A veteran of rock and roll, onetime Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen recently embarked on a project to correct a wrong he saw in the music business. In establishing Delta Deep, Collen remarked that, “I grew up listening to rock music but then I found out it was all based on blues…Today’s musicians miss out on what blues is completely about. There’s a type of ‘blues style’ but not actual blues music. I just don’t hear true blues anymore unless I go back and listen to really old music.”
Yet while Delta Deep begins with the promising slide guitar, hand clapping, and sassy vocals of lead singer Debbi Blackwell-Cook on Bang The Lid, (as you can hear below) it really doesn’t turn out to be a traditional blues album. Rounding out the band are former India.Arie drummer Forrest Robinson and Stone Temple Pilots bassist Rob DeLeo.
Certainly the influence is there, though, in the eight tracks the band wrote – particularly Whiskey and Burnt Sally, which could have been lifted from any number of classic blues collections. Whiskey has an almost jazzy feel to it, while Burnt Sally utilizes guest organist C.J. Vanston to great effect.
They also use some interesting covers, nuggets from a bygone era such as Judy Clay and William Bell’s Private Number, which in this case is a duet between Blackwell-Cook and onetime Deep Purple/Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, Deep Purple’s own song Mistreated, which closes the album and features Collen’s old bandmate Joe Elliott on vocals, and Humble Pie’s Black Coffee. Aside from Black Coffee, Delta Deep does a fine job putting their stamp on these old tunes – somehow the old Humble Pie standard seems a misfit.
There are other tracks which seem to be throwbacks to the 1960s, such as Treat Her Like Candy or its follow-up track Miss Me, which seems longer than its 3 1/2 minute running time. (As a whole, the album clocks in at just under 44 minutes, so it’s not pretentious or pondering by any stretch.) And the adult contemporary lover should be pleased with the upbeat Feelit.
But Phil Collen made his name from being in Def Leppard, and if you listen closely to the power pop of Shuffle Sweet – does that sound like a Def Leppard song or what? – or the song most likely to get radio airplay, Down in the Delta, you hear that influence. The backing vocals and chord progressions of Down in the Delta make it the closest cousin to those charttoppers you heard in the 1980s.
Unfortunately for those of us of a certain age – and Collen is seven years my senior – our tastes tend to get short shrift on the radio. Delta Deep is probably too bluesy for modern rock, which borrows more heavily from rap and hip-hop, yet classic rock stations rarely take a chance on new songs from established artists. They sort of lay betwixt and between, in a musical zone where few seem to tread these days in their stampede to meld rock and hip-hop or when old rockers truck on over to the country music aisle.
Yet if there is star power involved, a band like Delta Deep could push the envelope back. The rock world is overdue for some retro influence, and a good choice would be a return to its bluesy roots. Delta Deep is one project that could lead the way as an excellent effort, and since it was just released Tuesday you can get in on the ground floor.