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Delta Moon – Cabbagetown
By Tom Clarke
Some 18 years ago, when slide guitarist Mark Johnson witnessed a big yellow orb rising over Muddy Waters’ cabin in Mississippi, he knew he had the name of his new band—Delta Moon. For a group entrenched in organic blues to have developed such a singular, recognizable sound took major talent, vision, and determination. Delta Moon began as an acoustic-based trio featuring Johnson and fellow dazzling slide guitarist, Tom Gray. Time and a shuffled lineup has taken them to Cabbagetown, and a funny thing happened along the way. Tightening their model resulted in fine expansions in style.
Singer/bassist Franher Joseph and drummer Marlon Patton play rhythms that can support anything, while Johnson and Gray go to town and then some. The utterly infectious opener, “Rock and Roll Girl,” finds them in heartland rock mode, Johnson cruising on lap steel while Gray sings autobiographically of his life, and celebrates his better half. “The Day Before Tomorrow” mines similar territory, with a nifty assertion around the timeworn message that “Today’s the day—live it like it’s your last.” “Just Lucky I Guess,” next, works a deep blues furrow, the simple melody punctuated by sweet acoustic, and stinging National Steel slide. Gray wrote all three, and not only does he have a way with a pen, he sings in an abraded, but very tuneful set of pipes, the gruff nature perfect no matter the context of the tune.
One of the biggest advances in the band’s gamut, arrives with “Refugee,” a full band collaboration that lopes along and paints the pictures of three harrowing experiences in the victim’s “voices,” complete with background cries, gospel-style. Good God, it makes you throb, and think. On every one of Delta Moon’s eight studio albums and three live ones, there’s at least one “mooned-up” old blues. Here it’s Son House’s “Death Letter,” done animated, Joseph’s bass vocal and the harp by friend Jon Liebman adding great effects. Somehow, through all the moods, Delta Moon albums have an upbeat way about them. This new Moon shines in that way and much more.
Delta Moon – Cabbagetown
By Philip Verhaege (4 ½)
Delta Moon confirmed again and again. The slide guitar has the upper hand and goes perfectly with the acoustic strings, pounding drums and rough voice.
The album “Cabbagetown” is the new project of the Atlanta-based blues and roots-rock band Delta Moon. It is the eighth release and the successor to the powerful and award-winning ‘Low Down’ from 2015. Besides Son House’s “Death Letter” all the other songs are original compositions. After a long and very successful tour in Europe last year the band plunged into Marlon Patton’s home studio. Delta Moon — Tom Gray (vocals, lap steel guitar, keyboards, harmonica), Mark Johnson (guitar, banjo, backing vocals), Franher Joseph (bass, backing vocals) and drummer Marlon Patton — won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2003. Since then, the band has worked hard. The release opens with the autobiographical rocker song “Rock And Roll Girl”. The hypnotic guitar riffs are directly supported by the typical lap steel, ehe trademark of the group. The acoustic-driven groove of “The Day Before Tomorrow” even has an alt-country abandon. The mandolin and lap steel arrangements of “Just Lucky I Guess” bring us to the love song “Coolest Fools”. The modern “Refugee” is a map of the world problems. After the refugees Gray gets behind the keys, driving “Mad About You” and the swampy beats of “Death Letter”. The Delta shuffle ’21st Century Man’ gives us a satirical look. But it gets really fun with the inspired “Cabbagetown Shuffle”. The bottleneck slide guitar and a southern-sounding steel guitar are the perfect duo. The closing “Sing Together” again enjoy the shimmering slide guitar and pounding drumbeats. Looking good!
Delta Moon – Cabbagetown
Tom Gray and Mark Johnson first met several years ago in an Atlanta record store. Both slide guitarists, it took them a short time before forming a band, rather unusual for the presence of the double slide that still characterizes the group’s sound with Gray’s dirty voice. After winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2003, the band from Georgia started recording and traveling the world on a regular basis, complemented by Franher Joseph on bass since 2007 and the last arrival Marlon Patton on drums, owner of the studio where the new disc was recorded.
