Lois Mahalia | Credit: Courtesy

It’s more than fair to say that the prized Santa Barbara-based singer Lois Mahalia is no stranger in this town, and that’s a lucky thing for fans of her impressive and innately soulful musical voice. Just in recent months, Mahalia has shown up on such local stages as SOhO, with Luis Munoz and elsewhere, at the Alcazar, and in the hip, humble setting of Roy with collaborator Zach Madden — also behind their band State Flower.

Her musical resume has also included high profile background singer gigs, with Joe Walsh, Kenny Loggins, and the late Joe Sample. She has found a place in the field so eloquently documented in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, and it may be time to move up about 20 feet.

It’s time for a bright spotlight in Mahalia’s general direction. In a critical moment in her evolving musical life as a leader, Mahalia has just released what is, by far, her finest recording to date, the album Chasing the Sun. As suggested on the album’s first single, “Buttercup,” something bold and old/new school this way has come. With this album, Mahalia has created a polished but emotionally nuanced song set of R&B/pop originals, ranging from the opening statement of “Sacred Ground” to the moving balladry of “Gravity and Love” and “I Can Breathe,” the sweet eco-coo of “Little Blue Marble,” and the driving funk-rocking of the closer “Lightning Bolt,” on which Mahalia cuts loose with her natural flow of steamy soul riffs we know are always beneath the controlled surface of her vocal presence.

Mahalia’s official album release party lands at SOhO on Saturday, August 19, a show well worth catching.

She’s in good creative company here: the dynamic production values were channeled into being by longtime Santa Barbara studio master Thom Flowers, who served as producer, engineer, guitarist and more. Flowers was the funnel through which Mahalia did sessions in Los Angeles’s legendary Sunset Sound, with such luminaries as drummer Steve Ferrone and former Journey-man lead singer Steve Perry as her own “20 feet from stardom” harmony singer. (Flowers worked with Perry on his 2018 comeback album Traces).

Locally, Mahalia worked with Madden, Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Dean Dinning, well-established session guitarist Tariqh Akoni, and others, in such 805 studios as Beagle and Goodland Sound.

To catch a different musical angle on Mahalia — who was named after queenly gospel singer Mahalia Jackson — make a Sunday morning trek to Hope Church (held at La Cumbre Jr. High School), where the singer can be found tapping into her gospel/spiritual music side when she’s in town — she returned from one of her periodic jaunts to perform in Italy this summer. In effect, at Hope, Mahalia and band (including her gifted brother William Fiedtkou on keyboards) cook up a mini-concert with a fine sound system, as they did last Sunday, leading the congregation and luring our attentions with stirring contemporary gospel songs, with the singer stretching out in the margins.

As inspiring musical events go, the Sunday morning session is one of the best-kept musical “secrets” in town. After Saturday night’s album release soiree, catch the Sunday morning component at Hope Church. In the classic tradition of R&B musicians straddling the spiritual/secular line, Mahalia pays respects to the gospel truth of the roots of pop music as we know it.

To the Great Basement in the Sky

A musical king has died, long live the king Robbie Robertson. And he will live on, through the agency of his songbook for the great American The Band (make that great band from “the Americas,” being largely comprised of Canadians). J.R. Robertson’s superlative body of songs and the general vibe he co-created with The Band, and its magical chemistry with the triple-promise of singers Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel, is unparalleled in pop/rock/borrowed roots music annals, from the masterpiece Music from Big Pink forward. I just want to know where, in the current celebration of the Band’s greatest hits, is the love for the countless “deep cut” gems, including one of my favorites, “Jawbone?”

Songwriting mastery aside, Robertson remains underrated as a masterful guitar stylist, he of honest, yearning and blissfully rough-hewn solos and fills. Check out, for instance, his masterpiece solos in “It Makes No Difference,” “Life is Carnival,” or “Jemimah Surrender,” to cite a few sizzlers.

Artistically, Robertson somewhat lost his way after The Band adventure had its last waltz, and he literally went Hollywood, cooking up music for Scorsese (including one in the can, for the forthcoming Killers of the Flower Moon), and creating occasional and somewhat interesting solo albums. From a professional standpoint, he found his way, but the enduring legacy of music from The Band was something mystical and unrivaled, an impossible act to follow. Final thought, for now: check out “Jawbone,” which also features one of those mangled beauties of a guitar solo.


Speaking of music with some link — however cheeky — to churchiness and Sundays, Father John Misty (a.k.a. the smart and ironically charismatic-machine Josh Tillman), a part-time local these days, outdid himself at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday. Check out Leslie Dinaberg’s review here.

This week’s Bowl roster features Young the Giant, on its promotional tour for the new album American Bollywood, on Friday, August 18. It’s a busy weekend over at the Lobero, between Saturday’s return of swampy-blues hero Tab Benoit and a special David Crosby tribute night, “Stand Up and Be Counted,” on Sunday, featuring Crosby’s last band and guests Shawn Colvin, Colin Hay and Richard Page. For your country music fix, head over the hill to the Chumash Casino, where Chris Young does his particular twang thing on Saturday.


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