Unique voices seem to show up from all places. After an appearance on Conan in 2016, a singer-songwriter hailing from New Zealand began to make subtle waves in the alt-country scene. Marlon Williams was promoting his self-titled debut album, one that showed off his Roy Orbison-like voice and an ability to update the sounds of classic American country music into the scope of modern music. Almost two years to the date, Marlon Williams has returned with his second studio album, Make Way For Love. Though cliché, the album revolves around his intense breakup with fellow Kiwi singer-songwriter Aldous Harding. Williams’ perspective on his own relationship defies cliché and he crafts haunting, lovesick tracks to express the ups and downs of sharing yourself with another person.
Williams and producer Noah Georgeson expertly build an album that reflects both Marlon Williams the person and Marlon Williams the artist. Each of the album’s 11 tracks focus on a specific emotion, whether it’s falling for someone on “Come to Me,” uncertainty on “Can I Call You,” or resentment on “Love is a Terrible Thing.” Even the titles of the tracks quickly tell his love story in 11 parts. Unlike his eponymous debut album, each track on Make Way for Love is deeply personal.
Georgeson’s production manages to capture Williams’ distinctive voice which takes on many styles and forms. On tracks like “Beautiful Dress” and “Love is a Terrible Thing,” Williams sounds like a classical crooner, combining the sounds of Sinatra and Orbison. When singing in falsetto, he can bring a darkness with deep voice. “Party Boy” forces the singer to keep up with a faster tempo, and his voice reverberates across the electrified country track. Georgeson also adds a subtle echo to most of Williams’ performances allowing his voice to feel larger than it is. William’s shows off his ability to sing harmony on “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore (feat. Aldous Harding)”, combining his falsetto in duet with his ex-girlfriend Harding’s haunting folk vocals. Hearing the singer come to terms with the end of his relationship in real time, Williams takes the break up song stereotype and breathes new life into the trope.
In order for Williams’ vocal performances to become the focal point, the production varies in depth across the project. Sometimes the tracks are lush, like “Make Way For Love,” full of sweeping harmonies and the reverberated twang of guitar. Other tracks are raw, like on “The Fire of Love,” where the bass and subtle percussive rhythm allows Williams voice to shine. Unlike other modern country artists, Williams makes no qualms about integrating electronic sounds into his tracks. The spacey organ on “The Fire of Love” and the drum machine beat and synthesizer solo on “Party Boy,” explore unusual reaches of the genre. However it’s William and Georgeson’s update on the 60’s doo-wop country, where they shine the most. “I Know a Jeweller” utilizes William’s modern lyricism but still captures the essence of a prior era of country music.
Make Way For Love takes Marlon Williams’ brand and allows him to continue carving his own niche. Marlon neither fully embraces the traditional country western sound nor attempts to integrate the muddled pop of modern American country. Williams’ latest foray almost deems the artist removed from the country genre all together. He blends inspiration from the past with person perspective heartbreak to produce an emotionally difficult yet rewarding listen.