Marlon Williams has always had a darker undertone to his alt-country songs, with melancholic melodies and lyrics, and evocative, emotive his arrangements. His impressive and exploratory third solo album goes in another direction entirely.
2022’s ‘My Boy’ album is sonically complex with influences of new wave/new romantics pop, 1970s country folk, and Māori and Polynesian sounds and rhythms, which stylistically and coherently link the songs in subtle ways. Williams, his co-producer and bandmate Tom Healy and musicians Dave Khan, Elroy Finn, Paul Taylor, Hollie Fulbrook and Cass Mitchell, have created a spacious-sounding record where the instruments have their own space and shimmer within it.
Lyrically ‘My Boy’ looks at masculinity and male role models, but also the weight of legacy, something approached head-on in the buoyant Silver Scroll-finalist title track which opens the album. There’s dramatic flair too – the nervy Thinking Of Nina, with its Duran Duran/new wave influence, examines identity and is based around a character in a television drama. Mournful ballad Trips is another with ambiguous stories to tell, this time of fatal ocean voyages, colonialism, and touring.
While this all might sound intense, there’s lightness too – Easy Does It is apparently effortless in its simplicity and River Rival relaxed in flow. With the scattershot Morning Crystals he gets close to a fun ’70s country pop vibe, while My Heart The Wormhole is an unexpected delight with changing structures bringing a sense of chaos and mischief.
The album closes with a sparse, haunting version of Barry and Robin Gibb’s Promises which highlights Williams’ power as an interpreter of classic songs. As a reframing change of musical direction for the multi-disciplinary artist, ‘My Boy’ succeeds, but it also continues a run of beautiful songs with standout performances from him and his bandmates. Williams should rightly be proud of this joyful, engaging gem.