Debris: a 2009 release by Michelle Malone, brilliant and by turns both stormy and sweet
So my intention was to write about some buttery smooth soulful music I encountered in Portland, Maine (Adam Waxman, and I’m hoping to write it up soon! Loving it.) – but I simply can’t get this record out of my head or out of my player. The problem started when I picked up her February release, Acoustic Winter, and decided to head into her back catalog. For some reason, I’d never snagged Debris. Well, hello.
Brilliant and by turns stormy and sweet, this 2009 release by Michelle Malone is like a swift kick in the shin for anyone tempted to turn off, tune out, and settle for aloof and emotionless tunes dribbling across the dial. She wastes no time getting down to it with the wild and whirling grind of “Feather in a Hurricane;” its raunchy slide guitar and staccato percussion grabs you by the lapel and spins you round the room til you’re dizzy and stumbling. It’s a fitting start to a record that somehow keeps its dusty boots on the ground while flying you through the fickle weather systems of familiar human predicaments – love, loss, loneliness, infidelity, and the occasional misdemeanor-inducing revenge plot. She even includes a “Feather in the Hurricane” remix on the tail end, restating in very clear terms: Buckle Up, Kids. Never has just another day in the life sounded so good.
“Yesterday’s Makeup” brims with the new-love energies of joy and optimism, followed by the radio-ready jangly rocker “Debris.” And then – well, then you come to, and notice you’ve been tossed at the feet of the rattled (and rattling) “Undertow,” a juicy, angry tirade born from betrayal that starts, literally, with a sigh. Pregnant pause, indeed – and anyone who’s been burned by their beloved running around with a friend will recognize the ferocious energy she injects. I remember stomping a little loud and lawless batsh*t when my tomcat finally came clean, but you sure as hell couldn’t dance to it! What’s especially fun about this standout track is the undercurrent of humor; in between hollers of “I can’t stand it!” Malone sends out a whoop and a chuckle. I mean come on, who except this woman could get you singing at the top of your lungs to a song that includes “bedroom shoes,” “duraflames,” and “fruit loops” in its lyrics?? Be honest, now.
If “Undertow” was the midnight rant that broke all the dishes (and, for that matter, the kitchen table they were on), then “Marked” is the weary morning-after, left to shuffle unhappily around the place picking all the pieces up, resigned to its fate. Serious and seriously exhausted, this song has a lovely 1970s Linda Ronstadt feel; its steady, smooth vibe would be right at home on Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special. Then after a defiant ride in the back seat of a police cruiser (“Restraining Order Blues”), Malone spins the groove a little sentimental on “Chattahoochie Boogaloo” and “Weed & Wine,” sifting through fond memories of mostly-innocent debauchery from good times gone by. The record moves into the emotional discord found on the other side of passion with “14th Street & Mars” and “Sunburn,” and the acoustic closer “Candle for the Lonely” is a soft and sweet lullaby of hope sent out to anyone floating lost and lonesome in the sea of love.
What’s clear throughout the record is that this is someone who loves being alive. And like the percussion prodigy that can turn everything in his path into an object in service to the beat, Malone’s songwriting and heartfelt vocals have an uncanny, uncompromising way of exploring emotions common to us all – sometimes stormy, sometimes sweet – leaving no stone unturned and not one note wasted. Simply stated: this record is A L I V E. What a treat.
I don’t know how to turn it off, but I’ll need to at some point – can’t just sit here and sing forever- ” there’s take out boxes by the garbage can and the leaning tower of dishes is getting three feet high……” haha