Blues Enthused – Review


Get ready to work up a cold sweat in the company of Marcus Malone & The Motor City Hustlers, a collaboration by Malone and Dan Smith of The Noisettes that channels the soul and funk heyday of Detroit, Memphis and James Brown. Yes sir, this here is a brand new bag full of old-style grooves to make you get offa that thing and get on the good foot. As it were, so to speak.

Interstate 75 is bookended by the funk-orientated offerings ‘Ain’t No Telling’ and ‘Temperature Rising’, and boy do they work a treat. ‘Ain’t No Telling’ is all twisting and turning guitar over skipping, tripping drums, creating a cool vibe warmed up by swells and bursts of horns, while Malone – mostly known as a blues-rock exponent – nails the soulful vocal vibe like he was born to it. Which after all, given the guy hails from Detroit, he pretty much was. Oh yeah, and there’s some focused guitar sizzle too, as the icing on the cake. The closing ‘Temperature Rising’, meanwhile, lives up to its title by starting cool but gradually getting worked up over some social commentary, with occasional clavinet bonking added to its bippety-bopping groove, with a molten sax solo giving way to some thrusting bass that propels a squelching guitar solo. At which point it’s worth saying that most of the instrumental work here – and especially the supple, funkadelic bass’n’drums – is down to Smith, aided and abetted by the Vanguard horns.

There’s more funkiness along the way too, in the form of ‘Can’t Take The Fight’ and ‘Other Side Of The River’. The former has bumpin’ an’ slidin’ bass well to the fore, over a deliciously hip-loosening rhythm, with added pizzazz courtesy of some horn punctuation, intermittent sprinkles of guitar, and some falsetto scat singing that gives way to an easy-going sax solo. And on ‘…River’ there’s still more of that terrific funky drummer thang going on, alongside twitching, slinky bass and sunnily strummed guitar. Meantime Malone proclaims “Gonna wind it up, like a sex machine,” en route to some lip-smacking bass playing that bounces teasingly around steely, reverb-assisted guitiar licks.

But it’s not all superbadness in intent. Interviewing Malone years ago, he spoke about coming up with material “with this Otis Redding vibe, like really high-powered soul”, and Otis sure as hell springs to mind with ‘Can’t Make It’ and its “oh-na-na, na-na-na-na” refrain, although initially it’s laid back, focusing on just Malone’s voice plus drums’n’bass. But while the song leans heavily on its hook, it’s a damn good hook, and there are still some needle-sharp guitar filigrees from Smith to earn bonus marks.

‘Good Lovin’ Angel’ is similarly sweet soul music that could have its roots in Wilson Pickett, a simple enough song that still packs plenty of detail into three and a half minutes, while Malone sings about “My Mona Lisa, my Salvador Dali” – though hopefully the latter doesn’t mean his baby has a face like a melted clock. Meanwhile the title track ‘Interstate 75’ makes hay out of a wonderful, ‘Knock On Wood’-like groove, decorated with some fidgety guitar lines, and horn exclamation marks point up the title. There’s a steely little guitar break too, and a backbone-slipping shift in rhythm to underpin a classy bridge.

Malone and Smith demonstrate that they know how to take it down a notch into more romantic territory too, most especially with ‘Hurt Walks Out Of The Door’, which carries echoes of ‘Tracks Of My Tears’, except with Marcus making more like David Ruffin than Smokey Robinson. It’s a track the soul-aficionado in Stevie Van Zandt would be proud of. And ‘Never Gonna Leave You’ is also an aching torch song, with Malone’s vocal very much at its heart, underlined by some soulful backing vocals.

Interstate 75 isn’t a complicated album. It isn’t any kind of genre-crashing innovation either. What it is, is a niftily crafted homage to classic, floor-filling soul and R’n’B sounds from days gone by. Sometimes, happily, nostalgia really is what it used to be.

Interstate 75 is out now on Ramrock Red Records, and can be ordered here.

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