Live Review: Malia Grace at Rockwood Music Hall in New York, NY

Material: From the get-go, Austin-based singer/songwriter Malia Grace lets us know that “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool,” which is a single from her new self-titled EP and serves as a running theme throughout her set. There may be hurt and disappointment in romantic encounters, but Grace’s songs prove she is a survivor of the first order.

Most of her piano-centric pop/R&B stylings range from blues to straight-ahead ballads and to even a couple of danceable numbers. They speak often of vulnerability, but at the same time don’t always impart it, a curious juxtaposition leaving a sense that Grace throws up a wall, which sometimes prevents true feelings from coming through. But she turns it around with a song she claims is the best she’s written to date (and with good reason), “Lonely For Too Long,” a lovely, tender ballad performed as a duet with guest artist Hunter Hoffman.

Musicianship: Grace has a powerful, pitch-perfect voice that can wail and belt with the best of them. In the upper range her sound moves more toward the light and airy to create a greater dynamic scope, as do the harmonies contributed by the guest artists. Her piano skills support the material and suggest what a full-blown arrangement might sound like.

Performance: Carrying a solo show has its pros and cons. The upside is a chance to hear the songs as they were written: stripped down and unadorned. But at the same time, keeping the audience’s interest level is a challenge when there are no band mates to lean on. By providing enough musical variation in the material and enlisting the help of two guest vocalists, Grace was adept at keeping a good pace throughout the set as well as altering the visual landscape. Her good-natured sarcasm paired well with her “I’m hurt but I’ll get over it” platform.

Obviously proud of a recent posting of her work by Jimmy Fallon’s social media team on Tumblr, Grace fired back with, “Now I have 800 likes on Facebook,” steeling herself for a sobering dose of reality. At another juncture in the set, announcing that she wanted to perform a cover, she turned over the decision to the listeners, giving them a choice between two songs (an inviting way to enlist audience engagement). Collectively, they settled on Sam Smith’s “I’m Not The Only One,” which proved to be a good vehicle for her voice.

Summary: Malia Grace is a polished performer who is comfortable on stage. Though a slight scrappiness is part of her persona, showing more vulnerability behind that persona would line up more accurately with the obvious pain the lyrics address.

The Players: Malia Grace, vocals, piano; Hannah Hagar, guest vocalist; Hunter Hoffman, guest vocalist.

Photo by Mark Shiwolich

Venue: Rockwood Music Hall
City: New York, NY
Contact: [email protected]
Web: maliagrace.com

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