Review: Michelle Malone Makes a Solitary Sound

Michelle Malone/ Fan Favorites Vol 1 Unplugged, SBS Records/BFD/The Orchard
Four out of Five Stars

Given the abject intention expressed in the title, Fan Favorites Vol 1 Unplugged offers Michelle Malone the opportunity to take stock of her career by sharing some of the songs that have gained her a loyal fan following over the past 30-plus years. A determined road warrior who averages some 200 shows annually, she’s had ample opportunity to evaluate which songs her audiences most admire and then choose those that can be most effectively recast in an acoustic setting. 

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The fact that Malone was able to strip these songs down to bare basics (the only instrumentation consists of two acoustic guitars—Malone’s and that of accompanist Doug Kees) may seem at first an unlikely accomplishment. Whereas that format is usually reserved for decidedly downcast balladeers, Malone doesn’t let it detract from the passion and purpose that originally drive each of these offerings. The outrage that’s apparent in “Feather in a Hurricane” and the sassy yet assured “Love Yourself” belie any sense of restraint, at least in terms of reasoning and resolve. That’s not to say this set lacks its moments of retrospect and restraint, given that  “Dimming Soul” and “Super Ball” are two of the tracks that prove that point.

Mostly though, Fan Favorites is a varied set of songs, one that touches on rock, blues, ballads, and the kind of music that Malone made early on. Given such seminal influences as Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, and Jackson Browne, it’s hardly surprising that she finds comfort in these low-lit settings. That’s not to say she lacks energy or enthusiasm. Her vocals soar with soulful expression, occasionally taking on a raspy wail. As evidenced in everything Malone’s managed to do up until now, she’s not one to subject her sentiments to the back burner.

The fact that the new album arrives so quickly on the heels of Malone’s last outing, 1977 (2022), says something about her prowess and proficiency. That album centered on reflection, but so does this new effort, albeit in a different way. A highly compelling collection, these Fan Favorites are a credit to her credence.

Photo by Jolie Loren / Devious Planet

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