(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Recording review - The Delta Routine, You and Your Lion (2015)

Bluesy twang and a transparent agenda


Southern rock formed like a metamorphic mineral deposit when blues, country, rock and folk were combined and transformed under the social pressures below the Mason-Dixon Line. While the West Coast hippies spiraled off into loosely structured jams, bands like the Allman Brothers captured a laid back country blues that built on relatively coordinated musical arrangements. Later, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, and others expanded on the sound, but the country influence grounded the music with a folksy genuineness that contrasted with more flamboyant psychedelic excursions. Listening to The Delta Routine, with their plaintive laments and Antebellum dignity, you can tell they've drawn from the same well. The big surprise is that they're from Milwaukee, not Macon. They’re too raw and earthy to be dismissed as posers; instead, it marks them as disciples of the Southern diaspora, as well as the Americana legacy of bands like Uncle Tupelo.

You and Your Lion is chock full of bluesy twang, but unlike most Southern rock albums, it rarely slips into simple blues progressions. Instead, The Delta Routine shows a lot of versatility, relying on vocal tone and guitar style to pull it all together into a coherent sound rather than repeating a simple formula. Their big tent has room for James Gang style jams like “On a Saturday Night”, but also the stripped down drag beat of “Chains Off Me”, and they seem just as happy to lean towards the Rolling Stones as Commander Cody or the Georgia Satellites. When the band does drift further afield from the Southern rock mainline, such as the staccato Latin beat of “Nothing on Me” or the bouncy indie rock on the title cut, the rootsy flannel of Nick Amadeus’ voice reinforces the connection back to an Americana tone.

The Delta Routine deserve respect for creating that consistent feel without falling into a rut. But if there’s a Achilles heel here, it’s in the relative transparency of the songs: the band’s versatility is engaging, but each track is fairly straightforward. To some extent, that’s refreshing -- a solid hook and little lyrical pretension trumps the tortured artist who drapes their issues behind overworked metaphors and oblique allusions. On the other hand, I miss the intricate formation playing that Skynyrd or the Allmans were known for and these songs make their biggest impact on the first listen.

Still, the impact can often be quite effective. In particular, “Home With You” builds quite nicely, with a stark opening that lashes the raspy vocals to a light wash of accordion before rising into a fuller wall of instrumentation. Each verse starts out with a melodic tag that borrows from “Mother’s Little Helper” by the Rolling Stones, and the familiar riff and chugging bass evoke that song’s fatalistic sense of overwhelming outside forces. But the more assertive chorus shows that The Delta Routine hasn’t surrendered just yet. The contrasting pulls of the verse and the chorus give the song some emotional weight and the loose, down home family jam arrangement lends it a patina of sepia-toned tradition.

You and Your Lion isn't a life changing album, but just like a backyard pig roast or Fourth of July picnic, it's a comfortable ritual that most of us can relate to and enjoy, whether we're Southerners or not. In that, The Delta Routine's name is completely appropriate, even in Wisconsin.

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