Delta Moon’s slide guitarist Mark Johnson came up with the Atlanta band’s name as he was taking a pilgrimage to legendary bluesman Muddy Waters’ cabin in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Such a trip can only connect someone in a very visceral way to blues music and its origins, and Delta Moon’s 10th release “Low Down” is as reminiscent of those Delta blues backwoods as a night’s stay in Waters’ cabin.
Delta Moon is led by the dynamic two-tone attack of slide guitarist Johnson and guitarist Tom Gray, who met when Gray tried to unsuccessfully sell Johnson a Dobro out of the back of his van. Despite the failed business transaction, the two began playing together and have become an evocative duo that can conjure up tasteful Delta grooves that weld together their guitar talents. Take the opening “Wrong Side of Town,” which is propelled along by the guitarists’ two-pronged attack. Gray lays down a nimble groove that sits well in the pocket, while Johnson buzzes in and out with a tacit understanding of where Gray is driving the song. The tune gently but firmly pulls you along the bumpy, dusty roads somewhere along the Yazoo River.
Johnson’s emotive slide work on “Nothing You Can Tell a Fool” creates a hazy melody that rises like heat from the cotton fields in June, which is held in place by a sauntering rhythm from Gray. The two guitar styles are complementary and suggest that Johnson and Gray have figured out two guitars are better than one for exploring the sounds of the delta.
The best example of their simpatico relationship is on their determined cover of Tom Waits’ “Mean Streak.” The song plays like a bush country arena-rocker, aided by a swelling soundscape from Gray and cutting synth-lines from Johnson which take a page from the Pink Floyd handbook. The song doesn’t have the Delta blues sound heard on most of the album, but the swampy solos Johnson and Gray trade between each other are undeniably rooted in Southern charm.
The album moves at relaxed pace that doesn’t quite move out of third gear. The band is happy to take the scenic route through the Delta’s rhythms and take in all the dogwoods and riverbanks it has to offer. But with so many empty backroads and a trustworthy rhythm section in bassist Franher Joseph and drummer Marlon Patton, you wish they would push a little harder, especially on the final quarter of the album which plods along at a particularly safe pace. “Spark In The Dark” is the album’s one song that skids a little harder around the turns, and Johnson and Gray’s dual-guitar hook purrs like Bo and Luke Duke’s General Lee over the churning rhythm of Franher and Patton. It is one of the highlights of the album and “Low Down” could have benefitted from a couple more numbers like it.
“Low Down” is a solid album that highlights the redolent pairing of Johnson and Gray, a pairing that is steeped in the sights and sounds of the Mississippi Delta. However Delta Moon isn’t defined by that blues tradition, it is defined by the musical journey of Johnson and Gray. They are in the driver’s seat and they have been able to find a handful of different ways to get back to Waters’ cabin in Clarksdale.
- Delta Moon
Release: May 5, 2015
Label: Jumping Jack Records
Notable Tracks: “Spark In The Dark,” “Nothing You Can Tell a Fool,” “Mean Streak”