Marcus Singletary is a singer-songwriter and producer whose tunes mostly consist of positive affirmations. Some feature him on all instruments. Often, he leads an ace backing band that adds spicy Latin percussion, lush vocal harmonies, and a vibrant horn section in a manner similar to '70s rock bands like BS&T, Rare Earth, and Chicago. While Marcus hails from the Windy City, in LA, he has performed at venues including the House of Blues, Whisky a Go-Go, and Viper Room. Musical sidemen have included former Doobie Brother Chet McCracken on drums, Cliff Starbuck of Ekoostik Hookah on bass, and Vincent Unto from '70s disco group Executive Suite on background vocals.
His first two solo albums were released in 2004. Of the first, The Marcus Singletary Band (on which Singletary formed a one-man group similar to John Fogerty's Blue Ridge Rangers), Mish Mash Music Reviews wrote, "Marcus Singletary is a guitar wizard who slings his electric blues around like an old-time master. The songs are ripped, roaring and mean, just like the blues should be...The talent is there for sure. If you eat and breathe the blues, you need to check this guy out immediately." Later that year, Capitol Hill appeared. An early Singletary concept album, Jason Scales of Illinois Entertainer said, "Political-social commentary and a firm belief in the power of positive thinking punctuate Marcus Singletary’s ''Capitol Hill''. Dreamy, jam-based blues largely carries the message, including this line from 'Super Tuesday': 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago? / It's time for a change." Philip Stone of Splendid chimed in: "Marcus Singletary plays blues-influenced classic rock not unlike Cream or Steve Miller. This particular breed of rock lends itself to a lot of soloing and intra-band jamming, and as expected, all of Singletary's songs eventually break down into extended guitar, harmonica or organ solos. What's strange is that Singletary plays all of the instruments. While lots of musicians have done this before, I don't recall any examples of artists actually jamming with themselves...Singletary has skills out the gills: his voice has the right attitude, his guitar playing is sharp, and any guitarist who can hold a beat behind the drums deserves some props."
The 2006 Rocks compilation encapsulated this era perfectly. Peter Aaron of Chronogram Magazine said, "As readers may or may not know, I'm the magazine's assistant editor...I see it as an opportunity to talk about whatever music-related topic happens to be stuck in my craw or my crosshairs, or something that landed on my desk that I might be into but for sundry reasons doesn't have a place in Chronogram proper: Perhaps this means a gig or two that I caught over the weekend, or a CD by a non-local artist that I think deserves attention (or one by a cool local artist that we didn't have room for). So, then: Speaking of cool CDs by non-local artists, one recent surprise is Marcus Singletary Rocks. From the look of it and the spiel on the accompanying press sheet, I was expecting yet another soulless and antiseptic bar-band blues record. Boy was I wrong. On this, his fourth full-length, Singletary stays far from Miller Beer land, instead slaloming furiously between the scuzzed-out, awesome Cream worship of Grand Funk's first LP and raw, punkish blues that could be ... at home on Fat Possum ... This guy really seems to know that, these days anyway, the blues need to be fucked up to still be vital."
Illinois Entertainer's Jason Scales also was a fan of the style heard on Marcus Singletary Rocks. "The 10 tracks on Marcus Singletary Rocks represent a sampling of Singletary’s recorded blues resume … [showcasing] his blues crooning and extended guitar solo skills."
While Marcus Singletary's early musical efforts had been recorded by using Cakewalk on an old Gateway PC, by 2006, he was ready to move into more professional recording environments. These efforts spawned a pair of albums featuring a bevy of LA session players including ex-Doobie Brother Chet McCracken (drums), former Ekoostik Hookah bassist Cliff Starbuck, and Vincent Unto of Executive Suite ("When the Fuel Runs Out.") The sonic template was also enlarged by the addition of a full horn section.
Michael Popke of Sea of Tranquility noticed this, and wrote, "This seeks to portray Chicago blues guitarist Marcus Singletary as a diverse singer, songwriter and producer. That's why there's barely a blues lick among these seven feel-food songs with titles like "Love Is the Answer," "Shake the Ceiling" and "Start Something," although the Seventies-ready "One More Funk Song" comes close. Mixed by Don Casale (who engineered "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," by the way) on the same RCA Records console used to track several Elvis hits, the album boasts lots of backing vocals and proves Singletary can both sing and play. Cynics among us may regard Singletary's latest material, as his other albums were defined by lengthy blues solos � as a step backward into pop territory. The rest will simply enjoy these 27 minutes of catchy, happy-sounding tunes that may brighten an otherwise cloudy day for someone who knows not to judge a CD by its cover."
