N.O. songwriter releases ‘Natural Born Days’
Some things are worth the wait. New Orleans singer, songwriter and guitarist Tommy Malone’s second solo album is one of them. Echoing his solo debut, 2001’s Soul Heavy, 2013’s Natural Born Days is a soul deep collection of new Malone songs.
The reasons why 12 years separate Soul Heavy and Natural Born Days include the 2002 reformation of the subdudes. Formed in 1987, the rootsy New Orleans band released albums on the Atlantic and Windham Hill labels in the ’80s and ’90s.
The second edition of the subdudes, briefly dubbed the Dudes, toured extensively and released two albums through Back Porch Records, 2004’s Miracle Mule and 2006’s Behind the Levee.
“That was a lot of work, so I was busy,” Malone explained a few weeks ago.
After the subdudes went on hiatus in 2010, Malone and his Prairieville-residing brother, Dave, attempted a collaboration.
“We gave it our best effort but our taste, our direction, wasn’t lining up,” Malone said.
Natural Born Days subsequently grew from Malone’s solo and duo performances at New Orleans music venue and restaurant Chickie Wah Wah.
He was also doing a lot of songwriting, alone and with a few collaborators, including drummer Jim Scheurich, an audience member at Malone’s Chickie Wah Wah shows, and original subdudes bassist Johnny Allen.
Malone and Scheurich wrote one of the Natural Born Days songs, “Distance,” a decade ago. Malone was especially fond of “Distance,” so he invited Scheurich to write more songs with him.
“Jim came by and it just clicked immediately,” Malone said.
Six Scheurich-Malone compositions appear on Natural Born Days. Malone also reconnected with Allen, who wasn’t included in the subdudes reunion. They composed album title song “Natural Born Days” and “Word on the Street.” It was Allen, too, who’d helped Malone and his family return to New Orleans in 2009 following three frustrating years in Nashville.
“I couldn’t seem to get where I needed to go in Nashville,” Malone said. “Maybe I was too old. Maybe not cute enough. Maybe not good enough. Maybe not the right style. I can’t tell you.
“But no doubt there’s a tremendous amount of ridiculously talented people in Nashville. I guess you’ve got 9,000, maybe 90,000 songwriters, all wanting to get their stuff in. You can imagine what that’s like.”
Malone, happy to be back on home ground, was at Chickie Wah Wah when the Canal Street establishment’s owner, Dale Triguero, introduced him to the 10-time Grammy-winning producer John Porter.
Formerly based in Los Angeles, New Orleans resident Porter’s British-career credits include Bryan Ferry, Billy Bragg, the Alarm and the Smiths. He later moved to the U.S. and produced recordings by Joe Walsh, Maria Muldaur, Stephen Stills, Los Lonely Boys and Carlos Santana. His many blues credits include Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Taj Mahal, John Lee Hooker, John Mayall and Keb’ Mo’.
“John (Porter) said he’d been waiting to do something with me for years,” Malone said. “I was blown away, really flattered and grateful. He’s done amazing stuff.”
Malone’s manager, Rueben Williams, made the connection to New York-based MC Records. The label’s owner, Mark Carpentieri, flew down to New Orleans, saw Malone perform at Chickie Wah Wah and offered him a deal.
With a production budget in place, Malone joined Porter and the local musicians the producer picked for the sessions, including keyboard player Jon Cleary, at The Music Shed studio. Malone brought Susan Cowsill in to sing backup vocals.
With Porter handling production, Malone, for a change, simply played the role of artist.
“I normally get way too involved and I’m my own worst enemy maybe,” he said. “I finally just backed off. That really worked to my benefit, because John has great instincts, taste, foresight. And he made me feel good about myself, he was easy to be around. But underneath that he was planning it. He knew exactly what was going on.
“The album is a labor of love on everyone’s part. We just had to do it and it was a blast.”