Orb Mellon
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Orb Mellon

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"Orb Mellon interview (Blues Matters Issue 52 December 2009)"

ORB MELLON: Continuing Evolution
Davide Styles discovers new meaning in the Blues Tradition

Mike Malone, guitarist and founder member of ‘90s indie rock band Dirt Merchants, put down his electric guitar, adopted the pseudonym Orb Mellon and has released two brilliant solo projects in the last two years. His music now plants a firm thank you in the direction of pre-war Blues pioneers such as Bukka White and Charlie Patton, and contains all the rawness and power of a juke joint Saturday night. However, without dwelling in, or simply recycling the past, Orb Mellon’s music provides freshness and modern age relevance to the Blues. Perhaps pushing aside more academic and preconceived ideas about what the Blues is all about, his music is thought provoking, challenging, and progressive, yet will satisfy even the most reverent Blues purist. Orb Mellon is sufficient evidence that the Blues tradition is still evolving, alive and well. And with the lure of our “warm beer,” hopefully he will be a visitor to our shores before too long…

BM: Many Blues musicians have recorded under unusual names. Where did the pseudonym Orb Mellon come from?
Mike: Orb Mellon harkens back to my old band Dirt Merchants. On one of our early singles, we decided to credit ourselves with “jazz” names. I was Orb Mellon. It kind of stuck - for better or worse.

Your list of influences reads like a who’s who of the Blues. Are there perhaps performers who mean more to you?
I really do listen to all sorts of stuff, but as for Blues, I mostly have the strongest affinity for jukers like Bukka White, Charlie Patton, Junior Kimbrough, Hound Dog Taylor and John Lee Hooker - they are more resonant with my tastes.

Robert Johnson is one name not mentioned in your list. There is still a huge amount of interest in his life and music, helped no doubt by rock star endorsement. But do you think arguably more important Blues musicians are not given the credit they deserve?
Unfortunately, a lot of artists, great or not, are marginalised by the commercial machine, simply because identifying and marketing “heroes” sells units. In my experience, real connoisseurs know how to navigate past this mostly random hierarchy. Robert Johnson is certainly not a bad place to start. However, one has to wonder how critical he would be to the Blues canon versus many of his “lesser” contemporaries if he survived to see the revival and had no mystic hell hound attached to his story. That said, ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ is one of my favourite songs ever and, of course, my new CD’s cover lifts elements from Johnson‘s “King Of The Delta Blues Singers” LP cover. In the end, I just don‘t see Robert Johnson being as innovatively critical as folks like Charlie Patton.

What other styles of music have you drawn inspiration from?
Emotional power means more to me than any style or genre. Recently, I’ve been getting into Fado, the real Portuguese soap opera Blues - death and destruction everywhere! Love it! As far as pop music, my tastes are pretty broad, and my taste for artists changes fast, as I think it should. Odds are I’ve heard it, dug it or not, and moved on.

And what about your contemporaries?
Brownbird Rudy Relic – definitely! In the interest of fair disclosure, he is a friend of mine, but his work is seriously amazing, and his live performances are sublime.

I expect that many readers of Blues Matters! won’t be familiar with your previous work. Could you tell us a little about your own musical background?
I’m from a long line of musicians that somehow skipped both my parents. I started playing piano when I was 6, but hated it ‘cos I wanted to rock like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. I always listened to a broad variety of stuff. I also sang in a choir. I got into free jazz in high school. I later fell hard for the likes of The Feelies, The Pixies and The Faith Healers. Growing up, I was always in a band of some sort. In the ‘90s, my band Dirt Merchants put out few records on indie labels - and one album on Sony/Epic. We toured a bunch, eventually got tired of each other and broke up we’re still very close friends actually. I then, eventually, decided it was time to stop playing so pointlessly loud, and I wanted to try working alone, so I consciously put down my electric guitar and, more importantly, the flat pick. I still like to make a lot of noise; I just travel really light now.

It’s an unusual progression from an indie rock band to the Blues. What made you change direction?
Frankly, I don’t see it as a change in musical direction so much, more a change in arrangements. I write songs the same way I always did. I really just adopted the stylistic idiom that suits me best as a solo performer. I’m definitely not a Blues purist, nor am I pursuing the Blues as an end in itself. I simply produce the music that feels right to me, with an eye towards music I‘ve always loved.

