photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group
Album Review of Bob Malone: Good People
World-class rockin’ blues keyboardist (and singer and songwriter) Bob Malone has done it again. Released today, May 21, 2021, Good People is his latest masterpiece. His music ranges from raucous and rollicking to slow and sentimental, his songwriting reaches deeply into the emotions of life, and his voice is rough, emotional, and relatable with a hint of a Randy Newman-esque delivery. His live shows are an event, and his recordings are a treat. If you’re familiar with him, all I should need to say is “Bob Malone has released a new album,” and you’ll order it. But that doesn’t make for much of an album review, so let’s dig in.
The disc opens with the title track, “Good People.” It’s a soaring, hopeful number. Even when Bob’s lyrics are cynical, he always sneaks a little hope in, and he doesn’t sugarcoat life’s difficulties here, but this is an exceptionally uplifting tune, almost a hymn in spots thanks to his background vocalists, that focuses on the silver linings, not the clouds.
The energy level amps up next with Bob’s rowdy cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” Of course, Bob has been John Fogerty’s keyboardist since 2011, so, you know, no added pressure here to impress, right? No worries; Bob nails it. The thumping, rhythmic keyboard opening starts to build the power, with ivory-tickling flourishes increasing as the song progresses, and rich background vocals throughout supporting Bob’s rough ‘n rowdy vocals. And let’s not forget the late-song keyboard and guitar noodling, hinting at the sort of long-form jamming I’m sure you could expect when hearing this song live.
image courtesy of Michael J. Media Group
The mood is calmed almost immediately by “Empty Hallways,” a rich piano-based sad song, with Bob’s soulful, gravelly vocal portraying the emotional pain in this powerful ballad.
The energy returns again, following a cool, echoing opening, with “All There Is,” an energetic, enthusiastic blues-rocker with a strong, happy beat that belies the song content: “Is this all there is? ‘Cause I’ve seen this before. Is this all there is? There’s got to be more. Please tell me there’s more!” Never, this side of the Stones, will you rock along as enthusiastically to a song about dissatisfaction, with stop-starts, exploding rhythms, and well-placed background harmonies. As much fun as the recording of this song is, I guarantee this will be a live favorite, too.
Gruff, emotional vocals return on the steadily-progressing, slower-moving “Head First.” Behind the song’s powerful rhythm you’ll discover some nuanced keywork, supporting lyrics like “What didn’t kill me also didn’t make me stronger, and I’m just trying to keep what’s left of me alive.”
Next up is the second of Bob’s three covers on this disc, his rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” Gotta say, Bob’s version is way more rockin’! You might think replacing guitars with a piano would soften a song? You’d be wrong, though if you’ve heard Bob play before, you won’t be surprised. He adds a more ragged vocal delivery, too. The way this is arranged and executed, it sounds more like an update of an old-school blues number than a Fleetwood Mac cover.
The mood doesn’t last long, as Bob follows it with a particular favorite, a song that plays to one of his many songwriting strengths. In this case, on “My Friends and I,” he captures the emotions of the struggles of people of a certain age, his cohort, something I’ve appreciated in his music before. (On “Can’t Get There From Here” from Bob’s Mojo Deluxe album, for example.)
Next up is a quintessentially Bob Malone instrumental, a song so engaging with dancing melodies and memorable piano flourishes that you’ll find yourself thinking back “surely there must have been lyrics in there, right?” I assure you there are not. What Joe Satriani or Marc Bonilla can do with instrumental guitar, what Mindi Abair or Candy Dulfer can do with a saxaphone, Bob Malone does with a piano. On this album, he delivers “Prelude & Blues.” It’s an accessible, radio-friendly, energetic number that can fit comfortably and seamlessly on a playlist – or, in this case, on an album – alongside your favorite vocal-driven songs.
Next on Good People is an ode of appreciation to the “Sound of a Saxophone,” on which Bob’s keywork is rich, full, and organ-ic. And, of course, joined by some wailing, bluesy sax. It’s followed by a song Bob wrote a few years ago for a telethon to raise money for West Virginia flood relief, “The River Gives.” It’s a powerful song with soaring gospel-choir harmonies that complement Bob’s gravelly vocal delivery atop soaring music that mimics the power and force of flood waters: “The river gives, the river takes away. You can’t stop the water’s rise, you can only pray. The river gives, the river takes away. Down here by the river, we live day to day.”
Bob closes this enjoyable, heartfelt album with some serious energy, riffing uncontrollably through his funky flavored cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” It’s a fun song, a terrific rendition that’ll leave you with a bounce in your step and a smile, ready to hit “repeat” and hear the album all over again.
Good People is yet another feather in Bob’s cap, as he builds a catalog of world-class original music, an increasing “back catalog” of rollickin’ piano blues music awaiting discovery by the new fans each subsequent disc uncovers. Keyboard wizard. Talented songwriter. Voice of a generation. Good People.
photo by Geoff Wilbur
You can catch Bob Malone live – or, at least, livestreamed. Upcoming gigs are here on the “Tour Dates & Livestreams” page of his website. You’ll find info there for Bob’s three streams scheduled this week: Sunday, May 23rd, Tuesday, May 25th, and Wednesday, May 26th. Farther out, the site lists upcoming live dates on September 30th in Rahway, NJ; October 1st in New Paltz, NY; October 2nd in Willington, CT; and October 29th in Los Angeles. There are few events as much fun as a live Bob Malone concert, so get out to see him perform this fall if you can.
In the meantime, Good People drops today, so go check it out. And then try one of his livestreams, if your schedule permits.
And don’t forget to read my previous Bob Malone reviews here at the Blog, of Bob’s last (non-holiday studio) album, Mojo Deluxe; of an insane house concert; of an unassuming, casual summer gig at a suburban concert in the park series; and of a performance at an iconic London blues club.