Redline Music [Release date 30.03.17]
‘A Better Man’ is UK based, Detroit blues rocker Marcus Malone’s 8th album. And in his journey from being a West Coast Metal star, via Motown, to becoming a 5 star soulful blues/rocker , he’s stepped up his game with 12 beautifully crafted songs given their full expression by an A-team of players who share their band leader’s musical vision.
‘A Better Man’ is a career best. It’s a classy song-led, blues-rock album with a soulful heart.
He’s so confident that he leaves the anthemic ‘Shine Your Light’ to the last, by which time he’s taken us on an exhilarating rock/blues journey full of musical diversity and intense playing.
And it’s that musically diversity within a blues-rock format shaped by musicians with a real organic feel that makes this album special.
He raised the bar with his last album – the conceptual ‘Stand Or Fall’ – but ‘A Better Man’ has an even stronger sense of identity. Marcus is an emotive singer who has the timing and expressive phrasing to make every line count and draw the listener into the heart of a song.
Together with his long time guitarists Stuart Dixon, Sean Nolan, drummer Chris Nugent and special guests Winston Blissett on bass, slide guitarist Julian Burdock, Alan Glen on harp and Moz Gamble on keys, he gets the very best out his songs.
You might argue that for a guy with so much natural talent, he’s never made up his mind whether to stick or twist with rock or blues. ‘A Better Man’ effortlessly solves the conundrum with stronger songs and an attention to detail that gives the songs an extra depth.
Marcus is versatile enough to rock out, emote the blues and then slip into a soulful mood. Listen to the way the gospel style bv’s rise up on the bridge of the title track and lead the song seamlessly into a crunching guitar solo, as the band leans into the groove with real purpose. In the course of little over 5 minutes he’s gone from a tough rocking blues opening to making a real soulful connection.
This track sets the template for rocking blues with a soulful feel. It’s contemporary music with its own design, while the musical twist and turns always make a connection with the narratives.
There’s some further impressive bv’s on the outro of the sing-along ‘Philomene’, which apart from a Mick Green style guitar figure, sounds as if the ensemble was having a lot of fun in the studio.
‘A Better Man’ doesn’t waste a single note, while drawing you into to a succession of grooves, riffs and hooks that are counterbalanced by a soulful undertow.
The album opens with ‘House Of Blues’, a concept which in Marcus’s hands is a broad musical church. For while the opener combines all his essential music elements of rock-blues and soul to explore the thematic thread at the core of the album, he also explores catchy hooks, peerless bv’s and significant harmony vocals.
There’s an essential flow to the music which benefits from the late Roger Cotton’s engineering and Jerry Stevenson’s pristine mix. The end result is an imposing sonic quality which enhances the solo’s in particular and the dynamic’s in general.
For an independent blues release, the production positively sparkles. Listen for example, to the stunning West Coast sweep of ‘The Only One’. The nuanced bv’s and falsetto-led hook could almost be pop-rock, but as the fazed guitar solo builds imperiously the song sweeps you up in its follow through.
Coming at just over half way mark, it gives the album a real lift, though there’s isn’t a dull moment on any of the dozen tracks.
The tough, riff-led title track – a co-write with William Burke – evokes an early career Paul Rogers vocal, much like the later ‘Can’t Go Back.’ The brusque ‘Too Long Gone ‘ features Julian Burdcok on slide and is another highlight, being a straight-to- the-vein rocker. It postively glides on the back of an uplifting hook complete with a slide and blues-harp break, as Marcus raps out a southern tinged narrative.
‘Just Another Heartache’ rocks hard and could grace any rock play list, as Marcus soars above a track complete with a booming chorus. And then there’s the atmospheric, radio friendly feel of ‘In Your Arms’, which is another great example of his groove filled oeuvre.
On the evidence of this album, there’s isn’t anyone out there who can touch Marcus Malone when it come to fusing rock, blues and soul.
He’s a peerless vocalist and a hugely impressive songwriter and also has the Midas touch as a producer.
‘A Better Man’ is an early year highlight and an essential purchase for all rock/blues fans. ****½
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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