Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
The history of brothers playing together in the same band is worth noting. Think of the Davies brothers in the Kinks, the Alvin Brothers in the Blasters, Phil and Don in the Everly Brothers and Charlie and Ira of the Louvin Brothers. In all, they had their personal differences, sometimes resulting in physical altercations and estrangements, but the music on record or in concert by each band was classic. As for Hanson and the Jonas Brothers – well, let’s just say their lack fighting may have correlated in a lack of quality. Is there an axiom you’re sensing here? It would make a fine premise for a book or Fulbright award project.
Other than the Holmes Brothers, the Malone Brothers (Dave and Tommy) may be the only band of brothers in recent memory who get along and play outstanding music. Natives of Lousiana and members of iconic bands the Radiators and the subdudes respectively for over two decades, Dave and Tommy Malone finally have time to jam like they did as kids. Dave’s band hung it up a few months ago, and Tommy’s went on hiatus last year.
With fellow Louisianans Ray Ganucheau on bass and Erik Golson on drums, the Malone Brothers made their Nippertown debut at The Egg on Saturday night, offering up old favorites, new songs, stories and impromptu humor, as well as four inspired covers by their favorite songwriters.
Opening with the clever blues of “I Think It’s Cheaper” and vivid characterizations of change in “Midnight Sky,” the quartet quickly established that the music was going to be first-rate. The former featured Tommy’s soulful tenor vocals; the latter Dave’s gritty growl. Both songs were a guitar lover’s dream with the brothers Malone trading guitar licks in distinctive tones. Some of the songs, like “Let’s Burn Down the Barn, Boys!” and “Natural Born Day,” referenced family and friends with fondness and wit – one could easily imagine it was never a dull day growing up in Edgard, Louisiana. Even the occasional reliance on a “Cajun teleprompter” (i.e., lyric sheets on an easel, as hilariously defined by Dave), did not diminish the power of “Scratches Older than a Record” or “Louisiana,” a love letter to the places and people back home.
An intermission took place to rectify some technical concerns with stage monitors, but the band came back for an enjoyable second set. Tommy, sober for 16 years, walked on stage and asked the crowd, “Is everybody officially liquored up?” while big brother Dave poured himself a glass of wine on his amplifier and plugged in his vintage Strat. “Love Lead Us Home” was a vocal performance treat that allowed the whole band to stretch out and reaffirm the good vibes of the first set. Reaching for his acoustic, Tommy remarked that he and brother were big Neil Young fans; hence, they felt like playing “Birds” in what Dave called a “slow and greasy” tempo that brought to mind the sound of Doug Sahm more than Young.
“Fat Tuesday” – a song featured in a pivotal scene at the end of the first season of HBO’s “Treme” – mixed humor and sorrow in Mardi Gras mode, the song’s narrator remarking how “the mosquitoes bit me and they got infected.” Dave brought a very Hendrix-inflected intro to the riveting “The Death of the Blues,” which featured fiery guitar solos by both brothers, spirited drumming, rock-solid bass and the terse lyrical warning, “If you give your heart to somebody / You might catch the death of the blues.”
The final third of the show offered insights into a few prime influences on the Malone Brothers. “King Earl” paid tribute to the late, great Earl King, one of the most original songwriters New Orleans – or any city – has produced. “No More Sad Songs,” a guitar frenzy built on the notion that one must “never underestimate the boogie,” was double homage to John Lee Hooker and ZZ Top.
Called back for an encore, the Malone brothers returned alone to tip their hat to three giants of Memphis soul. Tommy dug deep into “Dark End of the Street,” a James Carr classic penned by Dan Penn. The two meshed like only brothers can vocally and instrumentally on William Bell’s candid take on fortune in “Everybody Loves a Winner,” and then called their bandmates up to close out the night with an energetic take on Sam and Dave’s classic “You’ve Got Me Hummin’,” written by Issac Hayes and David Porter.
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “‘Love Lead Us’ featured big vocals and abrupt out-riffs, then the show peaked with Neil Young’s ‘Birds,’ Dave urging ‘slow and greasy’ to start it, then linking both his burly voice and agile guitar with Tommy as both brothers dug deep into Young’s beefy chords. Stunning! They were at their best when seeming to solo at once, locking and linking, riffing and rocking, as they must have done for thousands of hours since their teens. ‘King Earle’ welded that same joyful force to a second line beat; and their soul-classic encores ‘Dark End of the Street,’ ‘Everybody Loves a Winner’ and ‘You’ve Got Me Hummin’’ had great lift and spirit. The show was more rock ‘n’ roll than a subdudes show, crisper and better sung than a Radiators’ show. In other words, the best of both worlds.”