Life’s A Song Turn & Around When Possible
(Live: Volumes 1 & 2)
One of the many – many – cool things about Delta Moon is their ability to turn any ol’ place they so choose into a funky-assed ribs ‘n’ whiskey juke joint with a 1 AM vibe (never ominous; just cool and horny). It doesn’t matter what the address is – the south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line locales visited for the sets captured on Volume 1 of their live show series or the Meisenfrei Blues Club in Bremen, Germany (the setting for Volume 2) – the air is sweet and swampy and full of hoodoo and fine, fine grease.
What makes this so? Well, for one thing, when you play raw and real in the studio (witness last year’s Black Cat Oil for instance), then it makes that vibe all the more transportable to a live setting. The band’s sound – absolutely nailed on these recordings – is electric Delta blues boiled down to its pure essence: the drums ‘n’ bass rump sway of Darren Stanley and Franher Joseph; the nasty dual slide geetar weaves of Mark Johnson and Tom Gray; and Gray’s real-as-hell bluesman vocals (backed by Johnson and Joseph).
Burrow into those rhythms: Stanley’s straight-up drum work on tunes such as “Midnight Train” and “Shake ‘Em On Down” is bare-bones hotrod stuff, uncluttered and dead-nuts on, providing a titanium backbone for unlimited hip shaking by the rest of the band. And then there are times when Stanley whips out the gris-gris and a kerosene lantern, leading the way through the swampy, dark jams (dig the versions of “Goin’ Down South” on both of these albums, each one of them unique in the path it takes), a mix of hellhound-on-his-trail recklessness and groove perfection, working his kit hard but never showy. Right on his wingtip is Joseph, a master of finding the proper bass womp to power the beast along. Listen to his thick-and-gooey intro to “Stuck In Carolina”; the cool-jerk hesitation of “Lap Dog”; the highway rumble of “I’m A Witness”; the half-drunk midnight ramble of “Nightclubbing” – Joseph’s bass is always true to the tune’s setting.
And then there’s Tom Gray’s vocals: never a blues bellower, Gray delivers his testimonies in a bluesman-as-everyman manner, melding gruffness with soul; weary with cool; pain with a grin. When Gray tells you he “was drinking ‘Black Coffee’ just to stay alive,” you don’t doubt it for a minute; when he advises you that “‘Life’s A Song’, baby … sing it one time for me,” you’re gonna feel like trying your damnedest to do just that; and when he says it’s time to “just ‘Shake Your Hips’,” well, you’re gonna do that, too.
But the true deal-sealer on Delta Moon’s sound is the aforementioned six-string tag-team work between Gray’s lap steel and Johnson’s slide guitar. If you’re a picker yourself, you’ll love putting an ear to these tunes and separating Gray’s steel-and-nothing-but-the-steel tones from Johnson’s electric slide. And even if you’ve never held a guitar in your hands, it’s your ears and heart and soul that are going to be affected by Delta Moon’s double-barreled guitar attack. Gray is a master of swampy shimmer, while Johnson combines fingered passages of chugging rhythm figures with slippery leads. They circle around each other; they dance and bob; one tosses out an idea and the other flips it around and sends it roaring back; they team up to growl like a pair of angry gators; they soar off in opposite directions, circling back to meet mid-air in a wild-assed-but-beautiful display of formation flying. Think Duane and Dickey; think Derek and Warren; heck, you can even think Keith and Ronnie: Gray and Johnson have a little bit of all of them going on, plus a whole lot of their own sound.
You’ll notice I’ve been talking about these two albums as one – that’s on purpose, boys and girls. You think I can recommend one over the other? No way – what Delta Moon is offering up with the first two installments of their live series is one big pot of bluesy goodness.
You’ll want to eat the whole damn works.