By Bill Wasserzieher
To someone flipping through the discs in a record store, it might seem like Delta Moon is just another bar band playing the clichés. Besides the band’s name (and they’re based in Atlanta, not the Mississippi Delta), they have albums with such titles as Hell Bound Train, Goin’ Down South, Howlin’, and the latest, Black Cat Oil. But if the band’s nomenclature seems a trifle overly familiar, their sound resonates with a fair amount of individual distinction — despite featuring two lead guitarists; they don’t sound like that other Georgia-based band, the one with Allman and Betts.
For one thing, Delta Moon’s Tom Gray and Mark Johnson both play slide, whereas Dickie left the slide work to Duane until the latter’s death. Plus until recently Delta Moon tended to favor a female vocalist (first Gina Leigh, then Kristin Markiton) to front the band. But Gray and Johnson have had center-stage to themselves for the last couple of albums. Gray wrote all but one of the tracks on Black Cat Oil, the outsider being Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Write Me a Few of Your Lines,” which closes the disc.
Gray, who used to lead a find new-wave combo called the Brains and wrote a gem of accurate cynicism titled “Money Changes Everything” (which became a hit for Cyndi Lauper), has lost none of his serrated edge as a composer, despite a bout with cancer. There’s a song about seeking quasi-redemption from a “Neon Jesus” outside a mission, about drinking applejack and watermelon wine with a bull-legged dog for company, about wanting to put one’s personal blues in a bottle and lock ’em up for good, and about the jittery redemption of a cuppa black coffee in the morning. Gray’s gruff-voiced delivery keeps his lyrics sounding emotionally real rather than just generic word-craft lacquered onto riffs.
But it is his and Johnson’s telepathically connected slide guitars, along with solid stick work from Marlon Patton and bassist Franher Joseph, that make Black Cat Oil such an enjoyable and fast 45 minutes. In a time when many CDs seem to go on too long, they get it right.