If nothing else, Brad Marshall and Kevin Artz have possibly the most fortunate name pairing in popular music history; the kind of pairing that would’ve made its way onto the Tonight Show when Leno did his little skit with the wedding pairs. Marshall Artz. Brilliant! Fortunately though, Marshall Artz is more than just an awesome name, they’re a talented guitar duo with three albums to their credit. Their third, and latest, 2009’s Key is a consistenly pleasant album that may not amaze, but doesn’t disappoint either.
Listeners hoping to hear some ferocious soloing or fingers tearing up the fret boards are not going to find it on Key since it focuses more on riffing and the interplay between two talented artists. The end result is a more tranquil experience that will appeal to soft rock fans, and guitar enthusiasts. More often than not, it feels like there’s capability for a song to break out into a rocking solo or pick up in intensity, but it doesn’t happen. Instead, it stays in the groove its created and churns along at a nice mid-tempo pacing.
The strength of Marshall Artz is their dueling guitar styles and not, dual styles. Neither performer attempts to out do the other, instead their styles blend into each other to produce a melodious style with an easy listening vibe that flows beautifully. Both guitarists handle rhythm duties with Marshall also contributing lead and slide work and Artz throwing in fingerstyle guitar to boot. Artz is also responsible for varying up the album by performing lead vocals on four of the twelve songs and playing harmonica on another.
The four songs with vocals, “In My Arms Again”, “Gotta Get Through”, “Nothing Artificial” and “Today” are still mostly vehicles for the guitar duets. The lyrics are nothing earth shattering and are rooted in the typical fair of love and life. Artz’s voice is decent enough for the songs but like the lyrics themselves, nothing spectacular. “Gotta Get Through” is the only song to feature percussion, and therefore is the most traditional sounding song on the album. At five minutes though, it’s a bit overly long for its purposes. This is the only song to have this problem, as the rest of the material is short, sweet, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The importance of this quality can not be overstated in an album of this nature. Too often guitar duets can turn into meandering jam sessions that abandon structure in exchange for extended noodling. Marshall Artz’s avoidance of this pratfall is extremely welcome to this genre of music.
Of the remainder of the album, “Raging River”, “Swamp Stomp”, and “Mad Groove” are the best tracks here. While most of Key is a mellow affair, these three songs offer some needed muscle that keeps things interesting. All of the names are quite fitting as well, “Raging River” does have a nice flow to it that may not exactly “rage”, but certainly conjures images of water being churned along a rocky path. “Mad Groove” similarly isn’t “mad” but it is a hell of a groove with some teeth to it. “Swamp Stomp” is the aforementioned song with Artz’s harmonica contributions, and the texture it adds is a great boon to the song itself, and the album in general.
Marshall Artz is a solid duo, continuing to effectively showcase their talents here. Key never reaches any amazing heights, but it never sinks below being at the very least, pleasantly enjoyable. If it has one major flaw of sorts, it’s that it can sometimes be so content in its own groove that the listener may very well leave the album wondering what more the artists are capable of. But even this “what if” doesn’t detract from the solid, enjoyable effort put forth onto this disc.
Review of CD "Key"