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Italian Sign Language

People say Italians talk with their hands. Certainly in my experience Italians are the easiest Europeans to communicate with when neither party understands a word spoken by the other. On this trip we discovered a new dimension — Italian sign language.

I’m not talking about the basic traffic signals: the stink-eye, the finger or the full arm. This is a clever sort of visual slang we encountered in Calabria. It may exist throughout Italy. I don’t know. I’ll be looking for it next time. Here are some examples:

If you hold both hands in front of your chest with the fingers pointing down, that’s T-rex arms. It means, “This guy’s arms are too short to reach his pockets.” In other words, he’s a cheapskate.

When you hold up one hand with the fingers together pointing up, alternating palm out and palm in, that’s “2 late,” a pun between the Italian for “two sides” and the English “too late.” It means, “Time to go now.”

I think this is just scratching the surface. If you know of more examples, I’d love to hear from you.

Walls Come Tumbling Down

This journal entry was written a couple weeks ago while Delta Moon was touring heavily and there was neither time nor internet access to post it. Now that I’m home with plenty of both, it still seems worth sharing.

On this the last day of April, the weather in Germany is finally warming up. We had snow only two days ago. Now we’re traveling the A4 through Thuringia, past fields of green grass, yellow raps and brown, freshly turned earth. The sky is blue with white puffs of cloud blurring to a uniform pearl at the horizon, pierced here and there by steeples, power line towers and giant windmills. Most of the hardwoods are filling out with green buds, but some trees are still bare with balls of mistletoe in their upper branches.

I’m thinking about walls. Our President wants to build one. The people of Jericho built one, but it failed to solve their immigrant problem. Certainly the ancient gut fear of annihilation is part of what fuels people’s desire to build a wall.

Yesterday, through a mixup, we drove to the Hotel Husarenhof where we’d stayed twice before in Bautzen and found instead a burned-out shell. Only the charred walls remained. Later we learned there had been plans to turn the place into a refugee center. Online newspaper accounts say police found evidence of accelerants. Two young men were sentenced to prison and another to probation for drunkenly attacking firemen fighting the blaze. Germany was horrified when a local roofer posted a video of the burning building with the comment: “Comrades, sieg heil! Good work.”

There are no easy solutions. But I do know walls come down. We saw that in Berlin and again yesterday as we drove east into the former GDR. Silent on a ridge beside the autobahn, as traffic raced by in both directions, stood a concrete gun tower, abandoned and defaced with graffiti.

 

Remembering Col. Bruce Hampton

Col. Bruce Hampton, who died on stage at the Fox Theater in Atlanta last week, was a huge influence on Delta Moon, as he was for half a century on the entire Atlanta music community. Seeing the Aquarium Rescue Unit at the Little Five Points Pub was one of the main reasons Mark Johnson moved to Atlanta in the first place. He thought, “There’s something going on here.”

Franher Joseph, who played bass with the Colonel for the last year or more, talks of “Hamptonisms”, advice Hampton gave his musicians, such as, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. But take what you do very seriously.”

For Tom Gray, a fan since 1969 (Bruce could have told you the exact date and time), the biggest lesson came from a story Hampton told him about the time, as a teenager, he met Muddy Waters.

“Mr. Waters,” he said, “You’re my favorite singer.”

Muddy Waters didn’t respond.

“You’re also my favorite guitar player.”

Muddy Waters looked at him and said, “I’m not a singer. I’m not a guitar player. What I do is put the devil in the room.”

Bruce Hampton took that concept and made a life out of it.

Concert Review in Ingolstadt Donaukurier (Germany)

Ingolstadt Donaukurier (For the original German text click here.)

Bang

Grandiose opening of the blues festival: Delta Moon will be in the Ingolstadt Neue Welt.

By Karl Leitner

Ingolstadt (DK) For the musicians of Delta Moon it is the last concert of a long European tour, before it goes back home to Atlanta, Georgia. The two guitarists Tom Gray and Mark Johnson as well as Franher Joseph on the bass and Greg Baba on drums are in a good mood.

The fact that they give the first concert as part of this year’s Blues Festival, so to speak, as a farewell gift to the Old World from the New World, is perfect timing. And right at the beginning of the festival a real bang, which should still linger for a long time.

Already after the opening chords “Hellbound Train”, “Black Cat Oil” and “Jessie Mae” the thing is clear. This band will leave nothing to burn today. Featuring a dry, straight-forward, hem-sleeve and earth-bound roots-blues-rock, which smells like the dusty expanses or the marshy swamps of the Southern states, they have the Blues community hooked and will not let go the whole evening.

