Blues Bytes

Surprise

February 2018

Michelle Malone
Slings & Arrows
SBS Records

Michelle Malone

I was unfamiliar with Georgia artist Michelle Malone when her latest album, Slings & Arrows (SBS Records), showed up in my mailbox. My reaction to what I found when googling her name was, ho hum, another rocker who throws in a few blues riffs and calls themselves a blues artist.

Oh man, was I ever wrong! Ms. Malone's music is much more soulful and rootsy than I anticipated, and Slings & Arrows is already one of my favorite CDs of 2018.

The liner notes to Slings & Arrows proudly states that the album was "created in Georgia by Georgia musicians." The backing musicians --- Doug Kees (guitar), Robby Handley (bass) andChristopher Burroughs (drums) --- are all solid. But make no mistake, Malone is the star of this show as she consistently demonstrates her soulful voice and multi-instrumental versatility. Throughout the album she switches back and forth between slide guitar, harmonica, mandolin, and electric and acoustic guitar. To put a bow on this surprise package, Malone wrote or co-wrote nine of the album's ten cuts.

Malone shows off her ability on slide guitar on the opening cut, "Just Getting Started," starting with  strong John Lee Hooker-style guitar licks before rocking out with some killer slide. "Love Yourself" brings Malone's vocals front and center on a tune may be an auto-biographical number, later coming in with a nice slide guitar solo. This one has a bit of a Louisiana feel to it, and I could easily hear Marcia Ball doing this one.

"Sugar On My Tongue" also features Malone's vocals more than the instrumental part of her repertoire, as her soulful voice soars through the octaves in this mid-tempo number. Malone really gets to show off on the up-tempo deep blues "Beast's Boogie," alternating between mandolin, harmonica and slide guitar throughout the tune. She then shares vocals with guest Shawn Mullins on the Otis Redding song, "I've Been Loving You Too Long," with subtle guitar and drum accompaniment complementing but not overwhelming the wonderful harmonizing of the two singers.

Malone revs up the slide on a hard-edged blues, "Fox and The Hound," shouting out the vocals on this song that she co-wrote with Randall Bramblett. Opening the rootsy "Civil War" with nice mandolin picking, Malone later adds a nice harmonica break, all coming over top of a heavier guitar foundation.

"Matador" is a catchy tune but Malone's vocals get lost in the mix --- we'd have another winner here if the vocal tracks had been brought forward a bit more. I can tell she's singing her heart out, but the guitar tracks take away some of the vocal thunder. But we make up for it with the folksy "The Flame," a subdued, pleasant tune that really showcases Malone's excellent voice. This song really stuck with me for the longest time.

Closing this very fine album is "Boxing Gloves," a song of redemption of sorts with strong vocals from Malone, as she continually repeats the advice, "... I took off my boxing gloves and I found that I was stronger ...," framed by killer slide guitar. A great way to bring Slings & Arrows to a close.

Yeah, I'm all in now, and want to hear more from Michelle Malone.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

 

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