concert reviews

Michelle Malone at Jammin' Java, Vienna, VA, Tuesday 22 June 2004

It wouldn't take much more than a little recording studio polish (and perhaps a hairstylist) to transform Michelle Malone into Sheryl Crow.

Malone shares with Crow's early records a gritty coarseness and personal but fun-loving songwriting style -- albeit with a little more twang and a lot less Hollywood glitz. On Tuesday at Jammin' Java, though, it was obvious from her wide grin that Malone was happy just where she was. In the middle of "Brand New Dream," she paused to talk about her troubles getting out of a bad record deal. "But it's a good thing," she said. "Experience can't be bought -- and by the way, neither can I!"

A coffee shop was the perfect venue for Malone, who seemed hopped up on caffeine, dancing behind her guitar and shaking her hips as she howled out her songs. Although she turned more mellow in the middle of her set (playing without her drummer, she actually sat down for a song or two), it was clear that she much preferred standing up and rocking out. Unfortunately, all that energy seemed a bit over-the-top for the moderate crowd, and it's likely that Malone would have delivered exactly the same performance to an empty room.

Malone made a few political statements against the current regime, both verbally, in songs such as "Flagpole," and more subtly, with a different anti-Bush sentiment displayed on each of her three guitars. But most of her material was more personal in nature, ranging from love songs ("Strength for Two") to songs about her own life ("Preacher's Daughter"), topped off with a lively cover of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5."

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 24 June 2004
.: Selected discography: Stompin' Ground (Michelle Malone, 2003).