As a bona fide cowboy, Bob Marshall eloquently rides into the Midwestern summer sunset.
The Ortonville, Mich., country singer-songwriter and horse trainer celebrates nostalgic, poetic tales of youth, family, love, life and wisdom on his latest free-range, heartwarming album, That’s the Way It Should Be.
“What I do normally, and I shouldn’t do this, is I sort of prejudge my own music. I do things like, ‘Oh, that’s a good one,’ or ‘I’m not sure what that one’s gonna do,’ so I play the ones that I think are going to work, and then I’ll see what the reaction is from the audience as soon as I do a solo,” Marshall said.
“Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m wrong. Like I said, ‘She Loves to Dance,’ we’ve gotten a great response on that one from people, and then you have a Texas DJ who’s like, ‘I’m not sure about that one,’ but you’re never going to make everybody happy.”
Coincidentally, Marshall brings a hearty, hats-off welcome to country music compadres with a penchant for Western-rooted sensibilities on That’s the Way It Should Be. For his fourth album, twangy acoustic strums, gleaming pedal steel and electric guitars, folky fiddles, driving bass and steady drums wrap listeners in a cozy Marshall sonic blanket of 12 timeless, down-home tracks.
Horses and Dances
Marshall’s thoughtful, countrified trek begins with a poignant tribute to carefree youth, cherished family traditions and adored equine on “The Old Horse Barn.” Old-time fiddle, shimmering pedal steel, delicate acoustic strums and attentive bass transport Marshall to idyllic Colorado “walls of knotted wood.”
He longingly recalls, “Playing on that old thick rope/Swinging wall to wall/Long hours in the hayloft/Or hiding in the stalls/That old horse barn held magic beneath its leaky roof/Those things that taught and grounded us were cowboy boots and hoofs.”
“On ‘The Old Horse Barn,’ I was listening to the lyrics, and the music was great. I mean, the studio guys did an awesome job on the music, but I said, ‘Nah, the lyrics, they’re not up to the standard of the music,’ so Merel Bregante, the producer, said, ‘Well, you’re a songwriter, aren’t ya?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Write new lyrics,’ so I spent a day and a half working on the lyrics,” Marshall said.
Marshall shares another round of heartfelt, cowboy-centric lyrics on the refreshing “I Got My Life Again,” which pays homage to living simply near “mountains and this rugged pine tree line” while “working these ole cattle” and “feeling clean again.”
Slow, pounding drums, glistening pedal steel, light bass and uplifting fiddle celebrate a back-to-basics, Lone Ranger retirement as Marshall sings, “I know they’re saying otherwise/But I’m doing fine/I left that nine to five/It was long past time/Home where I was living so three years ago/I moved out of the city in case you wanna know/To a line shack in the country on a rocky mountain rim/I’m doing fine, I’m happy/I’ve got my life again.”
“You think, ‘How many people have gone through their entire lives at a job they really don’t like?’ and they finally say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m calling it quits, I’m gonna do what I want to do now.’ I spent 32 years as a police officer, and I loved the job, and I sometimes think, ‘Yeah, I kinda miss that, but I kinda like what I’m doing now better.’ It’s a job; you just got to have the right mindset to do it,” he said.
Marshall maintains a positive mindset on “Give a Kiss,” a sentimental ode to long-lost friends, loves and moments. A folky duet of jubilant acoustic and mandolin strums encourage listeners to fondly look back and reflect on the ghosts of times past.
In tandem, Marshall sings, “Well, George could spend long hours/Drowning worms with his favorite pole/Maybe on the Great Lakes or the local fishing bowl/Cooler full of cold ones, hat slapped upon his head/When he caught the big ones, he just gave a smile and said/The keepers aren’t for keepin’/They’re the ones that bring the joy/Of dancin’ the good dance with you, so just remember boy/They’re all played out and tired/This is what you need to know/Thankful for the memories/Give a kiss and let ’em go.”
“It was actually written for a friend of mine who passed a few years back. George was a great fisherman, he loved to fish. He gave me that line, and I sat on it for years. I said, ‘George, You go fishing every day. Do you eat all the fish that you catch?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, it’s mostly catch and release,’” he said.
“I said, ‘Oh, OK,’ and he said, ‘But I always give them a kiss before I release them.’ I said, ‘Excuse me?’ He said, ‘I always give them a kiss beforehand.’ I said, ‘So you kiss the fish before you release it?’ and he said, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and I said, ‘Why do you do that?’ and he said, ‘I want to thank them for the adventure and excitement of the catch.”
