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Contemporary music has extracted just about everything it could get out of the rich deposits left by James Brown and George Clinton and Lee Perry, and now it’s looking for new sources to plunder. Hardcore blues music might be a less likely vein, but the raves for Gomez, or Moby’s latest release, Play, or the devastating way that R.L. Burnside’s whiskey-sodden, funky Delta blues was remixed and looped on last year’s Come On In (Fat Possum) have shown that it can be done, and done superbly.
Forgive Gregg Foreman of the Delta 72 his metaphorical yawn. His band has roughed up the blues for four years. That’s long enough, in fact, for the Delta 72 to move on—as anyone who shows up at the band’s one-off show this week at the Garage will certainly discover. The band’s D.C. show will preview its third full-length release on Chicago’s Touch and Go label, titled 000. (The record will be released next spring.)
“It’s just three zeros together,” says Foreman. “Kind of like a symbol.” The Delta 72’s guitarist and ringleader says that it’s a symbol of change, among other things. “The new stuff is a bit funkier,” Foreman opines. “There’s some traces of [Bob] Dylan and Mick [Jagger] in there. We’ve even used some gospel singers.” The result, as he describes it, is “a little more raw, and a little less punk.”
The Delta 72 recorded 000 in Philadelphia’s Tongue & Groove studios earlier this year, and Foreman says that he found a good omen for the project in the mixing board there. “It’s the same mixing board that was used for Exile on Main Street, Led Zeppelin IV, and Purple Rain,” says Foreman. “There are serious spirits goin’ through the board.”
In 1995, the Delta 72 started out with a rough blend of punk and blues. After the patented steady diet of touring and obligatory 7-inch records (Dischord/Kill Rock Stars) on which almost every Amerindie band worth its salt in that period fed, the Delta 72 made its debut with 1996’s The R&B of Membership. It’s a rave-up commandeering the mod inflections of the Jam’s In the City and more traditional blues-driven rock, but the record’s ferocity and chops make it a bit more than a journey through the past. Membership’s sound is wound a click too tight—definitely too tight for comfort. When Foreman and bassist Kim Thompson caterwaul on blasts like “Get Down” and “7 & 7,” they tear jaggedly into the band’s hyperactive blues-rock in a manner reminiscent of John Doe and Exene Cervenka in X’s earliest days. It’s ear-snagging, rump-grabbing stuff, but Foreman professes that he doesn’t listen to it any more. “The element of that other vocal,”
says Foreman, “is something, in hindsight, that I’m not that into. I liked it at the time.”
Thompson and her “other vocal” left the band after Membership. The Delta 72’s second record, 1997’s The Soul of a New Machine, plays down the punk inflections and dueling vocals of its predecessor in favor of horns and a tighter, fatter rhythm section driven by drummer Jason Kourkounis and new bassist Bruce Reckhahn. Tracks like “It’s Alright” and “Go Go Kitty” refined Membership’s fervor slightly, but the sleek buzz of “The Cut,” the near-lounge of “I’ve Dreamt of Leaving Ever Since You Told Me,” and New Machine’s long, groovy outro previewed a new and more soulful tack.
The new tack deepened on the 1999 EP Sorega Doushita (Japanese for “whatever”), which widened the Delta 72’s sonic palette considerably. “It’s a midnight record,” says Foreman of Sorega’s darker, huskier vibe. At moments, the band sounds as if it’s angling for a gig backing moody Brit soundscape artist Barry Adamson. The mellow twinkle of “Green Eyes,” and the slow-motion wah-wah of “The Take Down” indulge in the same sorts of ironic juxtapositions of genre and instrumentation that Adamson favored on Moss Side Story and The Negro Inside Me. As important, however, is that Adamson and the Delta 72 also share a deft touch at keeping their parody in the packaging (Adamson’s faux soundtracks and pulp novels, the Delta 72’s clean, stark mod-era affect), and not in the music. “We’ve been trying to grow with every record,” Foreman argues. “We’re trying to fuse what we’re learning from soul and R&B.”
Sorega Doushita also introduced Mark Boyce as a replacement for original keyboardist Sarah Stolfa, and that is the lineup that will play at the Garage this weekend. “It’s the most proficient lineup we’ve had,” Foreman brags.
Foreman believes that the band’s two-year hiatus afforded him some time to step back and imbibe more deeply from the records he professes to love: the soul of the early ’70s—especially its rarer slices. He runs a popular vintage-soul-record spin in Philadelphia, and Foreman says the shift in the Delta 72’s direction ties to the old records that he’s been collecting and spinning recently: “The new album owes a lot more to the stuff I’ve been listening to since I started collecting rare soul 45s. I wanted it to be a bastard child of that stuff.”
Foreman says that new music has the feel of Steve Marriott in his Small Faces and Humble Pie period, with a bit of the Stones and Ike and Tina Turner thrown in for good measure. The Small Faces and Humble Pie nods make for an intriguing connection. Both bands presented listeners with a very particular hybrid, in which soul influences were clearly filtered through a rock sensibility, their energy channeled without attempts to pass off the result as the real deal.CP
The Delta 72 plays with the Apes and the Linwood Taylor Band at the Garage Dec. 10.