Self release [Release date 01.08.18]
The fact that the Delta Ladies have re-mastered and expanded their 2016 ‘Hillbilly Trance’ album suggests they think they are on to a good thing.
And they are not wrong. They have expanded their folk and blues roots influences into wider domains. There’s the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues feel of their first version of ‘Rock Of Ages’ (the refrain of which sounds a bit like Family’s ‘Hey Mr. Policeman’), through to the hypnotic syncopation of ‘Roosevelt Rag’.
The latter cements the hypnotic feel with gently plucked banjo, rhythmic stresses, deftly bowed violin swoops and Alan Glen’s rhythmic harp.
Each song feels an integral part of a bigger psychedelic tinged sonic palette.
‘Seventh Day Blues’ is a meditative multi instrumental acoustic arrangement with Tibetan singing bowls (akin to an inverted bell), that bemoans the change in Sundays from a day of rest to a blur of activity. It sounds like a distant Himalayan drone and all that’s missing is the cowbells.
The band finally reveals its true hand on the Otis Taylor inspired political trance and satire blues of ‘Devil’s Work Today’. Vicky’s gently delivered ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson style vocal and is shadowed by Alan Glen’s nuanced blues harp.
They may have already been musically beaten to the punch by Taylor’s (amplified) repetitive grooves and drones – superbly evoked here by the “Tranced” version of ‘Rock of Ages’- but they have enough musical twists and turns of their own to forge a unique style.
They dig deep on the modal intro and world music influenced hypnotic groove of ‘Trance Dance’, which is a Turkish sounding drone featuring Danny Bryan’s crisp percussion. The sonic quality is exceptional and the mantra unravels beautifully with different phased layers of sound.
‘Hillbilly Trance’ enjoys several moments when the musicians coalesce seamlessly and take things to another level. It’s an album full of insistent melodies, narratives, solos, intricate percussion, plucked strings and an array of tones occasionally glued together by Dee Stone’s subtle synth pulses.
You could argue it’s a form of blues Caruthers, but not as we know it!
The album opens with the very folky ‘Thieving Boy’ – traditional in both musical and subject matter – and moves to ‘Redcar Blues’ the first of several instrumental pieces, on a 45 second wistful banjo piece that cleverly expresses loss, in this case the Redcar steel works.
The two versions of ‘Rock Of Ages’ are dichotomous, in as much as they lyrically search for certainty or structure, while exploring wide ranging music of the spheres.
‘Hillbilly Trance’ isn’t so much a linear musical journey as a head trip that offers the listener subtle musical triggers, offset by occasional retreats into a bluesy mould.
Such is the exploratory nature of this record that the recurring drones and ethereal soundscapes feel like evolving concentric circles. The delicate thread and sonic reach of the music lends itself to improvisation, so that when they slip into the after-hours fiddle and harp-led instrumental ‘Praise The Lord’, it sounds almost like an afterthought or a filler, but works well as a link-piece into the elongated two-part ‘Hear Me Calling’.
The latter embraces world, trance and ambient music, with echoes of Swedish band The Knife, but played on mostly traditional instruments and blessedly without dance beats. It picks up a harp and banjo led blues thread at the 4.28 minute mark with additional percussion at 5.44 on a beautifully mixed track.
Vicky Martin’s disciplined rhythmic banjo work locks in with Dee Stone’s meandering violin. Martin’s titular vocal evocation allied with Nick Newall’s layered flute adds to the numinous quality, only for a sudden fade to leave the mantra floating out into space.
In an era when trance and psychedelic music is just a computer click away, the Delta Ladies remind us of the historical, cultural and geographic antecedents of trippy music. Organic homemade music never sounded so refreshingly vital. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.
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