Redline Music [Release date 21.04.14]
‘Stand Or Fall’ might easily have used the opening cut ‘Living The Blues’ as its title. For while his last album ‘Let The Sunshine In’ was a noticeably more song driven effort, ‘Stand Or Fall’ finds Marcus Malone putting all his eggs into a blues-rock basket, subtly washed over with gospel harmonies.
‘Stand Or Fall’ sounds like the kind of project Paul Rogers might have explored outside of his current passion for Memphis soul, but after a 15 year solo career Marcus deserves to be appraised on his own terms.
Buoyed by several European headline festival appearances, he’s returned to a bluesman persona that naturally houses a lived in voice and guitar talent honed in his native Detroit, crafted on the West Coast and given a meaningful context in Europe.
With his soulful phrasing, a penchant for mixed metaphors and a sharp eye for a well crafted arrangements, Marcus sets out his stall on the harmony drenched ‘Living The Blues’. It’s a punchy opener that is given a sense of urgency by a mid-number tempo change.
He’s surrounded himself with an intuitive set of players including guitarists Stuart Dixon, Bill Burke, Sean Nolan, with Julian Burdock on slide, and Moz Gamble on keys. There’s also some fine gospel bv’s from Eno William-Uffort, Chantelle Duncan-Heath and Dani Wilde, especially on the resonant title track hook, which has echoes of Traffic’s’ Medicated Goo’, but derives its gravitas from the interlocked lead vocal and bv’s.
It’s a song with crossover potential that is effectively a template for an album built on deep soul, smouldering grooves and fierce guitar work, even if Marcus does occasionally revert to some old school macho lyrics on ‘Ain’t No Tellin’ and the superb slow blues ‘Jealous Kind’.
The outstanding ‘It’s Gonna Take Time’ is given two separate arrangements, probably because it’s a sparkling ballad with a sweeping gospel infused, radio friendly chorus. In sharp contrast, Marcus’s rocking intentions are most fully realized on the stop-time, riff driven ‘One Woman Man’ and the infectious ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’, which features a fiery Sean Nolan solo.
The album shifts from relationship and love songs to the autobiographical ‘Detroit City Blues’ which showcases his best lyrics. They say the best songs are always written about what you know and ‘Detroit City Blues’ has all the cultural and personal references to make it a great song, especially on the opening verse: ‘Standing on the corner down on Woodward Avenue, man we used to go to the Fox, where everybody played the blues. But now it’s just a memory burning in my mind. The music done gone and died the day Berry (Gordy Jr.) left this town’. As Stuart Dixon glides from a harmony guitar break to a scorching solo over a funky groove, it simply remains for Marcus to add his trademark vocal, job done!
Marcus leans into the shuffle ‘Slow Down’, while dishing out fatherly advice over the perfect rhythm section of Winston Blissett on bass and Chris Nugent on drums as Will Wilde’s deep blues harp and Roger Cotton’s piano fills add layered feel: ‘Now son, I know you ain’t listening to a word I say, so go on out there and make your own mistakes, you change your women like you change your clothes, you got to slow down’.
‘Under Pressure’ is a example of the way Marcus’s writing shifts from one genre into another. It starts out with a Bad Company style, tough rock arrangement and then slips into a Bo Diddley beat and back to a rock groove again, with Sean Nolan’s uplifting double guitar lines.
The essential quality of the album is re-stated on the closing extended version of ‘Its Gonna Take Time’, which serves to emphasize the point that no matter where his blues-rock takes him, Marcus Malone has a soulful heart.
Review by Pete Feenstra ****
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