While the legacy of the Subdudes is firmly cemented as one of the uplifting and satisfying supergroups in recent roots music history, its front man is busy building upon his own legacy.
Tommy Malone, already a practiced singer, songwriter and guitarist when he co-founded the Subdudes in late 80s, lent his talents to this and various other bands for the last forty or so years, subjugating his own solo career in the process. Following a lone disc Soul Heavy (2001), Malone was quiet as a leader until last year’s Natural Born Days, a favorite of ours that was brought up again at year-end “best of 2013″ list time. Malone is clearly on a roll and not ready to end it anytime soon, because less than a year later, here he comes with another full set of new tunes, packaged together on a CD entitled Poor Boy.
Due out April 29, 2014, Poor Boy — his second on M.C. Records — isn’t just a veteran New Orleans musician in the midst of an amazing renaissance, he’s clearly enjoying his freedom. There’s no one held over from the Days sessions, but everyone supporting Malone on the new album is tightly connected to him: bassist and co-producer Ray Ganucheau engineered and played bass on Soul Heavy, drummer Russ Broussard played in a latter version of the Continental Drifters band Malone started years before and keyboard player Sam Brady has been part of Malone’s current touring band.
That makes for a well-executed, well-recorded album, but Malone hadn’t changed at all the character of his music, which dips into the wells of blues, folk, country, rock and Big Easy RnB with equal certitude. We earlier heard his earworm “You May Laugh,” a folk-rock gem steeped in soul that quotes the Beatles (“we can work it out”), and it gets the record off to a solid start.
“Pretty Pearls” paints an impressionistic picture of a Southern debutante, decorated nicely by a Nashville style piano from Brady and harmonica by Malone. “All Dressed Up,” which Malone jokingly calls a “party song for geriatrics” is a load of fun, a funky sway with organ and Malone’s imposing slide guitar. Malone tackles busted relationships directly and honestly (“We Both Lose,” “Time To Move On” and “Once In A Blue Moon”), with “Time” boasting the added bonus of a Charlie Watts stomp and Malone’s acoustic slide.
The whole things ends on a somewhat strange note with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1973 deep cut “Big Brother.” Going directly against the handmade principles of Malone, there are samples and drum loops on this version of Wonder’s first overtly political protest song. Those things are surprising, yes, but those things aren’t as important as Malone’s persuasive vocal, which suggests he innately gets Wonder’s sentiment of being taken for granted by elected officials.
Tommy Malone makes music that alternately soothes and fires up the soul. He’s always been able to do that, and it’s clear on Poor Boy that it’s become second nature for him.