Marvin Etzioni – Marvin Country!

January 01, 1970

(Nine Mile)


Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Marvin Etzioni has worn many hats
during his past quarter century in the music business, mainly those of producer
(Peter Case, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Tom Freund, Grey DeLisle) and, early on,
bass player for Lone Justice. In the early 90s he made a serious of
well-received solo records, the best of which is 1992’s The Mandolin Man.
Twenty years later he’s finally returned to solo album action, though in the
company of some better-known friends, with the double album Marvin Country!


Title aside, country music is more of an influence than a formula
here. The record veers from country rock and balladry to bluesy rock and earthy
folk, with a wide variety of guests to match. The results of casting such a
wide net, both in stylistic experimentation and talent, is unsurprisingly
uneven. Lucinda Williams reminds us why she’s not known as a harmony singer on
the faux-countrypolitan “Lay It On the Table.” A self-conscious lo-fi aesthetic
and clumsy environmental lyric undo the well-meaning “Where’s Your Analog
Spirit?” (guest-starring Shane Fontayne). The retro folk song “Ain’t No Work in
comes off as unfinished, in either version (one with Steve Earle and the other
as the Holy Brothers). “Gram Revisited” (which contains samples of Parsons
himself) and “What’s Patsy Cline Doing These Days? pts
I & II” (featuring irreverent cowpunk Jon Wayne and quirky gospel
folksinger Grey DeLisle) sound uncertainly poised between grateful nods to his
forebears and experimental art.


Luckily, the interesting failures are balanced by more successful
ventures. “Hard to Build a Home,” “Hold Fast Your Dreams” (with soul singer
Chris Pierce) and “You Possess Me” (featuring his old bandleader Maria McKee)
hit perfect notes in soulful country balladry. “Living Like a Hobo” (with Buddy
Miller) and “The Grapes of Wrath” (with John Doe) find just the right balance
of satirical librettos and rough-hewn country rock. The mandolin/drum machine
duet “Diamond in the Sky” proves that Etzioni’s cross-pollination can work
well. Many of the best songs feature Etzioni alone or with minimal
accompaniment – “God’s Little Mansion,” “Miss This World” and “You Are the
Light” (featuring the Dixie Hummingbirds) strip down to the bone for the most
effective emotional highlights.


It’s tempting to give
post-partum advice about editing and pruning, but truthfully, Etzioni’s
artistry is best experienced unadulterated, warts ‘n’ all. The simple fact that
he’s willing to release the bare-bones “There’s a Train,” in which the singer
is so moved he actually breaks down over the course of the song, says as much
about Etzioni’s vision as it does his talent. Marvin Country! may have
its cringeworthy moments, but it’s a singular statement, and it’s hard to
imagine taking advantage of the skip button when transcendence is just moments



Possess Me,” “God’s Little Mansion,” “You Are the Light” MICHAEL TOLAND


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