Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jan-Feb Contents MARSHALL O’KELL
SIPPING ON ROCKET FUEL
INDEPENDENT / ONLY BLUES MUSIC
I meet Marshall O’Kell at the pub in Brunswick
Heads, late on a Friday afternoon. He’s based
just south, in Lennox Head, and is playing a gig
later tonight in Cabarita just north, so the pub is
a good option. He rolls in with bass player Luke
Ferguson and we grab a couple of beers and sit
in the late spring sunshine, have a bit of a catch
up, chat about his new record, his fourth overall,
Sipping On Rocket Fuel.
I’ve known Marshall for years now. I really dug
on his debut, the eponymous release he put
out in 2007 with his band of the time, Marshall
& The Fro. It shook with a raw energy, a real
groove-oriented record. It still, as I tell him, gets
regular airplay at our place.
Since then, O’Kell, under his own name, has
released two more albums – 2010’s Friends For Life, and Birdy in 2013. Both were solid records, but somewhat
of a departure from the rough sonics of his debut, and from the high-octane drive of his live sets. With three
records under his belt then, O’Kell struggled a little to get much recognition outside his native northern NSW,
became a bit discouraged, but forged ahead, as is his wont, and over the course of those years, grew and came
into his own as both a person and musician. The results are laid bare on Sipping On Rocket Fuel – this one is the
mark of a man who knows what he’s good at, and also what he wants.
It’s a return to his roots, in a phrase. It too shakes with a raw energy, it’s rife with groove-laden riffage, it’s
powerful and large. And as he’s done with his last two records, it’s also an exploration. I feel it’s a tighter
exploration though, the songs which run outside his trademark mojo blues framework still sound like him, like
how he comes across as a person, when he’s sitting in front of you sipping on a schooner, tattoos on display,
shaggy beard – he’s a real person, and this record is real music. Not to say his last two weren’t, this one just more
“A kickass boogie album,” O’Kell muses after a bit of thought when I ask what he wanted to produce with this
record, “that reflects this music that I love and I play. I wanted it to be real honest.”
It is a very honest album – he sings about things he knows that are instantly relatable; he plays hard and true as
you’ll see him play on stage; the vibe is one of confidence and fun.
Tracks like opener ‘Amsterdam’, ‘Blue Lagoon’, ‘Devils Out’ and ‘Tell Me’ are vintage O’Kell
– they chug and grind, some vocals almost shouted, riffs and riffs, real mojo blues as
he’s termed his sound. Backing courtesy of Tracey Stephens, Julz Parker,
Nicholas Lemits, Benjamin Cox and a host of other muso mates add
to the depth of sound, backing O’Kell with a rumble and grind that
heralds the approaching sonic storm.
Some of my favourite parts of the record though, are the tracks outside
this mojo framework. ‘Spartan Dreaming’ is a jump ‘n’ jive country tune,
done in Marshall style. ‘Carry On Carry On’ is a long, slow groove of a
track. ‘Road Warrior’ is a head-nod of a stoner blues track, cool as hell, roll
up and get lost in the smoke haze.
“I love the exploration factor, that’s how you keep yourself excited,” he says.
“You’ve gotta keep that hunger. Plus, you’ve gotta have dynamics in your
records too, you’ve gotta make people feel what you’re trying to say to them.”
The results speak for themselves. O’Kell has gone back to his roots, but he’s not
rehashing anything. He’s honed his craft over the past three or four years and so
while still scruffy as hell, it’s twice as tight and this works extremely well. It’s the kind
of record you need to play loud, it captures more of his live essence than any of his
previous releases, and it stands tall and true as an indication of where this musician is
We wrap up our interview as they’ve both got to head north for soundcheck, and
while only a short chat, it serves to show that O’Kell is where he wants to be as a
musician. Sipping On Rocket Fuel highlights this to a tee – he’s gone back in order to
move forward, and what a move it is. Samuel J. Fell
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