Get Ready to Rock – Review

Marcus Malone & The Motor City Hustlers is a brand new soul, funk and R&B project featuring vocalist Marcus Malone and multi instrumentalist /producer Dan Smith.


The 10 strong self penned songs on ‘Interstate 75’ are not so much ‘old wine in new bottles’, as a new vintage distilled with old school feel and contemporary values.

The familiar sounding material has echoes of Stax and Motown – think Sly Stone, James Brown, Otis Redding and The Meters – while everything is framed by tight arrangements and an intricate production, all topped by magnificent vocals

The album title refers to the North to South running ‘Interstate 75’, which provides the geographic backdrop to an imagined musical journey, via the cities that gave us classic soul related music.

It’s an album full of unfettered creativity in which musical history is revitalised and given its authenticity by the London based, Detroit born vocalist Marcus Malone whose musical history includes Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Ike Turner, the Motown label and always the blues.

Equally important is producer, multi-instrumentalist and programmer Dan Smith, whose keen grasp of genre bending pop and all things retro achieved commercial success with The Noisettes.

He makes light of the pop and soul divide with an attention to detail, as he builds some formidable percussive grooves.

The liaison between Malone and Smith can be traced back to Malone’s initial London rock-blues career in the early noughties, when Dan Smith co-wrote and appeared on his ‘Walking Shoes’ and ‘Blue Radio’ albums.

Blues takes a back seat here, though Smith still finds plenty of room for spiralling blues tinged solos, either side of funky wah-wah workouts and the occasional sinewy break, as on ‘Can’t Make It’.

‘Interstate 75’ also has some interwoven familiar musical motifs, as on The Temptations psychedelic soul feel of the opening ‘Ain’t No Telling’. Check out the funky stick work, wah-wah guitar, horn stabs, faux protest message and Malone’s suitably angst ridden vocal.

Then there’s Otis Redding ‘na na’ refrain on ‘Can’t Make It’, which lyrically references ‘Knock On Wood’ and ‘Turn Her Loose’.

The double tracked falsetto, horn pumping and finger snapping immediacy of ‘Can’t Take The Fight’ evokes Prince as Malone revels in his aspirational lyrics, while the opening to the title track leans heavily on ‘Midnight Hour’.

And if these flash-back moments provide the building blocks to a retooled funky soul party, then the joy of the album is the way the musical minutia supports the new soul songs.

You might wonder where such a project is going to fit into the contemporary fragmented music scene. And the answer almost certainly lies in the funky outings which have already attracted radio play.

That said, such is the album’s broad musical sweep that it could potentially enjoy a cross-generational appeal, stretching from the boomer generation who bought soul records years ago, to fans of the current soul revival which currently boost more than a decade long presence.

The duo toughen things up on the funky percussive groove of ‘Other Side Of The River’. There’s good use of metaphor, a syncopated New Orleans feel (particularly The Meters), a James Brown ‘Sex Machine’ reference and a nifty guitar outro.

But when they do hit a number of funky grooves they give you the full contextual package, as on the political angst of ‘Temperature Rising’.

It’s a track that might well have been written back in the late 60′s and remains even more relevant today.

The fact the album is rooted in soul and R&B helps it to flow from beginning to end. Everything fits together from the stomping southern fried soul of ‘Good Lovin’ with a chanted hook, feverish horns and Malone’s imperious vocal, to the big horn-led ballad ‘Hurt Walks Out Of The Door’, complete with Marcus’s spoken word intro and a weighty chorus and a universal sensibility.

Dan Smith’s guitar moves to the front of the mix alongside significant horns on the West Coast Monophonics sounding ‘Never Gonna Leave You’.

Malone delivers an impassioned vocal over a gospel backing, before a resolving solo from Smith. The exquisite vocal collage into the fade would have been worthy of book ending the album.

In sum, ‘Interstate 75’ is a surprising triumph simply because Malone and Smith successfully forge their own style, as the Stax, Motown and funk antecedents are given an intuitive South London make over, which balances real feel and grooves with an intuitive production.

Nothing feels forced, as the narratives fit the arrangements, the horns bring familiarity and the choruses are welcoming as they sink into our subconscious. Above all, Malone’s evocative phrasing makes a telling connection between a bygone era and the present.

Time may have moved on, but the romance of the ‘Interstate 75’ remains. ****

Review Pete Feenstra

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