Our Country is a remarkable statement of Marks’ rightful place at the fore of modern country music.
In the mid-2000s, Miko Marks recorded a couple of albums of straight-down-the-middle mainstream country that came and went with minimal notice and even less industry support. As Marks recently shared with Rolling Stone’s Jon Freeman, a Music Row executive told her, “We don’t think there’s a place for you,” and referred her to another label that was promoting “innovative” projects. Despite her obvious talent and the fact that her music had been fully aligned with pop-country trends of that era, Marks was told that she didn’t have a place in the country music mainstream. There’s simply no denying the institutional racism at play, and Marks, like countless other black women who have been shut out by country music’s gatekeepers, was never afforded the opportunities that her talent certainly deserved.
Thirteen years removed from her stint in Nashville, though, Marks has assembled an ace backing band and has recorded a new album, Our Country, that from its very title finds this extraordinary singer-songwriter staking a claim for what is rightfully hers. The country music industry has increasingly been taken to task during the past year over its historically and presently racist foundations, and Marks’ tremendous album — which draws evenly from folk and roots music, accessible contemporary country, and vintage soul — provides another example among many that, when it comes to country music, black women have been here and are certainly here in this moment. Our Country is steeped in of-the-moment politics, with “We Are Here” explicitly referencing the litany of injustices inflicted upon Flint, Michigan, and “Goodnight America” interpolating patriotic hymns into a meditation on the current status of the American Dream that Marks knows as well as anyone isn’t accessible to every American. “Ancestors” is a gospel rave-up that finds Marks seeking guidance from her spiritual and musical forebears, while “Pour Another Glass” and “Water to Wine” showcase a refreshing, playful approach to matters of faith. As an exploration of struggle and resilience, Our Country digs deep and offers a singular vision of the internal strength that drives a person to persevere. Beyond that thematic heft, the throughline on the album is Marks’ voice. Her technical skill is unimpeachable, but it’s her thoughtfulness as an interpretive singer that is perhaps most impressive. Her rendition of “Hard Times” is the album’s centerpiece, and the different decisions that Marks makes with her phrasing across each repetition of the chorus, paired with the easy power of her voice, create a truly riveting performance. It’s maddening to think that Music Row tried to silence a voice so extraordinary, but with Our Country, Miko Marks reintroduces herself as one of the most vital artists in country music today.
Published as part of Album Roundup — March 2021 | Part 3.