Despite the title, the 1999 movie (and 2000 Oscar winner for Best Picture), American Beauty, was ultimately a pretty dark film, and – spoiler alert – things certainly did not work out too beautifully for it’s tortured protagonist, Lester (Kevin Spacey), nor his tragically ambitious wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening). Yet to me the core of the story, around whom it’s weighty meaning spun, was neither of those co-stars and bold-faced Hollywood names, but the teenage boy, Ricky, played by the completely unfamiliar 20-year-old actor Wes Bentley, who quietly uttered the line that stayed with me long after the infamous red rose petals that made up the picture’s central imagery would have faded: “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world,” whispered Ricky, “I feel like I can’t take it.” Now, that may not always be quite how I feel about the world, but it is, in short, how I invariably feel about music – and ostensibly how I came to name this music blog what I did. Blessedly, such thoughts arrive to me frequently; as much as I try to immerse myself in music old and new, I regularly encounter greatness with which I was in no way previously familiar. And occasionally I come upon a new artist whose musical capacity – let’s say, whose musical beauty – is almost literally staggering, so as to challenge finding a proper description or appreciation. I felt this way a few years ago when I first discovered another heretofore unknown 20-year-old, a singer, songwriter, guitarist and bandleader out of Greenville, South Carolina named Marcus King.
Now all of 23, King has been leading the stalwart 6-piece Marcus King Band through relentless touring and three full-length albums for a total of six years, and the most recent of those records was 2018’s truly extraordinary Carolina Confessions, produced by wunderkind Dave Cobb (what great discs of the last few years haven’t been produced by Cobb?). Throughout its ten tracks, King exhibits remarkable – and remarkably mature – sonic and stylistic range as both a raspy, passion-filled singer, seemingly straining for but always finding the perfect pitch, and as a swashbuckling, string-bending lead guitarist capable of igniting his instrument and his audience. In this, the album-opening track, ‘Where I’m headed,’ King channels sounds and vibes both from The Allman Brothers Band of the Eat A Peach era and Van Morrison circa Astral Weeks/Moondance, acts whose heyday (and accordant timelines) took place decades before King was even born. Yet King’s authenticity is not to be questioned: he’s a fourth-generation musician, an old soul ever-mindful and respectful of the roots of southern rock, soul, and blues which form his creative base, and who also has, since he was teenager, traded licks with mentors (and fans) Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. I’m not specifically familiar with the proceedings utilized in the making of this tune, but I even perceived King’s genuineness in some measure in not smoothing out all the rough spots of the recording – exhibited with his calling out “Bridge!” to the band (at 2:24) and then gently “Hey!” (at 4:39) to signify the ending transition to follow his long-winding slide solo, and leaving both in the final mix rather than cleaned-up. In an age of endless editing and overdubs, that likely indicates a live recording in studio. That’s real. And plenty real, too, was King’s omnipotent performance when I saw him earlier this year at Port Chester’s Capitol Theater, where he practically seared his path across the floor with his fire-breathing playing upon first bursting on the stage (my son Max, attending with me, mock recoiled as he uttered with fascination, “Whoa, coming in hot!”), but then proceeded to display the full dynamism and breadth of his thrill-inducing talents over the course of two spellbindingly impressive hours. The next time seeing him live can’t come soon enough for me, but it’ll probably be this winter, when the kid from small-town South Carolina graduates to headlining New York City’s legendary Beacon Theater.
In King’s ‘Where I’m Headed’ chorus he repeats the phrase, “’Cause I don’t know where I’m headed, babe / But I know I’ll see you there.” It’s a beautiful line, and a beautiful sentiment as well. Notwithstanding the sight of Kevin Spacey’s American Beauty character’s brains ending up dripping slowly down his kitchen wall, there is indeed just so much beauty in the world – the infinite beauty to be found within music, anyway. I’m awfully glad I came across the beauty that is one Marcus King, and can’t wait to locate another analogous example. And the inherent beauty in that notion is that just maybe it’ll be the next thing I listen to.
“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it”