This is one of those ‘on the cusp’ blues releases that has all the elements, but still lacks (dare we still use the phrase?) the X-factor, thrilling and frustrating in equal measure.

Label: MBM Music
Time: 11 tracks / 55 mins.

This is Malaya Blue's second release, and after her début, she was nominated for four British Blues awards – Best Female Vocalist, Best Blues Album, Best Blues Track and Emerging Artist.

When Malaya Blue launches into the driving title track that opens this disc, it rides on a meaty chassis of bluesy guitar. “Hunny Little Daydream” introduces (the) Paul Jones’ blues harp and “Colourblind” makes space for a decent guitar solo, before “Let’s Reinvent (Love)” slows things right down and Jones’ tasty harmonica makes an always-welcome return.

So there is a definite mood here and some good variety. Why, then, do I sound like there is a ‘but’ coming? This is the hard one to pinpoint, but – unfortunately – it seems to be a blend of the songs selected and Malaya Blue herself.

While it has so much feeling, blues is never the most creative genre. It takes someone above the ordinary to battle with 60 years of history and set that form on fire.

Malaya Blue has a strong voice that can reach the notes with volume and ease, but she can also be quite strident, which after a while can grate a little. And the thing that most niggles me is the way she bends her notes, as if she has a limited way of getting the feeling across. That sounds like a minor quibble, but across the span of the disc, it can add up to a significant frustration.

But it may be just me, and I feel hard citing this as a problem, when there is so much going for the album – not least the keys. Regular player Paul Jobson produces a fine piano solo on “Acceptance” and gets some great gospel vibes in for a couple of tracks. His “Strand of Gold” organ solo is simple, warm and could be twice as long without outstaying its welcome. Carl Hudson comes in for a beautiful piano backing and solo on the slowed down “To Remain the Same” (these slower tracks are easily the best part of the collection).

And Blue herself puts in some good performances. On “Strand of Gold” she reflects a definite Chrissie Hynde sound, while “Share the Love” has a great retro feel, and her beautifully-judged effort on “Hope,” helped by a fine guitar solo from Dudley Ross, lets the emotion comes through strongly.

On the gorgeous, wonderfully understated closer “Soul Come Back” she creates a real Dusty Springfield effect. But why, oh why, oh why do we have to wait 52 minutes to reach it?

I think this is the hub of her problem – she has left the best songs until last, and the very best until the very last, by which time, she has frustrated us and undersold herself, creating an impression that is hard to undo, even after many listens.

Overall, Malaya Blue surrounds herself with some great playing, but needs tighter control over album content and ordering to produce more of a need-to-have item.

But do download “Soul Come Back.”    

Derek Walker