Martin Van Ruin - Every Man a King
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: Jan. 6, 2014
To give you a glimpse into their influences, the Chicago septet Martin Van Ruin open their album Every Man a King with the traditional folk ballad “Give Me Flowers (While I’m Living),” a sixty-second effort that is without flaw. Though it ends way too early, the execution is top-notch and almost immediately usher the listener into the deft world of this criminally underrated septet.
The band’s first original offering is the crackling and gritty “Wilderness,” a guitar-driven cocktail of stormy rhythms, searing riffs and an ominous veneer that seems akin to a Midwestern tornado. Towards the latter stages, Cathy Starr’s violin enters the picture and parlays its saturnine notes with that of Derek Nelson’s sturdy croon. With a running time of six minutes, “Wilderness” is an ambitious albeit spellbinding first step. Nelson and Co. kick it back up on the urgent and self-defeating “Someone Tried to Warn Me,” a song that has the same kind of charisma that Josh Ritter has worn to stardom over the last decade. Philip Vickers’ well-placed trumpet enters the fray in the final seconds and in doing so makes the urge to press repeat too hard to pass up.
Arguably one of the band’s strongest cuts is the timeless “Put it Away,” a gorgeous ballad wise beyond its years that finds Derek Nelson at his most tender and his highly skilled band at their very best. Meandering and melancholic the song is arguably one of the finest of the year and the very reason why Martin Van Ruin just might be one of Chicago’s most undervalued bands. Side A of Every Man a King rounds out with the vernal, violin-laden ballad “Sayonara,” a first-rate folk-rock effort with few if any flaws.
Side B kickstarts with the propulsive “This Time Around,” a whiskey-soaked barnstormer that has ample amounts of attitude and more than enough swagger to support the assertion that the band most definitely deserves larger stadiums and tours in its future. There’s more ass-kicking on the band’s lead single “Gold and Love and Gin,” a rustic and windswept foray that segues into a swirl of hazy guitars, thumping bass and concussive drums.
The album’s closing triumvirate includes the sprite Laurel Canyon paean “Easy Answer,” the violin-saturated “American Moon,” and the ageless ballad “Storm Coming.” In many ways each of these three songs, most notably the last two, are as strong as anything else on Every Man a King. Whether he’s cognizant or not, frontman Derek Nelson has a voice perfectly suited for midwestern Americana and that paired with Cathy Starr’s violin absolutely vault the band towards the top of the heap.
To date Martin Van Ruin has been compared to the likes of Wilco, Bob Dylan, Neutral Milk Hotel and Neil Young and Crazy Horse, to name but a few. All of those bands have found their way to the limelight in some way shape or form and after a few listens to Every Man a King it’s fair to say that Martin Van Ruin is destined for the same limelight. From front to back, this is an album as cohesive, focused and deftly played as any in the Americana genre released this year. They may be unknown now, but given enough time and enough resources, they will more than definitely vault themselves beyond the cozy confines of Chicago.