Red Parlor Records
Take Creedence Clearwater Revival at their swampiest, stir in some extry R.L. Burnside-style raunch, a little bit o’ soul, a little gasoline shimmer, a layer of road dust, and a whole lot of life lived; feed the whole works through some vintage gear and don’t-fer-chrissakes polish it up too much … that’ll give you a glimmer of the sound of Atlanta, GA’s Delta Moon on their latest album, Black Cat Oil.
Allow me to make an admission at this point, boys and girls: I really hadn’t put an ear to Delta Moon’s music for a number of years – since co-founder/vocalist Gina Leigh left the band in 2004, to tell you the truth. I’m telling you that not to make any sort of statement about Delta Moon’s music since Leigh’s departure – only to point out that this album wasn’t necessarily a shoe-in for my attention.
And now please allow me to make a statement to go hand-in-hand with that admission: I’ve been missing out – big time – by not keeping up with Delta Moon over the last few years.
Leigh (a tiny white gal who sounded for all the world like a lusty black blues belter) might be long gone, but Black Cat Oil makes something clear that I’d forgotten: the heart and soul of this band has always been the greasy slide guitar work of original members Tom Gray and Mark Johnson. Yeah, you heard me right: a pair of the crazy buggers – Gray oftentimes wailing on the lap steel while Johnson tends to do his testifying with a slide on his finger. Masters at complementing each other, Johnson and Gray sometimes make it difficult to tell just who’s-doing-what, but that’s a nice problem to have.
It’s Gray who holds down the vocal chores these days – and you want to know something? He might not be a draw-off-and-let-fly bellower, but he sounds like what he is: a real-as-hell survivor (including a bad go-round with cancer recently) and a bluesman, through and through.
For Black Cat Oil, Delta Moon bassist Franher Joseph works the upright bass – the perfect voice behind and beneath Gary and Johnson’s guitars – while Marlon Patton plays a stripped-down drum kit. Between Joseph and Patten (Darren Stanley guests on drums for one tune) the groove created is as slinky as those guitars snapping and biting and growling out front. There’s more than enough oomph – and never too much. The band produced Black Cat Oil themselves and had a firm grip on how to get their sound down on tape. The result is an album that sounds and feels right here, right now – with no tricks and no fluff.
Dig the two guitars rubbing fenders on “Blues In A Bottle”; the trash-can-in-the-alley groove of the title cut; the city-night simmer of “Neon Jesus”. “Black Coffee” is a blues growler (everything growls; the damn drums growl, even); “Jukin’” is just plain cool – and “Applejack” is even cooler, courtesy of Patton’s funky-butted, laid-back-and-lazy drumming. Joseph’s bass channels Willie Dixon on “Sunshine”. And there’s a moment in “Walk Out In The River” – the rhythm hangs in mid-air and Gray’s guitar just aches – when it feels like the whole band takes a deep breath, squares their shoulders, and decides to keep on keeping on.
“You ain’t beat ‘til you say so,” sings Gray on “Down And Dirty” – and when he and Johnson tag-team the guitar break over top of Joseph and Patton’s a’wumpin’ and a’thumpin’, it’s obvious these guys are far from beat.
Delta Moon sounded real back when I first crossed paths with them. Time has made them even more so.