Marshall brings another sense of adventure to “She Loves to Dance,” a bluesy, sashaying tribute to a woman’s deep appreciation for fancy footwork. Rhythmic drums and percussion, deep bass, bright steel pedal, bluesy electric strums, jangly tambourine and romantic fiddle beautifully capture a country beat.
From bossa novas to pachangas to mambos, Marshall celebrates cultural dances as he sings, “She locks up her desk/Closes her door/She doesn’t have to work this week anymore/Puts her car into drive/Heads off to home/She’ll be headin’ out tonight, but she won’t be alone/She’s headin’ for the music, the neon lights/She’ll be movin’ to the beat and dancin’ all night.”
“When I sit down and write I’ll frequently say, ‘OK, I want to write a song that sounds like the blues or sounds like this or that,’ and I essentially wrote that because I wanted the guys in the band to be able to take a lead and show off their talents on it,” he said.
Austin to Almont
For That’s the Way It Should Be, Marshall combines the talents of an all-star cast of collaborators at Cribworks Digital Audio in Liberty Hill, Texas. He teamed up with former Loggins and Messina drummer and producer Merel Bergante and co-wrote two songs with Nashville singer-songwriter Marc-Alan Barnette.
“I record out of Austin, Texas, and I actually went down there with 17 songs. We recorded rough tracks on all of them, and it wasn’t until the first week that I said, ‘Let’s sit down and listen to these again,’ and then I culled the herd down to 12,” Marshall said.
“Merle and I became immediate friends; he’s like my brother from another mother. When it came time to record, he kept saying, ‘I’d really like to record you,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure, I’m not ready, I’m not this, I’m not that.’ He kept pushing, and I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, Merel, send me a couple of your albums that you’ve recorded there, and let me see if I like the sound.’”
That’s the Way It Should Be also features star-studded guest musicians Mark Epstein (acoustic and electric bass), Mike Dorrien (acoustic and electric guitar), Maurizio Fassino (electric guitar), Cody Braun (fiddle, mandolin, harmonica), David Webb (keys), David Pearlman (pedal steel, dobro), Dirje Childs (cello), Robert Anderson (mandolin) and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen (banjo).
“These guys are phenomenal, and they’re high-powered musicians. They’re some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, and there’s not a braggart amongst them. Most of them have been on my previous albums as well,” Marshall said.
Marshall first worked with several of his musical collaborators and Bergante on his second album, Horses That Run Far Away, and also recorded a two-track standards EP, Boots, Spurs and Other Jazz, featuring “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to celebrate his mother’s 90th birthday.
While growing up in Almont, Mich., Marshall absorbed his parents’ eclectic musical influences, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Burl Ives, Marty Robbins and Jimmie Rodgers. At age 12, he took up guitar after watching a musician play a Spanish archtop guitar on “The Merv Griffin Show.”
After purchasing a guitar and taking lessons, Marshall graduated to blues (B.B. King, Albert King and Muddy Waters), delved into the late ‘60s, early ‘70s singer-songwriter movement (Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce and James Taylor) and aspired to become a folk singer.
“I had an agent at the time, and I was doing a show. I always dressed in boots and hats and stuff, and I was in the barn, and I was running late for the show, and I said, ‘I’m just gonna grab my guitar and go,’ so I went with my hat and my boots and everything,” he said.
“After the show, this woman who was acting as my agent said, ‘You know what, you should capitalize on this cowboy shtick.’ I thought, ‘Cowboy shtick? This is who I am.’ It’s like a light went off; why am I not doing cowboy stuff?”
Always a cowboy, Marshall grew up raising quarter horses and attending rodeos with his father. That cowboy lifestyle inadvertently influenced Marshall personally and professionally while performing at Arkansas and Missouri bars. Surprisingly, it took several years before Western singer-songwriters Tom Russell, Chris LeDoux and Wylie Gustafson ultimately shaped Marshall’s timeless country sound.
By 2008, Marshall released his debut album, As Good As My Dog Thinks I Am, and followed up with Horses That Run Far Away in 2014 and Screen Door in 2017. Today, he raises 18 quarter horses at Diamond M Ranch in Ortonville and continues to perform live with Bob Marshall Band members Tom Waugh (bass), Darren Gladding (vocals, lead guitar), Ron Ellman (fiddle, mandolin) and Dave Duncan (drums).
“I am really, really fortunate now because the guys I’m working with are awesome. We have fun, and we spend half our time in rehearsals laughing, telling jokes and poking fun at each other. They’re all really good musicians,” Marshall said.