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On the road again

Bits and bobs, smatterings of newer songs and much older songs will make up Marlon Williams' concert, says the alt-country troubadour of his return to Gisborne in March.

This will be Williams' first solo tour in more than six years. Playing solo means there is no place to hide, says Williams.

“You make an intimate connection with the audience, you're more focused.”

The tour comes off the back of the collaborative album, Plastic Bouquet, Williams made with Saskatoon cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum. Williams heard their music by chance in 2017.

“The collaboration came through me being on the tour in Europe, driving in the van with the band. I heard them singing Springtime of the Year on a Spotify playlist. It was a ‘eureka' moment.”

Having grown up with the sound of artists such as Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, the duo's country sound resonated with him.

“When I first heard it, I imagined it was a jam from the 60s that was somehow lost in time,” says Williams.

In fact, an old-fashioned, country sound with a clip-clop rhythm that dips into a waltz tempo with a 60s-sounding country guitar style can be heard in the track Old Fashioned Man.

“Then, I found out they were younger than me,” says Williams.

“From there, I messaged them and gushingly praised what they were doing. We started chatting and decided to make an album together.”

When Williams joined the cousins for Christmas at the Anderson family's ranch in Saskatoon in 2018, they wrote and recorded the bulk of what would become Plastic Bouquet over three weeks.

“I became a farm boy really quickly,” says Williams.

“I completely jumped into their world. We found a dynamic that worked well, because we all love old Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard and have the same sense of humour. We're kindred spirits.”

The album title was originally going to be Cross by the Highway, a song about a tragedy on the road to Saskatoon. A bluegrass sway accompanies the sombre recollection with lines like, “He was a good kid, that's what they say, on the cross by the highway, with a plastic bouquet.”

“It's a dispassionate relay of the accident like a news story, but, through the matter-of-factness, it has this other level of tragedy. It makes the listener work.”

There's an element of the retrospective and the introspective to the album, says Williams.

I Wonder Why pairs creaky guitar and airy slide with the fluttering hook, “You're fooling ‘round with my heart. I wonder why”, while Anderson's voice glides over acoustic strumming on Your Mind's Walking Out as Williams responds with a warm harmony.

On the chorus, Anderson offers the assurance, “Time is on your side, though you're looking like you're barely alive.”

The album's opening song Isn't It is one of Williams' favourites. “It's a country song, but there's aggression and symbolism to the lyrics. It really resonated with me in an abstract and forceful way, almost like punk.”

The song Arahura reflects Williams' roots as it “brings the South to the North” with a Pacific harmonic sensibility, ethereal melody, and slow burning soundscape.

“Arahura is a river in New Zealand,” says William.

“There were a lot of wars fought over pounamu. So, the song takes the perspective of the river. I'm wondering why silly humans are fighting over rocks when there are so many at the bottom. This was a chance for us to tell a Pacific story on the album.”

An Evening With Marlon Williams, War Memorial Theatre, Friday, March 19, 7.30pm. Tickets $62.50-$72.50 from ticketek.

A PACIFIC STORY: Alt-country troubadour Marlon Williams prepares to return to Gisborne as part of his first solo tour in about seven years. Picture supplied