After jazz pianist Dave Brubeck toured the world repeatedly in the late '50s, a music critic asked Brubeck if he felt music was the universal language.
No, Brubeck replied, rhythm is the universal language.
No doubt Brubeck would appreciate Delta Moon, whose blend of Mississippi country blues, gospel and jazz ripples with a percussive energy. At once simple, sophisticated and right, it's there for the taking on Delta Moon Live, their new self-produced CD release. Listen as Mr. Frank Edwards' "Put Your Arms Around Me" is transformed from a deliciously raw, eccentric country blues to a sinewy, syncopated dance groove. Bend your ear to drummer Jon McKnight's delicate stick work during the 10-plus-minute romp through Johnny Winter's "Mean Town Blues," (his later solo -- after slide guitarists Tom Gray and Mark Johnson have a remarkable instrumental conversation -- will bend your ears right back, so don't worry). You will be convinced -- it's a rhythm thang.
So it's not surprising that, when the members of Delta Moon pick their "10 for the Road," their choices travel deep, hypnotic grooves. It's also no surprise that they take an ensemble approach to creating this list, each contributing a couple of choices. Here it is, in random order:
Richard Johnston, Foothill Stomp and R. L. Burnside, Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down (chosen by Gray and vocalist Gina Leigh). "These are two contemporary takes on the raw Mississippi hill country blues that's at the core of what Delta Moon is doing. Richard Johnston's a young guy from Memphis who's spent a lot of time in Mississippi juke joints shadowing Junior Kimbrough. You have to see him live; he's so good it's scary. On Foothill Stomp, he features Jessie Mae Hemphill, another country-blues favorite who's a master at the use of simple, hypnotic rhythms. R.L. Burnside is the genuine article. His music is raw, and it's all about the hunt for pleasure. Burnside spearheaded the 'country-punk-blues' movement when he paired up with Seattle's Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. A lot of his one-chord jams are layered onto looped funk and hip-hop grooves, mixing old and new."
Pops Staples, Father Father (Leigh). "More gems from Mississippi. So much of Delta blues is derivative of gospel, and the Staple Singers dance the line between the two beautifully. Mavis Staples is right up there alongside Francine Reed on my list of role models. This is one of the CDs that was lost in the South Florida Gear Heist, alas." [Editor's note: The band's van, loaded with equipment, was stolen earlier this year from a Florida hotel parking lot.]
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Leigh). "Universally adored. Also stolen. A pox on them."
Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus (guitarist Mark Johnson). "Little Feat's a prime influence, and we love the energy of this live two-CD collection."
Los Lobos, Colossal Head (Johnson). "We're inspired by these guys' gift for reinventing themselves. This CD makes us think about different instrumentation and new approaches to writing."
Bob Marley and the Wailers, Legend (bassist Jon Schwenke). "This has great sing-along potential, and the reggae grooves soothe and allow some time for zoning out on long trips."
Paul Simon, Graceland (Schwenke). "This has so many different textures from various cultures and generations that while it sounds unique, you feel right at home listening to it."
John Scofield, A Go Go (McKnight). "Guitarist Scofield teams up with the electric-jazz combo Medeski, Martin & Wood on this one, and you can tell they're having a ball. No long solos, just deep-pocket grooves and incredible musicianship. They complement each other perfectly."
Jerky Boys, Best of the Jerky Boys (McKnight). "Outrageous humor keeps it light on the road."
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