From their eponymous debut of 2002 the band has come to Cabbagetown through six studio albums and three live, achieving an admirable balance between the two slides (to which are added the lap steel and mandoguitar played by Johnson) that contribute to the Southern-flavored laid-back sound. Perhaps this aspect is a limit: Delta Moon sometimes seem a bit lazy, as students who do not apply 100% … are good, but could do better. The opening of “Rock And Roll Girl” is emblematic of the quartet’s sound: mid-tempo roots drawled (a little ‘to J. J. Cale), lap steel lazy and incisive at the same time, with female backing vocals. “The Day Before Tomorrow” picks up the pace, while maintaining the impression of laziness, while in the acoustic blues “Just Lucky I Guess” you appreciate the Haitian Joseph on double bass and Gray’s acoustic guitar accompanying Johnson’s pungent slide.
If “Coolest Fools” seems a bit obvious, it is balanced by the intense “Refugee”, a talking blues and denouncing the Night. “Mad About You” includes a solo Johnson all’elettrica. The only cover is Son H0use’s “Death Letter”, approached so unusually both from the musical point of view and the vocal. The mid-tempo blues of the “21st Century Man” and the instrumental hearted “Cabbagetown Shuffle” accompany us to the closing entrusted to the rhythmic roots-rock “Sing Together”. Another good album for a band that has just started yet another European tour that will pass through our country in the second decade of April.
Delta Moon – Cabbagetown
By Norman Darwen
This is the eighth studio album from this four-piece band out of Atlanta, Georgia, with nine original compositions and a throbbing cover of Mississippi Delta bluesman Son House’s classic ‘Death Letter’, more than a little different from other versions you may have heard. The band is more of a roots-rock outfit than a straight blues band, with an upbeat approach and an ability to consistently hit a seemingly effortless groove married to a memorable melody and catchy lyrics. Although the gospel based guitar instrumental ‘Cabbagetown Shuffle’ impresses mightily, a track like ‘Refugee’ probably doesn’t win them too many friends in the more conservative areas of the South.
The band’s sound is unusual in being based around the twin slide guitars and fine vocals of Tom Gray and Mark Johnson over a cooking rhythm section, occasionally aided by the deep vocals of bassist Franher Joseph. At 36 minutes, the running time may seem a little short, but when you have said all that is needed, there’s no need for more, is there?
Delta Moon – Cabbagetown
We are here with the band that won the International Blues Challenge in 2003, let’s not forget it. This quartet based in Atlanta has never failed its reputation. The proof comes with this eighth studio album. In addition to the rhythm section, Franher Joseph (bass and double bass) and Marlon Patton (drums and percussion) are the two founding members who attract attention because both are slide guitarists. They are Tom Gray and Mark Johnson. It should be noted that Tom Gray was voted Blues lyricist of the year in 2008 by the American Roots Music Association. Nine original compositions and a cover of ‘Death Letter’ by Son House, interpreted in a hypnotic and modern way, appear on this CD which debuts with ‘Rock And Roll Girl’, a song that rocks, but without any hysteria. With ‘The Day Before Tomorrow,’ the next track, we listen to a rhythmic ballad as CCR knew how to do. ‘Just Lucky I Guess’ is an acoustic piece, with double bass and always the slides and voice of Tom Gray, rough as sandpaper. A powerful song that comes close to the desert blues, ‘Refugee’, sees three singers succeed each other: Tom Gray, the beautiful bass voice of Franher Joseph and that of Kyshona Armstrong, backup vocalist on other songs. A country-blues instrumental accompanied by a little harmonica and double bass, ‘Cabbagetown Shuffle’, takes us gently towards the end of the album where the brilliant ‘Sing Together’ positively and enthusiastically urges us to replay this album again and again. A beautiful record to accompany the spring.
LANDSLIDE RECORDS 12017
ROCK AND ROLL GIRL–THE DAY BEFORE TOMORROW–JUST LUCKY I GUESS–COOLEST FOOLS–REFUGEE–MAD ABOUT YOU–DEATH LETTER–21ST CENTURY MAN–CABBAGETOWN SHUFFLE–SING TOGETHER
One of the really cool things about Atlanta-based blues quartet Delta Moon is the guitar tandem of Tom Gray and Mark Johnson, each of whom trade vocals and guitar parts throughout their latest set for Landslide Records, “Cabbagetown.” Franher Joseph is on bass, and Marlon Patton is on drums as the fellows romp thru nine originals and one really sweet cover of a mix of blues, roots, and even a touch of gospel.
