Michelle Malone

Sugarfoot

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Atlanta-based Michelle Malone follows up her successful return-to-roots Stompin' Ground release from 2003 with another slab of gritty, boot-scootin' Southern folk-rock, Sugarfoot. She hedges her bets a bit by including the sweeping, mid-tempo "Where Is the Love," obviously tailored to find its way onto radio since it appears in two versions -- one called "radio mix" -- but Malone is no sellout and has recorded another tough, no-nonsense collection dominated by rugged, folksy blues-rock. The singer/guitarist/songwriter shifts from tough electric guitar rockers such as "Black Motorcycle Boots" to stripped down, acoustic guitar, brushed drums, and upright bass strummers like the politically charged "Down." On the raw, country blues stomp of "Rooster 44" and "Winter Muscadine" she just needs Linda Bolley's driving, primal drums to power the foot stomping music. The lovely "Leather Bracelet" and "Beyond the Mountain" show that Malone's husky voice is just as powerful on ballads, but it's raging thumpers "Miss Miss'ippi" and the opening "Tighten Up the Springs" that find the artist in her most natural habitat. Co-producer Neilson Hubbard keeps the sound lean and mean, with plenty of breathing room. Malone's raw guitar on "Soul Chicken" captures the backwoods swamp in the song's gritty, funky, chicken pickin'. The singer has rarely sounded better or more passionate. She's confident without an ounce of pretension and seems as relaxed and self-assured as any professional musician who has earned her living on the road for 25 years, much of it as an independent artist. And if the comparatively commercial, arena ready and atypical "Where is the Love" brings some much deserved recognition, she's earned every ounce of it the hard way.

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