Michelle Malone – Debris

January 01, 1970






Whether moanin’ at midnight and howling at the delta moon,
or serving up a steamy blend of Tom Pettyesque twang-pop and Creedence
Clearwater choogle, Michelle Malone’s the sexiest, most swaggering-est gal
rocker on the goddam planet right now. You can credit part of that to her Deep
South roots; in her unvarnished, soulful wail, one hears echoes of the church
choirs and the R&B records she undoubtedly heard growing up as a child in Georgia. Later,
Malone got weaned on ‘70s classic rock and eventually bum-rushed the
college-rock and alternative scenes of the mid ‘80s (among her early musical buddies
were the Indigo Girls), debuting in ’88 in fine style with New Experience. Over the years she’s put in time as a solo acoustic
folkie, as a full-on rock band frontwoman, and as one-half of a hotwired guitar/drums
blooze duo (take that, Jack White) –
in the latter incarnation, she even picked up the nickname “Moanin’ Malone.” So
yeah, with that kind of accumulated musical schooling, Malone’s got all the
bases covered.


That’s what comes through loud and clear on Debris, her 10th studio
release and the followup to 2006’s
outstanding Sugarfoot
. In a way,
the record acts as a career summation, touching down in multiple territories
while offering some of her strongest songwriting to date. The title track is a
rich, soulful evocation of sisterhood – or deep, lasting friendships of any
stripe, as lines like “If you’re thirsty come and drink from my cup/ If you get
scared, baby, you know that I’ll back you up/ You don’t have to stand alone”
clearly telegraph – set against an irresistible beat and powered by a memorable
Keith Richards-styled riff. There’s a bit of low-key Bo Diddley shuffle in the
slide guit-fueled “Restraining Order Blues” (you can let your imagination roam
free about that song’s lyrical
concerns), while both the loss-and-loneliness waltz-time reverie “14th Street and Mars” and the gently yearning acoustic ballad “Candle for the
Lonely” hearken directly from Malone’s folk-rock background.


But as noted above, Malone’s still one of those ladies who’s
just gotta rock sometimes, and that she does, in spades, on Debris. Opening cut “Feather in a
Hurricane” lays down the gauntlet right at the get-go: an overdriven slice of electric
guitar boogie, it struts and stomps and churns like vintage George Thorogood
(if GT could muster the soulful vocal chops of a young Bonnie Raitt, that is),
Malone unleashing down ‘n’ dirty slide licks as she chronicles how it feels to
be out of control, overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life and beset on every
front by loonies and losers. “I feel I’m about to explode,” Malone mutters
darkly at one point, echoing what pretty much everyone else is feeling these
days, essentially making the tune the national anthem for Amerika v.09. The
next song is also a visceral rocker, “Yesterday’s Make Up,” melodically kin to
classic John Mellencamp (back when his middle name was still “Cougar”) and
featuring a meaty riff that’s so shamelessly-but-delightfully copped from
Free’s “All Right Now” that only the most hard-hearted lawyer would be willing
to litigate. In the tune, Malone recovers from her “Hurricane” madness and resolves
to dig herself out of the shit, strapping on the heels and walking out into the
Sunday morning sun still clad in her Saturday night dress: “I look like
Cinderella on her way home/ I feel like Wonder Woman, righteous and strong… I
feel beautiful/ I been saved by love,” sings Malone, in a voice that’s utter
celebration and release. And even if you don’t know that most of the material on
Debris was penned in the aftermath of
a protracted, painful breakup, you sense immediately that this is real-life
stuff she’s singing about, not abstract character studies.


Which has always been Malone’s hallmark: raw, visceral
emotions not so much worn on the sleeve as simply put out there for the rest of
us so we can identify and commiserate. I’ve been a fan for two decades now, and
she just gets better and better each year, like the proverbial fine wine. She’s
never bowed to trend or bent to expectations, and if the one thing we should
demand of all our artists is that they remain true to themselves no matter what
else, then Malone is up there at the top of the list with the greats.


Standout Tracks: “”Yesterday’s
Make Up,” “Debris,” “Marked” FRED MILLS



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