I’m routinely astonished at the wealth of great music that goes unheard—not just by me, but the world writ large. Some times it’s understandable if the artists involved are up-and-comers, as breaking through requires equal parts luck and talent, but other times…it’s a head-scratcher. Miko Marks and the Resurrectors are a great case in point. Their latest single, “Feel Like Going Home,” is an R&B-infused track sure to thrill fans of Southern Avenue and other retro-minded artists and bands, not to mention folks who enjoy soulful southern rock. Upon first listen, you’d almost be forgiven if you mistook it for a long-lost Merry Clayton acetate that was recently discovered on a dusty shelf at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio; like Clayton, she possesses one of those voices that bonds itself with your soul.
I stumbled upon Marks about this time last year from this review over on the Highway Queens blog; the album in question, Our Country, was her first in more than a decade and damn good—much better to my ears than her long-ago “mainstream” country albums, Freeway Bound (2005) and It Feels Good (2007), which I listened to not long thereafter and—since I knew I should mention them here—again this week. I’m far from a mainstream country fan, of course, so my criticisms of those efforts could apply to almost every mainstream country album from then to now—they mostly sound generic. One exception, however, is “Don’t Come Cryin’ to Me” from her debut, which adds a taut R&B groove to the Vince Gill song, which he cowrote with Reed Nielsen. It reminds me of the Jim Weatherly songs recorded long ago by Gladys Knight & the Pips as it’s country, soul and R&B all at once. If properly promoted, it would (or should) have been a major hit.
The highlight of her sophomore set, at least to my ears, is the final track, “So Much Love,” written by Marty Rainone, which also replicates the Gladys-Weatherly feel. (Those songs were country to the core, but when Gladys sang them they became much, much more.)
There are other nuggets on both albums, too, I should mention, including the touching “Mama,” but—as I inferred above—more often than not the songs come across as cowboy karaoke. Whether that was due to her label trying to shoehorn her into “modern country” or Marks herself attempting the same, I don’t know, but this I can say for certain: That it took an exodus from Nashville—and more than a decade—for Marks to resurface speaks volumes about the music industry. Our Country is a compelling listen that effortlessly blends country, rock, R&B and gospel, with a dash of folk mixed in. Her rendition of “Hard Times,” the Stephen Foster song, is one of the best I’ve heard.
The gospel-infused “Mercy,” which she cowrote with band members Justin Phipps and Steve Wyreman, is another highlight from the album. Here’s a stripped-down live rendition:
In retrospect, I wish I’d written about Our Country as well as her EP from late last year, Race Records. (Of course, to paraphrase a Lucinda Williams lyric, if wishes were horses we’d all own ranches.) Race Records is an all-covers affair that delves into the roots of American music as well as its more recent past. Check out her cover of Johnny Bush’s “Whiskey River,” which was also recorded by fellow Nashville ex-pat Willie Nelson, for one example.
I’ll conclude with another YouTube gem: the 36-minute Our Country release party, in which Marks, Phipps and Wyreman perform the album’s songs plus the yet-to-be-released “One More Night.” The amalgamation of genres is as effortless as on album and, in some respects, the performance even better (as live music always is). It’s American music at its best.