With a name like Malaya Blue, you’d be forgiven for imagining an exotic bird of paradise…in fact, you’d be spot on in my opinion as she brings that ethereal nature to life and once again entrances on her latest album, Still.
Having taken a break in 2018 after two successful albums, Malaya bravely went about honing her songwriting craft with the help of Dennis Walker and this is the result…an album of blues with infusions of rhythm and blues with a helping of soul to provide an album of two definite sides: the still side and the blue side; we just have to imagine that this is good old fashioned vinyl to appreciate the nomenclature..unless, of course you have still got the turntable wired to the amp and speakers like me and avoid downloads and streaming as much as possible. I pause here to mention again that I always buy direct from the artist when possible and the physical product always…the amount an artist gets paid for the digital stuff (particularly streaming) is lamentable and I want these artists to be able to afford to go on producing music…rant over, on to the music.
Opening and title track Still is the only song Malaya didn’t have a hand in writing; instead, Richard Cousins gave her a track that had been destined for a Robert Cray album…good news for us as, with Richard on bass, it is given a brighter, layered sound that befits this soulful ballad. A real sentimental lyric is given the emotion it deserves by Malaya as the band show how they instinctively add the aforementioned layers…the guitar solo is carefully crafted to fit. Down to the Bone is funky courtesy of the sharp chords and clavinet. The guitar also adds colour with careful phrases behind the lyrics and then a truly imaginative solo to back up the sensitive vocals. It’s A Shame is next and we get Malaya’s full-on performance as lead, harmony and backing vocals show her remarkable range and passion. It seems a bit poppy at first but the musicianship is of the highest order and subsequent listens makes it a rather clever soulful blues of quality. Another thoughtful guitar solo lifts it too if it is a bit short for me; although it continues behind the vocal to the fade, so make sure you listen!
Love Can Tell is back to the funk but with delicious Hammond fuelling the whole thing making so infectious and the Stevie Salas like strummed guitar heralds a lovely Hammond solo too. A move to gospel/country based blues feed into the heartbreaking lyrics and superb vocal delivery as Malaya pours the passion into Why Is peace So Hard? Further, praise for the band as they all back this so empathetically and the Hammond again delivers a lovely solo. Love Of Your Life concludes the ‘still side’ with piano and a vocal duet that romantic falls short as a way of describing lyrical and vocal content.
The ‘blue side’ starts with a blues/rock/soul song that has hints of a well known country chanteuse in the verse’s melody…whatever, it has the variation and a rollicking piano solo that makes it unique. Settle Down Easy shifts into R’n’B with added ‘B’ in the clever phrasing of another strong vocal and, especially, in the psychic bass and drums that you need to listen out for. A move into the laid back jazzy, smoky (in every sense) take on the blues runs through Down To The Bottom. The jazz feel is further enhanced by a clever, double guitar solo as Nat switches pickups midway through a nice (too short) solo. These four walls starts with some neat snare work, then guitar to lead nicely to the vocal melodies that captivate. Penultimate song, I Can’t Be Loved, is Malaya and piano again…and again, even if this isn’t my normal fare, there is no disputing this ballad grabs you through the sheer passion that pours out of the speakers.
The final track, Hot Love, is a lot rockier than the last one and closes a very strong album with a complex, multi-layered song that has a catchiness that cannot be ignored…not an earworm: this is aural sex! This album is, I think, Malaya’s best yet…and that’s saying something. It has enough blues to satisfy most and so much variation that, regardless of preferred genre, it deserves repeated listens so that the lyrics, the vocals and a very high-quality band can be truly appreciated.
2. Down to the Bone
3. It’s a Shame
4. Love Can Tell
5. Why Is Peace So Hard?
6. Love Of Your Life
7. Kiss My Troubles Away
8. Settle Down Easy
9. Down to the Bottom
10. These Four Walls
11. I Can’t Be Loved
12. Hot Love
Malaya Blue: vocals
Stevie Watts: keyboards
Nat Martin: guitar
Eddie Masters: bass
Mike Horne: drums
Sammie Ashforth: piano
Richard Cousins: bass
Recorded at Ashwood Studios, Norwich
Bluesdoodles rating: A Wonderful album of depth, variety and musicianship that transcends genre definitions and deserves recognition.
(The iTunes run on track took me back to 1987 and the post Gillan project of the inimitable John McCoy: Mammoth were everything the name suggested and the track Fatman sums up the band, their sense of fun as well as containing guest guitarist Bernie Torme’s trademark Stratocaster.)