Marcus King’s El Dorado features lots of fun, 70s-inspired blue-eyed soul that’s perfectly entertaining on its own. However, as you learn more about King and about the album, its direction becomes more and more interesting. For one thing, despite his rich, textured voice, King is just 23-years-old. And King is considered a guitar hero, something that doesn’t jump out from the measured but well-produced album which has solidly tasteful guitar playing, but not a lot of fretboard fireworks. It’s only upon learning that the album is produced and co-written by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach that everything starts to make sense.
Because together Auerbach and King make an impressive team. Auerbach is a prolific producer (I’m officially worried he’s not getting enough sleep), with a distinct perspective. While some producers melt into the background of their artists’ work, Auerbach takes a more collaborative approach, sharing some of himself in the tracks. That works well for King, giving him strong songs on which to focus his considerable vocal energies. The end-product is tunes that often sound like Turn Blue-era Black Keys with a better vocalist.
Which isn’t to say El Dorado is a Black Keys reboot with a more soulful vocalist. It’s more that King’s vocal talent allows the two artists to more directly explore their source material. King doesn’t have to be inspired by 70s soul and then figure out how to make it work for his voice; he can just take it as-is. A perfect example of this is “One Day She’s Here.” If the song sounds like anything, it’s Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” And with its strings and clavinet, it sounds even funkier than that. But King is able to jump right into the track and nail the vocal, because the genre is a perfect fit for his voice.
“Too Much Whiskey” has a different kind of 70s sound, this one more rooted in country-rock, but with a decidedly Rod Stewart/Faces kind of flair. That particular comparable arises both out of King’s voice, which shares a Stewart-esque grit, but also from the electric piano, courtesy of Bobby Wood, who channels Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan.
In fact, for an album made by two guitarists, El Dorado is well-seasoned with beautiful piano work. “Break,” is a Keys-esque slow jam with lots of lovely touches, like strings and a restrained King vocal. But it is built upon Mike Rojas’ perfectly simple piano, that sketches the outlines of the song, letting the rest of the band fill things in.
El Dorado is straight-forward soul, although there are some rock moments sprinkled throughout the record (“Turn It Up” rocks especially hard), but the pleasure of the album is that while King and Auerbach are fairly rooted in the album’s chosen genre, there are enough pleasant surprises, like strings and up-front guitars, to make the album feel new and contemporary. This is a Marcus King album but it’s very much a collaboration, with Auerbach and King bringing out the best in each other.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– One Day She’s Here
– Turn It Up
– Too Much Whiskey
The Big Hit
– Too Much Whiskey
Review by Steven Ovadia