I understand that “Love Above” was recorded in a day, and nearly all the tracks were down in one take! Many of the great Blues recordings were made in this way. Was it a conscious decision to record the album that way to capture an authentic feel?
It was a very conscious decision. I wanted the record to feel live and spare. I wanted the rough edges intact. The best way to do that is to turn on the microphone and play.

Was “Moan” recorded in the same way?
With “Moan”, I made a conscious decision to do something more sonically varied than “Love Above”. I don’t like it when artists repeat themselves album to album. “Moan” took five times as long to record as “Love Above”. I’m happy that it still feels pretty live, though.

What struck me most about “Love Above” was that here was a contemporary Blues recording, with thirteen original songs, no cover versions or reworked Blues classics, and yet you retained the integrity of a very traditional form of music. Was this difficult to achieve?
I’m frankly amazed at how few commercial “Blues” artists focus on their own material. It’s not like the form dictates the songs. Sure, I play covers when the mood dictates, however, I think to continuously mine the past fails to give fair credit to the viability of the style in our modern age. What makes Blues so powerful, in my opinion, is derived more from a punk aesthetic than from an academic one.

“Moan” at first seems a departure from the simplicity of “Love Above”, but the more you listen to it, the distinction between them lessens..
I think it is a natural step. The album’s material and sonic contrasts are really just a reflection of where my head was at when I was working on it.

I read that the songs on “Moan” were written to be sequenced together as an exploration of some of the darker aspects of life. How did this idea come about?
I had been listening to a bunch of my old vinyl records with my kids. Late Beatles and early-70s classic rock, and stuff I had gotten when I was 8 and 9 years old. I was inspired by the natural flow of many of those albums. The music was truly album-oriented, and focused on longer and perhaps even chemically enhanced concentration spans. I wanted to do something like that with “Moan”. I also wanted to have an intellectual or emotional arc appropriate to an extended listen - not a rock opera, but ideas and feelings that could extend beyond a three minute song. I’m generally morose about human affairs, so the dark stuff comes to me pretty naturally.

Is there a track that you are particular pleased with?
I’m happy about where the songs came from, and everything really does occupy the right space on the disc. As far as production, I like the way ‘Burn’ turned out. I also think ‘The Reaper’ came together well. Production was quite organic on this disc. Pete Weiss, an engineer I’ve worked with on and off for close to fifteen years, did a great job of pulling together what I was hearing in my head.

There are some lovely guitar tones on the album. To satisfy the guitar players amongst us, could you tell us a little about some of the instruments that you play?
On “Moan”, I use this little old mid ‘50s Harmony/ Stella ladder braced birch guitar with a magnetic pickup in it. I mic it, or plug it through a Space Echo into a Fender Champ or Musicmaster bass amp. I also use a ’34 Dobro Model 27 and a ’35 Cromwell G-2 - a depression era department store Gibson. “Love Above” was done with the Cromwell and a newer steel body National. My main slide is a 5/8” Craftsman long socket, but I used glass for everything on “Moan”.

When did you start playing guitar?
I started playing when I was 13.

I noticed that on the cover of “Moan” there are the words “thesaurus of post-modern Blues.” If you had to define “post-modern Blues,” how would you describe it?
On one level, it’s a mindset that channels all of the genre’s historical nuances through a contemporary lens to achieve new artistic goals. Its treats Blues as revolutionary and progressive, not just as an artifact for studied execution. It’s Blues as punk. However, I use the term on the album cover to suggest an open question. I’m hoping folks will ultimately answer it for themselves.

Is the current Blues scene in the States healthy?
It depends. On the commercial level, it’s one dimensional at best. There is a thriving underground, though.

I have visited Memphis a couple of times, but the place had the feel of an amusement park. If I visited the States now, where could go to hear some real down-home Blues?
In my experience, although I‘ve seen some amazing performances at clubs, the best Blues is at house parties... I don’t think any region has a lock on the good stuff.

Have you any plans to perform live in the UK soon?
I’d love to get across the pond later this year. Just need to find a way to make it work so that it doesn‘t bankrupt me. I know I’d have a blast either way because I love warm beer.

