One of the musical highlights of last week was the concert of the Malina Brothers with two unique guest musicians, Kateřina García and Charlie McCoy in the Sono Centre in Brno. And because the performance was recorded on a professional video for the band’s first live DVD, the evening itself was extraordinary both in its length and quality.
As the name implies, the Malina Brothers are a group built on the close family relationship of three of the four members: the eldest, Luboš (*1959, plays banjo, guitar, low whistle and vocals in MB), the middle one, Pavel (*1960, plays electric and acoustic guitar and vocals) and the youngest, Josef (*1979, violin and vocals), who were joined by Josef’s former ZUŠ classmate from Náchod, Pavel Peroutka (*1977, double bass and vocals). What used to be a three-man brotherly group formed from sporadic playing in the Peklo pub near Náchod, where the repertoire, based on traditional country and tramp music (Pavel and Luboš having played in the legendary Náchod band Kliďánko), with elements of bluegrass, swing, folk and Irish music, also began to form. It was only nine years ago, on the occasion of an unfulfilled concert opportunity that they expanded with the double bass and strong harmony vocals of Pavel Peroutka and the “family” concert-giving became a pleasant addition to their usual obligations as professional musicians, which include many rather famous names.
Luboš and Pavel Malina belong to the founding line-up of the band Druhá Tráva, with Pavel playing with among others Věra Martinová, Lenka Filipová, Pavlína Jíšová and not so long ago in the Žalman a spol. group, while Pavel Peroutka was a bass player and singer in the bluegrass band Reliéf and today is one of the supporting holding pillars of Spirituál kvintet. Josef Malina had his own band P.R.S.T., has played with Monogram, was a guest artist in Druhá tráva and Cop, and currently plays with Jimmy Bozeman & The Lazy Pigs. But the richest musical career is that of Luboš Malina, being not only a famous producer, band-master, composer and arranger, but mainly a sought-after studio player with a very wide range of genres. After forming a distinct playing style with Poutníci and Teagrass, he is currently engaged with the bands Druhá tráva, Trapeři, Garcia, Kon Sira, in the jazz trio Malina-Liška-Nejtek and occasionally with the Malinaband formation (which is not the same as Malina Brothers). However, in terms of what each of them brings into the group’s repertoire, they are well-matched.
The wide range of the evening’s playlist (twenty-five tracks with three additions) was mostly a copy of the group’s three published albums: Rychlejší koně (2013) where the repertoire comes mostly from the pen of the Náchod tramp-country songwriter Mirek “Skunk” Jaroš, Malina Brothers & Charlie McCoy (2015) and Malina Brothers & Kateřina García (2018). It was only logical that the important concert included both of the star guests – the world’s most respected harmonica player, Charlie McCoy, hailing from Oak Hill in West Virginia, and the European star, singer of (not only) Irish ballads, Kateřina García. This Prague-born great-granddaughter of Alfons Mucha teaches Spanish at a university in Dublin. The arrival of both of them was beset with complications, but all went well in the end. Nevertheless, even without almost any rehearsals, with only one trial concert in the Prague Zahrada Cultural Centre the day before, their performance was perfect.
The concert’s programme in the first half more or less copied a gradual “best of” selection of their released projects. The band began with the title song of the first album, Rychlejší koně (Faster Horses), a composition by T. T. Hall adapted and with Czech lyrics by Mirek “Skunk” Jaroš, which was followed up by Skunk’s own song A život běží dál (And Life Goes On). The mlodies of Midnight Highway and The River Is Wide were accompanied by a gradual setting of instrumental and vocal positions. Songs with vocals were soon superseded by the instrumental track of Luboš Malina, Zlatá éra (Golden Age), a reference to his beginnings in the band Poutníci. The performance of Malina Brothers peaked with the arrival of Charlie McCoy on stage. The knowledgeable audience greeted him with ovation and Charlie soon returned the good will – at almost eighty he is still in brilliant form. He dominates the harmonica not only as a frontman, but also sensitively accompanies as a sideman and sings very well. He played and sung alternately in the songs Blue Train and Memories To Burn, later performing a duet in the instrumental Rose of Killarney with Luboš’ low whistle. Then it was the turn of the repertoire of the Rabiš osada, a reminder of the Náchod tramp-country band Kliďánko, where both of the elder Malina brothers begun – Stín staré řeky (The Shade of the Old River) followed by Ben Foster, both written by Standa “Huňáč” Skala. As an addition, we got to hear the story of an Alabama mine disaster, McLaren, once again by “Skunk” Jaroš, a generation older tramp-emigrant from Dvůr Králové. Kateřina García then excelled on stage with tracks from last year’s third album – Roses In the Snow, the slow, ballad Irish version of The Banks of the Ohio accompanied by Kateřina on the shruti box (a mini harmonium Indo-American producer Nick Dillon) and Irish medley Kerry Fling – Moll Dubh a´Ghleanna. This was followed by the introduction of the different creators, Josef Malina (Jabloň, Hany and Ikaros), Luboš Malina (with an instrumental track from the Afterparty CD Gejza a Berta) and the superb reminiscence of a Plíhal-style melody and poetry by Pavel Peroutka, who created a musical version of the charmingly ironic text of Honza Velíšek, Vypadáš krotce (You Look Tame). Charlie McCoy then recalled two of his famous co-players: with a beautiful solo that he had recorded for Kris Kristofferson’s album for the song Help Me Make It Through the Night (Sundej z hodin závaží), and a similarly brilliant interlude in the country ballad about hoboes, Silver Ribbons by Waylon Jennings. After Éra parních lokomotiv (Era of the Steam Train), it was the turn of one of the evening’s highlights, a track that everyone who ever had an interest in folk and country knows. This was one of the most famous trad jazz works, the Scottish ballad The Water Is Wide, about the sad end to a romance, chosen and presented by Katka García, reminding the audience of many Czech versions (Širý proud by Spirituál kvintetu, Rákosí by Rangers, Žalman’s Barevný šál and Waldemara Matušku).
The end of the concert was another expedition into the past, with Skočná from the opera by Bedřich Smetana, The Bartered Bride, arranged for Poutníci by Luboš Malina. Another genre jump, this time to the world of film melodies, was the modified theme from Pulp Fiction, Flowers on the Wall (originally by The Statler Brothers), which the Malina Brothers performed with elegance. All three encores were very stylish, the audience having clapped so hard for: Návrat, Lady Yesterday and at the end of course Foggy Mountain Breakdown, concluded with a brilliant harmonica solo by the tireless Charlie McCoy. The CD is set to be released in January of next year, when the Malina Brothers will be celebrating ten years of (official) existence. And we already know it is something to look forward to.