It’s a thudding, sonorous drumbeat that opens proceedings on what is Portland, OR singer songwriter Leigh Marble’s third album.”Walk” describes a scenario that most of us can recognise, if not one that we’d particularly relish or want to share with anyone: ‘I’m walking till the anger’s gone / I’m going to walk into the setting sun’ sings Marble over a echoing piano riff and in other hands, it’s a song that might turn into a chaotic frenzy of powerchord guitar and scrapyard percussion. Leigh Marble however takes his cues from the folk, as opposed to the industrial scenes and the song builds to a defiantly sudden conclusion.
Written as his partner struggled with and (I am assuming) beat an unpleasant brush with a form of breast cancer, provoking an episode of depression in Marble himself, Where The Knives Meet Between the Rows is a purposefully dark and dissonant folkrock album written in response to some unhappy personal circumstances and while some listeners might think it somehow wrong of Marble to be seen to exploit areas such as these, there’s far more to the ten songs on this album than the sheer despair and morbidity that illness can inspire in even the most optimistic of us. A lot is to be said for the abilities of Marble’s band members, including as it does members of The Decembrists and some prominently talented Portland musicians, and there’s a depth and structure to the musicianship that takes Where The Knives Meet Between the Rows well beyond the misery fest it could, according to Marble’s own bio, have descended into.
Without making light of his assorted woes, Leigh Marble treads a cautious line between a deeply personally confessional performance and an uplifting expression of defiance of the darkness life has brought to him. This approach is exemplified on fourth track “Evil”, whose lyrical repetition of the phrase ‘evil don’t find me here’ is accompanied by a swirling harmonium riff that gives Marble’s voice an added emotional strength as he contemplates personal and more widely felt difficulties with a resonance that will, both he and us must feel, fade from both his and our experience. Leigh Marble also has one or two issues with what I can only interpret as some less than entirely favourable responses to his two previous albums :’all you horrid haters / I’ll feed you to the gators’ is one part of of the songs lyric I can repeat here without earning Adequacy.net a ‘Parental Advisory’ rating and as an expression of his own numerous frustrations it very nearly goes over the edge entirely, saved finally by a lengthy end segment that has more of the campfire singalong about it than merely a collection of expletives.
“Pony” and “Greener Pastures” are more measured and controlled songs, the first a boisterous country rock workout and the second a bluesy folk jam that features some verging on funky keyboard breaks. Probably a live performance worth seeing, Leigh Marble and his cohorts are despite everything actually enjoying themselves here and after the claustrophobic and intermittently desperate songs that have preceded them, the album ends on a very much lighter and more encouraging note than that which opened it.
Leigh Marble doesn’t hold much back from us. His is a committed and unashamedly embittered performance that’s nothing less than a musical exorcism of some only too real personal demons, and it’s tribute to the skill and flair of his fellow musicians, and to the eloquent clarity with which he expresses his barely suppressed anger that the message of Where The Knives Meet Between the Rows is, finally, one of hope and redemption in the face of some deeply unsettling human experience, an affirmation of his and our own resilience, and a stirringly individualistic folk rock album that is the work of a very real talent.