Self Release through MBM Music
11 tracks / 54:47
Malaya Blue may be relatively new to the scene, but she carries on the tradition of fine blues music that her sisters and brothers from the United Kingdom have been producing for decades. Her debut album, Bourbon Street, was very well received, earning her four 2015 British Blues Association Award nominations. With this effort, this Norwich based singer laid the groundwork to break through on a worldwide scale, though we are still waiting for our chance to see her here in the States.
Malaya did not rest on these laurels, and has released a worthy follow-up, Heartsick, with eleven original tracks that were cut at The Grange Studios in Norfolk, UK. Accompanying her vocals on this disc is a new line-up that includes Dudley Ross on guitar, Paul Jobson on the keyboards, bassist Stuart Uren, and Andrew McGuinness behind the drum kit. This band is capable of handling every genre on this disc, with arrangements that range from bare bones to fully instrumented songs that come complete with a string section.
Heartsick starts out strongly with its title track, a neat package of guitar fueled hard blues-rock. This is an apt showcase for Malaya to show how powerful her voice is, as well as her ability to push the edge of the envelope without sacrificing musicality. She is also responsible for writing all of the lyrics on this disc, and in this case she bemoans the end of a relationship and admits to being “a sucker for a hot sticky mess.” It is hard to say whether these words were written from experience, but they are personal in their delivery, which is a common theme throughout the album.
Another example of this is “Hunny Little Day Dream,” with words that are thoroughly saturated with the joy of love. After the intro with its raunchy harp and warbly organ, Malaya launches into jazzy R&B vocals that at times push the upper limits of her voice’s range, and she delivers them smoothly. Also notable are the slick walking bass line from Uren and rock solid drum work from McGuinness that serve to hold this one together. This is followed up by “Colour Blind” a mellow tune with an uptempo samba beat. The lyrics are more enigmatic, and Malaya adds dramatic spaces that help to make the mood more intense.
Malaya’s voice shines even brighter on the slower songs, and there is a pair of ballads sequenced midway through Heartsick. “Let’s Reinvent (Love)” is one of these, and it is a slow-rolling blues tune with a dramatic harp and B3 introduction. At over seven minutes this is the longest track on the CD, and this time is used to tell the story of rebuilding a relationship, with the vibe getting heavier as the song progresses. Key pieces of this puzzle are the righteous harp that guest artist Paul Jones lays down, and the backing vocals that Malaya layers in. The other is “Acceptance,” a pretty torch song that is driven by Jobson’s piano, with the added bonus of well-arranged strings from The Westwood String Quartet. It was a risk to put twelve minutes of slower material together, but Malaya has the vocal chops to keep things interesting, and she does not disappoint.
From there, the band works their way through soul (“Soul Come Back”), gospel (“I Have Arrived”), rock with a Bo Diddley beat (“Share the Love”), and a fan favorite from her live shows (“Hope”). Before the listener knows it, almost an hour has gone by and the set draws to a close with “Soul Come Back.” This emotional song of longing features producer Paul Long on piano, and one last chance for the string quartet to help make the mood. What a neat way to end the album!
Heartsick is a very slick album, with solid original songwriting, good musicians, and high production values. It should be no surprise that Malaya Blue now has two winning projects for her CV as she has worked very hard to get to this point. Malaya has been getting the word out too, having appeared at numerous gigs and festivals over the past year and promoting her music on the air. Hopefully there will be an update to the gig page on her website soon, as this kind of music translates well to the stage and it would be great for her fans to have the opportunity to see her live show.