Why the Raleigh band Maldora is my new favorite band

by Angela Perez

Last Friday night, in downtown Raleigh, NC, instead of going to see the Cover Up at King’s Barcade, I went to Slim’s to see the Americana band Maldora, a Raleigh band that’s a favorite among seasoned musicians.  Well, Americana is how the band is often labeled.  But that’s not really what’s happening there.  In fact, there’s a punk dissonance hammering away in every chord that threatens the music’s very being.  That punk irreverence seethes throughout the set and actively prevents this music from being true Americana or Southern roots rock.  And yet, initially, when the band starts to play, you might think you are indeed at a good ole’ roots rock show.

But, by God, you ain’t.
If I have seen Maldora ever play before, I don’t recall it, and, as the line-up stands and performs now, I know I would remember it.  I’m going to go ahead and say this band is my favorite band in Raleigh, knocking Demon Eye out of the top spot (though I still love Demon Eye).
To pull off a punk dissonance while also displaying roots rock sensibilities can only be managed by some very seasoned and wise musicians – which this band possesses, all of them well-known and highly respected in the Raleigh music scene:  J Chris Smith, Vox & guitar; Marc Smith (no relation), Vox & guitar; Lutie Cain, bass & vocals; Jesse Huebner, drums.
The push and pull of this music – destroying harmony while at the same time layering it on – creates an inherent tension that cannot be ignored and is, well, fucking tantalizing.   I was drawn in, spellbound by the fact I was witnessing the very magic of music as a true expression of feeling, of the human condition.  These guys, as they play, are creating an altogether revolutionary force through the unconscious collision of two music genres.  The music feels like it might fly apart at the seams – we are teased with the possibility.  But it’s doesn’t.  It’s not going to.  Because it’s grounded in that good ole’ rock and roll I was talking about.  I was stopped in my tracks by it that night in Slim’s.  I had to put down my glass of gin and stop flirting with Larry Burlison and Molly Flynn and pay attention.  Oh, I see a lot of good bands. But rarely, VERY rarely do I see bands that make me wonder aloud, “What the fuck is happening to me right now?”
A lot of that impact also has to do with our J Chris Smith’s voice.  To me, it’s what holds the whole enterprise together and directs it, perfects it.   Lutie and Marc also sing a couple of songs, but that’s just gravy on the fried chicken.  There is a melancholy overtone in Chris’ voice.   And there’s a pure Southern twang to it, and when he sings, it’s like you just walked into the middle of a monologue in a modern Southern novel, full of all that deliciously languid pathos and steamy introspection.   When Chris sings, I don’t even know what the words are.  It just FEELS like he is privately grappling with his own conflicts and demons and I’m peeking in.  But his language is universal and he, very unself-consciously, notices you watching and says, “Aw, come on in Angela and think on your part of the story.  We’ve all got demons to manage.”  So, I did.  I joined him.   At least, that’s what it felt like.  His voice is a kind of catharsis for me personally.  Who do you know who can sing like that?  Well, the greats do it.  That’s why they are great.
Despite the down-deep conflict of the music (inherent to any great art), the night never got dark or depressing.  Oh no.  Because while Chris and company present the whole range of human experience in every song, they also resolve it simultaneously through pure Southern raunch.  That’s right.  Raunch.  The music made me feel like I was carousing with abandon in a seedy saloon (which, I suppose I was – I was in Slim’s, after all).  So, ultimately, when you see Maldora, you have a good and dirty fucking time, not realizing until hours later, after you get home and crawl into bed, that you’ve been gently jerked from despair to elation in ways you never, ever dreamed possible.

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