Album Review – The Malpass Brothers – “Lonely Street”

As a true country music fan, you’re used to dealing in close approximations when seeking out modern musical choices. Since finding the real deal like the artists of old is difficult to impossible in the digital age, you get as close as you can, suspend disbelief if necessary, and do your best to enjoy the experience. Generally speaking, it suffices.

With The Malpass Brothers though, none of these exercises are necessary. As if a rip in the space/time continuum appeared in North Carolina, and Chris and Taylor Malpass stumbled straight out of 1968, they actualize the most unvarnished version of country music one can consume from anyone under the age of 40.

It’s how they were born and raised on the music from an early age. It’s how they’ve recused themselves from rubbing elbows with the throwback hipster country crowds lest some of those affectations and put-ons rub off on them. It’s how they run in traditional country circles populated with the oldtimers that directly inspire their music. It all makes The Malpass Brothers one of the purist examples of classic country one can find.

When anyone claims they’re the “real deal” from the younger generation of performers, the measurement starts with The Malpass Brothers, and charts varying degrees of degradation from there. As a live act, they opened for Merle Haggard, Ray Price, and Doc Watson before their passings, and Marty Stuart, Rhonda Vincent, and similar acts since. These days, The Malpass Brothers play some 150 shows a year to packed houses, and their tour purses are impressive.

But the studio output of The Malpass Brothers has been so sparse—and their appearances so out of sight and out of mind with some younger audiences—their very existence might come as news to you unless you’re a fan of shows like Larry’s Country Diner or listen to the Grand Ole Opry. That is why the release of their new album Lonely Street with all original music is so important. Exploiting the services of Doyle Lawson and Ben Isaacs as producers, The Malpass Brothers have released that rock solid career-defining album that fans have been waiting years for.

Along with Chris Malpass co-writing a lion’s share of the album’s songs, they also select a smart collection of covers and contributions that compliment the original material well, including “We Don’t” by Jeannie Seely and “Love Slips Away” by Merle Haggard, while Shawn Camp, Conrad Fisher, Dickey Lee, and Taylor Dunn all accrue co-writes. Add Brennen Leigh for a duet, and Lonely Street delivers exquisitely.

This is music straight from the Golden Era in country without any aberrations to be found. The way the song “Out of Sight and Out of Mind” starts with a tag of the chorus shows how studied in classic country modes The Malpass Brothers are. But it’s one thing to select the right instrumentation and tones to re-create an era. What’s also indicative of a bygone era in country is how incredibly gifted the Malpass Brothers are to sing the material.

Previously, it was a prerequisite to be a gifted singer to be able to perform country music. These days, it’s a secondary concern. The Malpass Brothers may be one of many acts who make older sounding music in the modern context. But it’s the smoothness and richness of their vocal delivery that makes them second to none.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)

‘Lonely Street’ was executive produced by long-time Malpass Brothers manager Dan Mann, and was one of the last albums engineered by four-time Grammy winning engineer Mark Capps who was killed in January.

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