Miko Marks and the Resurrectors – Feel Like Going Home
I made up a genre a few months ago called Thinkpiece Country: country music which provides as much food for the brain as for the ears.
Miko Marks, who fits snugly in that genre, had a stab at being a country star in the mid-2000s, but after 9/11 and with a panoply of Garth replacements there wasn’t much scope for Miko’s music, just as there wouldn’t be for the music of her good friend Rissi Palmer. Rissi is now the matriarch of the efforts to give voice to non-white voices in the genre, foremost of whom is Miko; indeed, it was Rissi who told Miko that she was to make her debut at the Grand Ole Opry in autumn 2022, where she met Garth and Trisha Yearwood.
Born in Michigan, Miko follows two releases from 2021 – the album Our Country and the Race Records EP – with a full-length album released on her Redtone label. The twang of those independent releases in the 2000s has vanished, replaced by a lot of open-throated Mavis Staples-type held notes.
The title track starts as Miko means to go on, with gospely arrangements and passionate vocal contributions. At The Long Road, Miko previewed much of the album, including the marvellous One More Night and the emotional centrepiece of the album, the six-minute piano-led Peace of Mind.
River features some sublime mouth organ and slide guitar, with The Other Side (‘I ain’t looking for your shelter’) bursting out of its swampy opening few minutes into a guitar wigout. Trouble has a good time stomp and a screed of acerbic lyrics that address politicians and the modern world.
Conversely, ‘the willows weep’ on The Good Life where Miko seeks ‘strength in my struggle’ with similar sentiments shown on Lay Your Burdens Down and Deliver Me. The latter could have gone on for another five minutes had the song not faded out! The album ends with Jubilee, which repeats its title in the manner of Let It Be.
If you are preached a gospel, it is up to you as the listener to spread it. I expect Miko will return to the UK often as she finally gets her reckoning and UK listeners should welcome her next year and beyond.
Legends of Country – Anything But Country
Jof Owen has catapulted himself into the Festive 50 countdown of UK acts (coming mid-December) thanks to his first album in seven years. Jof’s day job is as a sub-editor at Holler.country, for which he wrote this track-by-track guide to Anything But Country.
So thorough is the guide that I was thinking of just linking to it on the Twitter page @CountryWOL but, given that UK acts often choose to release EPs than LPs, it is a momentous event. I saw the band tour their last album Talk About Country and was won over by songs like Jelly and Jam and It’s A Long Way Back From A Dream, which might be the only country ditty about darts players.
Here, Jof starts with the title track which will bring wry smiles to anyone who hears friends or strangers say they don’t like the twang. They simply need a wise head to introduce them to the likes of Hank Williams Jr and Merle Haggard.
What Women Do and It Isn’t Easy Being A Man tackle fashionable gender politics. The former is a bit too close to a Holler Country editorial for my liking, but the latter is the album highlight: written with Peter from Jof’s twee-infused pop duo The Boy Least Likely To, the instrumentation is tremendous, with a twinkling piano part and some mellifluous horns.
There are a couple of love songs. Punchin’ has a key change and a twangin’ guitar solo (with no g), while the jaunty Single Again is informed by Jof’s divorce. The pair of Everything’s Going South and Funerals and Fiftieths, looking back on the days when couples danced to Neil Young in ‘that overly lit village hall’, are both fun songs about getting older.
Paul Heaton, whose music is also inspired by country, will love this album. New Year New Me is a song to sing on January 1: ‘I will, I’ll change!’ sounds hopeful and there’s a lot of empathy for the narrator who forswears takeaways and wants to ‘turn my life around’.
If That’s What It Takes is a song about the industry which might well be Jof’s life in a song: ‘I’ve been looking at the optics…need to learn some dance moves’ is one way our narrator could succeed, as well as wearing a baseball cap backwards. Chapeau for the rhyme of ‘Oasis/Friends in Low Places’.
The album closes with a song about Armageddon called It’s the End of the World. ‘I’ve packed a Puzzler magazine!!’ boasts Jof before the horn section comes in and John Prine gets a namecheck. As heard in his work with The Boy Least Likely To, Jof has a great grasp of the popular song and this is a fab second Legends of Country project. Must we wait seven years for the third??!