Michelle Malone - debris
11 tracks; all Michelle originals except Tracks 2 and 11 co-written with Angela Kaset and Track 8 co-written with Kristen Henderson and Cathy Henderson
Style: Blues-Rock-Jam, Alternative Rock with Roots Americana Flavor Rating: Splendid
I have to start by telling the story about two old school veteran blues-rocker friends of mine here in Greenville, SC (Todd and Woody) whom I would see every Thursday night at a local restaurant where I used to book a summer weekly blues series. They’d say ‘have you ever heard Michelle Malone? Man, she is amazing, go check her out sometime, you’ll love her’. So I was (first of all) surprised I hadn’t run across Michelle and even more pleasantly surprised to see her latest CD arrive almost a year later in my most recent shipment of CDs to review.
Even more ironic was discovering that Michelle was performing in Memphis the same week I was going to be there passing through on my way to Clarksdale for the Juke Joint Festival (yes, sorry, this was indeed mid-April; my how time passes when you’re having blues fun). So I held off on this review until I could see her perform in person at Ground Zero Blues Club-Memphis, and I’m glad I did! It only reinforced what a great blues-rock soul sister she is and while you don’t have to see her live first before you buy her CD, I do suggest you buy her CD then go see her live! Either way, she needs to be in your collection.
If you eat with your eyes first, I must say the eco-friendly Michelle-penmanship-scripted biodegradable package will have you wanting to dig in. How nice it is to actually want to keep an artsy CD package vs the expected non-green plastic plexi-glass jacket that gets tossed in your landfill. And Michelle’s cover shot never looked more beautiful! Along with her song writing scribblings, a large “X”, heart and candle doodlings, are the many thank yous to all the supportive friends, family and colleagues who have breathed life into her and her songs—including you, the fans. You might enjoy the one disclaimer: ‘many Chocolove Bars, coffee beans, and bottles of wine were harmed during the making of this CD’. My kind of music-sista!
This is Michelle’s 10th record, with a handpicked band including guitarist Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow), keyboard player Tony Reyes (Gwen Stefani), longtime collaborator Phil Skipper on bass, and Dave Anthony (Butch Walker, Ike) on drums. Nick Di Dia (Bruce Springsteen, the Black Crowes, Train) was the producer—need I say more?
Track 1 Feather in a Hurricane is one of my favorites…what a great way to start a CD—driving blues rock tempo that makes you jump, dance and rock out to catchy rocker slide and rifts. I get the feeling Michelle wants to know ‘is it me or what?’ when it comes to the insanity of an overwhelming makes-no-sense life, religion, war and politics—hence “I feel like a feather in a hurricane”. Track 2 Yesterday’s Make Up—as well as Tracks 3 Debris, and Tracks 9-11 remind me of what you’d get if Sheryl Crow and a classic 70’s American Rock band like The Eagles came together. This is the cross roads of new age and old school with more of Michelle’s original contemporary flair for timeless, treasured songwriting. And what about Yesterday’s Makeup? Ah, we ladies know what that means--Michelle’s lyric bravado obviously isn’t a bluff about making it to church on Sunday morning in “Saturday’s dress”, “feeling beautiful in yesterday’s make up”…I thought I was the only one who did this (ok, 30 years ago). Michelle belts it out with tons of conviction on this one…I’m thinking, wow, good so far, two for two, Tracks 1 and 2…this one’s gonna dwell for quite a while in my player…and so it has remained.
Title Track 3 Debris is a great uplifting positively themed song--you don’t have to stand alone in your debris…get free, know that you’re loved and love is all you need…speaking of love--love the electric solo rifts and the harmony. Start your day with this one!
Track 4 Undertow is a nice pop country rock surprise about a woman who ‘can’t stand waiting to hear your boots at my door, wondering if you’re out with that whore, wishing that I’d never been born, I drank an ocean of liquor in your undertow’….. Dang Michelle, tell ‘em! And we’re all down with ya! Taylor Swift may want to pay attention!
Track 5 Marked calms us back down after getting all ‘riled’ up from Undertow…nice, sweet, naïve and admitting about the mark of hurt of a deceitful partner. But stay tuned; this is what’s nice about the Debris album…Michelle is taking you through a journey, of the good, the bad, the ugly, the highs and the lows, only to come back full circle to peace and love.
Which leads to Track 6, Restraining Order Blues—time for ‘da blues after Marked! Right when you thought you got away with your cheatin! (ok, some handcuffs later and not caring what happens to me or you)…that’s what dem blues are for—work it out Michelle, rip it on the guitar, no more sweet innocent voice…look out world.
Track 7 Chattahoochee Boogaloo is another country alternative rock song about the night life mischief of a young Macon County 16 yr old awkward teenager looking to party who sneaks out at night for a little midnight swim, a toke and some skin…yiyiyi (ok, YES, didn’t we all do this!?). Reminds of that time in the 70’s when my friend Diane and I slipped out of her bedroom window one night and took off in her Dad’s Thunderbird..oops..I’ll stop now and let Track 8 tell you what happened!
And on to Weed and Wine Track 8 “You Bring the Weed and I’ll Bring the Wine”… this is timeless…talking about the days of sneaking out again, listening to some good Southern Rock such as that of the Allman Brothers and being wild and free, knowing the responsibility and world we’re all expected to enter, with none of it making sense. This is real, about being young, innocent and on the verge of adulthood…which leads us perfectly to what’s an adult raw emotive Track 9 14th Street and Mars, a wonderful soulful spiritually moving and haunting ballad about loss of love and waiting, craving to see that person once again.
Track 9 Sunburn reminds us to continue to walk in the sun, not fearing loss of love, or taking a chance again. Ending with Candle For the Lonely, Track 10 is a welcomed conclusion to this journey with Michelle who sweetly reminds us there is someone for everyone, coming back full circle to her theme of love.
Heartfelt, upbeat, yet soul shaking are Michelle’s own words, and I have to agree. She also says she’s more blues influenced than rock influenced so she labels it a blues-rock record, but I think it’s also an emotional roots music journey that we all can and will relate to. She gets down and dirty, she’s real, and as she says, ‘it’s not all shiny and perfect’ but I found it not only shiny and perfect but also refreshingly open and honest songwriting with amazing spot-on pitch, vocal range and guitar talent, coupled with band mates who couldn’t have matched up better to express Michelle’s intent.
She indeed returns to and draws upon her rock roots background with this amazing production with Nick di Dia. While I was skeptical at first, to put this CD in a ‘blues magazine’ review, I’ve just taken a journey through time honoring blues in a contemporary alternative rock root world that many of us have all along embraced once we quit trying to stick today’s music into a categorized genre—Michelle ‘gets’ roots and the word ‘crossover’, but not for commercial appeal and marketing purposes but because that’s just who she is. Good luck Michelle as you continue on with your Debris tour, and I’ll see you at the Bohemian Café in Greenville, SC on June 27th in Greenville, SC, my town!
Belinda Foster is a Columnist and Contributing Writer for Greenville SC Magazine “Industry Mag” and was former manager of Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’Blues. She currently books blues-rock-jam musicians and is a devoted promoter and supporter of live blues root music and history, making frequent trips to “The Crossroads” and Clarksdale Mississippi, birthplace of the blues. Her column “The Upstate Blues Report” can be found on line at www.industrymag.net.