Rising UK Blues Singer/Songwriter Malaya Blue Teams With Dennis Walker On ‘Still’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Rising UK blues singer-songwriter Malaya Blue caught the attention of Grammy-winning writer Dennis Walker in the past couple of years. You remember Walker from his collaborations with Robert Cray, where Walker won Grammys for Strong Persuader and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Walker also won one for his work on B.B. King’s Blues Summit and has worked with Bettye LaVette. Malaya is the first UK artist to work with him. Blue and Walker have been co-writing over the past couple of years and we now have their strong results on Still, the third release for Blue who has already received several nominations and awards in her homeland. Even Cray mainstay, bassist Richard Cousins, contributes and plays on the title track which was originally intended for a Cray album but never made it to wax. Be assured that although there are some blues on the album, there’s more neo-soul and R&B. The versatile vocalist can belt them out with the best and has amazing range but veers toward a smooth, not a gritty delivery. Yet, she’s a force in any of these genres, poised to break out beyond just her home environs with Still.

The pair brought together the best musicians they could tap from the UK music scene, forming a backing quartet for the album divided into two sides – “Still Side” (R&B, neo-soul) and “Blue Side.”( a mix). Not only did Cousins pitch in for a track but Brett Lucas, Bettye LaVette’s longtime guitarist, contributed music for “Down to the Bottom and “These Four Walls” on the “Blue Side.” Suffice it to say, serious talent abounds. 

Following the emotionally laden opening title track, the clavinet ushers in the funky workout of “Down to the Bone.” “It’s a Shame” is a series of pumped-up R&B choruses that disguise the tale of a relationship gone south, regaining the confidence to conquer heartbreak in the ebullient “Love Can Tell.” The mournful gospel-infused blues, replete with church sounding B3,  of “Why Is Peace So Hard?” represent perhaps her most stirring vocal on an album filled with them, as she expresses the pain of a mother who has lost a son – “She watched at the airport/as his plane came in/At last, she thought../his war is at an end/Then she saw his coffin/Flag draped down its sides/She fell on her knees and she/cried why? Why? Why?” For balance, needed romantic bliss follows in the piano-vocal duet “Love Can Tell,” with Blue sensually cooing the vocal.

As the “Blue Side” opens Blue takes on the blues belter approach for “Kiss my Troubles Away,” against a blues-rock backing. Yet, instead of following with blues, she turns to the well-worn breakup to makeup in the R&B styled “Settle Down Easy,” layering in her background vocals as she does on several tracks. Then she turns sultry once again, enraptured in the bliss of love on the neo-soul “Down to the Bottom.” In this well-paced album, drummer Mike Horne sets up the pulsating “These Four Walls, “yet another strong showing for organist Stevie Watts and another wailer for Blue. Watts takes the piano again for another ballad, “I Can’t Be Loved,” one of the six tunes not co-written with Walker. The closer is almost a bookend to the side opener blues-rocker as Blue struts her defiant stuff, yet despite its high energy, it is one of the weaker tracks due to its cliché-filled riffs. 

Malaya Blue displays immense vocal talent and some emerging skill as a songwriter. To this writer,” blues singer” miscasts her somewhat. Even though she can render a blues song with aplomb, it’s her R&B, neo-soul cuts that seem to bring out her best talent.

 

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