Nick Hornby, Stephen King and other literary types have done volumes for Marah’s career, yet being a pet band for baby boomers — claiming ownership because they remind them of the music of their youth — is a one-way street that’s not going in the band’s direction. Yes, a lot of Marah’s music is rooted in the Faces, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and ’60s pop. But we don’t need Hornby and company to remind us of that, because the band is talented enough to make it a moot point.
Truth is, classic rock convention has never disappeared and is not the property of a certain generation. What is negligible is passion. Which is no ordinary word on the Philadelphia band’s fifth album, which is tough and romantic and, as is the pleasure with Marah, a complete world, with songs linking together one-by-one. There’s no producer, just the band in studio, live. It results in a ramshackle barrage of words, gang vocals and top-flight energy. The aces Marah holds are working-class anthems (“Poor People”), barroom country flicked with slide guitar (“Sooner Or Later”), and story-songs (“The Dishwasher’s Dreams”) that strike gold with lines such as, “Where the tower of plates threw shadows on our fates.”
However killer they are live, Marah has an emotional complexity that only bands such as Wilco seem to get acknowledged for. Hints of self-destruction belie the pop thrust of “Demon Of White Sadness” (“Falling out of favor was my favorite thing,” Dave Bielanko sings). No matter what references Marah continues to dodge, confidence keeps them a step ahead.