Saturday, February 16, 2008

Clear Blue Flame reviewed by David Stine

Clear Blue Flame
Delta Moon
Jumping Jack Records

Frankly, I had never heard of Delta Moon before, and I was a little suspicious of this CD when I received it to review: two white guys (with glasses) playing guitar, mandoguitar, steel guitar, organ and DULCIMER! Yikes! How hip could two guys named Tom Gray and Mark Johnson be? As I reviewed the liner notes I did notice that there was a Fred McDowell song at the end of the disc, so, I thought maybe there was some blues here after all.
From the first song, I was hooked. This isn’t a pure blues CD, but if you like Southern Americana with a bunch of slide guitar, this is a great album! There’s a lot going on here. This CD could be the soundtrack to one of those movies set in the South, full of broken down cars, buildings, and down and out waitresses and mechanics. And don’t forget the consistent, rolling trains going by.
The CD starts with the droning, minor-key open-tuned guitar of “Clear Blue Flame” and you know you have hit upon something good. As I discovered, Tom Gray is one of those triple threats that are all too uncommon: songwriter, singer and instrumentalist. His songs are clever, real, and a bit oblique--you never quite know that you know what the song is about. Is “Clear Blue Flame” about love or home-made liquor? “Blind Spot” begins with a funky, driving bass line. I should mention here that this is an ELECTRIC album. There are drums and bass throughout the disc. Again, “Blind Spot” addresses our tendencies to see and not see at the same time. “Money Changes Everything” sounds like it dropped off a Warren Zevon album. Tom Gray’s vocals remind me, at times, of Zevon, Dylan, and Ronnie Wood. As a matter of fact, this disc would make a great companion alongside of any Ronnie Wood CD at your next Guinness party. “Money . . .” is instantly recognizable, even with the fiddle and dulcimer, but from where? Others have covered it and Tom Gray must have leaked it and then decided to record it as he heard it. “Trouble in The House” is, well, about two people not getting along. The song is propelled by a strong bass line and distorted guitar creating a sinister backdrop for lines like, they “stare at each other like two loaded guns.” Good stuff. “Jessie Mae” is a riff-driven tribute to and story about Jessie Mae Hemphill, who died in 2006, and who, I would suspect, was somewhat of an influence on Mr. Gray’s guitar work. “Cool Your Jets” is Ronnie Wood over a “Wade in The Water” slide riff. “Life Is A Song” may be about a girl in a “torn black dress,” or it may addressed to the listener. Whatever, there’s lots of great imagery here. “Stranger In My Hometown” borders on bluegrass with the addition of the mandoguitar and locomotive-paced drumming. The song is about the urban degradation (thank you, Allyson) of one’s hometown into something both familiar and unrecognizable. “Lap Dog” is a guy’s lament. No one wants to be a lap dog. “I’m A Witness,” is a vibrato-tinged guitar testimony to the inequities of life. As I stated earlier, the last song on the CD is Fred McDowell’s “You Done Told Everybody.” This is the most straight forward blues tune on the disc and is delivered aurally and musically so that is sounds like an early blues recording.
Delta Moon made a believer out of me. I want to own this disc and I will look for more. These are two of the hippest white guys I’ve heard in awhile. Are they blues? No, but there’s a lot of slide guitar work here--almost every song. Tom Gray is a heck of a songwriter and Delta Moon delivers an American soundtrack worth being in your home--be it on either side of the Mason/Dixon line.

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