The biography of many a rocker is laid out in the opening cut, “Rock And Roll Girl,” where “I tried to fit in, but I never really did,” so “I joined a rock and roll band!” Mark is on lap steel on this one. The age-old adage of “nothing beats a failure but a try” is the theme of The Coolest Fools,” with those ultra-cool twin guitars doin’ their collective thing! Society’s obsession with gadgetry and instant gratification is the story of the “21st Century Man,” while Marlon’s uptown funk backbeat puts a sho’ nuff new spin on Son House’s ol’ “Death Letter-now, how do you reckon that letter read?,” with well-placed harp from Jon Liebman.
We had two favorites, too. Undoubtedly, the set’s most topical and powerful cut is “Refugee.” A brooding, thunderous beat sets the backdrop for a series of spoken-word verses from the band members, as each boldly represents members of an oppressed society seeking safe haven in a strange land. And, just as sure as the sunrise promises the salvation of a new day, the lively instrumental, “Cabbagetown Shuffle,” is a refreshing blast of Delta-fied, old-time gospel, with Tom on Hawaiian guitar and Mark on slide.
Delta Moon won the IBC’s in 2003, and Tom Gray was named the American Roots Music Association Blues Songwriter of the Year in 2008. Unique dual slide guitar arrangements and strong songwriting define “Cabbagetown” as a fine listen, indeed! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.
Delta Moon – Cabbagetown
CD Review – March 2017
Blue Barry – Smoky Mountain Blues Society
Following up on their blues award winning CD “Low Down,” Delta Moon has another thriller out, their eighth CD, “Cabbagetown.” It just follows right in the steps of “Low Down.” This four-piece Atlanta based blues group has toured the United States, Canada and just finished a European tour. They won the 2003 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, and have been touring ever since. With two slide players you might think they would get in each others way. Not the case. Tom Gray; vocals, lap steel, guitar, keys, and harmonica, works perfectly with Mark Johnson on guitar, banjo, backing vocals and bottleneck guitar. “Cabbagetown Shuffle,” is proof of that. Tom wrote fours songs, he and the band wrote all of the rest, except for Son House’s “Death Letter Blues.” Their rendition of this old classic is wonderful with Jon Liebman adding some great harmonica. Their previous release “Low Down,” won the best blues record of the year by both Downbeat and Blues Music Magazine. I have seen them several times, and they are just killer. With Franher Joseph on bass and backing vocals, and Marion Patton on drums this band brings the Delta to your home. Beautiful slide licks, long, soft, slippery and not too much. Great vocals, with a little salt and mud. You can hear every instrument. It’s just flat out good music. If you are a slide player you want to hear this. You will get lots of ideas from it. Why not go to www.deltamoon.com and see for yourself. You can also find examples on you tube. They have even been featured on television shows such as Showtime, Lifetime, and the Food Network! A veteran, well-traveled blues band, that knows what they are doing. I highly recommend this CD. Give them a listen. If you haven’t seen them, start looking for them near your town. One of my favorite groups. One love, blue barry – smoky mountain blues society.
Delta Moon — Cabbagetown
The Atlanta quartet that goes by the poetic name,Delta Moon, has been playing together for a number of years. While they have crisscrossed the country, and taken Europe by storm (they’ll be there until early May, before returning to the States), they’ve also found time to record its eighth studio album. Cabbagetown is a worthy follow up to the 2015 release Low Down and the mix of serious blues with gritty rock should make this title a favorite.
The four musicians who make up Delta Moon are Tom Gray on vocals, lap steel guitar, guitar, keyboards, and he even plays harp on one song; Mark Johnson also supplies vocals as well as guitar, mandoguitar, and lap steel guitar on the first song; Franher Joseph adds vocals as well as bass and upright bass; and Marlon Patton plays drums and percussion. Special guests include Jon Liebman on harp for one song and backing vocals from Kyshona Armstrong and Susannah Masarie.
