Rod Melancon ScrollerSpringsteen did it with Asbury Park NJ and, much more recently, Michael McDermott’s band The Westies did it with Chicago. They created a strong sense of place with characters and incidents directly observed or based on reality. On his EP “LA 14”, Rod Melancon has gone down the same route with his own little corner of Louisiana. Of the five songs on “LA 14” (produced by former Dwight Yoakam guitarist, Brian Whelan), four are stories of life in a small town deep in the American South.

The opening song, “Perry”, is a mid-tempo rocker with a pumping synth bass, telling the tale of the town’s bad boy, before the tempo slows and the time signature changes to ¾ for “Dwayne and Me”, a look back at a childhood friendship ended by Vietnam. “Lights of Carencro” is a menacing and grungy, the production matching the story of sudden death and delayed revenge before the final song “By Her Side” slows the pace to tell the love story of a lonely old man, the melancholy feel enhanced by some delicate pedal steel from Marty Rifkin. The central song, “A Man like Me Shouldn’t Own a Gun” contrasts with the rest of the EP, as an uptempo thigh-slapping piece to make sure the atmosphere doesn’t get too maudlin.

The feeling in the songs doesn’t just come from the lyrics; they’re often pretty matter-of-fact. Rod’s voice, older than its years, seemingly always on the verge of cracking, and some superb playing from Marty Rifkin on “By Her Side” and Brian Whelan’s steadily-rising solo on “Dwayne and Me”, are powerful and emotive; you can’t listen to these songs and not be moved. Rod Melancon understands that the little details add to the pathos; “Lights of Carencro” is more powerful because we know that the dead brother’s favourite song was Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love” and it’s always there as a reminder.

There’s a darkness on the edge of this town and Rod Melancon’s songs expose it, but they also capture the human touch that’s always just below the surface. LA 14 -- running all the way from pure pathos to supernatural menace.

“LA 14” is released in the UK on Friday June 17th on Blue Élan Records (BR1015).

Here’s the video for “Perry”:

Bob Malone TitleOn 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

Out now.

Bob Malone TitleWe’re big fans of Bob Malone here at MusicRiot so when I got the chance to meet up for a chat on the final night of his UK tour it was a bit of a no-brainer. Bob’s been in the UK for three weeks touring in support of his “Mojo Deluxe” album and the “Mojo Live” DVD and The 100 Club gig was the climax of a hectic tour schedule. So a very noisy 100 Club dressing room is where we got the chance to talk about old pianos, New Orleans and Southside Johnny, among other things:

 

Allan – So it’s approaching the end of the tour and we met on the first night in Southend. How has it been since then?

Bob – It’s been great; a few funky gigs, a few spectacular gigs and we’ve worked hard. We had a couple of nights where we didn’t have gigs but we still had a radio show or a long drive; we’re a hard-working group.

Allan –Have you had any particularly good gigs?

Bob – This one’s definitely gonna be a good one and Keighley Blues Club, that was a really great crowd and Scotland as well, and we also played on the Isle of Wight.

Allan – I remember when we met in Southend you were talking about Italian audiences.

Bob – They’re full on, right out of the box, from the first song.

Allan –Do you notice any differences in the audiences around the UK?

Bob – Well it sometimes takes three or four songs here. The north is different from the south, as you know. I didn’t until I did these long tours here; England was just England like people think America is just America but here it’s five different countries with completely different cultures.

Allan – Have you played The 100 Club before?

Bob – No, but its reputation precedes…

Allan – How does that feel?

Bob – It feels good. I was soundchecking with the grand piano earlier and the sound engineer had footage of Paul McCartney playing that same piano.

Allan – I think it’s great to see it with the lights up and look at all those great photos around the walls of the people that have played here in the past.

Bob – I love places with history like this; you feel like you’re part of a continuum.

Allan – You’re promoting the Mojo Deluxe album at the moment. What kind of a reception has the album had?

Bob – I think it’s the most press and radio I’ve had on anything I’ve done and it’s my twentieth year of making records, so I’m happy with that.

Allan – After doing what I think of as the day job with John Fogerty, how does this compare? It must be a huge culture change.

Bob – It’s different. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years; this is what I do, and I’ve been playing with John for almost five years now. With this, so long as the sound man is competent I’m happy. Everyone thinks it must be weird to go from small crowds to big crowds, but it really isn’t. As long as it’s a good musical experience and you’re connecting with an audience; that’s why we play. You can’t really control the size of the crowd and also when I do this it’s a mission; when I play with John it’s his gig. I’m lucky to be there but it’s his gig. I get my solo but other than that, it’s all about him and I’m just in the background.

Allan – Trying to avoid the pyrotechnics…

Bob – Trying not to burst into flames during “Fortunate Son”, exactly.

