After a break, Honeysuckle Roads is back to present a post on one of Atlanta’s favorite musicians (and bands)! Having heard so much about Michelle Malone since I came to live in Atlanta, when I found out she was playing at City Winery, reunited with her band Drag the River for the first time since the ’90s, I made sure to catch the show. Before I went, I made sure to familiarize myself with Michelle Malone and Drag the River’s songs, and grew to love “Into the Night,” a dark, dramatic, heart-wrenching song about longing to break free from a toxic relationship. I found her sound to range from rootsy like Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi to power reminiscent of Heart on songs like “Big Black Bag.” Her repertoire ranges from tender ballads to raucous rock and blues a la Rolling Stones and Faces, steeped in the Southern tradition of her home state.
Michelle Malone’s musical history has true Atlanta roots. Born in Atlanta to musician mother Karyn Malone, music played a ubiquitous role in her formative years. Malone grew up singing in church as well as school, learned guitar, and continued to study music at Agnes Scott College. After she met The Indigo Girls, who invited her to perform at their shows, she started playing rockin’ venues throughout Atlanta in places Malone says her cabaret singer mother was afraid to enter. In a testament to their differences, according to Malone, “she’s a lady, and I’m a rocker!” (Keeping it all in the family, Malone’s mother and sister sang along with her on several songs that night.)
Malone teamed up with the band Drag the River in the 1980s (including Jonny Daly on guitar, Phil Skipper on bass, Billy Pitts on drums and vocals, and Joey Huffman on keyboard) and they were signed by Clive Davis of Arista Records, releasing the album “Relentless” under the Arista label. Described as the imaginary lovechild of Keith Richards and Patti Smith, Malone’s love for rock and roll comes across in her music as well as her unstoppable attitude. In true rock rebel fashion, Malone did not continue with Arista, ending the possibility of mega-stardom and a lucrative career after label executives sought to mold her into a copy of Joan Jett, and take on a persona that did not represent her true self.
The band disbanded in 1992, and after a personal break, Malone went on to record and play solo as well as teaming up with artists like Kristian Bush of Sugarland. Now back with Drag the River, Michelle and her band at have been hosted at The Vista Room to great success, with fans who remember their hits like “Into the Night,” “New Experience,” and “Big Black Bag.” At the concert at City Winery that night, they played to fans who followed them since the early ’90s, as well as newcomers to their music like me.
The James Hall Trio opened the show, fronted by another long-standing Atlanta musician, James Hall. Hall has played in the Atlanta area since the 1980s, starting his solo career in the ’90s. Here he is with the James Hall Trio, made up of three very talented musicians (and great songwriting!):
Endearingly humble, the James Hall Trio exited the stage with Hall stating that although he enjoyed playing, “it’s Michelle’s show.”
When Michelle Malone and Drag the River took to the stage, they churned out some hard-driving Southern-flavored Rock and Roll! Like “Southern Comfort,” “ain’t talkin’ ’bout booze.” Quite comforting:
Malone’s mother and sister joined in and shared their familial talents on the gentler “32 Seconds:”
An ode to good times in “Weed and Wine:”
And here is my favorite, the haunting “Into the Night:”
Throughout the show, fans of a wide variety of ages danced and grooved between the tables at City Winery. Between her songs, Malone remarked that the set-up at City Winery, which consists of rows of tables throughout the room, did not allow enough space for many of her fans to come close to the stage. Graciously, she invited those in the back of the cavernous room to come to the front to rock out with the band. With an album titled “For You Not for Them,” (made specifically for fans rather than corporate interests), Michelle Malone makes it clear that she puts her fans above all else, and it appeared from the audience’s response that she and her Drag the River bandmates continue to provide rockin’ Southern Comfort now as much as they did in the ’90s.
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