“Good People” – Bob Malone

5 stars (out of 5)

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One thing you can guarantee with a Bob Malone album, it will be packed with musical talent. That starts with Bob Malone himself playing acoustic and electric pianos, organ, synth, glockenspiel, stomp box and tambourine; and he’s a pretty good singer in a raw rock/blues style. He’s classically trained, an accomplished writer and arranger and he has a day job (when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic) as keyboard player, accordionist and unwitting pyrotechnics target with John Fogerty’s live band. His solo work reflects his varied musical background, pulling in elements from classical, soul, blues, rock, funk and jazz into a glorious fusion that’s pure Bob Malone.

“Good People”, in common with a lot of recent releases is at least partly a lockdown project put together from recordings at various studios and has a couple of lyrical themes running through it; gratitude for the things that have seen us through the pandemic and a sense of loss for friends and family that didn’t make it through, for whatever reason. The latter theme is particularly important on “Good People”; Lavonne Barnett-Seetal of The Malonettes backing vocal team died in December 2020. Her stunning voice lives on and “Good People” is a fitting tribute.

There are eight original songs on “Good People” and three non-originals; I’m wary of using the word ‘cover’ after a conversation with the wonderful Galician finger-style guitarist, Iago Banet, who makes a powerful case for using the word arrangements instead. Either arrangements or interpretations would be more accurate for the three non-originals on “Good People”. The first reworking is a brave choice of the John Fogerty classic “Bad Moon Rising”. The menace of the original is emphasised by a piano riff that mixes “Come Together” and “Crossroads” and a slightly changed melody. Appropriately enough, it has a real New Orleans feel. Another brave choice is building the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac classic “Oh Well” around a turbo-charged piano riff replacing the guitar of the original. It’s a stunning response to everyone who ever told him that “Oh Well” was a guitar tune that wouldn’t work on the piano. And the final non-original, which closes the album, is the long-time live favourite “Tangled Up in Blue”, which is funked-up, rocked-up, Leon Russell-like, show-closing version of the Dylan classic that leaves plenty of room for piano and guitar solos – this studio version has solos from six different guitar players; yep, that’s right, six.

After interpreting the work of classic songwriters such John Fogerty, Peter Green and Bob Dylan, do the Malone originals match up? They certainly do. Bob’s songwriting on “Good People” reflects the times that we’ve lived through since January 2020. The message of the title song is really simple; there’s always reason for positivity because there are always good people around. In a turbulent year like 2020, particularly in the USA, it’s a message that many have forgotten; many thanks for the timely reminder, Bob. The beautiful ballad “My Friends and I”, with its sparse (mainly) piano backing, building up to a gospel choir finish, tells a story of loss that’s familiar to many of us over the last year. It’s an incredibly moving song.

As is “Empty Hallways”, stripped back to piano and strings. The pathos of watching someone slip away is emphasised by Bob singing towards the top of his range and it’s an emotional ride. The Malonettes backing vocals feature heavily again on “The River Gives”, a slow ballad about the danger of depending on unpredictable and dangerous natural resources; it might even be a metaphor for life itself. But don’t get the wrong idea about Bob’s own compositions; they aren’t all downbeat. The instrumental “Prelude and Blues” is an opportunity for Bob and the band to show their prowess in a gentle jazz/blues piece, while “Sound of a Saxophone” using the sax as a metaphor for jazz and music generally builds up to a big full band arrangement with strings and, of course, The Malonettes in full swing.

“Good People” is an album that captures the experience of the plague year perfectly and I think it’s his best yet. It’s a mix of remembrance, numbness, regret and, ultimately, recovery. It’s a bunch of songs that perfectly captures the experience of the last sixteen months and finishes on a note of pure defiance with joyous “Tangled Up in Blue” that you really need to see live. Until that happens, get your ears around this album and prepare for a treat.

“Good People” is released on Friday May 21st, until then here’s a little video for you:

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