Marcia Mello – Queen of Portobello
Marcia Mello’s Queen of Portobello enshrines rock music’s true royalty, which is of course the blues
and the colours that are sourced from six strings. Her guitar and voice rule the air of the song
streaked streets she rules over, with Youth accompanying on bass and harmonium and producing,
she speaks of realms past and future that are courted and caught as she sings.
From In the Company of a Lizard’s effects, cymbal wash and soulful plucking to a cover of Guy
Canon’s Poor Gir,l the delta blues paints your doorway. Mello’s slurring voice mixes Baez with Dylan,
and immediately you’re transported away from your room to a place that speaks of the south and
the dustbowl in sunlight, which is both familiar and authentic as another world soothes your own.
Blind Boy Fuller’s Walking my Troubles Away has a feel of slow Django Rheinhart at first, before
giving away to the soundworld of Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft, which also lifted the blues into a fresh
form or context as does the pluck and plodding of guitar, desk, bass and drums. This gives way to
Mello’s Dance of the Pixie as it sparkles in with Youth’s sweetened harmonium drone and a wave of
dextrous guitar playing, as this enchanting instrumental colours in the lost land. A sense of
communion has been set between Youth and Mello; two people united on a semi sainted quest for
the past. A second instrumental follows on, the aptly named Guitar Waltz, in which Mello’s hands
have a sound, or vocal entirely their own; refined, detailed, subtle and clear as the crystal, or
perhaps like the pieces of gold she’s prospecting as she takes the guitar to the water or the older
earth to seek source. Elfin Rondo completes and is bells, harmonium, and string water; as the
elegant phrases bubble like springs through the sand. This trio of original sound paintings stir all
sorts of responses and broaden both range and palette, as if Portobello itself were a portal back to
the better times of the past.
In My Dreams Tonight is part lullaby and part elegy as she searches for King Arthur with white
Angels by her bed. The guitar lines are her knights scouring land and sensation as the vulnerable
vocal speaks of French Painters whose pictures allow her to unify the night’s schemes. Barcelona
Sparrow is stomp that is both strong and dainty as the colours swirl fast about her and tiny synth
trumpets play. Marcia creates worlds that come from her spirit background. Her Great Grandfather
was a Pokanoket Chief and his father was the King of Massachussetts, so while here in London, there
is a whirlwind of lives riding air. Her instrumental pieces show this; as they are the rainbow from
which her Blues songs find fresh purpose and so musical artist creates album as canvas to hold and
behold in your hall.
Tampa Red’s Love with a Feeling is a solo showcase in which song becomes manifesto for the
greatest glue known to man and womankind. It is a call for connection in which the things that are
simple prove to be the most elusive of all. Venice Song is a strident near anthem in which Mello’s
voice softens to seem young and girl like. There is a joyousness to the music that sweetens the air
and your room. It is an irresistible little song that enchants and embraces; the kind of pop that has
purpose and which in a good world should surely charm the charts soon.
Al Robinson’s Foggy Old London is a duet with Laine Haines who also provides banjo, while the
seminal soprano sax of Nik Turner dances on inbetween. On listening one is almost at the dancehall,
where an English night becomes southern, and where instead of chips, chicken’s frying, as the
evening arrives to score dreams.
Lucille Bogan’s Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ is real walking blues. Youth’s drums power in, granting gravitas as
they do so, as Mello capers, skipping the song along to sound true. Memphis Minne’s classic When
The Levee Breaks opens now, not with a Zeppelin’s portent, but with the kind of delight that only a
swaying tempo and jew’s harp can provide. This is far less a warning than it is rumination and the
trickle and spring in the playing is as persuasive as Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones conjured forth.
Washington Philip’s song What are They Doing in Heaven Today? is soon sanctified by Mello’s
treatment. She often dances with songs as she’s singing, catching them as a child might, when
playing perhaps, with a kite. She parades these songs past, as she gently carouses, filling the spaces
with flavour sauced by her style and sound on her strings.
Rolling Log is pure blues as Mello retunes Lottie Kimborough’s classic. Her voice here is as youthful
as the young boys and girls in the yard who would have danced at the time that such songs were
written. The drum shuffle siblings this sister of sound as she plays.
Mello’s own Ship of Songs shows how well she mastered or mistressed such stylings to make old
Bluesongs new. She fuses the American West with the West of London to make the 21st Century
setting as appealing as these time scented streets ever were. It is as if she’s been there, as long as
that particular Grove gained first glory; and yet she has also arrived fresh from corners in Idaho,
Mississippi and naturally New Orleans. Sun and Star shows this too, as she sparkles once more with
her playing, to grant the Grove glory and command her special quest to quash harm.
The legendary Big Bill Broonzy’s Saturday Rub reveals a slow if somewhat stumbling dance round the
lampposts, as notes howl and holler and Mello’s dextrous guitar interweaves. This is sound as song
and adds once more to the portrait of this unique Queen who questions the places we’re part of as
well as anything else we believe.
Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine is final old call from the past’ a Papa Charlie Jackson jaunt which she
captures, but it is in her final original song, Merlin’s Cave, that Mello sums up this venture, as guitar
and harmonium marry with all of the grace you’d expect. There is refinement, regard and an
overview to the playing that concludes the tales she’s been telling in the styles she adopts and her
songs. The Queen of Portobello rules well. As will you in attendance. This is the kind of court where
old froggy and all of the colours to come still belong.
Produced by Youth and arranged by Youth and Marcia Mello, the Goya fronted and delightfully
designed (by Katy Hearne) album was mastered by sound maestro Michael Rendall and engineered
by Luke Fitzpatrick, James Grashion, Tom Grashion, Stan Manning, Edward Bonda and David Nock
and is released by Suriya Recordings on March 25th 2022
Released on digital 25/03/2022