After eight years and almost a thousand gigs, Mahalia Barnes is releasing her debut album, Mahalia Barnes + The Soul Mates Volume 1.
The eldest daughter of singer Jimmy Barnes, Mahalia has been obsessed with soul music since her teens. However, being the daughter of Australia's most popular singer presents its own set of problems.
"That's why I have taken my time," says Mahalia, now in her early twenties. "I needed to make sure I had the sound that I wanted and that I could make an album that's not just like Dad would make or like anyone else would make."
For the past decade she has been singing with the Jimmy Barnes band as a back-up and featured vocalist. Then, about eight years ago she started doing her own gigs in soul and jazz clubs around Sydney.
"It took me a while to learn how to do shows by myself," says Mahalia. "That's been a really important lesson for me as far as having the freedom to do what I want."
Through those club shows she established her own network of musicians.
"There's a core group of people I used for this album," explains Mahalia. "Dave Hibbard plays drums, Mark Lizotte (aka Diesel) played all the guitars, Ben Rodgers plays bass. I had Clayton and Lachlan Doley swapping between organ, Wurlitzer, Clavinet and piano. Dad(Jimmy) plays tambourine and shakers over the whole album and I got him to sing b.vs on a track or two."
"Then there's the singers; Juanita Tippins who has been singing with me for the last ten years, along with Darren Percival, Gary Pinto and Tina Harrod who is also one of my favourite singers of all time. Jade MacRae came in and sang on a few things and helped me write a couple of songs for the album."
There is also the fantastic horn section comprising Andy Bickers, Anthony Kable and Matt Ottignon, who feature on several songs. Jak Housden (who plays on "We're Still Friends") and several others make small guest appearances all over this record.
Mahalia co-produced the album with James Freeman. "We wanted it real old-school sounding," she said. The blueprint for the project was an oldschool '60s style revue.
"I always loved those soul revues where you choose songs for the build of the set," she explains. "It's alright to do your own interpretations of other people's songs. I was lucky that Liberation allowed me to make that sort of an album."
Mahalia wrote for the album -including the song "It's A Shame" with Jade MacRae. "Jade used to do a lot of jazz and soul gigs," Mahalia recalls. "A few of my friends said, 'you guys are going to love each other. You really like the same sort of music and you're both tiny little brown people with curly hair who like cooking.' We had a lot of the same interests. We started doing gigs together about a week after we met."
"Never Walk Away" was written for Jimmy ("I told him I was taking it back," she laughs) and "Wasted" written with Gary and Brad Pinto has been a part of the live set for years, as well as "Good Friend" written with Clayton Doley. Both "Is This A Love" (co written with Ben Rodgers) and "It's A Shame" were written just before recording commenced.
The cover versions are from a wide variety of sources. There's the country standard "You Are My Sunshine". "I found all these different versions of the song Aretha, Ray Charles, Ike and Tina," she says. "So I thought I'd do my version. It was really fun. Then there's the Ike and Tina showstopper "Proud Mary" alongside obscure tracks such as Betty Davis' "Steppin in Her I Miller Shoes", Donny Hathaway's "We're Still Friends" and the Ikettes' "Just Not Ready for Love".
In 2006, Mahalia released her first EP, "Live At the Basement". It was followed in 2007 with another EP, "Mahalia Barnes + the Soul Mates". Most of the time in between she has been on the road with her band and Jimmy.
"In the last year I've done supports for Lionel Richie, James Morrison and the Roots - completely different styles but they've gone down really well," she says "but I've really enjoyed doing a whole bunch of shows in smaller places like the Night Cat in Melbourne where I've invited down other singers and done a revue type show and they've all gone really well. So hopefully there isn't a venue that won't ask us back when we take the new album on the road
The release of her debut album is the next stage in Mahalia Barnes' stepping out. "It's not the hits and it's not just one genre of soul, it's not Motown or Stax - it's just songs that have influenced me that I really like," she explains. "The album has come out of me and what I do."
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