On February 8 2015, Bob Malone performed most of his superb new album “Mojo Deluxe” at The Grand Annex in San Pedro, California in a one-off performance supported by Mike Baird (drums), Jeff Dean (bass), Chris Trujillo (percussion), Bob Demarco (guitar, banjo), Marty Rifkin (slide guitar) and Lavonne Seetal, Trysette and Karen Nash (vocals). As well as a live performance, this was recording for the DVD “Mojo Live”, so there was absolutely no pressure at all on the band to turn in a great performance. If you’ve read what we’ve said about Bob in the past, you won’t be surprised to hear that they nailed it, start to finish.
If you’ve seen Bob touring the UK, his band comprises two Italian musicians (guitar and drums) and a British bass player. They’re great musicians and they gel perfectly as a band, but many of the songs on “Mojo Deluxe” have big arrangements, which a four-piece just can’t deliver, no matter how good they are. So Bob’s solution was to bring the gig to the audience rather than the audience to the gig (apart from the lucky ones who were in the Grand Annex on the night).
What you get on the DVD is a group of superb musicians playing a set that was meticulously prepared and played, with all of the verbal sparring that goes on between songs, including a bit of faux-snarky husband/wife dialogue to spice things up. From the raucous opening of “Don’t Threaten Me (with a Good time)” and the instrumental “Chinese Algebra” (which works perfectly as a solo piano piece or with the full band) to slow closers “Paris” and “Gaslight Fantasie” everything is played to perfection. There’s even the obligatory version of the Faces classic, “Stay with Me”, giving all the band an opportunity to trade licks with Bob, and just generally have a good time. There’s even some excellent still photography on there as an extra.
If you get the chance you go and see Bob Malone live, but this is something a little bit special. It’s unlikely that this show will go out on the road; this is the only chance you’ll get to see this and you really shouldn’t miss it. It’s a great record of great show and the only thing missing is the smell of spilt beer and soggy carpet; you can probably manage without that. Good Christmas present? I think so
You would never guess that “Mojo Deluxe” is Bob Malone’s seventh album; granted it’s packed with the kind of accomplished playing, tipping over into virtuosity, that you would expect from seasoned players, but there’s a vitality and freshness here that wouldn’t be out of place on a debut album. There’s another magic ingredient as well; fun. There’s the odd studio comment left in on an intro or outro, but it’s more than that; this album sounds like people having a good time; the kind of fun you have when you’re doing what you do best, with a bunch of musicians who are tuned in to what you do.
Just like the “Mojo EP”, a sampler for the album released in the UK a year ago, “Mojo Deluxe” kicks open the doors with an electric piano riff and pounding bass on “A Certain Distance” that say ‘Go on, just try and ignore me’. Don’t even try; just surrender to the rhythm and enjoy the ride. You might be willing to forgive a jaw-droppingly good keyboard player with a classic gravelly blues voice if he just phoned in some lyrics to fit the great tunes but, guess what, Bob Malone has that covered as well. “A Certain Distance”, “I’m Not Fine” and “Rage and Cigarettes” all tap into the malaise that afflicts gifted musicians confined with others like themselves on tour; you’re locked into a dysfunctional world where you come to hate your travelling companions, but you hate outsiders even more. It’s not as snarky as Donald Fagen, but then what is?
But, there’s more to life than snark. “Paris” is a gentle love song, overturning the clichés with the message that Paris is all very well, but doesn’t mean anything if your lover’s somewhere else; there’s even the irony of an accordion solo. “Toxic Love” is a love song in its own brooding, menacing way with slide dobro and sinister hissing vocal; it’s an affair you wouldn’t expect to turn out too well. There’s a couple of blues covers as well, the Ray Charles classic “Hard Times”, which gets a very clean modern workout with a punchy guitar solo, and a lo-fi, piano-led version of Muddy Waters’ “She Moves Me”. The instrumental, “Chinese Algebra” is a demonstration of Bob’s piano technique which works equally well with the band arrangement or the solo version that you can find all over YouTube; it’s another one of those bits of fun that spice up the album.
