monoblogue music: Delta Deep (self-titled)

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.

monoblogue music: “17 Miles” (single) by Jared Deck

I think it was the wail of the organ a couple bars into his new single, but if this is the musical direction newly-minted solo artist Jared Deck is planning to take, he may be in for a long career as a purveyor of a distinctive rockabilly sound that’s as wide open as the prairies surrounding his Oklahoma home.

I really wish I had a larger bit of context than the single “17 Miles,” but as it stands Jared is following up his affiliation with the self-described “cowpunk” band Green Corn Revival. (The red, white, and blue guitar made famous by the late country singer Buck Owens is a great touch, too.) Once GCR ran its course, Jared decided to strike off in a solo direction and this anthemic single is the first result.

And while this isn’t part of a larger project at the moment Deck is promising new work, stating on the GCR website:

I am writing more than ever, but closer to the roots on which I was musically raised. It’s an exciting turn that I hope you’ll follow.

Take a listen and see if you agree. Now the question becomes one of how to market the sound.

If you believe that the new wave of country artists have come closer and closer together, to the point where you have no idea if you’re listening to Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, or any of those others who fall perilously toward painting a country tune by the numbers with the requisite homages to drunkenness, chasing women, and tearing up the back roads in their old pickup trucks, you may be searching for something different yet familiar. This song could fit your fancy.

Similarly, if you are looking for something where the singer isn’t screaming and the bass isn’t set to a pulsating level – but still want a tune that can kick you in the pants – this isn’t a bad choice either.

Jared straddles well a line that used to exist between country and rock, before the former borrowed liberally enough from the latter’s elements to the point where artists like Kid Rock, Bon Jovi, and Steven Tyler flirt with the country genre while Zac Brown performs a song with rocker Chris Cornell that gets regular airplay on modern rock radio. “17 Miles” is a long distance from those generic efforts, instead carving out a sound that’s attractive because it’s off the beaten, well-worn path.

Let’s put it this way. I would love to see two things: first, an entire album from Deck to see if it would indeed land among my top picks for the year, and second, a tour which comes this way. We have a market and a venue that I think could be fertile ground for him, even without the tumbleweed.

monoblogue music: “Revolt” (single) by The Unravelling

After a hiatus of nearly three years thanks to cancer surgery and recovery for lead vocalist Steve Moore, the Canadian industrial/metal duo The Unravelling is returning April 25 with new material, a single called Revolt.

Honestly I hadn’t heard of the group – which features Moore and his musical partner Gus de Beauville – until now, but perhaps I should have. Their 2012 debut “13 Arcane Hymns” was good listening if you enjoy modern metal with an industrial edge – think of groups like Tool or Nine Inch Nails and you’d get the idea. In that release they straddled the tightrope between metal and industrial in fine fashion.

But on Revolt, which would seemingly be the lead single to a progressing and as-yet-untitled forthcoming album due later in 2015, the duo veers in a more industrial direction. That could be a reflection of how their music is created, but I don’t see the upside to making music that is less appealing than the previous release. It made a little more sense to me when considered in the context of “13 Arcane Hymns” – I listened to Revolt first, then checked out the 2012 album – but still I don’t think the end result was worth the wait.

However, I will grant a caveat in what I say: perhaps this is a generational thing. To me, music is made by actual instruments so the thought of sitting at a computer composing tunes is a little foreign to me. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy some of the songs in that genre but overall a lot of it goes by me like background noise or elevator music. With all the different genres of music I listen to for reviewing purposes, I’ve come to appreciate instrumentation more and more.

Yet having said that I still think it will be interesting to see what other music The Unravelling comes up with – early indications are that the lyrics on several of the other songs will be more meaningful and challenging than those presented with Revolt (one example: Acid milk conjurer/The guided son/Self help/Change your life/Halo gun) so their sophomore effort may still avoid that dreaded jinx.

monoblogue music: “This Clumsy World” by Keith Alan Mitchell

The forthcoming release by Keith Alan Mitchell drops June 20.

After a week’s hiatus, monoblogue music is back with this forthcoming release.

From the opening notes of Keith Alan Mitchell’s upcoming solo debut called “This Clumsy World” it’s apparent that the singer-songwriter is at home in the realm of rural American music. That seems a little unusual for a songwriter based in the San Francisco Bay area, but given his Ohio roots it made a little more sense.

Yet while one would think this would mainly be an acoustic set based on the opener Been Buried, that reality is that only one other song, the final track Our Eyes, is of a similar nature. Instead, the majority of tracks have a country feel to them, particularly in the ballads Crossed That Line and Swaying. That song, the album’s longest, features backing vocals from Kathy Kennedy and seems like the song one would punch up on the jukebox just before closing time, when those looking through the beer goggles are seeking someone with whom they’d forget the world until morning.

On the other hand, the more upbeat songs like You Just Disappear or Diamond Blues show some lyrical dexterity as well. The latter is a definite toe-tapper.

A more conventional arrangement is found in Tavern Angeline, which revives the age-old theme of hanging out at the neighborhood bar, albeit with a different musical style (and without its tone of desperation) than say, Don Henley’s Sunset Grill. Mitchell sticks with a full band on the next track, The Feud, and to me that is the highlight of the collection as it reminded me of early CSNY stuff. It’s sort of a dark song, but the piano fade somehow works there as well. And The Low Way works well lyrically as a tribute to the working man.

Being a self-produced effort, though, there are a couple instances where another producer may have improved a song. This is true with Next Time and Every Every, which to my ear have some minor flaws in their arrangement. On balance, though, it’s a reasonably well-crafted collection.

I thought the choice of title was a little strange, as “clumsy” is a world seldom used in this day and age. But the title comes from the lyrics of What It Means To Soar, as Mitchell explained on his website blog:

I started crossing off ideas I didn’t care for and there right in the middle of the list remained “This Clumsy World” – a line from the chorus of “What it Means to Soar.” I have to admit, I can’t remember if I decided while I was in LA, or if I stewed on it for a while longer. But the more I thought about it, it seemed like the perfect title.

I think an album should create it’s own “world.” It should be self-contained and take the listener somewhere – and be interesting and engaging enough that you could sit in front of some speakers and have this experience of going somewhere else, hearing about someone else’s problems – real or fictional – rather than dwelling on your own, and give you a feeling. Hopefully many feelings.

But it’s also clumsy – because the world itself is an imperfect place. Things don’t often go exactly how we want them to, if ever, and rarely are they elegant. Yet it’s the imperfections that make people unique, and randomness plays a huge role in most peoples’ lives – as much as we might not want to admit that.

The album should appeal most to those who like acoustic music, although the tracks with the enhanced band tend more toward country or country-rock.

On June 20 Mitchell is planning his CD release show in San Francisco, but hasn’t laid out a tour to support the album yet. As always, I think you should listen for yourself but if you think it’s worth your effort to buy, perhaps he’ll be inclined to follow.

Update: I received an e-mail from Keith thanking me for the review, and in it he mentioned that Tavern Angelina was inspired not only by Sunset Grill (which was an uncanny coincidence because that was the song I thought of while writing the piece) but also the fictional bar the dockworkers frequented in season 2 of “The Wire.” He has a bit of a connection with the Baltimore area, as some of his family lives in Glen Burnie.