CD Review of Draw the Line by Marion Square
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Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Ryan Adams
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Marion Square:
Draw the Line

Reviewed by Greg M. Schwartz

H
ailing from the same hometown as the late, great journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Louisville, Kentucky natives Marion Square have a debut album that would make the gonzo doctor proud. Thompson was a huge fan of Jefferson Airplane when he was living in San Francisco in the ‘60s, so he’d almost certainly be drawn to the talents of Marion Square and vocalist McCall Cruse.

Cruse’s voice is more tonally similar to ‘90s gals like Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin and Tori Amos than Grace Slick, but her dynamic range compares favorably with Slick’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame skills. Backed by several fellow Louisville bandmates who enjoy switching instruments, Cruse’s compelling vocals and the band’s musical maturity announce Marion Square as a band to watch.

Draw the Line mixes a number of genres, making it hard to pigeonhole. It shouldn’t get confused with Aerosmith’s 1977 album of the same title; the band dabbles in diverse influences bringing to mind bands as wide-ranging as Coldplay, Radiohead, Rilo Kiley, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead and more.

The title track kicks off the album with some atmospheric guitar, a hallmark of the band’s sound. The song builds with Cruse’s arresting voice and some well-crafted dynamics that sound like what might happen if one of those Lilith Fair artists fronted an alt-rock band. The acoustic guitar work of the band’s “spiritual leader” Brian Goodwin and the lead guitar of Brent Wilkinson blend with a veteran sensibility.

“Fireworks” goes more in the Coldplay direction, with Cruse on piano for a mellower number. But the song builds with some cool psychedelic guitar work in the bridge that makes for a more unique sound. “Another Day” features some hooky and uplifting vocals from Cruse over an acoustic setting that brings some of the ‘70s Fleetwood Mac vibe. “Filigree” mines a different ‘70s terrain with a rocking rhythm, melodic guitar work, and saxophone leads for a tune that recalls the Grateful Dead with Branford Marsalis sitting in.

“The Captain” and “Back to Reality” offer up mid-tempo rockers with more ever-dynamic vocals from Cruse, though the theme of relationships gone awry starts to become a repetitive one. Still, the band and producer Todd Smith (Days of the New, Smashmouth) always keeps things interesting, whether it’s with a string section, well-composed dual guitar parts or well-timed crescendoes. “Always on Your Side” is yet another tune about love gone wrong, but Cruse’s angelic voice over funky guitar hooks makes it sound oh so right.

“Restless” mixes things up musically with some nifty acoustic guitar work and some DJ scratching, and the band delivers an epic with “Shaken,” as spacey guitar riffs lead into a gripping verse that builds strongly. Cruse’s haunting voice sings “I would die for you… and tonight I think I did” in the verse, and then “I was wrong about you, and I’ve been lying too” in the hard-rocking chorus. Wilkinson delivers a big guitar solo that drives the song even higher. “I’m a Stage” closes the album with Cruse emoting over a mid-tempo groove on yet another breakup song. It’s got a rocking jam at the end, suggesting Marion Square have not only the skill but the inclination to jam some of these tunes out in a live setting.

Cruse could stand to explore some wider lyrical themes, as some might find the quantity of breakup songs to have a cumulatively overbearing effect (some guy must have really screwed this gal over.) But broadening one’s lyrical horizons is something that comes with time and maturity. With Cruse and the band all in their early 20s, time is on their side. She’s got the kind of amazing pipes that can’t be taught, so the band’s future is bright. Like their self-professed idols Radiohead, Marion Square are currently offering free downloads of their new album at their site, so get it while the getting’s good.

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