Not entirely country, but country enough, with interesting and curious textures throughout, unique and unexpected approaches to songs, and inspired songwriting graced by soaring performances, King Margo’s new album Waters Rise begs to be remarked upon, and heard by a wider audience than it currently enjoys. Produced by Gabe Lee and David Dorn, along with manager Alex Torrez who continues to flex his muscle of finding formidable talent in unlikely places, King Margo messes with a full range of your emotions by the conclusion of this album, and has you re-racking it for more.
Watch out when two women pair up and start performing together. This unlikely veteran duo of Lucciana Costa and Rachel Coats grew up less than and hour away from each other in the upper Midwest, though the Michigan/Ohio border separated the two. They were perfect strangers throughout their early careers, with Rachel working as a multi-instrumentalist for hire, and Lucciana more concerned with songwriting in LA. But when they ended up in the same touring outfit, a kismet was forged. They officially met in Kentucky, which is appropriate since they bring that kind of grit and cutting realism present in performers from Kentucky to this project.
King Margo started off as a bit more of a silly kissoff band, but Waters Rise is dark and dead serious in large stretches. The song “Floodlights & Sequins” takes more of that sassy, almost punk-inspired country rock attitude, but the album starts off with the foreboding “Crazymakin’ Town” which slowly and slyly moves toward a crescendo of emotions, and sucks you into this album. The amount of genres employed here is pretty remarkable, emblematic in how the second song “Your Fix” moves into a lounge-like soul realm, keeping the listener on their toes.
But the heart of the sound of King Margo is two women with their guitars, conjoining in harmony and song that is indicative of country roots. “A Good Woman,” “Dishes Ain’t Done” featuring Gabe Lee, along with “Monsters” and “Wildfire” are the kinds of songs you hope for when you find a female duo like this in the constant crush of new albums, and are seeking moments that will pique your emotions.
The variety of Waters Rise is one of it’s strongest assets, but it’s also one of its biggest burdens, especially at the beginning. The first four songs are all entertaining. But they’re also so varied, you’re not sure what exactly you’re getting into, which might compel some to turn away. That’s one of the dilemmas with a project like this working without a defined sound.
But the second half of Waters Rise finds a more precise footing that presents an assured picture of who and what King Margo is. It also reads the mood of the room deftly, and preys on all of our unsettled thoughts on life and society at the moment where we all feel like we’re perched on the edge of a precipice, and could teeter over at any moment, or be consumed by the rise of flood waters in the swell of calamity that seems to be swelling around us presently, so poised to pounce.
This is the dystopian mood underpinning “Monsters,” and dovetails in well with the creepy “Knowledge is a Gun,” with its toy piano sounds reminding us of all the burdening indoctrinations we all experience as kids, and carry like pack mules through the rest of our lives. “Wildfire” also touches on that sense of finality in a failing relationship. The album ends with the the sit-back-and-enjoy-it attitude toward the apocalypse in “The Big One,” but offers only a little relief from the feeling the something terrible hangs out there in the offing, and is almost inevitable at this point.
Even among the untold riches and conveniences we enjoy today compared to previous eras, it’s hard to imbibe in them fully and guilt free when you know their rein is fleeting, and their benefactors so few. Tapping into this thread of roiled emotions, while offering a little gallows humor here and there to help ease the tension, King Margo offers an uncommon experience in country and roots music that everyone may not fully comprehend, but some will find compelling, and curiously relevant and comforting to their current brain space.
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