2011's Smokin' followed suit, and added a Bob Marley cover tune ("Misty Morning") and a full horn section to the mix. Steven Reid of Tranquility thought it was a good one.
Steven Reid: "Putting aside the picture on the CD cover which gives the impression that Marcus Singletary is some sort of bandit on the run - and the rather dark music it suggests, once you delve into this rather short album the feeling is altogether lighter and more joyful than the image suggests. If your musical memory stretches back to the Seventies, then there's a good chance that you'll find something, if not rather a lot to enjoy on Singletary's Smokin', with everything from classic rock to disco, boogie to funk and jazz to pop making an appearance. As that list alludes to, the influences blur past thick and fast through the songs, but rather cleverly the end results manage to avoid sounding too close to any one band in particular. Want some glam tinged classic rock? Then fire on "Can It Be Real" where Bolan is hinted at. Looking for something altogether more flower powery? Well "Meditate" floats by exactly as its title suggests. Both of these tracks also highlight the wonderful vocal performances and intricate arrangements that make Smokin' an interesting and rewarding journey, while the likes of the funked up and uber catchy "Get The Dance Gene" and the sweet melodious pop of "Farmer" have you humming their hook line for days on end, with the latter actually being the strongest song on offer here. Across the whole album what really strikes you is the insistent beats and classy performances, with the horn section which includes flute, trombone, sax and trumpet adding greatly to the authenticity and scope of the music. Chet McCracken and Cliff Starbuck on drums and bass respectively have you heaving your ass around the room in the most unsightly of manners with the incisive and considered rhythms, which leaves Singletary to handle everything else, including guitars, keyboards, Theremin and vocals, as well as producing the album. He does all of these to great effect, with bright guitar work interacting beautifully with the brass, but allowed space to breathe thanks to an excellent, sympathetic production. The best example of how all the different areas are brought together comes in the shape of "Misty Morning" where the band really stretch out and let fly bouncing off each other and thriving on the energy they creates. Not everything works to the same level though, with "Psychedelic People" meandering for far too long before reaching the point and "Drop Of A Hat" requiring just an ounce more energy to make it as memorable as it could be, although the bright and breezy "You Could Be Lucky" closes the album out in fine, uplifting style. Smokin' is quite a bold undertaking and any album that doesn't rely on an overly familiar sound for success these days is to be applauded. It may not all come off to the high standard of the best material presented here, but when it does Smokin' is an impressive beast and well worth investigating."
In 2015, the compilation In the Mix summed up this period. Blogger Jim Pasinski offered up his opinion: “Marcus Singletary shows off his funky side with "Get The Dance Gene" and flashes back to the disco-rock of "Right Now." The heaviness of "Can It Be Real" showcases Marcus' guitar skills as well as his vocal skills. One of the highlights of the album has to be the acoustic-shuffle of "You Could Be Lucky," that feels like a missed opportunity for Lenny Kravitz.”
Concepts and performance art returned with the albums Defiance Science (2014), Subversive Blues (2016), and Born to Be Wild (2020.) This trio of albums finds Marcus Singletary playing all of the instruments, once again. Science told the story of a troubled actor's experiences in Hollywood. Jon Neudorf of Sea of Tranquility covered it:
"Marcus Singletary is an American multi-instrumentalist who has released a number of albums his latest being Defiance Science which came out on May 7. On the album Singletary does everything himself playing guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, synths and vocals.The album tells the story of one Primrose Luckett, a scholar who goes to California to live the good life. You can pick up the rest from there. The story seems to be at odds with the album cover showing a beautiful gaseous nebula. That said, what about the music?I found this album difficult to categorize. Yes, it is rock but it is different somehow. Maybe it is the interesting use of synths and keyboards or because the individual tracks have such a different sound.
The album begins with "Science", a melodic pop rock tune with a thick bass groove and upbeat sound. I like the shimmering keyboards and the bluesy guitar solo is very nice. With "Party Like A Star", Singletary delves into pop dance party grooves before turning in a more rock direction with intense lead guitar. "Shangri-Rock" has a breezy pop sound full of synths and melodic keyboards before the changing tempos add an element of complexity. A late '60s psychedelic sound can be heard on the mellow "In the Sand". I was reminded of the Hendrix classic "Little Wing". "Genovia" is a much heavier rocker with a ripping guitar solo while the somewhat quirky "Lookin' Good" gives off a Steely Dan vibe both vocally and rhythmically. In "Young Lady of Royalty" the processed vocals and dramatic shifts in tempo give this an interesting dynamic and the guitar solo is excellent. "Tomorrow, No" ends the disc with a little bit of rockabilly/country flare.Defiance Science is a diverse album with excellent musicianship, quite an accomplishment considering this is the work of one musician. Fans of rock music in general should definitely take note."
