“Live Volume One”/”Live Volume Two” Review in Rootstime (Belgium)

DELTA MOON — LIFE’S A SONG/TURN AROUND WHEN POSSIBLE — LIVE – VOLUMES 1 & 2
By Eric Schuurmans
 

(Translated from Dutch)

Delta Moon is, by definition, the guitar tandem of Tom Gray and Mark Johnson. Tom Gray was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Virginia and Georgia, but his real home was always the family farm in the mountains of North Carolina. In the beginning of the ’80s Gray was keyboardist and singer of a rock band called “The Brains” that made two albums (Mercury Records). Later Gray started to play steel guitar. In 2008 Gray was named “Blues Songwriter or the Year” by the American Roots Music Association. Gray’s songs have been recorded by Cyndi Lauper (including the hit “Money Changes Everything” ), Manfred Mann, Carlene Carter, Bonnie Bramlett and others. Mark Johnson grew up in a trailer park in Ravenna, Ohio. Mark learned a love of music from his uncle, who was the owner of a record store. While he was in school, Mark played guitar in different groups. In the early ‘90s Johnson moved to Atlanta, where he formed a group with the name The Rude Northerners. In that period he became obsessed with the bottleneck slide guitar.

Delta Moon as a group is a strong mix of characters and sounds. Tom Gray and Mark Johnson met for the first time by coincidence in a music store in Atlanta. Gray attempted at that meeting to sell Johnson a Dobro (resonator) guitar that was in his van. (Note: ‘Dobro’ stood for Dopyera Brothers, the Slovak-American founders of the company — where “dobro” means “good” in the Slovak language). The sale didn’t go through but had a sequel, because they exchanged their phone numbers. The result was that they began regularly playing together in clubs and parties around Atlanta. Mark Johnson proposed the group name “Delta Moon” after visiting the birthplace of Muddy Waters in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The duo became a full blues band with the addition of a rhythm section and began playing larger clubs and festivals. In 2003 the band won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. With a boost from this award, the band was able to tour in the US, Canada and Europe. In 2007, the bassist Franher Joseph came to the group and later drummer Marlon Patton. And now this is the line-up of the band.

In 2012, in different locations in the States, Delta Moon recorded a live album: Life’s A Song – LIVE Volume One. Fourteen recordings are included from three performances in different locations, in November and December. Except for three covers, all the songs are original numbers from the duo. After this American tour and the release of this album, the band toured Europe in the spring of 2013. This resulted in a live album: Turn Around When Possible – LIVE Volume Two.

 

On this live album you hear a relaxed band, with obviously a lot of slide guitar and the necessary jams typical of these types of shows. What is unfortunate about this album is that there is little left of the spoken intros between numbers, which also display a part of the atmosphere of the band and the audience. An exception to the rule is track seven, “Goin ‘ Down South”, a cover of a song by RL Burnside. Almost the longest track on the album, it is also the best track to represent the band and contains, for me, a great drum solo by Darren Stanley. Absolutely not to be missed! Of course there are many pluses. One of the major advantages is that the sound recordings (including the later mix) are well done. The individual instruments are very easy to hear and differentiate. As a result, the live character of the images is enhanced. Other song highlights include (the choice is difficult and certainly personal) “Hell Bound Train”, “Clear Blue Flame” and “I’m A Witness”. All the songs sound very authentic, coherent and unforced. The deep, gruff voice of Tom Gray reaches the level of heat of someone like Tony Joe White, and two (count them) slide guitars sound like one. In Durham, North Carolina, guest Mel Melton’s harmonica is a beautiful thing on “Black Coffee” and the great long cover of James Moore’s “Shake Your Hips”. Just for the intro of this song you have to buy this album. Class! Listen to this album as a whole, and enjoy the fourteen songs, or one hour and fifteen minutes of Delta grooves.

Delta Moon’s Live Volume 2 contains only three numbers that also appear on the U.S. live tracks: “Black Coffee”, “Get Gone” and “Goin’ Down South”. Fred McDowell is featured on both albums, but with different songs. Mississippi Fred McDowell (1904-1972) was a North Mississippi hill country blues singer and guitarist. He wrote great songs like “You Got To Move”, a popular song that has already been covered by many other musicians (such as Eric Bibb and the Rolling Stones). The surprise on this album is the cover of rockers Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s “Nightclubbing” (from the first solo album of Iggy Pop, The Idiot, 1977). The song is a slow blues with the rhythm section of Joseph and Stanley providing heavy nocturnal grooves with a psychedelic atmosphere and extra color. In itself, this is indeed not a usual choice for the band, because this song was written in the beginning of the period when Bowie lived in Berlin (“Berlin Trilogy”). And then to finish the album, Tom Gray sings “That’s It”, closing the fifty-five minutes of recordings. In short,Delta Moon is a quartet that sounds as authentic as the deep South of the U.S.A. Double recommended (even for those without GPS)!

 

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