Where do you think your musical journey will go now? Do you think that you will stay on the same path?
Well, recently I started fiddling with the ukulele, and I’ve been eyeballing my old cassette four track. Not so sure if that’s a good thing, but I guess we’ll find out.
DS - Blues Matters


"Moan (Blues Revue August 2009)"

Moan (V-Hold Records), subtitled “Thesaurus of Post-Modern Blues,” is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Mike Malone, recording as Orb Mellon with drummer Jeff Berlin and occasional bass from Pete Weiss. “Angel” hits a distorted Delta stomp and never looks back. “Weigh My Heart” works a haunting, vaguely jazzy groove. “Heart Is Blue” is a straightforward 12-bar blues on acoustic guitar. Elsewhere, Malone is more subversive: “Baby Blue” leads off the disc with a squeal of feedback before breaking into a Dave Edmonds-meets-X almost-punk rocker, while other tracks are poppy love songs cleverly disguised as country blues – distinguished by crafty production touches such as the one-note piano brainworm in “I’ll Never Go” that gives new meaning to the term “minimalist.”


- Blues Revue August 2009


"MOAN (Living Blues June 2009)"

The screeching ear piercing dissonant feedback that opens Moan serves as a warning: this rocking brand of blues is propelled by a jet engine; buckle up. The man behind all that noise is Orb Mellon, the alter ego of Mike Malone who shredded in the ‘90s with Boston-based indie rockers the Dirt Merchants. Like Jon Spencer, it’s clear Mellon has a soft spot for dirty Delta blues, though his interpretation is not as over the top as Spencer’s.


The ride peaks on Angel where Mellon cries, “Mama thinks I’m crazy cause I can’t get over you / She don’t know you’re long and lean and soft and sweet and warm.” The relatively mellow tune shifts into cathartic overdrive half-way through, harmonica blaring, cymbals crashing, guitar strings nearly snapping- it’s Delta blues with punk rock attitude. Mellon takes a more traditional approach on several tunes including The Reaper, a song full of beautiful picking and steel guitar to compliment the dark Son House –like lyrics. Mellon professes fidelity on the bittersweet I’ll Never Go and confesses “I hate myself when I’m with you,” on I’m Just A Man. As gritty as it is good, Moan is a fine piece of post-modern blues.


– Thomas Fawcett (Living Blues Magazine #201, June 2009)


- Living Blues June 2009


"Love Above & Moan (Blues Matters April 2009)"

After founding indie rock band Dirt Merchants in the early-90s, Mike Malone, a.k.a. Orb Mellon, has brought his Blues influence to the fore in two contrasting, but equally impressive releases. “Love Above”, released in 2007, is the more traditional of the two CDs. Thirteen original tracks, the majority of which were recorded in one day - and one take! Maintaining not only the manner in which early Blues was recorded, but also achieving the spontaneity and rawness of the music. This is essential for its success. “Love Above” is a great example of how original Blues material can be still produced, without succumbing to cheap mainstream influences. Of course, you need some talent, and the CD is powered on by Orb’s frankly stunning steel guitar playing and harmonica. With minimal backing, in the form of hand clapping, foot stomping and washboard, the percussive, rhythmic delivery of Delta juke joint Blues is on offer here, with a strong nod to Bukka White and Son House. If I had to pick favourites from a strong cast, ‘My Lover’ and ‘I Think Of You’ would be contenders. Recorded in 2008, “Moan” proves a fascinating contrast to Orb’s earlier release. The songs were written to be sequenced together producing a exploration of the darker complexities of life. Adding other influences to the Blues, such as rock’n’roll and traditional American folk balladry, Orb plugs in and has a full rhythm backing on the rocking ‘Baby Blue’. But there are quieter moments, such as the ballads ‘I’ll Never Go’ and ‘Weigh My Heart’. And the title track is a beautifully atmospheric instrumental bringing imagery of dusty Delta roads and rumbling, rolling freight to mind. Surprisingly, as it’s the more contemporary of the two CDs, “Moan” captured my imagination the most. If Orb Mellon’s ‘post modern Blues’ is a vision of how the Blues will continue to thrive then I can give nothing but praise.

