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Review

Delta Saints bring back the jazz, blues music from down south

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September 30, 2010

Sometimes it is hard to believe that all different types of music that we know and love today originate from the blues. Back in the 20s‚ and 30s‚ blues and jazz started setting the stage for rock and roll music. Bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and later ZZ Top and Aerosmith were heavily influenced by the blues. The classic blues masters like BB King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker decided the blues must live on, so they began training prodigies.

Even through the 1980s, when pop was king, and in the 1990s when grunge ruled the airwaves, blues still managed to stay alive. Today, artists like the White Stripes, The Black Keys and John Mayer, have helped to usher the blues into the 21st century. The Delta Saints, a quartet from Nashville, is another band helping that cause, and their album, “Bird Called Angola,” I feel, will one day be remembered as one of the greatest blues albums of the 21st century.

The Delta Saints’ Facebook page lists their influences as anything from women to bodies of water, and everywhere in between. Their sound is influenced by music of the south, and the old classic blues, taking cues from New Orleans Jazz, and Kansas City and St. Louis bluegrass. Never, until listening to the Saints, had I heard a band do so well at re-invigorating the sound of very early blues; yet, they still have the ability to customize their sound and bring a new twist to the old blues.

Vocalist Ben Ringel has such a soulful and heavy voice, the likes of which haven’t been heard since the early recordings of Robert Johnson.

He is accompanied by some seriously powerful harmonica, played by Greg Hommert. Hommert’s harmonica solos throughout the album are sure to keep your toes tapping and heart beating.

David Supoc’s bass is phenomenal, especially on “Callin’ Me Home” where the song is practically driven by the bass.

It is an uneasy song, making the deep repeating pattern of the bass so intriguing. And let’s not forget drummer Ben Azzi. Azzi’s drumming throughout the album can range from subtle and relaxed, to furious and complex. He’s given the honor of beginning each song with a short lead in, some simple, others with rolling toms and loud cymbal crashes.

The songs on this album range from fast paced and dark to slow and dirty. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I actually felt a little greasy after listening to the album.
Somehow, the Delta Saints are able to pull out of their instruments this dirty, gritty and dark sound.

Of course, songs like Swamp Groove, don’t help. Its lyrics are about the dirty boogie and the muddy water. I thought it was cool that it was the music, more than the words, that seemed to influence these feelings from me.
Many bands rely so heavily on lyrics to influence how you feel, but the Saints have mastered the art of musical emotion.

The strongest pieces on the album are the title track—“Bird Called Angola”—and “Company of Thieves.”

“Bird Called Angola,” is a driving steady tune and displays all four of the members’ talents very well, giving each member a short solo, culminating in Ringel’s vocal solo at the end of the track.

It’s a soulful and powerful way to end such a strong track. “Company of Thieves,” the third track on the album, actually begins at the end of track two with a benediction in the style of an old Southern Baptism.

This benediction is muffled and distorted, and leads to a powerful intro by Azzi on the drums. The lyrics add to an already cool song: “I prefer the company of thieves, to your blue blooded kind‚ and I prefer the sweet taste of whiskey, over your Cadillac champagne.”
After finishing “Bird Called Angola,” I was reminded of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution: that the strong will stand the test of time. The Delta Saints represent that evolution of blues music. The entire album pays homage to the great bluesmen of the past, and it also represents the continuous evolution of the blues genre in the 21st century.

Blues is here to stay, and if bands like the Delta Saints continue to play, we will have some great listening for years and years to come.

Jon Lyksett is a student at UW-River Falls.