[Release date 23.06.15]
I usually approach solo projects by artists from established bands with some degree of skepticism but Phil Collen has led me to re-appraise that approach. I think that’s because the songs on this exceptional album came out of a natural evolution between friends who share a common love of music, rather than any need to prove oneself outside of a comfort zone.
Whilst Delta Deep’s self-titled debut album is touted by Collen as an “extreme blues record”, it has texture and variety in abundance and highlights not just a very cool band but the extraordinary vocal talents of Debbi Blackwell-Cook.
Known for her backing vocal duties with Luther Vandross and Michael Buble, amongst many others, Debbi is Godmother to Phil’s wife and evidently, this album had its embryonic beginnings when she sang at their wedding, started playing together soon after and realized they “had something”. They certainly did – and it’s something very special – I’d call it perfect musical alchemy.
Eight of the eleven tracks are Collen/Collen/Blackwell-Cook compositions which makes this collection every more impressive. Opener “Bang The Lid” is a right old rambunctious romp with some mean slide guitar over a backbeat which positively throbs, and some stunningly raucous vocals from Phil’s Godmother-in-law.
A complete change of pace on the track “Whiskey” which puts you in a warm, cosy room with a big open fire, snuggled up to your gal (if she doesn’t want to make out with you during this song, change your girlfriend, not the music). Real virtuosity from Collen here – I’ll bet he’s never used any of those jazz-blues chords on a Def Leppard record but, boy, he really pulls it off.
Title track, “Delta Deep” is proof that you can take the man out of Def Leppard but you can’t take Def Leppard out of the man – a more straightforward rocker with a Leppard-style shouty chorus – three songs into the album and three very different tracks. So far, so good – but it gets better.
The gorgeous “Treat Her Like Candy” is just a great song with wonderful vocal interplay between Collen and Blackwell-Cook. A definite candidate for a single release if there was to be one – a soulful R&B beauty.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a Buddy Guy guitar intro or a Bernard Allison song on the track “Miss Me”, more of a bluesy rocker, this one – is there anything Phil and this band can’t do and do well?
“Burnt Sally” is Collen, Blackwell-Cook and the band’s showcase – aloe vera cream for the ears – Bonamassa would be proud of this one. Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots) on bass and Forrest Robinson (The Crusaders) on the tubs lay it down perfectly with honey-dripping Hammond B3 keys from journeyman, C.J. Vanston, caressing the whole thing to great effect.
Okay, here’s where it dips a bit. Old Davey-boy Coverdale, Middlesborough’s poshest son, can’t seem to catch a break these days, can he? It is perhaps more than a coincidence that this is the first song on the album not written by the Collens and Blackwell Cook.
Written originally for Otis Redding, it’s not a bad ditty – just not as strong as the other tunes. The first case, I think, of “getting one of your mates on the album” (there’s another one – read on…absolutely now’t wrong with that – it’s just not a highlight.
Back to rocking normality on “Shuffle Sweet” – ironically, this could have been on any of the early Whitesnake albums and chugs along very nicely. Another change of tempo and style in the cover of Ike and Tina Turner’s “Black Coffee” works to great effect – moody and delicious.
There’s a something of a “best of this band” feel to penultimate track “Feel It” – the tightness of a band totally in synch, a bit Leppardy and, actually, a bit girl-band, bubble-gummy in parts but don’t be put off by that – great melody.
Time to get another mate on the album for a bit of a pointless rendition of “Mistreated”. It’s pretty much the original version but with Joe Elliott on vocals. It might be one of Phil’s personal favourites, hence its inclusion, but honestly – given the quality of the songs his own band came up with on Delta Deep, there must have been better ways to fill nearly eight minutes.
And that truly would be my only criticism of this fantastic record. Apparently, we don’t do half scores a GRTR!, but I would change that convention and give Delta Deep a very strong ****1/2
Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw
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