Davide Styles

- Blues Matters April 2009


"Orb Mellon - Moan (Blues in Britain May 2009)"

Mike Malone (aka Orb Mellon) himself thinks that this, his second release, is somewhat of a departure from its predecessor, “Love Above”, but I do not think there is too much of a leap between the two. In fact, I see “Moan” as a perfectly logical progression. So what has changed to elicit this feeling? It is quite simply the addition of extra instrumentation to Mike’s vocals, guitars and harmonica, and most notably a rhythm section. The man himself also adds bass, keyboards and percussion to some tracks.

Incorporating bass and drums on some songs inevitably leads Malone back to his days in a punk band (although it has to be said his solo acoustic pieces have never been lacking in a healthy amount of in-your-face punk attitude). The punk influences are combined with blues and rock ’n’ roll to create a very pleasing mix. However, not all the tracks here are of that ilk, as some are basically gentle ballads.

The opening cut, “Baby Blue” is an upbeat rocker with Pete Weiss on bass and Jeff Berlin on drums. This is followed by “Burn” in a similar vein, but with Mike himself providing the rhythm section. Things then calm down for “I’ll Never Go”, where a few notes at the upper end of the piano keyboard and organ chords add great atmosphere to the acoustic guitar. The title track features some moody slide guitar and, as you might expect, some “moaning”.

The accompanying blurb with this 11-track album claims it might be “… the first true blues concept album”. Steady on, Mike, that has to be a step too far! However, it does not matter what you call it, because it is a great record. Check it out at Orb Mellon’s MySpace site and order yourself a copy via CDBaby.

www.myspace.com/orbmellon

Rating: 9
Michael Prince
- Blues In Britain (Number 89) May 09


"Blues, No Chaser (Fairfield County Weekly March 2007)"

We have our prickly biases here at the Fairfield County Weekly , and one that’s pretty universally shared among the staff is that Eric Clapton sucks. Not in the sense that the man can’t play the guitar, since that’s obviously untrue, but in the sense that his excruciating generic-ness is exactly what attracts him to the safe and secure ramparts of Baby Boomertown, where Slowhand has been named milquetoast mayor for life.

His popularity, like B.B. King’s, is really more a case of the Last Men Standing than anything having to do with their talent; both players are designated Ambassadors of the Blues by default, and neither’s up to the task.

Fightin’ words, but my tastes lie squarely with the really menacing, the really dirty, the really bluesy blues—Wolf, Muddy, Lightin’ Hopkins, Leadbelly, Son House, R.L. Burnside, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Kimbrough. Give me a blues record that’s dirty, depraved, desperate, that’s all honey-drip innuendo, crippled-spirit wails, and back-door, red-rooster-crowing manliness—or give me Bloarzeyd.

So let’s talk about a truly bluesy blues album, the just-released debut from Orb Mellon, aka Mike Malone, who some may recall was frontman for Boston indie-rock stalwarts the Dirt Merchants back in the 1990s. Malone now lives in Monroe and has just released his first solo album, Love Above , featuring 13 tracks of primeval Delta-dipping blues tracks, most of them featuring Malone on steel or wood acoustic guitar and harmonica (and voice) and not much else. As a “project,” the album succeeds on terms that would probably put the terror into Clapton’s withered, studio-possessed soul: A dozen of the tunes were recorded in one day , and, goes the press report, most of those were “executed in one take.” That, friends, is definitional “old school.”

The result? A white-boy-blues record bristling with immanence and urban tuff—Love Above is all rollicking, finger-snapping steel-guitar slash-and-burn, slide runs and spot-on fingerpicked shimmy-do, and while certainly there are “nods” to Malone’s forbears, as Brian Mosher wrote in the March issue of The Noise , Malone’s not “mimicking the masters but…paying tribute to the style they created by making it his own.”

To my ears, Malone’s voice has a bit of Dylan ’65 to it, even some Stevie Ray; it’s resonant and reedy, a voice the late French literary critic and semiotician Roland Barthes would describe as having some true, hard-won grain to it. In its purest form, which is how Malone approaches it both stylistically and spiritually, the Delta blues offers salvation that is universal both in its implication and its reach. We grapple with our God through the blues, just as we grapple with our lovers and our outrage at a sick and venal world. The blues, in turn, frees us from ourselves (if we let it). All the great bluesmen knew that the real cathartic action lay somewhere betwixt the sacred and the profane—Malone knows it too.

