It’s rare that I play a new release passed my way and my mind is stopped from lazily latching onto the closest analog. Classification is what the mind does to make sense of the word and allow progress but with music critiques it can be a handicap.
The new release by Austinite and ex-Helpers front man, Ben Mallott, Look Good, Feel Good, is a musical monkey wrench to the sated mechanics of the jaded ear.
First the album cover of the album. Mallott looks at you from an old school barber shop’s mirror (flanked with the omnipresent Barbicide jar full of combs) bedecked in an an pink ornate pearl-snap shirt, white pants fringed with gold and kicked-up baroquely tooled boots that would make Nudie Cohn swoon. This juxtaposition of ordinary and flamboyant was a staple of 70’s Nash-Vegas alchemical imagery that Porter Wagoner mastered.
Then there is the voice. As stated before an obvious analogy doesn’t spring to mind, and to do a just description would lead to a hyphen polluted mess. Suffice to say Mallott can moved from gritty baratone to soaring ache within a single song. Case in point is the opener Heartbreaks, the guitar lays a chugging foundation, and pedal-steel and fiddle gently interlock, to travel the timeworn terrain of the anguish of lost love. What saves the piece from cliche’ is the subtle soul in Mallot’s pipes.
Austin folk goddess Eliza Gilkyson on backing vocal on a gently rolling Shotgun Suzy and I half expected a matador to suddenly appear in the mariachi-horn and guitar start to Purgatory’s Last Massage Parlor which names drops George Jones and features some fine fiddle work. I Want It All is straight up Memphis-seared soul the would Make Van Morrison smile and The Artful Dodger sound like a long-lost opaque ballad by the late Jeff Buckley.
Midnight and Broke Down is a lonesome, lovely tune that comes closest to a trad country piece and Cold Feet is a Jerry Lee rockabilly-style cooker. The somber B-3 organ opening of Love Is Cold Water soon breaks into a shuffling Gospel rouser.
I have said that I think great musicians drawing from a wide view of musical sources have always made the best conduits for synthesis (or in the modern parlance, Mash up) and Ben Mallott adeptly shows this ability with this extraordinary surprise.
Ben Mallott – Heartbreaks