By Dan Forte
Formed in Atlanta, Delta Moon released its self-titled blues-rock debut in 2002. While its first three albums featured Gina Leigh on vocals, Black Cat Oil (Red Parlor) is the band’s fourth CD since trimming down to a quartet. Dual slide guitarists Tom Gray and Mark Johnson are the group’s leaders and chief songwriters, with Gray’s gruff vocals sometimes recalling Tom Waits, as on his “Neon Jesus.”
Johnson’s slide is played bottleneck style, while Gray prefers lap steel. Gray has also penned songs recorded by Cyndi Lauper (“Money Changes Everything”), Manfred Mann, Carlene Carter and Bonnie Bramlett.
The album was engineered by Jeff Bakos, who has also worked with Shemekia Copeland, Sean Costello, Jimmy Herring, Jason and the Scorchers and Susan Tedeschi. The CD’s raw sound was achieved via vintage gear and recording techniques. It was recorded as live as possible, with only a few overdubs. Bassist Franher Joseph played upright this time out, and Marlon Patton’s small, basic drum kit was recorded with only three microphones — on the the kick, one overhead and one in the room.
The band’s best quality is that it’s definitely aware of the Delta and Chicago blues greats, like John Lee Hooker (the original “Jukin'”) and Fred McDowell (a kicking cover of “Write Me a Few Lines”), as well as early Fleetwood Mac, Canned Heat and Savoy Brown. But they aren’t slavishly tied to the idiom or its I-IV-V structure. The songs (refreshing originals like “Applejack” and “Sunshine”) come first; the blues element will always be present — in the rhythm section, in Gray’s delivery, and of course in the dual (and sometimes dueling) slide guitars.