Marlon Williams is a star on the rise. From the bright lights of the Sydney Opera House to tent city folk festivals at Meredith and Port Fairy, Williams has been bringing his alt-country crooning to the masses – and the masses have liked what they’ve seen!

Now, with a self-titled, debut album newly released, Williams is finally feeling what it’s like to go ‘commercial’. Since an up and move to Australia back in 2013, the New Zealand native has been relentlessly working his way through Melbourne music circles, stunning everyone with broody ballads that ooze other-worldly charm and Deep South mystique.

The independently released LP is yet another exciting step forward for the popular performer. With predominately stunning originals, Marlon Williams is a dark and dreamy gem of a record. Soaked in heartache and drunken reflection, the mood is completely at odds with the bubbly 24-year-old’s real-life persona, but by golly can the boy sonically smoulder!

Recruiting a familiar cast of friends to contribute to the solo effort, Williams calls upon bandmates from his teenage days, with appearances from the The Unfaithful Ways and the regular touring backing band The Yarra Benders for big numbers. Kiwi troubadour Delaney Davidson provides some guitar, and girlfriend Aldous Harding pops up on guest vocals, just to name a few.

Williams soon kicks things off with the rousingly rollicking ‘Hello Miss Lonesome’. Singing about a troublesome woman who returns to her old stomping ground to stir up memories, the fast-paced opener sees Williams trill “funny how I lose my mind when you come around” over a barrage of lightening-fast chords.

Having recorded the album with long-time producer Ben Edwards at The Sitting Room studio back home in Christchurch, it’s no surprise that friend and regular collaborator Tim Moore’s tragic tale ‘Dark Child’ is a feature – and stand out – on the album. With the full force of the band behind him, Williams sings about the premature death of violent, rebellious son.

Although the baby-faced singer doesn’t have a son, he sings of the anguish of parental failure with such authenticity and emotion. Wistful slide guitar notes linger through the echoey verses – spine tingling at times – as Williams’ country-twanged, layered vocals moan and bellow simultaneously in the foreground.

Harding’s ethereal, Celtic-infused vocals harmonise well with Williams’ languid expressions on ‘Lonely Side of Her’. Despite the melancholy-laced lyrics, the duet still manages to evoke romantic and nostalgic overtones (however, this could just be my bias having already seen the loved-up couple sing it together live at The Gasometer).

Williams sandwiches his own material with some covers too. There’s a recently rediscovered Bob Carpenter song (‘Silent Passage’) and the expertly re-imagined fan favourite ‘When I Was A Young Girl’ by Nina Simone. Even though he sings from a female perspective, again, you are taken by the lyrical honesty and raw, dwelling delivery, and find yourself believing everything he says he did… as a girl.

His first solo single ‘Strange Things’- a finger-picking ditty about a man haunted by the ghost of his dead wife – continues the running theme of death and self-destruction, however the upbeat tempo delightfully misleads.

The LP ends on a quieter note with ‘Everyone’s Got Something to Say’. A Williams original, the track expresses a subtle dissatisfaction with over opinionated people, warbling that these days “everyone’s got something to say”.

Well, I have something to say. Do yourself a favour and buy this album. Buy it now, because it might just be one of the best country/folk/alternative/whatever-you-want-to-categorise-it records you listen to all year!

9/10

Marlon Williams is out now through Caroline.

Check out the brand new video for ‘Strange Things’ feat. Aldous Harding below:

Marlon Williams & The Yarra Benders will go on an album release tour w/ Laura Jean throughout June and July. For more details, head to hwww.marlonwilliams.co.nz.