Georgia songwriter Michelle Malone gets a lot of Lucinda Williams comparisons. Which makes sense: both artists have a thing for the blues, and oldschool C&W, and bands who can rock the hell out of their songs. But Malone’s a better singer and a better guitarist too. Where Williams rasps, Malone belts. And her slide guitar playing has snarl and bite. She’s making an unexpected appearance at 9 PM on August 17 at the Bitter End. Cover is $15.
Malone’s latest album is Stronger Than You Think, streaming at Spotify. It opens with Stomping Ground, a big, defiant, swaying paisley underground anthem straight out of the Dream Syndicate playbook. Although Malone’s message is that nostalgia is a quicksand pit, the song will resonate with any New Yorker – or anyone, for that matter – whose old haunts have been been bulldozed for “luxury” condos.
Vivian Vegas, a Johnny Cash-style shuffle lit up with some jaunty, jazz-tinged 50s style country guitar riffage, wryly recalls the ups and downs of a hard-rocking gal’s career. My Favorite Tshirt, a slow, blue-flame Georgia Satellites-style stomp, celebrates an escape from an abusive relationship. Malone brings things down with the elegant acoustic soul-jazz ballad I Got An Angel, contrasting with the lighthearted, amped-up folk-rock of When I Grow Up.
Malone follows Swan White, an enigmatic backbeat janglerock number, with the strutting, indomitable rocker Keep My Head Up, a dead ringer for classic early 80s Tattoo You-era Stones. Likewise, the swaying midtempo kiss-off anthem Don’t Want to Know, with its honking blues harp, and Ashes, a bluesy, Stonesy strut fueled by Gerry Hansen’s spot-on Charlie Watts impersonation behind the drum kit, and some of Malone’s tastiest guitar work here.
The vivid, wistful current-day Great Depression anthem Ramona paints a chillingly detailed picture, in an Amy Rigby vein: “I learned a fresh start can hurt like brand new shoes,” Malone recalls. Then she flips the script with the droll, surreal happy-go-lucky Fish Up a Tree and keeps that cheery vibe going through Birthday Song (I’m So Glad). As dynamic and guitar-fueled as this album is, Malone has a reputation for incendiary live shows and is likely to add fuel to that fire on Wednesday night.