Christopher Malpass doesn’t mind when a listener remarks that the country music he and his brother play has an older sound to it: That’s sort of the point.
That older sound — guitar- and fiddle-driven, two-part vocal harmonies, instrumental proficiency, songs that tell stories — comes naturally to brothers raised on the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Sr., Dolly Parton and The Louvin Brothers while growing up in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and listening to their grandfather’s records.
Add to that their early career experience of touring with Haggard for seven years, then with Don Helms, who played pedal steel in Williams Sr.’s band, and one sees they come by it honestly and unapologetically.
In a time when “traditional country” gets broadly interpreted by whomever wants to claim it, the Malpass Brothers play a form of it that’s undeniable. Waco fans can hear for themselves when they bring their six-piece band, which includes fiddle and steel guitar, to the Waco Hippodrome on Saturday night.
“We try to take people back. We do some of the old songs and some of our originals as well,” said Chris, speaking from his home in Goldsboro. It’s not just the music, but the look, too: high hair, big sideburns and flashy suits that recall when Nashville tailor Nudie Cohn outfitted many Music City stars.
Taylor, the younger brother, plays lead guitar, Chris acoustic, and when it comes to singing, it’s Taylor who’s usually up top on the tenor line. Chris takes the lead on songwriting, but that’s about as far as Chris can deconstruct the Malpass sound, which shows flashes of rockabilly, bluegrass and honky-tonk. “There’s no real recipe to it. We live and breathe that music,” he said.
What does help is a sibling who’s on the same musical wavelength and honest when something’s not right. “With him being my brother, he’ll tell me I suck,” Chris laughed.
As the Malpasses started to build a reputation for their musicianship, some in the industry suggested they might modernize their sound and reach a broader audience. The brothers, however, opted to stick with what they liked and were good at, even if they might miss the top rung of commercial success. “I would rather be happy and doing what I love for a living,” Chris said. “It’ll pay off.”
It seems to be paying off already. They’ve performed across the country; shared stages with Doc Watson, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson and Rhonda Vincent; recorded three albums, including 2017’s “Live at the Paramount Theatre”; have done four overseas tours; and played Ryman Auditorium — holy ground for any country heritage sound — and RFD-TV’s “Larry’s Country Diner” several times.
In fact, the Malpass Brothers’ regular trips to Nashville have led them to contemplate relocating there, but so far the pull of home has been stronger. “It’s crossed our minds before . . . but we might as well leave from North Carolina, Nashville’s growing so much,” Chris said.
Home vs. the big city? Sounds like a vintage country song.