The amazing fact about Malcolm Mckinney isn’t the way he melds the soothing emotings of James Taylor (think Sweet Baby Jane, 1970, Warner Bros. Records) with the classic tonal qualities of Burl Ives (think the Hank Cochran tune A Little Bitty Tear that Ives covered in 1961, Decca Records). No, more than anything else it’s that he’s pure Florida. Malcolm is actually so Florida that he’s the musical bookend to that great matriarch of Florida singer/songwriters Valerie C. Wisecracker. Together, they are no less than Ma and Pa Sunshine, with a tune to cover every part of the everglade state, from its sunrise to its sugarcane, it’s hideaways to its hurricanes. In fact, anyone thinking of holding a Florida music fest – whether to memorialize its Loxahatchee Lady Bug or to save its swamp gators – would surely want these two great artists gracing their stage.
I first saw Malcolm perform at Luna Start Café (North Miami) back in 2008 when he had recently recorded his masterful CD titled GHOSTS OF FLAGLER’S TRAIN. One listen to Malcolms CARRY ME BACK TO MY FLORIDA HOME and you’ll instantly hear its resonant symbiosis with Valerie’s Stop Runnin’ My Florida Home Into The Ground (2006, Slip Of The Tongue Productions). More amazingly is how this destined to be musical duo (at least in Dr. Bob’s heart and imagination) both capture Florida’s furious side. While Valerie’s Hurricane Blew (2006, ibid) is this genre’s classic, on his CD Malcolm covers three of the greatest storms to ever graze our state.
In the title track, THE GHOSTS OF FLAGLER’S TRAIN, he recounts what happened in the 1906 hurricane when the concrete and steel of the Florida East Coast Railway met rain and wind, while MIGHTY BIG BLOW TONIGHT tells of the deadliest storm in U.S. history, the 1928 hurricane that scoured Palm Beach County taking over 2500 souls away. However, of all these storm songs, BROTHER HEAR HOW THE WIND COMES IN is the most remarkable for it is here that Malcolm raises a heroic tribute to the U.S. veterans who perished during the 1935 Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys.
In U.S. history, the 1935 Labor Day hurricane is perhaps the final and most tragic step child of World War One. Many veterans were out of work during the great depression after the war, a time when the government was also withholding their war benefits and payments. The vets marched on Washington in the summer of 1932 and in response President Hoover sent active duty soldiers under the commands of Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton to disperse them at bayonet point, mindlessly killing men, women and children in the rout.
Later that year after Roosevelt was elected, the veterans’ complaints were quelled by shipping them off as cheap labor to serve Flagler in a final attempt to complete the overseas railway to Key West. Hundreds of these veterans perished there three years later when they were abandoned on the keys by both Flagler and the government during the third strongest hurricane ever measured. And Malcolm takes you there in BROTHER HEAR HOW THE WIND COMES.
Stunning yet true, this review cannot end on such a tragic note, and neither does Malcolm’s CD. With songs like SUNRISE LOXAHATCHEE and WE CAN’T LET THE EVERGLADES DIE, he shares the beauty and pride that Valerie captures in Oscar Thompson Was Everyone’s Friend and Chokoloskee, A Little Left Of The Law (2006, ibid). So you can’t help but see and hear that Florida’s matriarchal herald – Valerie C. Wisecracker – has a worthy patriarchal counterpart in Malcolm Mckinney and the GHOST’S OF FLAGLER’S TRAIN. Catch them together soon at a Florida song fest near you (I hope!).