march 2011

Lightnin’ Malcolm: Love may be just out of reach, but still worth seeking…

The Passions Of a Man

Lightnin’ Malcolm on the Book of Love

By David McGee

Lightnin’ Malcolm
Ruf Records

Mississippi hill country blues with a vengeance with the nastiest slide work this side of Luther Dickinson is served up mercilessly on Lightnin’ Malcolm’s new solo effort, Renegade. Malcolm’s label, the Germany-based Ruf Records, has been steadily assembling a powerhouse roster of the finest young female singer-songwriter-guitarists but it is also home to some strong male artists, Malcolm being only the latest to emerge from the Ruf stable. Blues fans know Malcolm from his work with Cedric Burnside (two albums—Juke Joint Duo, 2 Man Wrecking Crew--and a lot of touring), but Renegade ought to enlarge his following to include those traditional rock ‘n’ roll die-hards who remember when the music was actually blues based and far meatier, lyrically and musically, than what passes for rock ‘n’ roll nowadays, lamentably shed of both its blues and gospel roots.

Lightnin’ Malcolm and Cedric Burnside, ‘So Many Women,’ from the album Renegade

Working only with drummer Cameron Kimbrough (but adding an evocative horn section to several numbers as well—“it brings a whole new swag to the hill country sound,” Malcolm reports), our man rolls out a baker’s dozen original tunes of varying textures and moods, but always with a restless energy at their root. For an artist whose sound can be so fierce and unrelenting, Malcolm does have a sweet spot that manifests itself magnificently on his reggae-spiced love song “Precious Jewel,” an out-and-out devotional with herky-jerky rhythms, wah-wah guitar and that graceful, swaying reggae lilt as its framework; Malcolm’s vocal is warm and engaging, fully invested in the loving moment, and it’s given sweet harmony support by Nadirah Shakoor. At the song’s close, Malcolm sings, “I’m thankin’ the Lord right now,” and you believe him. A most persuasive and soulful seduction comes in the form of “Come Go With Me,” which couples Malcolm’s warm, soul balladeer’s vocal to a punchy guitar-drum dialogue that, except for the addition of Rosalind Wilcox’s atmospheric tambourine shaking, summons memories of a similarly effective plea by one Jimi Hendrix in his poignant “Remember.” Like Hendrix, Lightnin’ is adept at getting the most out of a minimal lineup by coaxing all manner of sonic images from his guitar in filling up the soundscape so that the effect is that of a full band. The wah-wah, brittle single-string picking, weary Clapton-ish vocal and double-tracked choruses in the autobiographical “Ain’t Even Worried” combine with Kimbrough’s steady thump to pack a mighty wallop as the artist’s intensely personal mission statement. Similarly, the sheer, sledgehammer drive of the Hooker boogie line in “Stop Fightin’ Over Me” sounds simply audacious in framing Lightnin’’s plea for his woman to calm down—although it is important to note he’s singing from the standpoint of the itinerant musician who’s getting ready to hit the road again en route to the next gig and the next lady friend. That same theme comes back into play in the fiery, howling stomper, “So Many Women,” wherein Malcolm’s sputtering guitar and blazing slide (which in turn inspires Kimbrough to a rousing percussive fusillade in support) punctuate his musings about the one problem a lot of men would like to have, namely a surplus of female admirers but too little time for them all. “Renegade,” a guitar-drums instrumental, surges, retreats, searches and ruminates over the course of a scintillating three-and-a-half minutes of tuneful variations on themes, including one for an imaginary western—another textbook example of Malcolm’s sure feel for the tone and textures of his instrument as he elicits multiple moods in a brief timeframe.

Lightnin’ Malcolm and Cedric Burnside, ‘Stop Fightin’ Over Me,’ from the new album Renegade

The tender-hearted artist returns in the penultimate number, one of the album’s highlights, “Tell You Girl,” a declaration of unequivocal, unconditional love, gentle, swinging and seductive, and quite in the style of a mid-‘60s southern soul number (the horns aren’t on this one, but would have been most appropriate and even taken the arrangement into Stax territory). In the ferocious boogie assault of “My Lyin’ Ass” and the ominous grind of the album closing “You Better Recognize,” two songs wherein Malcolm takes himself down for losing a good thing, the artist in question shows exactly how big his heart is. Renegade is a splendid showcase of Malcolm’s instrumental smarts, but may it always be remembered for what it reveals of the passions of a man whose chosen lifestyle may keep true love just out of reach, but still worth believing in, and worth the journey to wherever it may be found.

Lightnin’ Malcolm’s Renegade is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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