Marbin – Strong Thing (Album Review)

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Countless bands have struggled to translate the power of their live show onto a studio recording, often resorting to apologies about their studio discography by saying, “Well, we’re really a live band so that’s how we’re best experienced.” Marbin seems to have eschewed such a dilemma by essentially releasing a live album, recorded in the studio. There are benefits and drawbacks of such an approach, but the overwhelming success of “Strong Thing” is that it conveys the life force which is the essence of Marbin. There’s probably nothing better than catching this band live in person, but with a recording such as this you truly feel like you’re there stage-side. Indeed, it is somewhat surprising to not hear audience cheers after each solo or at the finale of every track. Guitarist Dani Rabin explains it best, “Unlike other bands that record an album and then tour to promote it, we approach our albums more like comedians creating their specials. We tour with a set of new material for a year and when it comes time to record it, we just go to the studio and bang it out the same way we do in our live shows.”

Such a live-in-the-studio recording demands that each member of the quartet be on top of their game, as there’s no hiding behind other instruments or layered production techniques. With the guitar panned mostly to the left, sax to the right, bass in the center and the drums having full rein, each musician is carrying equal weight throughout the entire recording. Every note is quite discernible to the listener’s ears. Fortunately, the level of musicianship on display in this band rewards such an approach with flawless playing and plenty of excitement built around each arrangement. Maybe they did multiple takes for each track, but more than likely they nailed it on the first or second go around. The fact is these guys play constantly, not just during their relentless touring schedules but every other moment in between. When they took to the Cruise to the Edge for a week earlier this year they hardly seemed to be on vacation: instruments were in hand at every moment, even in the dining hall, and it seemed like an impromptu live jam followed them wherever they went.

With a songwriting approach that would appeal to fans of blues, jazz, jam bands, funk, rock, world and prog, there’s a little bit here for everyone. The rhythm section is solid with engaging playing from bassist Jon Nadel and new drummer Everette Benton Jr. But it is the two founders of the band, guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch, who bring the true life to the band. Whether sharing fast runs in tandem or trading off soloing, their playing is truly delightful and engaging. Again, it’s a perfect band to take in at a live show and have a great time.

“Strong Thing” Album Artwork

On a recording though, while the energy is still there, the songwriting can only take the listener so far. Although there certainly are hooks and melodic themes, the main star of the recording is chops and after the first two tracks “Messy Mark” and “Spank Tank”, at 8 minutes each, some listeners may have already had their fill. The band is on fire from the get-go, taking no prisoners but also taking nary a breath. Fans of instrumental jam/shredding music will likely have the stamina to appreciate a full album’s worth of jams but for more casual listeners, a little Marbin goes a long way. The title track, split into two parts, is especially rewarding, and the preceding “Itchybun” offers a fantastic sax solo in its first half. Ballads like “Just a Little Bit” help to break up the onslaught of notes to some degree, until Rabin unleashes another torrent of virtuosic playing, but overall the album as a whole would benefit from more refined composition to give broader dynamics (like they used to master in previous albums like the fantastic “Last Chapter of Dreaming”). This is also true of the approach to the mix, with the ever-present wash of cymbals not offering more subtleties to come forth. There’s nothing on here as diverse as previous songs like “Mei”, for example. Still, for the most part, “Strong Thing” is representative of what Marbin does, and they do it extremely well.

Released by: Independent
Released Date: December 1st, 2019
Genre: Fusion / Jazz Rock / Prog-Rock

Musicians:

  • Dani Rabin / Guitars
  • Danny Markovitch / Sax
  • Jon Nadel / Bass
  • Everette Benton Jr / Drums

“Strong Thing” Track-listing:

1. Messy Mark
2. Spank Tank
3. Just a Little Bit (Part 1)
4. Just a Little Bit (Part 2)
5. Alabama Sock Party
6. Itchybun
7. Strong Thing (Part 1)
8. Strong Thing (Part 2)
9. Fisticuffs (Part 1)
10. Fisticuffs (Part 2)

7.8 Great

Instrumental band Marbin offer a studio release with a live stage mindset, unleashing a fury of notes that beckon the jazz/blues/jam band audience. Featuring top-tier lead sax and guitar players, Marbin’s instrumental skills are a force to be reckoned with, although they decidedly fall more into the jam-soloing camp than the compositionally-refined side of the equation. If you can’t catch them on a stage near you, this recording will tide you over

  • Songwriting 7
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 7
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