In addition, Gray writes four songs solo and co-writes another five with all of the members of the band. There is one cover which we will get to shortly.
First up is Rock And Roll Girl, an autobiographical song of the hold music can have on us. For many, we are content to watch from the audience, but others are driven to pick up instruments, learn how to play them, and the life takes them out on the road. It’s a fun song with some country blues overtones laid over a rock beat. I like the sound, the energy is manic, but be prepared, Delta Moon will not be shoehorned into one category exclusively.
They follow up with The Day Before Tomorrow, a philosophical song with what I believe is Gray’s raspy voice delivering a solid performance over some very good guitar licks. Again, it’s not necessarily everyone’s idea of the blues, but the song has a solid base and the rock is very much roots oriented. It’s stripped down and really delivers.
Just Lucky I Guess is much more in the traditional blues vein. Steel guitars and a steady drum beat bring us in to the world of the song. I like the lyrics a lot and the song will be getting airplay on Time For The Blues as well as most every other blues show around. They follow up with another quick song with a solid beat, Coolest Fools. It’s a good pairing of these songs together. Both are crowd pleasers with some good guitar work.
Delta Moon gets a little political with Refugee. Political in the sense of a social conscience. They explore the lives of several different refugees from all over the world. It’s a powerful song and the first that is credited to all four of the members of the band. It’s hard to listen to this song and not be moved by the plight of so many people.
The mood lightens considerably on Mad About You. The song is much more rock based, it has that feel of “California Cool” about it, but it is infinitely likeable and I caught a couple of blues purists nodding their head to the beat. That’s one great thing about Delta Moon, they can belt the blues with the best of ‘em, but they don’t shy away from exploring other sounds. This is a good example of that philosophy.
Son House’s Death Letter is the longest cut on the album, clocking in at just about six minutes while all the others fit comfortably in the three-and-a-half-minute neighborhood. For my money, it’s the best song on the album. They capture the pain in House’s classic and still manage to put their own stamp on it. While I tend to shy away from putting most longer songs on the show, I have no problem finding space for this one. It’s a great cover.
I like the song, 21st Century Man, a lot but I won’t be able to play it on the show as it contains one four-letter word that the FCC frowns on going out over the airwaves. Still, if you get this album, give it a listen as the lyrics are very strong and the song has a crazy beat to it. I would never consider censoring an artist’s right to free expression, but there are rules by which we have to abide. It’s brief and an integral part of the rhyme scheme. Just listen to it and make up your own mind. Personally, I liked the song…
The follow up with the instrumental Cabbagetown Shuffle. Apparently, the band began referring to the studio where they were recording the album as “Cabbagetown” due to the high number of vegetarian meals that they consumed during the process. For myself, I have no problems with vegetarians, hell, I’ve been known to consume my fair share as well. If that was the starting point for this lively number, I hope more artists will feast on those same vegetables.
They close the album with Sing Together, a small lesson in shared humanity. Why is it, even with common ancestry, we just can’t seem to get along. Maybe it’s just as simple as coming together and lifting our voices in song. It’s a great song to pair with Refugee, showing the darkest points of humanity with the light that just might get us through.
Delta Moon is a hard-working rocking blues band. You don’t get this good by just practicing in your garage once a week. They are constantly out on the road. If you take a look at their schedule on their website: http://deltamoon.com/ , you’ll see that they are all over the place. As of this writing they are touring Europe but should be back in time for the major festivals.
I even see one in North Carolina, so it may be time for a little road trip to check them out personally. If I get to do it, I’ll be sure to send you a report on how they do live.
In the meantime, please keep supporting blues and roots music and any live show that you come across. The world needs the music, and so do our souls.
Delta Moon’s Cabbagetown tour of Europe is about to enter its fifth week. So far the guys have played 20 dates in four countries, including a prison show and a live radio broadcast. Now they are taking a welcome break in Berlin for a few days before hitting the road and stage again.
The tour will wind up May 7 in Catania, Sicily. For more information, please see the calendar.
(Photo by Reinhard Pfetsch, Augsburger Allgemeine.)