The Malone Sibun Band might not win any medals for the originality of their name, but musically they surpass all expectations with a perfect blend of kick-ass, but soulful rocking blues.
They perfectly balance the explosive guitarist Innes Sibun with the emotive phrasing of Detroit blues-rocker Marcus Malone, who in the course of one line can evoke both Paul Rogers and David Coverdale but with more feel. He might cut a dash with his cowboy hat, black cape and reflector shades, but he’s got the versatility and vocal chops to rise from a low-down guttural growl to falsetto in the blink of an eye.
The band is the glorious sum of its parts. The hard driving rhythm section of drummer Chris Nugent – perhaps the only drummer I’ve ever seen eat a banana before his solo – and bassist Roger “groove master” Inniss, build a succession of possibilities for the front line players to explore.
Keyboard player Stevie Watts also impresses, as he switches from supporting fills and Hammond stabs to a final full blown solo that evokes the mid-60s Winwood/Spencer Davis sound, with a tip of the hat to Jimmy Smith.
Refreshingly, the band seems unencumbered by the weight of expectation, as befits a project that came together very quickly. They sensibly allow Malone to handle the majority of the vocals, while the band chips in with bv’s.
Guitarist Sibun understands the value of dynamics with a succession of huge solos on different guitars that gives him a wide range of tones to match the nuance of the particular song.
The set opens with a trio of Malone staples, with ‘One Woman Man’ and the staccato ‘House of Blues’ being a rocking statement of intent, while ‘A Better Man’ (the title track of his current album) mines the Yes riff from ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ to great effect.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is the way the core duo’s material has fitted together so well. Innes’s slow building blues ‘So Tired Of Living’ is attacked by Malone with total conviction, before Sibun weaves a melodic solo. His body language and facial contortions are in perfect sync with every meaningful note he delivers, though much of the time he’s hidden behind his long mane of hair as he rocks back and forth in perpetual motion.
The band picks up the tempo with some breathless interplay on one of the highlights of the night, and you quickly realise there a real band forming right in front of your eyes.
Malone’s riff-driven ‘Too Long Gone’ features Innes on slide and is another rocking highlight, while ‘One More Time’ is closer to his gospel roots.
The band slips into unplugged mode with Sibun adding some delicate slide on ‘Feeling Bad Blues’, a number that draws the crowd into their musical spell. He also seamlessly slips from acoustic to electric slide on the third acoustic number ‘Another Chance’ to give it a bigger undertow.
There’s more imperious slide on ‘Complications’, before the staccato intro to the hard rocking ‘Living The Blues’ and the outstanding Sibun penned ‘I Want You Back’.
Sung with real feel by Malone, ’I Want You Back’ is arguably the song that Robert Cray or Sherman Robertson at his peak would have killed for. Stevie Watts’s Hammond gives it an uplifting sweep into the hook, as a wonderful combination of Sibun’s southern rock solo over Watts’s big Hammond sound shapes the number beautifully.
Marcus cleverly maintains the momentum by drawing on his autobiographical ‘Going Back To Detroit’ – all fazed guitar and Hendrix style ‘do do do’s’ – as the band rocks towards a triumphant conclusion.
There’s time for a short call and response section with the rocking ‘Christine’, and everyone solo’s one final time to conclude a memorable set. The standing ovation is fully merited.
Earlier in the evening, special guests the Lethbridge Owen Band make a splash with the smooth rich timbre of vocalist Kelly Lethbridge and Jimmy Owen on electric and acoustic guitars as part of a well drilled septet.
They are a west coast influenced, twin guitar fuelled outfit with blues, funk and jam band edges. Kelly’s Stevie Nicks style phrasing is perfectly framed by the two backing singers, while Jimmy’s Owen’s intricate lattice of notes owes much to Eric Johnson. Fronted by Lethbridge’s pristine diction, the band’s lush harmonies, tight arrangements and Owen’s meaningful solos promise them an optimistic future.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Rockrpix/John Bull
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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