Taking cues from Lou Reed's 1975 album Metal Machine Music, Subversive Blues (2016) presented the other side of the coin, with its anti-music ideas rising to the forefront. It was an abrasive collection of mostly soundscapes that baffled some listeners. Others, however, thought it was solid. Independent music critic Jim Pasinski opined, "The musical chameleon known as Marcus Singletary returns with his most politically charged album to date, "Subversive Blues." The new ten-song release begins with the sound of arguments that will have you drawing your own conclusions as to what is being said and recorded. The short synthesizer instrumental "Astronaut's Daughter" and voice affects experiment "Bonnie Wright" has you wondering which direction this album is headed, but the back-porch blues of "That's The Way It Is" showcases Marcus' pure talents. He expands his sound with the atmospheric tones of "Blessing Of The Guru" and the work-day chant of "My Slave Life." The album finishes with his return to the confrontation of "Dead Cops And Starfighters" as a political rally turns into a great musical instrumental that leads into the soundscape of "The Hero Returns Home."
For 2020's Born to Be Wild, the experimentation was mainly heard within deconstructed song forms with origins in non-standard instrument tunings. Some recordings were completely improvised, on the spot and in the recording studio. Like Subversive Blues, the majority of the work was completed in Singletary's custom recording facility in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. Six in the Head Music Journal published a review of this strange sounding disc:
"When I saw this ... and read that it included a cover of Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild and was influenced by classic rock I’m going to be honest with you. I thought Jesus Christ Almighty what have we got here? ... I really wanted to completely take the piss out of this whole record but I can’t. It’s good. Nothing cheesy or cringey ... I’m surprised and I’m pleased. I would even go so far as to call this ‘experimental classic rock’ and I mean that as a compliment. Some old stuff mixed with some newish stuff that track two, 'Freeform Guitar', really shows off. It’s like Cream if Cream were a lot more adventurous. The first three tracks are kinda like The White Stripes in the way that they take classic rock 'tropes' (vomit) and reinvent them for jaded listeners like me who think that they’ve heard everything. There are classic tunes and riffs and all that crap but it’s very much inventive and not shit at all or boring."
Five vocal cuts merge with five instrumentals on Marcus Singletary's Early Works. "That's the Way It Is" kicks it off with a narrator whose skepticism becomes the prime justification for their selfish disregard of others. It and "Train" are drenched in blues harp. "Train" describes a breakaway from conventional social expectations, while "Devil's Rage" adds B-movie fantasy flavor to a heavy rock template inspired by the Deep Purple songs "Fireball" and "Listen, Learn, Read On." Its characters reach Armageddon-laced epiphanies before God (identified as "The Man Himself") appears to battle the demon in the flesh.
The hope-dealing politician in "Super Tuesday" compromises personal integrity in search of support from all sides of the ideological spectrum. Its funky, minimalist groove leads into the acid-splashed drug trafficker tale "Come and Get It." Then, a switch flips.
A live take of "Open for Business" ushers in the instrumental half and offers a chance to digest Marcus' jazzier side. His front-and-center guitar extrapolations result from the fluidity that slippery "Chicago Stomp" (written during his days as an undergrad) exhibits. In free-form mode like John Coltrane or Larry Coryell, this and "I Want Someone to Love" (which served as Marcus' final project as a post-grad music student) are new renditions of old compositions engineered by Bob Olhsson. A 50-year record industry vet, Olhsson is renowned for his tech work on Marvin Gaye's iconic 1971 album What's Going On, but Marcus says of the collaboration, "I gravitated toward working with Bob after hearing his contributions to recordings by San Francisco psychedelic groups Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead."
Containing nine tracks featuring Marcus on all instruments, Early Works concludes with "Highway Patrol" and "Wind and Wuthering," and both exist on the outermost edges of creativity. Overall, the album displays what Marcus is capable of with few outside cooks in his kitchen. The effect is best described as one that transports fans to musical galaxies shaped by the style the artist has forged for himself, and meant to challenge the listener's comfort zone.
© 2023 Sebhedris Music Publishing (ASCAP).