Album Review – Kendell Marvel’s “Come On Sunshine”

photo: Laura E. Partain

Now this is what I’m talking about right here. Sometimes you roll up on an album, and immediately you know you’ve made the right decision of what to feed your ears for the next 45 minutes or so. It rests right there in your wheelhouse, with the songs and the sounds that speak directly to your soul and sensibilities without any skipping through or searching around. If what you want is that Outlaw style of country music that doesn’t cut corners or lean on cliché’s with the songwriting, Kendell Marvel’s Come On Sunshine will do you just right.

For years Kendell Marvel did his time as a songwriter in the Music Row system, refining his chops and working hard to land a few cuts on some mainstream country records that would hopefully result in enough mailbox money to pay the bills in the mailbox beside it. But like so many of country’s greatest contributors, Kendell got tired of the bullshit at the end of the last decade trying to write hits for the Bro-Country acts, and decided if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself and launched his own performing career.

Perhaps you’ve seen his name in the songwriting credits for guys like Cody Jinks, Chris Stapleton, and others, and with the new album, he officially joins the beard brigade bringing back quality songs to country music. Come On Sunshine is not Kendell’s first hack at this. He released an album with Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound outfit in 2019 called Solid Gold Sounds. It wasn’t a bad effort at all. If you couldn’t get down with “Cadillac’n,” you may have been experiencing cardiac arrest.

But Solid Gold Sounds had some of the same issues as all of those earlier produced Dan Auerbach albums. Kendell’s songs were great, but the sounds at times were just a little too cute, with those 60s Muscle Shoals and Motown inflections thrown in there a little too awkwardly for Kendell’s rough around the edges approach. Marvell’s got that gravely voice, and those brutally honest songs that fit much more into the Outlaw style that Here Comes Sunshine finds with producer Beau Bedford.

This album fulfills the promise we were all hoping for when Marvel launched a performing career. Not only do you get the grit and toughness found in songs like “Don’t Tell Me How to Drink” with good friend Chris Stapleton, and the chest-pounding ode to hypocrisy “Put It in the Plate,” you get that cutting and honest songwriting only a guy whose worked at the art for decades can accomplish with songs like “Hell Bent on Hard Times” and “Dyin’ Isn’t Cheap.” All the songs on this album fit well with Kendell Marvel and with each other, but there is also a good variety of moods and attitudes found among the 10 tracks.

And just like Waylon Jennings proved in his career, you can be a hard-edged Outlaw, but also sing a love song like Marvell does with “Never Lovin’ You,” or show some vulnerability and admit to some mistakes like he does on the well-written “Fool Like Me.” Whatever Kendell Marvel is doing on this album, it’s done with conviction. The intensity is palpable in these songs, and the punchy production puts exclamation points behind the important moments.

Though Come On Sunshine doesn’t necessarily have a binding theme or message, what comes up on multiple occasions is how regardless of our circumstances, we can choose to be sad and negative-minded bastards, or we can put our heads down, play the cards we’re dealt, and frame our perspective around gratefulness as opposed to spite and grief. And even when we can’t, we can still pray for moments of sunshine to pull us out of our doldrums, as opposed to just wallowing in self-pity.

With songwriting assists from Chris Stapleton, Josh Morningstar, Kolby Cooper, Waylon Payne, and others, hopefully Come On Sunshine helps ensconce Kendell Marvel in that cool list of today’s hard-nosed revivalist songwriters, if he hasn’t already though things like his Honky Tonk Experience shows in Nashville. Come On Sunshine was the album we were all hoping for from Kendall Marvel. And now we have it.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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