Delta Moon – Babylon Is Falling
Jumping Jack Records 12018
11 songs – 41 minutes
Since their beginnings in the clubs and coffeehouses around Atlanta about 20 years ago, Delta Moon have consistently enthralled audiences with a double-barreled mix of bottleneck slide and lap steel guitar and tunes that are both topical and thought-provoking. That winning mix continues with this pleasing collection of five originals and six freshly reworked covers.
Blending Southern rock and roots, the band took their name after watching the moon rise above Muddy Waters’ home on Stovall Plantation in Mississippi. They’ve been touring relentlessly after bursting into prominence in 2003, when they represented the Charlotte (N.C.) Blues Society in the International Blues Challenge and captured top honors.
A veteran four-piece unit, this is their tenth release, and several tunes in their catalog have made appearances in the soundtracks of shows on Showtime, the Food Network and more.
They’re fronted by Tom Gray, the 2008 Roots Music Association songwriter of the year. A multi-instrumentalist who contributes vocals, lap steel, keys and harmonica, he and longtime slide guitarist partner Mark Johnson have penned all of the originals here. An in-demand tunesmith, Gray’s work has included Cyndi Lauper’s “Money Changes Everything” and material recorded by a wide range of artists, including Manfred Mann, Carlene Carter and Bonnie Bramlett.
Recorded by Jeff Bakos, Spencer Garn, Marlon Patton and Vic Stafford at Bakos Ampworks and Diamond Street Studios in Atlanta, the lineup features Franher Joseph on bass and three percussionists: regular drummer Stafford, Marlon Patton and Adam Goodhue.
A haunting chord and spare rhythm opens the Hill Country-flavored “Long Way To Go,” which offers a shoulder to lean on for the long journey ahead. Although never specifically mentioned in the lyrics, it could refer to social upheaval and the struggle for racial equality. It ties in neatly with the title song, “Babylon Is Falling.” Not to be confused with a tune of the same name recorded by Slightly Stoopid, this one’s a funky, modern remake of a traditional gospel number and features call-and-response from Gray answered by Johnson and Joseph.
Next up is “One More Heartache,” a tune written by the Miracles and a 1966 hit for Marvin Gaye. Stripped of its Motown feel, it’s dramatically different from the original with its rootsy, bluesy rearrangement, but the emotions – and tears – come through loud and clear. The medium-fast shuffle “Might Take A Lifetime” continues the theme forward before a rollicking take on R.L. Burnside’s “Skinny Woman” and Tom Petty’s “Louisiana Rain,” which remains faithful, but comes across as more of a love ballad than the original.
Slide lovers will be drawn to the original “Little Pink Pistol,” which features Gray and Johnson trading licks. They’re powerful, but sweet in their understatement. The medium-paced shuffle describes a lady who’s both decent at target practice and no one to mess with if she’s uninterested in your advances. As the lyrics state: “She can make you happy/She can make you hurt.”
Two more covers — the traditional “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” first recorded in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson, and a funky, rock-steady version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Somebody In My Home” – get 21st Century updates before two more originals – the uptempo rocker “One Mountain At A Time” and the swamp-flavored “Christmas Time In New Orleans” – close the set.
Available from most major online retailers, Babylon Is Falling melds blues and roots into a pleasing package. If that’s your bag, you’ll definitely love this one.