Reviewed by John Mitchell
Atlanta’s Delta Moon won the IBC in 2003 and have produced a steady flow of albums ever since. In their first incarnation they had a female singer alongside main writer and singer Tom Gray and I must confess that I have missed out on their more recent releases, so this is the first CD I have heard from the band without a female vocalist. That places a lot on Tom’s shoulders, but with his world-weary voice, clever songs and multi-instrumental talents (Tom plays lap-steel, guitar, key-boards and harp) he more than copes.
Long-time colleague Mark Johnson is on slide guitar and backing vocals and his dueling with Tom’s lap-steel is very much at the centre of the Delta Moon sound. Completing the lineup are Franher Joseph on bass and b/v’s and Marlon Patton on drums. Anna Kramer and Francine Reed add backing vocals to five tracks. Tom wrote seven of the tracks, two more are by Tom, Mark and Franher together, and there are three covers.
Opener “Wrong Side Of Town” typifies the DM sound with the two guitars playing off each other, Tom’s gruff voice delivering his own lyrics about the girl seeking thrills ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’. “Afterglow” is one of the two collaborations between Tom, Mark and Franher, a rhythmic tune with a modified Bo Diddley beat and some nice picking; the second joint effort is “Mean Streak” which opens with some melodic organ filling out the sound beneath the guitars. The lush sound belies the lyrics which are distinctly black in spirit: “You got a mean streak, running through and through; I got a mean streak, I’m just as mean as you”. The rest of Tom’s songs offer a wide variety: the jaunty “Nothing You Can Tell A Fool” advises us that “you can tell if a man is lying by the way he turns his head” while the short rocker “Open All Night” has a bubbly bass line with more of the band’s trade-mark dual slide playing. “Spark In The Dark” has a great core riff and a memorable chorus where Tom declares that “then there’s you, the only one who lights me up like a spark in the dark, when you do what you do”. The positive and upbeat “Mayfly” is country-flavoured with Anna’s gentle vocal support on the chorus whereas “Jelly Roll” has more definite blues DNA in the ample serving of slide work from both men. Closing track “Jacky Ray” is brooding in tone with Tom doubling up on organ and lap-steel and Mark producing some menacing chords on electric slide.
The three songs that DM have chosen to cover come from the top echelons of writers though not all necessarily associated with blues. Dylan’s “Down In The Flood” was reinvented a few years ago by Derek Trucks and here DM take another angle on the tune with a slightly funky feel that is increased with Francine’s backing vocals. Tom Waits’ “Lowdown” rocks along nicely with Tom’s organ again providing warmth to the production as Mark’s slide weaves its magic across the track. A genuine bluesman is Skip James and his “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” is played in acoustic style with a gentle brush on drums and some ethereal slide set against plucked guitar, Tom’s voice suiting the sorry tale perfectly.
There is plenty to enjoy on this album which is definitely worth seeking out. Good to reconnect with Delta Moon!