Miko Marks Layers Glorious Vocal Harmonies on Her ‘Whiskey River’ Cover [Listen]
Miko Marks pairs reverberating, soulful vocal harmonies with an outlaw country standard on her version of “Whiskey River,” a bluesy take on a song that was written by Johnny Bush and Paul Stroud and popularized by Willie Nelson on his Shotgun Willie album in 1973.
While country fans first heard Nelson’s radio single version of the song, “Whiskey River” quickly became a staple of his live show, and the country legend even performed it as the first song in his setlist during the pilot episode of renowned live music TV program Austin City Limits. That made “Whiskey River“ the first song to be performed live on the show, and to this day, it is perhaps best known in its live concert iterations.
Marks’ “Whiskey River” pays homage to the song’s history as an iconic live country staple, keeping an ambling rhythm and jam session vibe augmented by powerful, stacked vocal harmonies. Just like Nelson famously does with his own songs, she created her “Whiskey River” rendition by lovingly gathering a wide net of musical pals, including her backing band, the Resurrectors, and co-producers Steve Wyreman and Justin Phipps, who also produced her newest album, Our Country.
Marks’ “Whiskey River” is also a fitting extension of her most recent album cycle, as Our Country seeks to reframe and expand on what country — both as a musical genre and as a homeland — can mean to the diverse people who listen to and inhabit it. Her cover performance of the song applies her own lens to a well-worn classic and updates the song with a soulful twist.
Marks’ history as a country performer is long and varied: She released two albums in the early 2000s, but ultimately left Nashville for California, finding it difficult to carve out her space in the genre as a Black woman and an independent artist.
“I didn’t see another album in my future. You know, I was just like, ‘Oh, you put out two projects back in the early 2000s,’” she told The Boot earlier this year. “And I was just gonna sail off into the sunset — still singing, because I still perform and do shows around my area ... but I didn’t see an album.”
However, things changed in the summer of 2019 when a dream — literally — spurred her to get in touch with Wyreman and Phipps, who ultimately wound up working with her on Our Country. In her return to the genre, Marks discovered a massive uptick in the diversity of artists in country music, including a wide variety of other Black performers and performers of color.
Now, her newest album speaks to that diversity — and the importance of finding unity within a diverse community. “Our Country is not just saying, like, ‘Oh, this is my country too’ — no, it’s saying, ‘This is our country, collectively, and how do we move through and make our country better?’” she says.
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