Jessica Malone | Gold Flowers of the West | Review

Article Contributed by Gabriel David Barkin | Published on Saturday, June 22, 2024

Jessica Malone has been honing her singing and songwriting craft for the past decade, hewing close to her Northern California home in both body and musical spirit. On Gold Flowers of the West, her second full-length studio album, Malone farms her California foothill roots (notwithstanding occasional lyrical calls to sisterly locales like Montana and Carolina) and serves up a variety of tasty fruits that have sprung from her labor. Indeed, Gold Flowers is awash with a flavor palette that evokes rolling foothills studded with poppy fields.

Gold Flowers of the West (released independently by Jessica Malone Music) will be available in "hard copy" at Malone's live shows and also on her website beginning June 27. Streaming platforms will drop the album beginning on July 13.

Jessica Malone and Nat Keefe

Produced by Nat Keefe (Hot Buttered Rum, Beatmower), the songs on Gold Flowers alternate fairly regularly between jazzy soul (a la Norah Jones) and California country folk, a genre pioneered most notably by Kate Wolf. The overlap in the Venn diagram of these songs is, of course, Malone's voice. She's equally at home in both venues.

Jessica with Nat Keefe in the studio

Malone says the collection of songs on Gold Flowers (all original compositions) "represents who I am and where I came from in a big way." There are songs about nature, about traveling through redwood groves and along mountainsides, and about what Malone calls "both sides of love." Producer Keefe sums up the subject material as Malone's "soulful understanding of the wide spectrum of life, the highs, the lows, the blues, the joy."

"This album was a winding road; it took a while to accomplish," the singer recalls. The tracks were recorded in Oakland, CA over 18 months ago in 2022. A few of the songs had appeared on a live album in 2018, long before they were ever recorded in the studio. Most of the music, however, was written post-pandemic. The pandemic also gave Malone an opportunity to work with new musicians, as her old bandmates had moved away during the music world's unfortunate hiatus.

Jessica Malone and Hattie Craven

She'd never worked with horns before, so that was new too. Producer Sacha Müller initially introduced Malone to the idea of including a brass section on some of her tunes. Malone quickly warmed to the concept, and she set out to find some of the best musicians in the Sacramento music scene to add to her band. It was inspirational bringing sax, trumpet, and trombone on board. Malone told herself, "Let's go, my band has horns now!" She started writing a bit more with a larger sound in mind.

Jessica Malone with Eric Yates and Nat Keefe

Malone released "Sweet Sunlight," the first song on the album, shortly after it was recorded in 2022. A sweet soul horn intro by Justin Au (trumpet), Brandon Au (trombone), and Byron Colborn (saxophone) leads into a rolling melody that sets the tone for the album in tandem with the chorus lyric: "I've got no reason to complain." Harmonies croon soft "oohs" in the background, and Malone promises that, "We'll watch our troubles roll away." A bright and cheerful sax solo underscores that promise. "Sweet Sunlight" is buoyant and bucolic, setting the tone for the music to follow.

Next up is the title track. A fiddle intro by Giorgi Khokhobashvili (the only musician in Malone's current band who was with her before the pandemic) leads into a soft, sittin'-on-a-front-porch verse. But then the chorus kicks up a storm, adding a toe-tapping backbeat to sell the song's nostalgic urgency: "The coast she cries out to me, anytime I stay away too long." Khokhobashvili's fiddle solo takes the driver's seat for a stretch and keeps the music moving forward at a clip – but at the end, Malone takes back the wheel and coasts into mellow gear.

Jessica Malone and Nat Keefe

Throughout Gold Flowers, the accompanying musicians give center stage to Malone, albeit with several bars here and there to echo her melodies with solo runs. Guest appearances include Joe Craven on mandolin (David Grisman Quintet, Garcia and Grisman) and Keefe's Hot Buttered Rum bandmates Eric Yates (Dobro, banjo) and Bryan Horne (bass). Harmonies by Ruby Jaye, Hattie Craven, Rachel Tietjen, Saeeda Wright, and Delessa McDuffey provide colorful shadows, lifting Malone's voice without overpowering her unique timbre.

"Lonesome in Montana" is a fun bluegrassy stomp that cruises at 80 mph along a lonely stretch of Big Sky blacktop. A playful interlude with dueling trombone and fiddle in the middle allows the song to take a breath and enjoy the view at a roadside rest stop. Then it's back to the highway, pedal to the metal, a playful growl in Malone's voice during the final chorus:

Lonesome in Montana

Yea she’s out there on her own

Best part about her leavin’

Gonna be the day she comes back home

Occasionally, Malone's contralto finds equal footing straddling jazz and folk. "Mountainside," the album's penultimate cut, has a midtempo soulful lilt punctuated by Yates' dobro and Khokhobashvili's fiddle in a musical interlude. Malone's vocal melody here is light and memorable, especially when she sings fun lyrics like, "I couldn't tell what you were saying, but it sounded cool."

Jessica Malone

If Norah Jones is indeed an influence (Malone namechecks Jones, Nicki Bluhm, and Joni Mitchell in her website bio), her presence is felt most strongly on "If It Ends." Malone's phrasing on the opening lyric – "Don't say that it doesn't matter if it ends" – tracks jazzily with the countrified guitar tremolo in this spare arrangement. We're definitely in "both sides of love" country here.

"Carolina's Calling" is another countrified rapid-fire romp. Malone is at ease in front of a world-class bluegrass band, and she shares the spotlight on this song with Khokhobashvili's barnstorming fiddle solo. It's the only song on the album that appears to be neither about nor nostalgic for the Golden State – and even so, Malone can't resist dropping in a reference to "drifting … up and down the west coast." She may have gone to Carolina in her mind, but she's still got her heart in California.

Jessica Malone with Eric Yates and Nat Keefe

California is certainly a strong theme on Golden Flowers – but it's really Malone's voice that binds all the songs. "She is such a damn good singer," Keefe says. "It opened up possibilities for the recording process because she can sing an astounding keeper take every time. This allowed us to do a lot of things live and in conversation with the instrumental performance that a lesser singer wouldn’t be able to do."

Malone returned the love: "Nat is such a wonderful person. He was such a visionary in the studio. He gave me so many great ideas that shaped my songs in ways that I hadn't thought of."

Hattie Craven & Jessica Malone | Nat Keefe Carnival 2022

"Bloom" closes the record with more horns and an upbeat N'Awlins rhythm driven by Jaye's boogie-woogie piano. The words are equally upbeat:

Grass is greener on this side of the fence

I’m finally living in the present tense

By some measure, this song is the biggest departure from the musical NorCal landscape traversed by Malone on Gold Flowers of the West. Even so, the closing line on the album ties a neat California wheatgrass bow to sum up the entire album:

We're all doin' it for love.

Hard to argue against that message.

Jessica Malone is appearing at two album release parties in the coming weeks:

• Sweetwater Music Hall, Mill Valley CA, Thursday June 27, 2024

• The Sofia, Sacramento CA, Saturday July 13, 2024

For tickets, other tour dates, and more information, visit

Jessica Malone - Gold Flowers Of The West

Gold Flowers of the West
Track List:

01 Sweet Sunlight
02 Gold Flowers of the West – LIVE ALBUM 2018
03 Unconditional Love
04 Lonesome in Montana – LIVE ALBUM 2018
05 If It Ends
06 Love Like That
07 Carolina's Calling
08 Sorrow & Joy
09 Mountainside
10 Bloom