Bill Mallonee should need no introduction. One of today’s great unsung troubadours and a humble, grizzled searcher, he plies the long, beat roads of America, carrying his old-fashioned traveling show to the doorways, coffee shops, and music rooms of the fortunate initiated.
Hailed as one of the 100 Greatest Living songwriters by Paste Magazine, he is, like Townes Van Zandt, a nearly unparalleled songwriter’s songwriter. Over the course of 40+ albums, as the frontman of his former band, regional favorites Vigilantes of Love, and through his relentless solo output of the past decade, Mallonee has consistently delivered insightful, timely commentary on society and the state of affairs, human dignity and struggle, and shined a light on his inner life and spiritual quest through his revealing and weathered songs. He is well-deserving of being considered one of the great voices in American folk and rock music, and counts the likes of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Americana master Buddy Miller, who co-produced Vigilantes of Love’s Killing Floor and Audible Sigh, respectively, as fans. Emmylou Harris even lends her voice to the former’s shimmering “Resplendent”. As his legions of supporters, who funded his latest studio record via Kickstarter, surely know, his work is the stuff of a legend among us.
Since the dissolution of Vigilantes of Love in 2001, Mallonee has quietly recorded and self-released over ten records and assorted EPs, not to mention his eleven Works (in) Progress Administration (WPA) series of home recordings ranging from collections inspired by the Upper Big Bend Mining Disaster of 2009(?), Coal Dust Soul, to the recent recession, joblessness, and lack of faith in American governance, Drifter Songs.
Cowboy Angel Music is pleased to present Mallonee’s return-to-studio tour de force, the big sounding, rocking, and fully realized The Power & The Glory. His first proper studio album in years, recorded by Matt Reifler at St. Francis University, The Power & The Glory is intelligent, catchy, and mature songwriting from a master. It may be his best album yet.
These songs, initially placed on various WPA EPs of the past few years, are recut here in their full splendor. The Power & The Glory is a jangly, guitar-driven record with a touch of grittiness and dirt in the thick, layered electric guitar parts. There’s an understated grandeur here, as Mallonee’s signature vocal stylings (with hints of Tom Petty and Kathleen Edwards) twist in accessible melodies at the forefront of an Americana rock & roll wall of sound. Traces of Neil Young a la Ragged Glory, The Jayhawks, and Tom Petty are clear throughout. “The Ghosts That I Run With” sounds like an expanded, garage rock take on Young’s “Old Man”, and the softer, marching drum beat-propelled “Ever Born into This World” recalls the melodicism of “I Am a Child”. But these performances are never derivative, but highly nuanced and subtle. The supportive, secondary guitar lines underpin each of the tracks, providing added color and emotion. And throughout, the harmonies, piano, and organ pads of Muriah Rose, Mallonee’s wife and touring partner, further enhance each song tastefully.
Album highlights include the attitude-fueled “The Shakers & The Movers”, a commentary on corporate greed, mid-tempo rocker “Just to Feel the Heat”, the memorable personal journey tale “Go to Sleep With the Angels”, the pulsing pop gem “Bring You Around”, and hopeful slow roller “Spring In Your Spirit”, with its woodwind-esque organ and blissfuly grand distorted guitar lines.
And then there’s the content. Ghosts and card-table imagery run rampant in the songs, unsurprisingly perhaps, as the thoughtful Mallonee explores the past, wounds scarred and healing, and the submission to and solace of his faith. A true artist, Mallonee is crushingly honest, allowing us to find ourselves as we peer into his own dark terrain not without promise.
Here we find commentary on the patterns and orbits of our lives, the counting of the “ledger sheets of the years”. We are fallible, Mallonee tells us. We live with our decisions and persevere through hardships. We do what we know best. Years on the road, scraping from show to show, a broken family (“I burned it down just to feel the heat”), nostalgia for your child’s early, carefree years (“it’s a far cry from the backyard of laughter and cartoons”), a move to the desert lands of New Mexico (“You can lose yourself in the high deserts of New Mexico/ you can shed every skin ya ever lived in/ it’s the loneliest sound I know”). These songs speak of the incomparable human spirit. They are Mallonee’s but they are our own.