In a piece exploring the implications of Barthes’ landmark 1977 essay, “The Grain of the Voice,” critic Robin Markowitz observed, “The grain belongs to anyone who can experience its physical presence. The grain, like a dream that is too real, returns the repressed in its volcanic and inescapable physicality.”

That sense, of an “inescapable physicality” appears to lie at the core of Malone’s approach to the blues—Love Above’s physicality is lean-muscle tight and without affect or pretense. Within the confines of the form, “your love,” as Malone sings on “Rolling River,” frees itself and is “like a rolling river down to the sea.”

Put simply, the blues is love—love, the blues. Stripped down to a quivering, naked core—that’s where you’ll find both in their purest and most palatable form.

(PS: Eric Clapton still sucks.) (Tom Gogola)
- FAIRFIELD COUNTY WEEKLY (March 22, 2007)


"Orb Mellon – Love Above (Blues in Britain April 2007)"

Orb Mellon is the nom de disque of Connecticut-based Mike Malone, one time guitarist with East Coast indie band, the Dirt Merchants, who now performs his own solo material, which might well be described as “21st century downhome blues”. I first encountered him last year on the excellent Weenie Campbell website and following a link was able to listen to him on MySpace. I liked what I heard and was attracted to a musician who quotes his influences as Bukka White, Fred McDowell, Son House AND The Clash. This had to be a man with some attitude and indeed this, his first release, has plenty of attitude, not to mention some really great music.

All 13 tracks are originals and all but one were recorded in a single day in order to preserve the spontaneity of the performances. Apart from one track on an all mahogany Martin, Orb plays a single-cone National or an old ladder-braced Gibson Cromwell flat-top, thus achieving a great downhome blues sound. He sings in an unaffected, pleasing voice and adds rack harmonica to some songs. The only other instruments are foot stomp, plus a bit of percussion on a few cuts. He is also joined by his old Dirt Merchants colleague, Maria Christopher, who provides backing vocals on a couple of songs as well.

Every track is a winner, so it would be futile to single any out. Whilst you get the occasional hint of the ghost of Bukka or Patton, there are no re-runs of old blues songs. These are new songs with all the raw energy of the old masters. Already a contender for my album of the year, this one will get repeated plays. If you like your blues presented in an honest, straight-ahead fashion, check out Orb Mellon’s website and you will not be disappointed. Rating: 9 (Michael Prince)
- BLUES IN BRITAIN (April 2007)


"Orb Mellon - Love Above (Blues Revue June 2007)"

It’s unlikely that many blues fans came into contact with Boston indie rockers the Dirt Merchants, but even for those who did, this solo debut from the band’s guitarist, Mike Malone, isn’t exactly a logical musical progression. Instead of the Merchants’ grungy roots-punk, Malone (now known by the odd moniker Orb Mellon) taps the Delta and Piedmont sounds of acoustic country bluesmen such as Bukka White, Son House, Charley Patton, and Furry Lewis. The disc’s 13 original compositions are cut from the same cloth as the classic songs that defined these and other prewar guitarists.

“Aberdeen” and “Looking for Trouble” dig deep into the Delta mud for intense, emotionally moving performances that make Malone sound like he was born 80 years ago and raised in a shotgun shack. Malone is an agile slide guitarist, as exemplified by his nimble National steel work on “Long Way Home” and “What I’m Going To Do With You.” Since all but one of the tracks were recorded in a single day, the production is minimal and there are virtually no overdubs, making the session even more spontaneous.

