When Michelle Malone emerged from Atlanta with her band Drag the River at the end of the ’80s, she seemed neck-and-neck with Melissa Etheridge in the Janis Joplin stakes. Now, on her own, she’s grown into a modern Southern rocker with a palette more diverse, more complex, and grittier than Etheridge’s. More subtly soulful, too. Malone has a poetic lyric command, relentless energy, and a nasty slide-guitar tone that makes her ninth album engrossing right from the start, when her deft, zippy Delta-blues-inspired picking riles up the sexy intentions of “Tighten Up the Springs.” From there she pinballs between the gentle framework of acoustic-guitar-driven tunes like “Where Is the Love” and snaggle-toothed electric-six-string gnashers like “Soul Chicken” and “Black Motorcycle Boots.” Her blues-based sensibility and her powerful voice bridge all the stylistic gaps. And she’s in masterful form flying high and delicate on the ballads or spitting whiskey-soaked hairballs on the snarling rockers. Malone also plays harmonica with a reedy primitivism, blowing like Dylan on “Down,” a protest song about Bush’s America with a bare-boned sound that echoes Johnny Cash’s Sun recordings.
Michelle Malone + Matthew Ryan | Paradise Lounge, 969 Comm Ave, Boston | November 12 | 617.562.8820