Emoti-rock For the Masses

Draw the Line (Independent)
Marion Square

By Kevin Gibson

Marion Square is a group of young 20-somethings making multi-layered pop-rock that evokes memories of the music of the 1970s. One can only imagine they were force-fed Fleetwood Mac and Chicago by their parents while growing up - which is actually considered child abuse in some states.

Nevertheless, the kids that would go on to form Marion Square have turned the experience into a positive.

Vocalist McCall Cruse is front and center in this lush production (sparklingly done by Todd Smith, with assistance from Dan Weigleb, who also played bass); she has the kind of pipes you expect to hear these days on the commercial country airwaves, replete with emotionally wired inflections and a power that can be startling. Indeed, it's the voice that could easily be exploited in the wrong hands by dressing her up in Daisy Duke shorts and a cowboy hat and making a video with a cowboy and a truck.

What helps these songs succeed, though, is that the band - Brian Goodwin, Ian Willmot and Brent Wilkinson - can kick in and match Cruse at the drop of a hat and without sounding washed out or dead inside in a Matchbox 20 kind of way. It seems Smith and his team, along with the other three-fourths of Marion Square, simply know when to stand back and when to kick in a little extra.

This is never more evident than on "Shaken," as the guitars kick in like an airplane engine while McCall wails, "I was wrong about you / and the hell that we've been through." Eat it, Fleetwood Mac.

The truth is, these young folks like them some Radiohead and every so often that creeps to the surface - even though this stuff is primarily emotionally charged pop, carrying the requisite saxophone fills, infectious hooks and songs about longing, love and pain. And love. Hey, man, if getting heard on radio is the goal, this is the way to do it. People dig on the love songs.

"Always on Your Side," for instance, offers up the tried and true I-don't-want-to-lose-you-but-I-don't-want-to-be-with-you dilemma. Sure, it's been done, but this is pop and Marion Square manages to put its own spin on the drama and with a nicely rocking backdrop to boot.

I'm reminded of the Bangles, the butt of many jokes for being 1980s sellouts, but their producer, David Kahne, once pointed out that the commercialism was a natural by-product of the way they sang together and the way they presented themselves. Hard to be a gritty rock band if you're four beautiful songbirds, right?

My point is, with McCall's gifted vocal abilities and her bandmates' rock abilities and sensibilities, maybe they weren't so much made for radio as much as radio was made for them.

Marion Square performs August 28 at Brownie's the Shed. Find out more at www.marionsquaremusic.com.