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Kameron Marlowe, “Keepin’ the Lights On” – Album Review

Kameron Marlowe
Treá Allen

There’s always a lot of pressure on artists to deliver on their sophomore album, especially if their first has any bit of decency to it. Kameron Marlowe, whose second album Keepin’ the Lights On was released in May, is an example of someone who understood the assignment and came out swinging.

The record, spanning 17 tracks with just one feature, delves deeper into Marlowe’s personal life, the struggles he’s faced, and the sacrifices his parents made to provide, all while having some fun along the way. It’s similar in production to his first album, We Were Cowboys (both were produced by Dann Huff, after all), and stylistically, Marlowe hasn’t strayed far from the sound that’s made him famous.

You won’t find trap beats, over-simplified hooks designed for TikTok, or any other cliches from today’s mainstream country. That’s not who Marlowe is, despite the mainstream embracing him thanks to hits like “Girl on Fire” and “Giving You Up.” Instead, he goes against the grain and sticks to his guns, giving Keepin’ the Lights On a refreshing feel that’s hard to come by nowadays.

A reflective narrative is woven throughout the project, touching on various aspects of Marlowe’s past and present, his hopes for the future, and the struggles of everyday life he sees around him. “On My Way Out” explores a plea to revisit loved ones and your hometown on the way to heaven, while “Smaller” bids farewell to an old friend as he departs our protagonist’s hometown. There’s also “Never Really Know,” a song that asks for more empathy toward hurting people since you never have the full story behind a person’s struggles.

These songs avoid being preachy or corny, which is difficult when touching heavy subjects, while still making the lyrics easy to follow. “Tennessee Don’t Mind,” a tale about relying on your hometown to always be there for you, is a perfect example of that; it’s written in a way that sounds like “Tennessee” is a woman, which adds a thought-provoking perspective to the artist’s relationship with the Volunteer State.

“I Can Run” and the title track, “Keepin’ the Lights On” stand out as two of the most profound tracks on the album. The former is a mid-tempo foot-stomper about working through the everyday struggles of living in the fast lane; it establishes a deeper connection between the listener and Marlowe’s current state of mind on his rise to fame. Meanwhile, the latter revisits his parents’ sacrifices during childhood, reminding him to continue pushing through doubts and hardship. Being the last track on the album, it pulls together the same inspiration as earlier introspective cuts and rounds off the listening experience with grace and magnitude.

You’ll also find several tracks about love and heartbreak, told with the same confessional authenticity with which Kameron Marlowe meets any topic. “Leaning on You” encapsulates the great need Marlowe has for his better half to be by his side, while “Quit You” (a spiritual successor to “Giving You Up”) delivers a touching tribute to how profound Marlowe’s love is for his wife. Meanwhile, “Strangers” (Marlowe’s duet with Ella Langley) and “Broke Down in a Truck” detail the end of different relationships with articulate perspectives that avoid feeling redundant among other heartbreak tales on the radio.

Keepin’ the Lights On also has some lighter moments that are easy to forget but offer a good balance against the cavernous themes of others. The opening track, a barn-burner entitled “911,” is basically “Fire Burnin’” by Sean Kingston but set in a honky tonk. “Lock Me Up” highlights Marlowe’s content with remaining down south for the rest of his life. Neither can match the artistic prowess of earlier songs, but they’ll be fun to hear live.

For lightheartedness and a more interesting production, there’s “Nothin’ Slowin’ Us Down.” It’s a familiar tale of moving quickly with someone you just met, but between the rhythm and catchy chorus, it’s one you’ll want to add to your playlist pretty quickly.

With 17 tracks in total, Keepin’ the Lights On attempts to touch on as many aspects of Marlowe’s mental and lifestyle as possible, but it’s a grave challenge to flesh any of those ideas out. Longer tracks like “Keepin’ the Lights On,” “Tennessee Don’t Mind,” and “Never Really Know” feel like complete thoughts, while others such as “Leaning on You” can feel a bit rushed or trimmed to shorten the length of the album.

It’s also not exempt from feeling sluggish at times; after “Lock Me Up,” Keepin’ the Lights On feels a bit cumbersome, and it’s easy to get lost in the material and lose your focus. There are also so many themes being talked about at once that it’s hard to keep track of them all. It’s a problem that many concept albums face, and because of the nature of this project, it’s subject to the same issue.

Still, Keepin’ the Lights On proves that Kameron Marlowe isn’t interested in chasing trends or sticking solely to songs that’ll do well on radio. He’s an “artist’s artist” at heart, and after spending two years working on his sophomore album, it’s evident that he wants to be here for the long haul.

This record is designed for those who enjoy the very concept of a full-length album, and it invites you to explore who Marlowe is as a human being. It’s a solid sophomore project that proves Kameron Marlowe is here to stay.

8.2

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