The band is cool and casual and seems to shake their songs out of their sleeves, but at the same time plays so precisely that a chord and the swaying slide attacks start right up to the mark , Gruff mid- and uptempo songs, fast-paced lyrics, and the inimitable melodies from the band’s composer Tom Gray make the whole thing come true, the beats are unrelenting, the perfect sound and the thrust from the rhythm section fit together. As a blues fan you can only do one thing: groove and enjoy.

This alone would be an extraordinary concert even for Bluesfest. The absolute hammer, however, is these two guitarists, or rather the way they harmonize, complement each other, bounce back and forth, play with each other and against each other. Like two gears, their guitar tracks interlock. Sweeping slides and heavy chords, drawn from the marsh, are released from each other, so that it only crashes. There were always well-known twin guitars, such as – to stay in the Southern States and the blues – the duets of Allan / Dickey Betts or Derek Trucks / Warren Haynes. They soon became the stars that Tom Gray and Mark Johnson are not, but they are very good at demeaning both of them. They certainly do not follow their colleagues in any way.

How they can get themselves off the leash with the hypnotic “Afterglow” or with the R. L. Burnside number “Shake Em On Down” and the songs rightly hover, no one makes them too fast. What a festival start! For all the colleagues, who will be performing at Bluesfest in the coming weeks, Delta Moon have set the bar. And indeed far up.

New Delta Moon T-Shirt

We’ve added a new T-shirt to the Delta Moon webstore. We found a low-resolution version of this image of a skull moon breaking out from inside the sun and loved it. So we set out to find the artist and pay him for a printable version. The search, via the Internet, led around the world, and when we finally located the artist, Jack Bloom, he had an Atlanta phone number. After we’d talked and Jack sent a license contract, his street address looked familiar. Believe it or not, he lives in Cabbagetown! Thanks, Jack.

Review of Cabbagetown in Elmore

Elmore

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.

Review of Cabbagetown in Keys and Chords (Belgium)

Keys and Chords (For the original Dutch text click here.)

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!

Concert Review in Augsburger-Allgemeine (Germany)

Augsburger-Allgemeine (For the original German text click here.)

Under the Blues Moon

Delta Moon in the Charivari: What makes the band so special

By Ronald Hinzpeter

Perfect guitar work: Delta Moon in Charivari.

Photo: Reinhard Pfetsch.

Ulm. If two electric guitars play together, it can lead to wonderful duets like once in the Allman Brothers or Wishbone Ash. It is no harder to meld two slide guitars in intimate harmony, because if the instrumentalists slip a little sloppy with the glass or metal tube over the strings, the eardrums immediately squeak. Delta Moon from Atlanta are one of the few bands ever to compete with two equal-slated players. When Tom Gray and Mark Johnson duel, or play together, they tickle creamy runs from their guitars, then it sounds as if the two identical guitar guitars. No wonder, because the two founding members of the band have been playing together for more than 20 years and seem blind. In the Charivari, they have already presented a performance for the second time that leaves only one wish — that they may soon be able to return. The quartet plays this somewhat laid-back, bluish-waved swampy sound, as it can only thrive in the sultry heat of the South. This does not tolerate exaggerated hustle and bustle, but lives from the steaming slide guitars. Gray and Johnson blend so masterfully that the sound of Delta Moon actually stands out from that of many other bands. The songs are good, solid work, but get the certain brilliance, which lifts them out of the mass, only through the fine guitar playing. Gray and Johnson are doing this without exaggerated posing, but sometimes Gray shakes a little with his hip, with a gray head and thick glasses, more like the friendly narrative. This must suffice as a stage show, the music speaks for itself – and this is applauded by the  connoisseurs who once again filled Charivari. But towards the end, the band goes out in the audience and creates a small session. There may also be bass player Franher Joseph, with the vocal chorus refrain, a little run out of fingers, and backup guitarist Greg Baba shows that he has more on it, than just reliably beat the beat. Oh yes, Johnson and Gray are also pleasant to chat, because after the concert they are still in direct contact with the audience — two grown men, whose job is really fun … Under the Blues Moon.

Review of Cabbagetown in Roots Highway (Italy)

Roots Highway (For the original Italian text click here.)

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.

  • Fabio

Review of Cabbagetown in Flyin Shoes Review

Flyin Shoes

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?