It’s rare for a blues-rock band to carry an audience with them into other musical spheres without losing their interest. No such problems tonight with Marcus Malone and his wonderful eight-strong band.
Focussing his set on his splendid ‘A Better Man’ album, the show flows like a cascading mountain river dragging everything in its wake, as Marcus’s soulful phrasing, rock and roll intensity, colourful showmanship and strong material makes for an impeccable dynamic.
He opens with the magisterial groove of ‘Philomene’ on which his voice cuts across the band with authority and feel, as guitarist Sean Nolan leans into the first of several tasteful solos full of rigor, intensity and a tone that breathes.
And there’s further tonal exploration in the superb blues-harp playing of guests Alan Glen and the B3 noodles of Stevie Watts who alongside the rock solid rhythm section of bassist Winston Blissett and drummer Chris Nugent glues things together.
They band segues into the funky ‘House of Blues’ which immerses us in another drum tight boogie groove over which Marcus adds an exemplary vocal, offset by Chantelle Duncan’s harmony vocals, and Glen’s timeless blues wail.
Barely two numbers in and the band is smoking. Marcus has brought together everyone who played on the album, including a special guest appearance from second guitarist Bill Burke who co-wrote the title track.
The latter is a monster and opens with a barely disguised familiar lick from Yes’s ‘Owner of A Lonely Heart’, but quickly evolves into something far more soulful, though by the time Burke has added his shred it is seriously rocking.
Things relent a little on the harmony filled ballad ‘In Your Arms’, on which guitarist Nolan stretches out on a searing solo resolution.
The band effectively switches to a semi-unplugged mode for ‘The Only One’ an album highlight. Marcus introduces it with a reference to Crosby Still & Nash, an influence that is readily apparent as a West Coast filled vibe fills the suitably sun drenched Beaverwood perfectly.
The crowd roars the band on as they rock hard on the immense ‘Nothing But A Heartbreak’, the coruscating ‘Can’t Go Back’ and the fluid ‘Too Long Gone’. They round things off with a rocking ‘Redline Blues’ and the anthemic ‘Stand Up’, which is precisely what everyone does as the octet receives a deserved standing ovation.
Tonight Marcus Malone reaffirms all that is great about independent rocking blues with a soulful heart. For a band to play all their new album and build the crowd to fever pitch is some achievement. But then again this is some band and the ‘A Better Man’ album title is very apt.
Earlier on Guernsey’s Robert J. Hunter opened the show with a handful of weighty songs delivered with a muscular acoustic style and a vocal half way between Tom Waits and the late great John Campbell.
He draws everyone in with succinct intros, intense playing and good hooks on a perfect start to a great evening.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos Mark Hughes (MHP Studios)
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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