Allan – So when you’re out doing your own stuff, here and in the States, what would be your ideal band line-up?

Bob – The ultimate, when I’m not touring; when I’m LA, and I don’t have to put people in hotel rooms would be a nine-piece band. I just did a DVD, which I did the way I would like to do it and I had three female background singers, percussionist, drums, bass and guitar. I do a lot of stuff with horns as well, for years I had a horn section, so it would be a nine to eleven piece band and a second keyboard player would be great, to play the organ parts. (If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice that the total number of musicians is only eight, but there’s a slide guitar player on there as well. I hope your heart isn’t broken by that omission Marty Rifkin.)

Allan – On your own tours, particularly in the UK, you rely on the venue providing the piano. Have you had any horror stories with that in the past?

Bob – Well, usually I carry a digital piano for when there’s no real alternative, but most of the places I play now, if there is a real piano, it’s usually in good shape, but I’ve been to places that had a hundred year old upright and some of the keys didn’t work but I kind of like to play those anyway, just for the challenge. It’s like going in the ring with this old piano and fighting it to see who wins. I love real pianos because they all have personality; the digital ones are handy and they’re light and they don’t go out of tune, but they don’t have much of a personality. They get the job done.

The one in Southend, that’s got some issues. It’s got some broken strings; it’s one that I fight to the death but I like playing it because it’s an old Bösendorfer.

Allan – I did notice a few problems at the soundcheck that night…

Bob – It needs a rebuild, but still I’m glad to see it.

Allan – You’re classically and jazz trained; was there any one thing that turned you into a rock/blues pianist?

Bob – The rock thing came first. One of those things was hearing “Sergeant Pepper” for the first time, so it’s you guys, it’s your fault. Then I heard Billy Joel and Elton John and not very long after that the New Orleans thing, which blew me away, and then Ray Charles and I became a huge student of that stuff but the rock stuff was always there.

Allan – Were you singing right from the start?

Bob – I started singing when I was fifteen probably. I started singing because I wanted to impress a girl I had a crush on. I just played classical piano but “Your Song” by Elton John was the first thing I ever sang in public; I thought ‘She’ll love me if I sing this song’. I was a terrible singer, some people still say I am, but I learned to work with what I have.

You write songs and there are obviously lots of people with better voices than me but when you write songs you have a story to tell and people always respond to the story and sometimes you’re the only person that can tell it.

Allan – We’ve had “Mojo Deluxe” this year, so what’s next on the agenda.

Bob – Well, I’ve got this DVD coming out and the audio from that was so good, we’re thinking of putting that out as a live record next year and I’ll make another new record, so I’ll probably get the live one out next year and in 2017 I’ll have a new studio album. I’ve got to get realistic about this; I’ve got about half the songs I need for another record.

Allan – I interviewed Southside Johnny in July 2014 in London…

Bob – Southside Johnny was also one of the big things in my youth and I should mention this because growing up in New Jersey, we all knew Southside Johnny. This was the 80s and you couldn’t hear that kind of music on the radio at all and so my first real exposure to r’n’b, blues, horn section kinda music was Southside and I learned from that and went back and figured out all the other stuff. He was huge for me.

Allan – When I interviewed him at Shepherds Bush Empire last July, we spoke about his new album “Soultime!” and he said they were aiming to get it out for Christmas 2014 and that finally came out in August this year.

Bob – Yeah, that’s about right. I toured here last year and I had half of “Mojo Deluxe” out as “Mojo EP”. We had finished recording and it was half-mixed and there were some problems and we couldn’t get the other half mixed in time and the promoter said ‘The whole thing is you have a record out for this tour; we can’t get any press without a record’ so we had half a record out as an EP, just in the UK for the tour.

Allan – And that worked really well as a sampler for the album.

Bob – And by the end of last year the whole thing was done but then we needed a three month ramp for the release date to get it publicised and I was touring through the spring, so we just put the whole thing off and it came out almost a year later. That’s how it works. There are so many factors; if you have a lot of money involved, you can get things done a lot quicker. On a limited budget, you still need time to publicise, so you often end up delaying.

Allan – One final question; do you have one song that tears you up and gets you really emotional?

Bob – Yeah, “One for my Baby”, the Sinatra song; that one kills me every time. It depends on the day; it could be something else on another day.

Allan – Thanks very much, Bob.

And there you go; a private audience with the great Bob Malone, who was as entertaining offstage as on. Since we spoke, I’ve had a chance to watch the “Mojo Live” DVD and it’s superb, capturing the magic of a one-off performance absolutely perfectly. It has great performances from all of the musicians and it’s a whole load of fun; keep an eye out for it.