Fans of Steve Maloney have been waiting patiently since 2014 for a follow-up to the self-titled Steve Maloney and the Wandering Kind album. Maloney’s sophomore offering, The Memory Game, arrived August 25th, just in time to close out summer.
While not a Wandering Kind album, The Memory Game has many of the markings of his first release. Delicate instrumentation set against full arrangements, thoughtful lyrics, and, of course, that voice.
Maloney’s baritone voice possesses an almost musical theatre quality to it, which has always caught me slightly off guard; as if it’s not entirely of its time. To my ear, Maloney’s self-titled album struggled with how to best serve his unique, yet stylized vocals. The arrangements and instrumentation rose to meet this challenge as best they could, but too often sounded in competition with one another.
For his follow-up album, Maloney enlisted the help of Toronto-based musician and producer Joshua Van Tassel, and a better fit, he couldn’t have chosen.
As a producer, Van Tassel has worked with such acts as Sarah Slean, Doug Paisley, Amelia Curran, and Great Lake Swimmers, and scored multiple television and film projects as a musician in his own right. The Memory Game is bigger and more ambitious, yet somehow more refined than Maloney’s debut.
All of the sonic pieces instinctively fall into place: lavish strings, guitars, piano, synthesizers, vibraphone, therevox, percussion, and dazzling, soulful backup vocals by the Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman; all complementing one another, and effortlessly showcasing Maloney’s talent as a songwriter and vocalist.
While Maloney always assumed his second release would be a band effort, The Memory Game is a solo album which Maloney considers something closer to a collaborative project. While it’s true Van Tassel’s electronic-folk fingerprints sit heavy (both as a producer, and musician on the album), The Memory Game is ultimately the realisation of Maloney’s talent, skillfully unfurled by Van Tassel.
At just 8 tracks, the album is a concise, yet completely satisfying offering. The songs themselves are lean, but the range is expansive, pivoting between contemplative numbers like the opener “Devotion,” with its simple guitar picking, and moody strings, to the sweeping synthesizers, driving pianos and operatic vocals on “Exits.”
Tamara Lindeman’s gospel-tinged backups send this song into something of another stratosphere. Its grandiosity makes it a difficult track to follow, but “The Disenchanted Age,” a subtle flamenco-flavoured number, brings listeners back down to earth smoothly.
“No One Loves You (Like I Do)” is a beautiful, uncomplicated cover, and a treat for fans of (the briefly, St. John’s-based) songwriter John Lennox. “Passing Phase” is a soundscape for getting in your car and moving on; “No Warmth Against the Light” is for contemplating the weight of that decision in the mirror somewhere.
The album closes with “Only Sometimes.” Its soft guitar, violins, and rising and falling vocals, is reminiscent of Andy WIlliams’ “Moon River” in both its sweetness and melancholy.
The songs on The Memory Game reveal themselves slowly, but ultimately reward listeners for their patience with each additional listen. Under Joshua Van Tassel’s guidance, Steve Maloney has unequivocally announced his arrival, and I fully expect the rest of Canada (and beyond), to sit up and take note of this hometown talent.
Steve Maloney will perform The Memory Game accompanied by a string quartet and rhythm section, September 7th (8PM) at the LSPU Hall. Special guest Katie Baggs will open the evening. Tickets are $20, and available at the LSPU Hall box office.