The Malpass Brothers
Official URL: http://themalpassbrothers.com/
There’s an endless stream of schlock seemingly dribbling out of Nashville and the country music genre. Occasionally, however, listeners find a chance to sift a rare gem from the muck and waste promoted as the next big thing. Chris and Taylor Malpass, have debuted with a memorable self-titled debut. This release, produced by Doyle Lawson, looks back to a distant time in the genre’s history when the genre’s performers and songwriters adhered much more closely to the music’s roots in folk music, gospel, blues, and early rock and roll. There isn’t a hint of parody anywhere – the Malpass Brothers lovingly recreate the past and expend enormous effort trying to make pouring old wine into new bottles an enjoyable experience for performer and listener alike.
They make some serious missteps on the cover songs. Speeding up Roy Clark’s wrenching “Which One Is To Blame” softens the song’s shattering, plainspoken poetry and Taylor Malpass’ vocal never quite reaches Clark’s level of ache. Honkytonking the song up falls squarely in line with the brothers’ musical intentions, but the song’s complicated subject matter works, in part, because it suggests more than it says and a jauntier tempo robs it of some pathos. “It’ll Be Me” never offends. Instead, it pulses steadily to a conclusion without ever raising the listener’s pulse. Taylor Malpass volunteers for the unenviable task of tackling Faron Young’s legendary country hit “Hello Walls” and never embarrasses himself. He certainly could have opened up a little more, added a bit more power; his attentive singing is a highlight. In contrast, the musical backing lets him down with its ham-fisted attempts to recall the original with weak harmonies and relatively uninspired playing.
The band includes three songs from closer to their own creative circles. The first, “Learn to Love Me Too”, is a fine ballad with excellent dramatic and musical qualities alike. There is an urgency here not always heard in the covers that sets the song apart. “Here in Alberta I’ll Stay” obviously, as the press materials say, makes a conscious attempt to ape the great Marty Robbins vocally, but the star here is Pete Goble’s fine, cinematic lyric that ranks as one of the album’s finest moments. The third song, “I Found Someone to Love” is a classic example of a country music burned-by-love torch song with its dark, simplistic humor and resolute attitude. Much like blues music, chorus like this are full of a “laugh to keep from crying” attitude that overuse has unfortunately obscured. This is another of the album’s better songs and ambles in a loose, confident way.
“Satan and the Saint” is a well-intentioned flop. It isn’t for want of skill or desire – the brothers turn in a typically strong musical performance. The fault, ultimately, lies with the Louvin Brothers. Neither Chris nor Taylor can weave quite the same spell that Ira and Charlie produced, but they earn respect for trying. It’s the sort of effort that distinguishes the entire album. The Malpass Brothers are deeply invested in tradition and accurately representing it for a modern audience. This memorable, but unremarkable, debut spends too much time relying on the past rather than letting it inform and strengthen their innate talents.