Most importantly, though, there’s hope: “Away with the fear/ announce a new year where mercy is born” (“Bring You Around”); “And this dark night of the soul/ trade your grieving for some rock n’ roll/ There’s Spring in your spirit”; “Maybe God’s face has smiled upon us” (“Spring in Your Spirit”). And, mining his own Christian faith, he finds peace that forgiveness and comfort will surely be ours: “You may come back like a prodigal son to your Father’s home/ or ya may steer clear for a thousand years ‘til the Shepherd finds His own” (“Ever Born Into this World”).
There’s a place for everyone at the table, and it has been a long trail of lessons learned for Mallonee, a road worn, wise philosopher. The Power & The Glory calls out for oneness and redemption. Along with his staggering catalogue of material, this record is brimming with the awe and wonder of Whitman, the Beatnik spirit of mystical searching, the folk and even punk-rock ethos of Guthrie, Dylan, The Clash, and Johnny Cash alike, and the hard lived teachings of a rare artist. As Mallonee would tell it: “I’m a lyric guy telling a story, more or less, of brokenness within and without. We’ve felt like wandering gypsies the last six years.” The Power & The Glory, he adds, is “what all that uncertainty, adversity, and inspiration brought forth. From the sound to the themes to the very delivery, it’s all here.”
The Czech author Milan Kundera wrote that his characters are his own unrealized possibilities. So too, Mallonee’s lyrics are either precisely that or a very mirror into ourselves. “There’s a place within the cleft of rock/ there’s a whisper with no words,” he sings in “Ever Born Into This World”. Go to that place. Find the passage, and listen in. Hear the sound and words of one of Americas’ greatest unknown singing poets. There you will find yourself, awaiting.
Bill Mallonee has performed with: Buddy Miller, Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, R.E.M., Dwight Yoakam, Jim Lauderdale, Shawn Mullins, Sufjan Stevens, Peter Case, North Mississippi All-Stars, Alejandro Escovedo, Glen Phillips, Peter Mulvey, Mark Olson (The Jayhawks), Gin Blossoms, and more.
“The poetry and intelligence of Bill Mallonee’s songs rivals Dylan’s, and the spirituality and inspiration of them is like the timeless hymns. He’s one of my favorite all time artist.” - Buddy Miller (No Depression Magazine‘s Artist of the Decade)
“…the best folk-rock act nobody’s ever hear of… The intelligence and intensity of Mallonee’s writing has elicited comparisons to Dylan from his loyal underground admirers. Given the consistency and quality of Mallonee’s work over eight albums, he is arguably the first writer since John Prine to make the comparison plausible.” - New York Press
“Dylan-tinged vocal and introspective lyrics that spin out big-picture stories imbued with chilling small details.” – Billboard
“Bill Mallonee… [has] remained fascinated with the shadowy emotional toils and struggles inherent in the American experience, compelling, insightful, [he] continues to probe through Americana rock and roll proving that sometimes the only story worth telling is that of the journey.” - Rolling Stone
“Mallonee’s songs give words to shadowy fears of intimacy, of it’s loss, even of the value of what he feels compelled to do.” - USA Today
Bill Mallonee is a screw-up. He’ll tell you so, and he’s now made 40 albums about it, both as a solo artist and with his former band Vigilantes of Love. He’s a poetic screw-up though, a master of a thousand-and-one metaphors depicting the depravity of man, and every so often he lets in little glimmers of hope and the promise of positive change. He does it again on The Power & the Glory, his strongest album in years, rocking those metaphors with Neil Young guitar licks and a Dylanesque howl.”- Andy Whitman, Image Magazine