Somewhere between the soulful rhythms of Blues City and the enriched melodies of Lafayette is a place with a sound all of its own. It’s not in the MidSouth, nor in Louisiana, but more of a state of mind that blends the two cultures in a mixing pot, full to the brim with music history.
Marcella and Her Lovers is a local outfit that lives and thrives in this atmosphere. Singer and songwriter to the lovers, Marcella Simien, is a longtime resident of this aforementioned place and has endearingly coined it “swamp soul.”
“It’s sort of a melding of where I’m from and where I am now,” Simien says. “I love Memphis soul and I grew up surrounded by Zydeco, so it’s kind of a blending of the two together.”
On November 11, the group released its first EP, The Bronze Age, a collection of five tracks thick in tradition, made sleek by a modern edge and now available at marcellaandherlovers.bandcamp.com. The steady rhythmic chug featured on tracks like “We Rewind” is matched by the piano/accordion ballad “Ethel.” The album stays true to its dichotomy of two Southern sounds showcasing a bold aesthetic that was earned over a lifetime.
Simien was raised in a house of music where her father, Terrance Simien, played Louisiana’s native Zydeco both locally and nationally. The Creole-based genre she grew up with has hints of folk and old-time jazz including solos and improvisation but made personal to the area by use of the accordion. In his time as a musician, Terrance Simien won two Grammys, the latter of which, Dockside Sessions, included a credit for Marcela and her vocals.
The songstress moved to Memphis a few years ago to pursue a degree at Memphis College of Art. After graduating this past May, she’s put full focus on her music career. With the help of a few talented musician friends, Marcella and Her Lovers have built their first collection of music. ‘The Bronze Age’ represents her first mature artistic take into recorded music. In the same way that humans transcended former setbacks and evolved new culture and art in achieving the Bronze Age, so too does Simien’s music in this collection of solid sounds.
The Lovers’ music features Simien’s smoky voice floating atop a reverb-y guitar backdrop and a steady rhythm section. The swagger of the syncopated drumbeat in tandem with the smooth vocals brings the soulful sound to the forefront, most notably on opener “Put That Bronze.” The clean, chorded guitar and long-horn tones of “Branch Strewn Sky” recall a more nostalgic pop sound akin to a 90s’ Blind Melon without detracting from Simien and company’s mellow vibe.
The result is a folky, soulful collection disguised as a pop pack. This double punch is sure to appeal to both pop casuals and hardcore music heads alike, and would fit in perfectly at either a late-night hot-spot or a Sunday afternoon family gathering.
Within the Lovers is a group of reputable local musicians, with Chris Owenson guitar, Jonathan Schallert on keys, Dirk Kitterlin on bass, and songwriting partner and boyfriend Rory Mills Sullivan on the drums. Extending beyond the core members, the album features notable talent including Dave Couser, who formerly played for Al Green and Amy LaVere; and Simien’s own father, Terrance, on accordion; as well as guest horns from Randy Ballard, Nathan Duvall, and Victor Sawyer.
The album was recorded and mixed by Scott Bomar at Electrophonic recordings in Memphis. Simien fell in love with the atmosphere of the building and with Bomar behind the board, the Lovers quickly made it their home.
Swamp and Soul
Louisiana transplant Marcella Simien brings her signature sound up the river in The Bronze Age
Story by Charles Gray
“Scott is incredibly talented and has such a great ear,” Simien says. “His studio has such a warm sound that lends itself so well to what I like about soul music and really influenced the sound of the record.”
The EP is released independently on Simien’s own Swampsoul Records. Though the funding for the creation of the album was due in large part to the band, they sought audience assistance with the actual production and release. To do this, Simien and Her Lovers looked to the crowd funding website indiegogo.com “People were very generous and it turned out to be a success,” says Simien. “We’re very grateful for the help.”
After achieving a PhD at Middlesex University in London and stints of pastoral work at churches in Crocket County, Kilzer returned to Memphis to work at St. Johns for a then-new weekly Friday worship session called “The Way.”
In the time since, “The Way” has become Kilzer’s main avenue for music. In 2013, a trip to Arlington hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas would turn into a fruitful writing session.
In the spirit of Rock & Roll, the majority of the album was cut live to magnetic tape, and it comes through to the listener. You can hear the room in the background of each recording and each of the musicians playing off each other, melting the sound into a buttery mix of tape warmth and live feels.
Though Kilzer is a pastor, the record isn’t angled as a Christian record. It does have a moral compass in line with the teaching of the New Testament, but avoids direct instructions to follow Christianity. Instead, the album’s sense of right and wrong can be inferred through its stories and tales—one could even call them parables.
“I consider myself a stealth evangelist, the music that I write has a wider scope because I want it to resonate with everyone,” Kilzer says. “But talking about writing music is like putting quantum mechanics to the sniff test.”
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