BLUES REVUE (Jun/Jul 2007)
Orb Mellon : Love Above (V-Hold 1401)
It's unlikely that many blues fans came into contact with Boston indie rockers the Dirt Merchants, but even for those who did, this solo debut from the band's guitarist, Mike Malone, isn't exactly a logical musical progression. Instead of the Merchants' grungy roots-punk, Malone (now known by the odd moniker Orb Mellon) taps the Delta and Piedmont sounds of acoustic country bluesmen such as Bukka White, Son House, Charley Patton, and Furry Lewis. The disc's 13 original compositions are cut from the same cloth as the classic songs that defined these and other prewar guitarists.
"Aberdeen" and "Looking for Trouble" dig deep into the Delta mud for intense, emotionally moving performances that make Malone sound like he was born 80 years ago and raised in a shotgun shack. Malone is an agile slide guitarist, as exemplified by his nimble National steel work on "Long Way Home" and "What I'm Going To Do With You." Since all but one of the tracks were recorded in a single day, the production is minimal and there are virtually no overdubs, making the session even more spontaneous.
Malone's voice isn't as gritty or as soulful as this music demands, but he makes the most of it and sings as if he's got a hellhound at least close to his trail. There aren't many musicians working entirely in this style, and even fewer who used to be in punk bands, so Malone deserves props for releasing a strikingly honest album without commercial concerns. Love Above won't put him in the league with the greats, but it's an impressive start to a second career. (Hal Horowitz)
Blues In Britain
Orb Mellon – Love Above
(V-Hold Records 1401)
Orb Mellon is the nom de disque of Connecticut-based Mike Malone, one time guitarist with East Coast indie band, the Dirt Merchants, who now performs his own solo material, which might well be described as “21st century downhome blues”. I first encountered him last year on the excellent Weenie Campbell website and following a link was able to listen to him on MySpace. I liked what I heard and was attracted to a musician who quotes his influences as Bukka White, Fred McDowell, Son House AND The Clash. This had to be a man with some attitude and indeed this, his first release, has plenty of attitude, not to mention some really great music.
All 13 tracks are originals and all but one were recorded in a single day in order to preserve the spontaneity of the performances. Apart from one track on an all mahogany Martin, Orb plays a single-cone National or an old ladder-braced Gibson Cromwell flat-top, thus achieving a great downhome blues sound. He sings in an unaffected, pleasing voice and adds rack harmonica to some songs. The only other instruments are foot stomp, plus a bit of percussion on a few cuts. He is also joined by his old Dirt Merchants colleague, Maria Christopher, who provides backing vocals on a couple of songs as well.
Every track is a winner, so it would be futile to single any out. Whilst you get the occasional hint of the ghost of Bukka or Patton, there are no re-runs of old blues songs. These are new songs with all the raw energy of the old masters. Already a contender for my album of the year, this one will get repeated plays. If you like your blues presented in an honest, straight-ahead fashion, check out Orb Mellon’s website and you will not be disappointed.
Fairfield County Weekly (Tom Gogola)
Blues, No Chaser
Blues, No Chaser.
Dirt Merchants former frontman (and Monroe resident) returns with an album that's strickly da blues.
March 22 2007.
We have our prickly biases here at the Fairfield County Weekly , and one that’s pretty universally shared among the staff is that Eric Clapton sucks. Not in the sense that the man can’t play the guitar, since that’s obviously untrue, but in the sense that his excruciating generic-ness is exactly what attracts him to the safe and secure ramparts of Baby Boomertown, where Slowhand has been named milquetoast mayor for life.
His popularity, like B.B. King’s, is really more a case of the Last Men Standing than anything having to do with their talent; both players are designated Ambassadors of the Blues by default, and neither’s up to the task.
Fightin’ words, but my tastes lie squarely with the really menacing, the really dirty, the really bluesy blues—Wolf, Muddy, Lightin’ Hopkins, Leadbelly, Son House, R.L. Burnside, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Kimbrough. Give me a blues record that’s dirty, depraved, desperate, that’s all honey-drip innuendo, crippled-spirit wails, and back-door, red-rooster-crowing manliness—or give me Bloarzeyd.
So let’s talk about a truly bluesy blues album, the just-released debut from Orb Mellon, aka Mike Malone, who some may recall was frontman for Boston indie-rock stalwarts the Dirt Merchants back in the 1990s. Malone now lives in Monroe and has just released his first solo album, Love Above , featuring 13 tracks of primeval Delta-dipping blues tracks, most of them featuring Malone on steel or wood acoustic guitar and harmonica (and voice) and not much else. As a “project,” the album succeeds on terms that would probably put the terror into Clapton’s withered, studio-possessed soul: A dozen of the tunes were recorded in one day , and, goes the press report, most of those were “executed in one take.” That, friends, is definitional “old school.”
The result? A white-boy-blues record bristling with immanence and urban tuff—Love Above is all rollicking, finger-snapping steel-guitar slash-and-burn, slide runs and spot-on fingerpicked shimmy-do, and while certainly there are “nods” to Malone’s forbears, as Brian Mosher wrote in the March issue of The Noise , Malone’s not “mimicking the masters but…paying tribute to the style they created by making it his own.”
To my ears, Malone’s voice has a bit of Dylan ’65 to it, even some Stevie Ray; it’s resonant and reedy, a voice the late French literary critic and semiotician Roland Barthes would describe as having some true, hard-won grain to it. In its purest form, which is how Malone approaches it both stylistically and spiritually, the Delta blues offers salvation that is universal both in its implication and its reach. We grapple with our God through the blues, just as we grapple with our lovers and our outrage at a sick and venal world. The blues, in turn, frees us from ourselves (if we let it). All the great bluesmen knew that the real cathartic action lay somewhere betwixt the sacred and the profane—Malone knows it too.
In a piece exploring the implications of Barthes’ landmark 1977 essay, “The Grain of the Voice,” critic Robin Markowitz observed, “The grain belongs to anyone who can experience its physical presence. The grain, like a dream that is too real, returns the repressed in its volcanic and inescapable physicality.”
That sense, of an “inescapable physicality” appears to lie at the core of Malone’s approach to the blues—Love Above’s physicality is lean-muscle tight and without affect or pretense. Within the confines of the form, “your love,” as Malone sings on “Rolling River,” frees itself and is “like a rolling river down to the sea.”
Put simply, the blues is love—love, the blues. Stripped down to a quivering, naked core—that’s where you’ll find both in their purest and most palatable form.
(PS: Eric Clapton still sucks.)