There are pretentious artists and certainly plenty of blues rockers who sing in such an overwrought way, that they fail to connect. And then there’s the Atlanta-based southern rocker, singer-songwriter Michelle Malone who rings true in equal parts as a guitar slinger and vocalist with the songs to match. On this, her sixteenth album, Slings and Arrows, Malone does justice to the title right away with her stinging slide guitar as she belts out “Just Getting Started.” Indeed, she is, as the album is full of both unrelenting fury and sublime soulful moments, especially when Malone duets deep soul with Shawn Mullins on Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” The other nine are originals and are among the best writing she’s ever done.
This is an album that is purely smoking as it’s full of raw emotion, upbeat energy, new personal territory, and defiant political statements. The songs speak to desire and disappointment, as well as optimism and awareness, delivered with a fiery conviction that doesn’t wane. Malone reflects, “The past year seemed to alternate between darkness and light. It’s kind of been the arc of my life in general, but even more so over the past year. In a very real sense, this album is a microcosm of issues that I’ve encountered, and in writing this record, it became a kind of therapy. It helped change my perspective, and I suspect that there are messages here that can offer affirmation to others as well.”
Malone, an Atlanta native, describes it as a “Georgia record.” All the musicians, studios, and even those rendering the artwork are Georgians. And, of course, there’s inspiration from such native sons as Little Richard, James Brown, and Ray Charles. The album was recorded live in the studio in just five days and the bursting energy coming through is palpable, the kind that only a live setting can produce. Malone produced the album herself and handles electric, acoustic, and trademark slide guitar, mandolin and harmonica.
Although many are raucous tunes like the opener, Malone navigates sweet soul rock in “Sugar on My Tongue,” shows a bit of a North Mississippi Hill Country blues style in “Beast’s Boogie,” bakes in John Lee Hooker boogie riffs in “Fox and the Hound” and becomes a chanteuse balladeer in “The Flame.” In between the roadhouse rock, blues, and Georgia soul hold sway. She closes with the wailing “Boxing Gloves,” which serves as a bookend to her incendiary opener. There’s a nice, alternating pace in the sequencing that reveals Malone’s depth and breadth. It’s a stunning guitar-driven record with killer songs at its core.