As a fresh face in the music scene, CORY MARKS may not yet have been picked up by your audio radar. However, if the idea of blending elements of heavy metal into classic North American country music sounds in any way appealing to you, his debut album, entitled “Who I Am,” may be just what the doctor ordered. This Canadian hard rock/country music artist has released his debut has today, August 7th, 2020, via Better Noise Music.
There was a bit of confusion over which order these songs would be released. While I had thought that “Drive” was a strange choice for the first song with its lighthearted, mellow, feel-good vibe, the actual first song is the upbeat and cheeky “Devil’s Grin,” a severely singalong-able song about a passionate yet dangerous relationship set to a stomping beat and twangin’, rockin’ country guitars, that you’ll surely find yourself wanting to sing at karaoke.
Keeping the energy up with Marks‘ biggest hit, “Outlaws & Outsiders,” the second track features FIVER FINGER DEATH PUNCH vocalist Ivan Moody, ’90s country music allstar Travis Tritt, and guest guitars by Mick Mars of MOTLEY CRÜE. If you haven’t heard this yet, it’s understandable, but also for shame, as this is definitely one of the best rebel anthems of the year – throw your hands up if you feel the same!
Things get turned down a bit with “Good to Be Us;” if the album’s stereotypical tragic country ballad is “My Whiskey Your Wine,” “Good to Be Us” is the exact opposite – a sweet, romantic song with country guitars and a medium tempo, accompanying lyrics about feeling good and being on top of the world and in love. Fun fact, this song is the only track on the album not written by Marks himself. This a nice respite before another of the singles, “Blame it on the Double,” a stomping drinking/party anthem. “Another Night in Jail” is a slower, melancholic piece featuring laid-back guitars with a slightly heavy push in the emotional chorus. The dynamic pacing before and after the chorus is artfully done, making this the highlight ballad for me, full of emotion but low on cheese.
The title track starts out with a low, bouncy beat and some deeper country twangs with a lower guitar range that’s almost exclusive to country rock. It’s very much a “take me as I am” song with one of the best lines in the album, “… I’m damn sure I know who I am,” just simply due to the deep conviction with which it is sung. Is this a song about romance/heartbreak? Probably, but it’s also about living your true self. “Drive,” as mentioned, is a pure feel-good song about driving and love and nostalgia, while Marks‘ first single, “Better Off,” is a sad yet hopeful song about the realization that a relationship has run its course that holds true to the beautiful sorrow of country music without becoming whiny or annoying.
The aforementioned “My Whiskey Your Wine” is a traditional melodramatic country ballad about heartbreak and drinking one’s sorrows away. This is the definition of a country song via all the tropes, including the acoustic guitar lead and tragic violin and steel guitar, yet it doesn’t feel generic or derivative. Rather, it comes across more as another take on a broken heart from yet another unique artist who has had their heart broken once or twice. Even if I personally don’t enjoy country ballads of this particular sort, this is undeniably a perfect nod to the Merle Haggard era of tragic country.
“Keep Doing What I Do” is more of a drinking song, much in line with other party-loving tracks like “Tik Tok” by Kesha (though considerably less annoying), done in pure country style. This song is exactly the musical hair of the dog one might need to get the second day of a festival started. While I may personally not be all-in with the lyrics, having largely given up the partying life when entering my 30s, the song itself has such a great “fuck you, I am who I am” vibe layered on top of funky guitars that it’s impossible not to get into it just for its fun groove.
“Out in the Rain” is a sad break-up song with a new music video today featuring Lzzy Hale of HALESTORM on guest vocals. The video depicts a troubled relationship involving drug addiction. While the original track is nice, Hale – who is pretty much known for her fierce voice – adds a bit of extra punch to the album version, making this emotional song particularly hard-hitting.
My personal favorite song on the album is labeled as a bonus track: “She’s Hollywood.” This anthemic piece instantly made me think, “This is the hillbilly version of ‘New York’ by Paloma Faith.” There’s a heavy undertone to the track with guitar lines laid on top rather than a strict guitar melody, creating a dynamic buildup to an utterly fantastic singalong-able chorus. I cannot wait until I get to hear this live someday. I need it. Why was this demoted to a bonus track?
If country music was ever in need of a revamp, it’s now, and Cory Marks has given us just that: a fresh take on country music with added heavy influences, emotional and personal lyrics, all on top of a deep understanding of what sounds and styles made country music what it was back in the ’90s and before. While those with a strong distaste for American production may find this a bit too polished, I’d argue that it’s worth listening to regardless of how sweet the sound is. It’s just good music, one way or another.
Written by Bear Wiseman
Musicalypse review OV: 612
- My Whiskey Your Wine
- Devil’s Grin
- Blame it On the Double
- Outlaws & Outsiders (feat. Ivan Moody, Travis Tritt, & Mick Mars)
- Good to Be Us
- Who I Am
- Keep Doing What I Do
- Another Night in Jail
- Better Off
- She’s Hollywood
- Out in the Rain
- My Whiskey Your Wine (acoustic)
Cory Marks – vocals, guitars, songwriting
Kevin Churko – production
Better Noise Music