Posts

“Refugee is a musically and textually perfect track….” – Wasser-Prawda (Germany)

Wasser-Prawda (Click here for original German text.)

Refugees, Violence and Poverty – Political Issues in Current Blues Songs

If you listen to new blues albums, more and more frequently you will find the most up-to-date political and social issues. Or old songs are re-interpreted, with the message still or always up-to-date. Here is small cross-section of current releases.

A deep groove from the Delta, a stoic riff of the guitars, a pearly piano and a story told by different voices. Suddenly one is in the middle in the flight over the Mediterranean. Delta Moon tell the story in “Refugee” from the point of view of the refugees, which you can see briefly in the news, but which hardly ever really reaches to our proximity. “Refugee” is a musically and textually perfect track, a song that you cannot play and hear often enough.

With his latest album “Migration Blues”, Eric Bibb draws the parallels between the escape from the Delta in search of a better life at the beginning of the 20th century and today’s refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Thus he portrays the simple life in the Delta as well, the consequences of long-standing drought at that time, or praying for a safe coast. Accompanied by the French harp virtuoso Jean-Jaques Milteau and guests like Big Daddy Wilson, an album is created in the sound of the classic Delta blues, which is hardly to be surpassed for realness.

Unless one accesses “Manic Revelations” by songwriter Pokey LaFarge. In the sound of the soul of the ’50s and ’60s, the musician sings about revolts in the USA in the face of increasing police violence, from the escape from the news to the seemingly apolitical country. This comes with a partly intersecting humor, which can make the hardness more bearable.

And here Lafarge is akin to John Nemeth, the Soulblueser, who has been living in Memphis for a number of years. With him, the everyday gun violence in the US comes along in a loose-footed party sound and a call not to let the brains fog, as in the funk of the 60s. “They Never Pay Me” by Gina Sicilia, on the other hand, is musically close to the blues singers of the 1920s, a lament about poverty and social injustice.

Blues was already in its beginnings more than music for the entertainment or the temporary escape from the everyday life with dance. Blues musicians have always told their songs of social issues, of the experience of injustice and violence, but also of the joy of developments for the good. This function of the blues musicians as political and social commentators led to the soul music of the ’50s and ’60s. And then the rappers more and more took over this position. But times such as today lead to the fact that the blues musicians are more aware of their social function. The artists listed here are probably only a part of the current scene, an encouragement to go out on their own to search for songs beyond the pub, dance and love-affair.

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.

 

Review of Cabbagetown in Don and Sheryl’s Blues Blog

Don and Sheryl’s Blues Blog

DELTA MOON
CABBAGETOWN

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.

Refugee

In our travels last year through Spain, Germany, Italy and eastern Europe we saw a lot of migrants tramping along the roadside, begging and busking in city streets, or camping by fences with nowhere left to go. According to the United Nations, 65 million refugees are wandering the world today, displaced by war, overpopulation and climate change. That’s a lot of people — more than the combined populations of New York and California.

All of us in Delta Moon were affected by what we saw on that trip. When we returned to America Mark wanted to write a song called “Refugee” over a guitar lick he had come up with. The band came up with a chanted chorus and three verses, each in the voice of a particular person we had seen or heard about. (“Issme” is Arabic for “my name is…”) We decided that Franher and I would each speak a verse, and then our friend Kyshona Armstrong came in to deliver the female verse. She also volunteered some harmonies and powerful wailing at the end.

This is an unusual song for Delta Moon, but it’s one we all feel strongly about. When I posted it to YouTube last night the video got its first thumbs down before the tenth view. Voting has continued at roughly four positive for every negative, with a very high ratio of reactions. Everyone seems to feel strongly about it, one way or the other.

Please let us know what you think.