Black Deer’s Emerging Artist of the Year, 2023, shines in her full length debut, bridging old school Nashville with SoCal Americana. Fashioned in Wales and formed in the Black Country.
Release Date: 21st July 2023
Format: CD / digital
It’s turning out to be a good year for UK country singers of a female persuasion, with, to balance the Scottish side of the scales, here is a bold Brummie to hold a torch (and twang) for England. (I’m guessing Demi Marriner possibly isn’t a Brummie, per se, given all the Black Country references in her press, but, forgive, she knows the rest of us, elsewhere, get such details easily muddled….). She caught the ear of Whispering Bob at the tail end of the pandemic, earning his recognition and favour. Whilst there have been a couple of EPs, this is her first long player, and builds on the back of her years of playing her UK-Americana here and overseas, Europe and the States, becoming a reliable name to drop at festivals and similar gatherings.
Starting with a resonant twang and an echoing peal of steel, Sins sets the mood for some western gothic, before strummed guitars beckon in Marriner’s toothsomely chunky vocal, sounding way more Okie than yam-yam, the construction in classic high plains style. Already I am imagining a mix of leather and buckskin, hats, lots of hats and that mix of cowboy cool and biker chic. An infectiously good start, confident even, which allows Distorted Desires to sidle in like an old friend, giving off equal fumes of Mary Chapin Carpenter and early Lucinda, the four-to-floor drums just what Doc Holliday would have ordered, were he not a dentist. I don’t know whether it is her band that play on the album, I hope so, having heard good reports filtering back from Black Deer Festival, both of she and of they, undoubtedly helping her showcase her BD’s best emerging artist accolade, 2023. Assuming their presence, Joe Coombs, Scott Warman and Jamie Dawson, guitar, bass and drums, respectively, are the perfect foil to the fandango of her voice, with other instrumentation slotting in to fill out the mix.
Little Boy starts with some scratchy guitar, ahead of fiddle swooping in, possibly Marriner’s own, she adept on the instrument since she first picked one up, aged five. A mellower song, with some sinuous steel adding counterpoint, the construction is pure Nashville. With the end of that song catching you on the hop, Stay is mellower still, with little but an acoustic guitar to steer the way, her voice a plaintive keen, before the rhythm section wade in, driven by the footprint of a banjo swagger. A graceful song, it has everything that gives Americana a good name, and none of those that don’t. Last Summer is a little more predictable, perhaps a shout for the cross-over audiences of Shania Twain and similar, the lyrics a suitably sassy riposte: “If I never left, would you still be here too“?
One Way Conversation hits a mid-point high, a perfect loping beat, and is a duet, featuring the beguilingly androgynous alto of Tom West, a country singer from Oz, the two voices weaving and wending around each other splendidly. Shimmery shards of guitar add reflective contrast, as it builds to a choral peak. Followed by the Golden Kind, which wouldn’t feel amiss on any Fleetwood Mac album of the’80s. Or, possibly more so, and to extend the same nuance, those Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty collaborations that were then so striking. With, dare I say, a tad more welly that Ms Nicks might deliver. That classic last century California country tang permeates also into Mother, the steel a breath of early morning desert breeze. She really is an old soul in brand new boots. Another commercial construct, this would be the well played flip of Last Summer, were such a 45 to find its way to a roadhouse in backporch Tennessee.
Don’t You Worry traipses further back still, resplendent in an authentic 1950s production, more Ol’ Opry than Bluebird Café, Marriner taking a post-midnight stroll through time, clip-clop drums and all. Which is possibly time to pass comment on the overall production, the set recorded by Owain Fleetwood-Jenkins in deepest Pembrokeshire, within his own converted chapel studio. (I am not a musician, but if I was…..) The mood, if not the mannerisms, are maintained for the never more weepy entitled Cold Coffee, which is saturated in steely tropes of regret: “You are the salt in my sugar“, no less. This is accomplished songwriting, a little over six minutes of morning after maudlin. “You’re like cold coffee, you tasted better the first time around“. Holding that pensiveness, The Light is an end of show, lights up burner that could grace almost any style or genre. OK, maybe not as the banjo makes a mid song entry, but otherwise this could be any of your chart-fillers, if less reliant on auto-tune. A string section drifts in for the final third, adding a lustrous sheen to the dynamic, unashamedly sentimental if applied skillfully enough to appeal to old cynics like me.
As debuts go, this is delectable. Check it out, check her out. You’re possibly too late for tickets, but next week sees her launch the album with two shows, Brum and Manchester, that promise to be stonking: Hare & Hounds, B’ham, 27/7/23 and Gullivers, Mancs, the day after.
Here she is, with an earlier and (slightly) less lush Don’t You Worry: