Marques Toliver - Land Of CanAan

This debut album combines inspirations from the autobiography of black abolitionist Fredrick Douglass, and the Bible.

Label: Bella Union

Rating: 7

Utter the words ‘string musician’ and most people might picture grand orchestras of classical musicians performing in lavish amphitheaters. Marques Toliver doesn’t fit that description. There’s a chance you’ve already come across him even if you’ve never heard his name. The multi-instrumentalist often busked in London and New York before eventually prickling the ears of TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone. Soon after, Toliver would lend his brisk and soulful strings to the work of Grizzly Bear, Lianne La Havas, Damon Albarn, Florence Welch and Wild Beasts, amongst others. Even Adele named him her ‘favourite new artist’ back in 2009.

He could easily soundtrack a film on the big screen too: this debut album ‘Land Of CanAan’ combines inspirations from the autobiography of black abolitionist Fredrick Douglass and the Bible tale of Noah cursing his own grandchild. Unsurprisingly, then, sadness features commonly throughout. ‘CanAan’ is a sorrowful opener, Toliver’s poignant coo being swept into a flutter of frilly, antiquated orchestration. ‘Stay’ is a sleek orchestral pairing of silky R&B and ancient folk that sees Toliver fretting over losing the one he loves. Elsewhere ‘Try Your Best’’s twinkling percussion chimes alongside him singing: “I should be going / ‘Cos people will find me / And tell me that I shouldn’t live this way.”

But aging instrumentation soon makes way for the album’s warmer second half of glossy and sleekly produced R&B. Most of ‘…CanAan’s tail end could be a potential hit, no doubt helped by Toliver’s X Factor friendly drawl. ‘Weather Man’ channels the joyous optimism of John Legend, a breezy number suitable for sitting comfortably between the soft barbs of floating daffodils and sprinkler jets. ‘Something’s Wrong’ is best yet. The pleasant ring of piano keys and guitar strokes cushioning Toliver as he promises: “Baby, I see you sitting there / Whisper to me all your fears / I know they’re terrifying / Just take my hand and go.” ‘Land Of CanAan’’s mix of warmth and sorrow sees Marques Toliver finally create an accomplished and whimsical sound that we only had glimpses of in other artists’ work.