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Marlon Williams
The Metro, May 17

★★★½

New Zealand singer Marlon Williams arrived in 2015 with an album of country, jailhouse ballads, bluegrass and slow-burning simmerers.

Marlon Williams: Troughs and peaks.

Photo: David Harris

On stage, his rich and old-timey croon, summoned from such a slight build and young face, had been beautiful – and bewildering. He must have grown tired of all the "voice that belies his age" astonishment.

Back then, Williams was the partner of another great New Zealand singer, Aldous Harding. When they split, he articulated his heartbreak into the songs on Make Way For Love.

Since its release in February, he's played on US TV and sold out several concerts. A two-month tour of Europe beckons. Troughs and peaks.

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There is no "show" to speak of: no fancy lights or backdrop. Wisely, Williams' voice is the dazzling centrepiece his band works to augment but never consume.

Though when he dances on Vampire Again, is anyone listening? Or are we all caught up delighting in his feline Nosferatu stalk with its hot flashes of Elvis' jelly knees and swivelling hips?

Between songs Williams talks like he knows us. "Why am I pacing around like a stand-up comedian?" he asks. "You're gorgeous, Marlon," some guy bellows later. "Thanks, mate," he replies.

Yet as the show rolls on, with band members swapping between strings, synthesisers, guitar, saxophone, and stand-up bass it all starts to seem easy. For them, for him, for us.

We are no longer astonished by Williams' voice. It's a subtle but significant shift. Together we're relaxing into the long haul of what may be a life-time of mutual appreciation.

That nice feeling, coupled with the band's mellow camaraderie, cushions us from really taking the blow of these songs' weighty themes: jealousy, abandonment and grief…

We are brought only on occasion – in Can I Call You and Love Is A Terrible Thing – to the brink of the well from which his songs were sourced but we're not left there long enough.

Until the final song, that is, when Williams leads the way down, pouring his all into Portrait Of A Man, the Screamin J Hawkins cover in which he seems genuinely entangled, the band dunking him deep in the song's evil blues skulk.

Making him sing for his soul; sing his way out. Making the moment of the night.

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