To believe Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line, Darius Rucker and others, nobody wants to listen to new music that sounds old. But to the nobodies that actually prefer their country music to sound like country, thankfully there are still artists and bands around who do their best to keep the music close to the traditions; artists like the North Carolina-based Malpass Brothers.
The story goes that The Malpass Brothers were discovered by Merle Haggard after they played an opening gig for him in North Carolina. “Well they remind me a lot of myself and people that I knew when I was young,” says Merle. “They have their hearts into what we call ‘traditional’ country music. It’s valuable to me that we cultivate young talent for that kind of music.”
And those weren’t just words from Haggard. The brother duo was signed to Merle’s Hag Records from 2008-2013, toured with him regularly, and released an album called Memory That Bad in 2011. But now Chris and Taylor Malpass have moved on to Organic Records, and just released a new, self-titled record produced by bluegrass maestro Doyle Lawson—another legend who saw the duo live and was so impressed, he felt inclined to get involved. Without a shred of contemporary influences or sonic compromising, this new album interprets classic country compositions with dedication and authority, and never wobbles from the charge to keep the traditional sound of country music alive.
The Malpass Brothers have been on the Saving Country Music radar for a while, but the concern was if there was enough originality in what they did to get too excited about it. Their voices are like something uncorked out of a country music time capsule, and the production and arrangement is about as close to classic country perfection as you can get in the modern context. But when the material is mostly cover songs, you tend to carry that fact floating above your head as you consider the music, unlike you might for an outfit like The Secret Sisters, who are great singers as well and take a classic approach to new material.
But listening to this self-titled album, it’s hard to resist the sway of the songs, and the sharpness of these two brothers’ vocal stylings. They don’t call them standards for nothing, and what The Malpass Brothers give up in originality, they make up for in a keen ear for selecting material that fits their style and approach perfectly. Then they sing the bejesus out of the songs until your country music appetite is satiated. The Malpass Brothers are smart in selecting music you may be familiar with but have forgotten about, or that deserves to be heard by a new generation, making their reliance on previously-heard material a little more forgivable.
Most everyone will recognize “Hello Walls,” but “A Death In The Family” is a song that can’t be done enough. Same goes for “I Met A Friend Of Yours Today.” Meanwhile the album does have a few new compositions, though you would never know that by hearing them. I had to double check to make sure Marty Robbins did not originally record “Here In Alberta I’ll Stay,” but it is actually a new song written by Pete Goble. The original “Learn To Love Me Too” has that same eerily familiar aspect, like it was a favorite album cut on an old Merle Haggard record you’d forgotten about.
This album potentially could have used some more mid tempo and fast songs to help string it along. Aside from the rockabilly-esque “It’ll Be Me” once made famous by Jerry Lee Lewis, there is a bevy of slow stuff. But in fairness, the slow pace is the sweet spot of the Malpass drawl. And don’t look at the pictures of vintage duds and get the notion this is a put-on or hipster bit. Beyond their stellar voices, the authenticity of The Malpass Brothers is what emboldens this music with a quality you don’t always get with classic country interpretations.
Trying to keep the traditional sounds of country music alive is a constant war of attrition, and it’s important that young men step up to the fight and help preserve and pay forward the roots of country music. With their self-titled album, The Malpass Brothers do their part and then some.
1 1/2 of 2 Guns Up.
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