The Malpass Brothers – Self-Titled
Primary URL: http://themalpassbrothers.com/
Sometimes you hear albums that are obviously vanity projects. This is, primarily, a tribute album. The Malpass Brothers have recorded an eleven-song tribute to the music that filled their childhood and propelled them into careers as professional musicians. Recording and releasing such in an album in 2015 is another matter. Traditional country music might still command a live audience justifying a touring business, but there’s little doubt that the audience for traditional country albums dried up sometime around Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration. It’s clear, however, that the Malpass Brothers know this and don’t particularly care. They have recorded this album for themselves and if, fortune willing, a paying audience discovers their release, all the better.
Perhaps it might be a bit more comprehensible if they wrote their own material, but with the exception of “Learn to Love Me Too”, the album is devoted to covers and the majority of them are “classic country” golden oldies. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. From the opener, a cover of Bill Anderson’s “A Death in the Family” through the album’s closing track, a faithful cover of the obscure Louvin Brothers chestnut “Satan and the Saint”, the Malpass Brothers demonstrate a tasteful and encyclopedic knowledge of their chosen genre. These two tracks alone will give listeners considerable guidance on the band’s approach towards their covers. The former, a curious choice for an opener, is a mid-tempo tale of downtrodden love and the Malpass Brothers hit all the required marks. However, compared to the blue-eyed quiver in Anderson’s original, the vocal here lacks needed emotion while “Satan and Saint”, likewise, misses Ira Louvin’s desperate urgency.
Two of the album’s most successful songs, the aforementioned “Learn to Love Me Too” and Pete Goble’s “Here in Alberta I’ll Stay”, work because they aren’t pages ripped from the golden oldie playbook. The brothers sound freed from the overly respectful treatment the cover songs receive. A sort of Marty Robbins-in-reverse song, “Here in Alberta I’ll Stay” is a classic country travelogue and holds up to the Marty Robbins comparison included in the album’s press materials. Chris’ vocal has marvelous, relaxed confidence here and on the band’s original, “Learn to Love Me Too”. The song benefits further from the song’s naked vulnerability, a trait not as much in evidence on the brothers’ slick cover songs.
Their formula works, however, on two Hank Williams Sr. covers. The first, “Baby, We’re In Love”, is a playful swing through one of Williams’ lighter jaunts and the second, “I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Livin'”, is cut from similar cloth as Hank’s other tongue-in-cheek paeans to despair like “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive”. Perhaps other younger acts would be intimidated by invoking the playful side of Hank Sr.’s catalog when the icon is renowned as country music’s laureate of private pain. The Malpass Brothers, however, possess the talent and experience to strike the aforementioned balance between humor and sadness.
You’ll find this album at the band’s live shows and on the Internet – it won’t be shelved in your local Wal Mart or the handful of music stores still stocking country cds. This album, forty years ago, would herald the opening of a long and profitable career. The Malpass Brothers are more than competent country performers – they are talented, if a bit uninspired at times. However, I’m not at all sure what place this album has in the world of 2015 beyond fulfilling the brothers’ desire to pay tribute to the music that filled their childhoods. If that’s it, they should be happy. This album has narrow appeal, little chance of mass exposure, and plays it entirely too safe by a half.
. Montey Zike