cost Much), Buddy Miller (Living Like A Hobo), John Doe (The Grapes Of Wrath), Maria McKee (You Possess Me) and The Dixie Hummingbirds, who add their uplifting harmonies to You Are The Light, a reprise of the Americana classic Etzioni wrote for Lone Justice's acclaimed 1985 debut.
Some are born to country. Some, like Marvin, have country thrust upon them - in the form of the mandolin his grandfather, a country music-loving Polish Jew, gave him when he was eight years old. More than four decades later, the Mandolin Man, as he became known, had Keith Richards autograph it when they played together in the Sin City All Stars band at a tribute to Gram Parsons.
In the '90s Marvin released three solo albums, The Mandolin Man (1991), Bone (1992) and Weapons Of The Spirit (1994), which were lavished with praise by the press. And now at last he's back, with Marvin Country, an album full of ghosts and full of life, and with songs inspired by faith, love, hope, depression, Dylan, Kurt Vonnegut and Harry Teitelbaum, Marvin's grandfather, to whom the album's dedicated.
A folky humanist with a homely voice, the singer/songwriter brings a little of Tom Waits' artful majesty and Leonard Cohen's poetic gravity to intimate-sounding creations of love, faith and family. --Trouser Press
(Etzioni's) material ranges from stark folk-based tunes to raw to Stones-like rockers. --All Music Guide
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I waited for almost 20 years for Marvin to come out with this 2 CD set. What did I get? A little bit of Marvin's country. This time around Marvin lacks his mind blowing poetry & almost makes up the CD set with simple repeatable blues refrains. Yet he is his normal playful self with analog sound effects, inner jokes, & songs about death & salvation. I hear more Blues & a few Cajun songs than the number of any country style of music. Some other songs are beyond categorization. There are many current musical artists like Maria McKee from the "Lone Justice" days, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller & John Doe on this CD set who interlace their talent acting out, rather than sing along with Marvin. There are many references about past Country greats as with Pasty Cline & Gram Parson, even the death of Bob Dylan. Don't worry Bob is still around, but Marvin is thinking about that day that all of us shall meet.
Marvin's last CD "Weapons of the Spirit" will always hold a special place in my heart with its Universal Religious expression & comedy. Therefore I will give this "Country" a 4 for lacking that creative genius.
Many of the songs performed - all written or co-written by Marvin - were from this 2-disc CD album. Only here you get to hear some of Marvin's more celebrated friends joining him. And does Marvin have friends! Let's see Maria McKee joins him on the lead-off track "You Possess Me", in a beautiful arrangement with strings, that has McKee softening Marvin's honest, though - honestly- not melodious voice. Things get a bit more "alt" for the next song where John Doe (of the band X) joins the vocals. Succeeding tracks on disc one - the stronger of the two, in my opinion - have The Dixie Hummingbirds, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Richard Thompson (on a song that Thompson co-wrote with Marvin) on board. In the band of musicians for some of the tracks is Nashville's Americana icon Buddy Miller.
Marvin is a "different" kind of singer and - like Dylan - writes interesting lyrics and varies the production style. So, while the Lucinda Williams track "Lay It On The Table", the absolute standout on this set, comes in a gorgeous settling, tracks like the Earle one "Ain't No Work in Mississippi" - which sounds like it was recorded with a portable cassette recorder on the streets of New York City - sound much rougher. The song also gets a reprise on Disc 2 which the CD booklet lists as being performed by "The Holy Brothers" (buddy holy - yes, one "L" - and johnny b. holy). For the song "Bob Dylan is Dead", Marvin uses a choir of voices and gives the song a sparse arrangement but the sound is (unlike that Earle track) clear as a bell.
Each of the two CDs in the package clock in at just over 30 minutes so this could have been pressed as a single disc but whose complaining. And not every song worked for me but enough did to recommend this disc. Marvin's had his songs recorded by both Cheap Trick and Victoria Williams and he was a co-founder (with Maria McKee) of the 80s L.A. "roots music" band Lone Justice.
The package contains a booklet with credits and musicians and a note to go to Marvin's website for the lyrics. I little bit Leonard Cohen and a little bit Tom Waits in vocal style but with some well-honed lyrics and an all-star group of friends to join him, this is a unique CD. Try some samples and see for yourself. As for me, I'm glad I discovered him.
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