Malaya Blue – Still
Blue Heart Records BHR1004
12 songs – 53 minutes
British-based and honey-voiced vocalist Malaya Blue delivers an old-school take on recording with this one, producing a “two-sided” CD that features distinctly different, six-tune sets – opening, as the title suggests, with a half-dozen introspective numbers before heating things up with a fiery run of uptempo blues.
A melismatic soprano with an exceptional, behind-the-beat delivery, Malaya exploded on the UK music scene in 2015 with the release of Bourbon Street, an album that led to bookings at the highly respected Colne and Birmingham International blues festivals, four nominations in the British Blues Awards and an invitation to be a finalist in the British Blues Challenge.
She followed it up in 2016 with Heartsick, which featured a guest appearance from British blues harmonica giant Paul Jones and earned airplay across the English speaking world, Japan and South America, too. Since 2018, she refrained from touring to finish her college education and polish up her songwriting skills under the direction of producer Dennis Walker, a double Grammy winner for his work on Robert Cray’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Strong Persuader and another for B.B. King’s Blues Summit.
Still was recorded, mixed and mastered at Ashwood Studios in Norwich, England, under the direction of Sotos Yiasimi and with Walker advising. Blue penned 11 of the 12 cuts here, six in partnership with Walker. The only song she didn’t write is the title cut. The lineup includes Nat Martin on guitar, Stevie Watts on keys, Mike Horne on percussion and Eddie Masters on bass with Sammie Ashforth also sitting in on piano for one number.
The opener, “Still,” was written by Cray’s former longtime bassist, Richard Cousins, who sits in on the bottom for the arrangement as Malaya simmers while reflecting on the good memories in a relationship that’s gone bad. The theme continues in the funky “Down to the Bone,” a slow-and-steady shuffle in which she notes that her loneliness is so strong that two or three drinks won’t be enough.
Malaya’s in love and “got a need for pleasing in “It’s a Shame.” Unfortunately, the man doesn’t care. The feeling of heartbreak continues in the funky, mid-tempo shuffle “Love Can Tell” before the theme shifts dramatically in “Why Is Peace So Hard?” It’s the tragic story sung from the first person of a son returning from war and his mother going to the airport to receive his coffin. The first-side sorrow comes to an end with the upbeat “Love of Your Life,” a sweet, quiet ballad for which Blue is accompanied minimally by Watts on piano.
“Kiss My Troubles Away” announces the mood change in dramatic fashion – a propulsive, stop-time shuffle that’s delivered from the position of a woman returning home from work after a hard day to the loving arms of her man. “Settle Down Easy” slows the action as it puts a different spin on the theme. This time, Malaya’s unpacking after reuniting after a breakup and assuring her guy that they can both relax and settle in. The love theme runs strong in “Down to the Bottom” before heartache returns when Blue’s all alone again after another split in “These Four Walls.” Another song of regret, “I Can’t Be Loved,” follows before things brighten dramatically with “Hot Love” to end.
Do yourself a favor and give this one a listen. Walker probably won’t win a Grammy for this one, but the musicianship is just as good. And Malaya’s songwriting skills and vocal chops are top notch.