Malone’s voice isn’t as gritty or as soulful as this music demands, but he makes the most of it and sings as if he’s got a hellhound at least close to his trail. There aren’t many musicians working entirely in this style, and even fewer who used to be in punk bands, so Malone deserves props for releasing a strikingly honest album without commercial concerns. Love Above won’t put him in the league with the greats, but it’s an impressive start to a second career.
(Hal Horowitz)
- BLUES REVUE (June/July 2007)


"Orb Mellon - Love Above (Living Blues August 2007)"

Orb Mellon, the John Hammond-ish alter ego of ex-Dirt Merchant Mike Malone, can play. The blues-crazy indie-rocker isn't being ironic or coy with these Delta boogies, East Coast stomps, and blasts of crude, Dylan-style harmonica - he's deadly serious. His songs on this overlong album are mostly vamps, but when they click (the Son House-ish scorcher What I'm Going To Do With You, the Fuller/McTell inspired I Think Of You) Mellon seems to channel his Depression-era heroes. His voice, on the other hand, sounds thin and could use some of the grit and gravy heard in his guitar playing.
-LIVING BLUES MAGAZINE (August 2007)
- Living Blues Magazine (August 2007)


"Orb Mellon "Moan" (New Haven Advocate February 25, 2010)"

Orb Mellon, Moan (V-Hold Records, orbmellon.com). Recorded under his Orb Mellon alias, multi-instrumentalist and singer Mike Malone has subtitled his second album, “Thesaurus of Post-Modern Blues.” If to you that phrase calls to mind a stiff, clinical grad-level musicology project — well, it’s absolutely not that. If that phrase simply suggests Malone is going to veer far from straight 12-bar — hey, that’s more like it. The songs are only infrequently in line with trad blues in their structures and instrumentation. Acoustic slide guitar is the main instrument, but the pounding drums and bursts of electric guitar feedback make it sound as though Malone’s hijacked an angry young indie rock band to back him up. These rocked-up swells and Malone’s often aggressive strumming and sliding underline the tension in these songs. And no matter how he cloaks the arrangements, his execution is thoroughly blues — if you take “blues” to mean dangerous, warty, imperfect, horny and emotionally naked. In short, he doesn’t need the drawl he affects to make it clear he’s mastered that scary, sad longing of the blues.—Brian LaRue


- New Haven Advocate (February 25, 2010)


Discography

THE JUKE SHALL RISE AGAIN(Split EP, Juke City Records, 2009)
MOAN (LP, V-Hold, 2009)
LOVE ABOVE (LP, V-Hold, 2007)
OM AMB (EP, V-Hold, 2007)
WRENCH IN THE WORKS COMPILATION incl. "Long Way Home" (Wrench in the Works, 2007)

W/ Dirt Merchants:
BEWARE OF DOG b/w MINDFUCK (V-Hold, 1993)
LOVE APNEA b/w PURPLE BARREL (V-Hold, 1994)
SCARIFIED (LP, Zero Hour 1994;Sony/Epic, 1995)
SWISS BANK (EP, V-Hold, 1997)
THE SPEED AT WHICH YOU SPEAK (LP, Sony/Epic, unreleased)

Photos

Bio

Orb Mellon is the alter ego and roots moniker of Mike Malone, founder and guitarist of the seminal 90s indie rock band Dirt Merchants.

As Orb Mellon, Mike mines the raw energy of pre-electric American roots music, particularly whiskey fueled house party delta blues. Influenced by the likes of Son House, Bukka White, Junior Kimbrough and Charlie Patton, Orb performs pure sonically aggressive blues, prompting one reviewer to identify Orb Mellon's work simply as "blues in all its primeval glory" (Tangled In The Roots, July 2006).

Orb Mellon’s 2007 debut album "Love Above" was produced with a commitment to preserving the directness, spontaneity, and emotional urgency inherent in the best early blues recordings. To that end, all but one of the album’s thirteen original tracks were recorded in a single day with the majority executed in only one take. The goal was to produce a raw, diverse, and exciting collection of original country blues. The album went on to receive rave reviews in regional, national and international press and was recognized in Real Blues Magazine as one of the Top 50 releases of 2007.

The 2009 follow up, "MOAN" marks a sort of sonic evolution for Orb Mellon. Mostly plugged in and recorded with a full rhythm section, the songs on "Moan" were all written to be sequenced together as a whole and explore the darker side of lust, love, loss and revenge. Once again, this album received rave reviews in national and international press including a top 100 nod from Real Blues Magazine and a 4 page interview / photo spread in Britain's Blues Matters Magazine.

Web:
www.myspace.com/orbmellon;
www.orbmellon.com

More info including VIDEOS at:
www.facebook.com/pages/Orb-Mellon/113081610862

Contact: info@orbmellon.com