Album review: MALAYA BLUE – Heartsick

MALAYA BLUE – Heartsick

MBM [Release date 08.04.16]

Malaya Blue is a versatile singer who is equally at home singing a variety of musical genres as she is singing blues.

‘Heartsick’ is a lyric driven work which starts out as a blues album, but moves towards the middle ground on a series of first person ballads that showcase her ability as a song writer and an interpretive singer who can meaningfully phrase a lyric

The 11 diverse tracks showcase her strengths and weaknesses, for while she’s a confessional lyricist and a singer who can twist and turn a line to her own ends, she sometimes overextends herself on arrangements ill suited to her natural range.

‘Hunny Little Day Dream’ is an example of this, where she over sings and the harp and guitar solos are left to provide the dynamic high points to the song rather than the voice.

That said ‘Heartsick’ has much going for it, from the depth of the songs to the tight arrangements, on a musical journey that finishes strongly with her best vocal performances that highlight the quality of her songcraft.

The band stretches out on ‘Colour Blind’ which is essentially a radio friendly mid-tempo blues song that might well have provided the original template for the album, before being subsumed by a string of ballads.

‘Let’s Reinvent Love’  - the other side of the single ‘Hope’ – is both musically and lyrically strong, and benefits from Paul Jones’s deep toned harp, as Malaya goes to the edge to convince us of her emotional commitment.

She’ s equally good on ‘Acceptance’, a ballad that is much closer to her true calling as an interpretive singer. The song builds from a simple voice and piano intro to a full band workout with a significant string arrangement. She also phrases with poise and restraint on ‘To Remain The Same’, over Carl Hudson’s superb piano accompaniment.

The self affirming ‘I Have Arrived’ gives the album a notable lift, and the combination of Dudley Ross’s subtle slide guitar and Andrew McGuinness’s brush strokes on ‘Strand Of Gold’  is nearly as good, though the arrangement fails to deliver the kind of denouement that such a love song demands

She saves her best for the last three best songs. ‘Share The Love’ successfully moulds a funky back beat with an anthemic hook. It’s concise, uplifting and has an enveloping musical sweep.

‘Hope’ is a worthy single that mirrors its lyrical optimism and she evokes Kate Bush on the closing ‘Soul Come Back’, by placing the focus on her emotive phrasing. It’s a defining song on which everything comes together perfectly. She leaves a musical imprint shaped by the clarity of her voice, the emotive tug of her lyrics and a nuanced string arrangement that shines the light on real songcraft.

Malaya Blue’s ‘Heartsick’ is a beguiling, song driven album that stands proudly outside of the tired world of blues cliché. And while the album doesn’t always successfully realize its musical ambitions, there’s enough sparkling moments here to suggest she’s going places. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra 

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00

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