“Looking for the Blues” and “Don’t Threaten Me (With a Good Time)” are both uptempo blues numbers with all the trimmings including horns and backing vocals (even a funky clavinet on “Don’t Threaten Me…”); great fun again. “Watching Over Me” and “Can’t Get There from Here” both have a world-weary gospel feel and bring the album to a satisfactory if slightly melancholy close. And that’s it for “Mojo Deluxe”; it’s an enticing stew of Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Dr John and mainly Bob Malone. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be coming back for more.
Bob will be touring the UK with his superb band later this year. Go and see him at any of these venues and see what all the fuss is all about:
Friday October 9 The Railway Hotel, Southend-on-Sea
Saturday October 10 Boogaloo Blues Weekend, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight
Sunday October 11 The Navy Club, Maryport
Wednesday October 14 Dusty’s Blues Club, High Wycombe
Thursday October 15 The Green Hotel, Kinross
Friday October 16 The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
Sunday October 18 Hope Tavern, West Lindsey
Tuesday October 20 Blues Café, Harrogate
Wednesday October 21 Railway Venue, Bromley Cross, Bolton
Thursday October 22 The Jam House, Birmingham
Friday October 23 Keighley Blues Club
Saturday October 24 Catholic Club, Peterlee
Monday October 26 The Bullingdon (Haven Club), Oxford
Tuesday October 27 The 100 Club, London
Wednesday October 28 The Jazz Café, Cardiff
“Mojo Deluxe” is released on August 21.
Bob Malone’s one of those musicians that you know you’ve heard about, but you’re not sure where or when; it didn’t take long to find out. Just have a look at his Wikipedia entry for a start. He played keyboards on five songs on one of my favourite albums of 2014, John Fogerty’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone”, and that’s a pretty good recommendation. He’s also a singer, songwriter and arranger who has already released six albums and “Mojo EP” is a UK-only sampler for his upcoming album “Mojo Deluxe”.
With a pedigree like that, you would expect the playing on the EP to be high quality and you won’t be disappointed. With support from Mike Baird (drums), Jeff Dean (bass) and Bob DeMarco (guitars) and a few guest appearances, the playing and arrangements are always on the money. Bob’s voice is perfectly suited to the styles and songs on the EP. He can power out the rock and blues in a raucous style, but also sounds totally convincing on the slower songs, particularly the gospel/blues cover of the Ray Charles song “Hard Times”.
The first track on the EP, the stomping “A Certain Distance”, pulls you in with an electric piano riff and pumping, mainly root-note bass to drive the song along, and it’s one of a couple of songs that explore the gap between musicians (and maybe creative artists generally) and the rest of the world. The brooding, menacing “Toxic Love” is a slow blues which builds slowly from a foundation of bass and drums by adding layers of slide, guitar and keyboards to create a swampy, bayou feel with a hint of early Creedence Clearwater Revival. “I’m Not Fine” is the second of the songs that deal lyrically with the role of the professional musician and the artificial bonhomie of the music business, and it’s boosted by some fine unison guitar and keyboard playing plus some powerful backing vocals from Lavone Seetal and Sarah Nolan.
The ballad “Paris” turns the old romantic cliché on its head as the beauties of the city are listed but can’t compare with being back home with the one you love; it’s a nice sentiment but, after rejecting one cliché, it reinforces another by introducing an accordion to create a Parisian ambience. The final track, “Rage and Cigarettes”, is a warning about the dangers of becoming embittered by allowing circumstances to take control of you, rather than the opposite, and it’s pulled along nicely by an overdriven five note slide guitar hook and a melodic bass line; this is one that you just know you want to hear live.
Bob Malone has brewed up a heady mixture of rock, blues and New Orleans soul over the years and “Mojo EP” is a perfect sampler for the upcoming “Mojo DeLuxe” album. If you want to see him live, you can find his UK tour dates for the next four weeks here. We’ll see you at the final show in Southend.
“Mojo EP” is out on 01 September 2014 on Delta Moon Records (DMR 007).