A 'Country' stretch

A 'Country' stretch

Lone Justice co-founder Marvin Etzioni lays out an eclectic musical vision with Marvin Country

By Bliss Bowen 04/30/2012

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Releasing a double album sounds positively old-school, harkening back to classic rock’s heyday. Marvin Etzioni, best known as co-founder of ’80s cowpunk pioneers Lone Justice, takes advantage of that expanded length to explore the varied forms — gutbucket country, folk, punk, gospel, old-time, blues — that inspired his as well as Lone Justice’s vital, rootsy music on his two-disc album “Marvin Country,” just released on Nine Mile Records and currently streaming on his Web site.

 “Country” is a highly elastic term as Etzioni applies it here. Even by the wide-tent standards of Americana, of which it is a solid exemplar, “Marvin Country” is an eclectic enterprise. Which is all to the good.

Recorded in spurts over the years, “Marvin Country” features a starry roster of friends and acquaintances made throughout his career, including fiery Lone Justice frontwoman Maria McKee, whose unexpectedly low, dusky vocal deepens the seductive quality of the opening ballad “You Possess Me.”

A duet with Lucinda Williams, “Lay It on the Table,” is another highlight of the first disc — a poignantly rendered requiem for love and dimmed hopes. Other guests include Steve Earle, Buddy Miller, Trevor Menear, Chris Pierce and X frontman John Doe, who cranks it past 11 for a loose romp through “The Grapes of Wrath.” Etzioni’s choice sidemen include Lone Justice drummer Don Heffington, pedal steel wiz Greg Leisz and Steeldrivers fiddler Tammy Rogers.

It’s all an affecting showcase for Etzioni’s songwriting, which pays homage to artistic forebears ranging from Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to Gram Parsons. Sample-tweaked tracks such as “Where’s Your Analog Spirit?” and “What’s Patsy Cline Doing These Days” lighten the mood with edgy production and humor, but they’re forgettable novelties. It’s the stark balladry, notably “Ain’t No Work in Mississippi” (presented in two different versions, with Earle and the Holy Bros.), “A Man Without a Country,” “Hard to Build a Home” and “Miss This World,” that not only outlines the early-20th-century folk heritage from which Etzioni has drawn musical sustenance, but also makes “Marvin Country” relevant in 2012.

Etzioni also recasts the Lone Justice anthem “You Are the Light,” with harmonies from gospel legends the Dixie Hummingbirds underscoring the song’s power as an enduring testament to hope and healing. Its thematic counterpart is the album-closing “Hold Fast Your Dreams,” a melodic bit of sunset melancholy that eloquently sums up a life’s lessons learned:

“Don’t be afraid to take the chance
Dance the way you want to dance
Live the way you want to live
Kiss the way you want to kiss
You’ve got to feel it
You’ve got to believe it…
Hold fast your dreams
That’s all you need to know” n

The Grand Ole Echo presents Marvin Etzioni at the Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Also on the bill: Loves It and Christopher Lockett. Free admission. Info: (213) 413-8200. Marvincountry.com

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