December 15, 2006
Nectar is a club on the northside of Seattle that offers customers and bands a great stage in a medium-sized, open air-style warehouse with comfortable, seasonal, urban patio surroundings. The venue supports a wide variety of bands, but it’s not often enough that they choose to book southern sounds that I enjoy hearing. Papa Mali’s arrival in our soggy city was just the bit of sunshine I needed to help pass what is known as December in the Pacific Northwest.
I had never seen a Papa Mali show prior to this, though I have had recent chances at larger festivals and missed out. 2006 has seen his enthusiasm and contributions to the blues, funk and jam scene documented by my favorite music websites. His work is also listed with other favorite artists of mine so I’ve known he could play swampy blues dance riffs and traditional southern favorites. I of course expected him to.
What I learned at my first show is this: Papa Mali is an exceptionally imaginative guitar player.
Malcomb Welbourne, aka “Papa Mali,” was born in Mississippi, grew up in Louisiana and now resides in Texas. His past habitats in the Dirty South imply that he has probably had a fair amount of music mentorship opportunities. What is really clear to see is that he has taken the liberty to define and refine a unique and expressive sound of his own.
Papa has created an approach to his music performance that reaches beyond the average and it’s done with a confidence and modesty that could only be Southern. He genuinely enjoys sharing the fruits of his labor with the folks in the room listening, and to see him play is to understand that the guy was born for the role of entertainer.
His stage show is most interesting to take in when he smoothly switches styles, from singing with his own cool gritty vocals to letting the slide do the singing. Believe me when I say – his slide finger is fluent. His instrumental rendition of "After the Gold Rush" is as good as gold.
It is obvious hours have been poured into developing his “finger singing” skills. Welbourne has mastered a way of communicating with his instruments that is sure to please any guitar jam aficionado. A modest rack of guitars accompanies him on the road, and you know that each one of them has a special song to sing. I was particularly delighted, impressed and intrigued with his creative initiative (and ability) to play slide on the mandolin.
Musicians Todd Roper, (drums, founding member of Cake) and Kevin T White (bass, Shelby Lynne and Chuck Prophet) are accompanying him on this tour. The trio is tight and their musical contribution to the show is just right. Everyone has the chance to shine.
The very swampy set list included such classics as “Do Your Thing,” “Firewater” and “Gilded Splinters.” Love and homage to New Orleans was aptly expressed with a performance of “When the Levee Breaks.” No evening of southern music would be complete with out a touch of gospel and the band's choice to play the classic “Glory” with just enough sincerity to keep the soul in the room alive made the night a special one!
Papa Mali will be releasing a new album, Do Your Thing, in January, and will be touring with Galactic in early 2007.
words/images by Candise Kola