Album review: Delta Swamp Rock/Sounds from the South

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Album review: rock
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The front cover pic of Soul Jazz Records’ new release, Delta Swamp Rock – Sounds from the South shows Duane and Gregg Allman sitting in a park framed by weeping willow trees. Even though you can’t see it, you know there is a river close by. There is always a river close by.

Guitar god Duane and brother Gregg were the soul and heart of possibly the South’s greatest band of the 1970s – both commercially as well as artistically – The Allman Brothers Band. More so than the more redneck Lynard Skynard, the band they are always twinned with, the Allmans epitomised the early 1970’s counterculture as it applied to the loud and proud Southern states of the USofA. They had a black drummer (one of two) and their music drew from many heady sources. The subtitle of Delta Swamp Rock – Sounds from the South is ‘…at the crossroads of rock, country and soul’, which is a perfect description of the Allmans’ musical recipe and of this killer compilation.

What makes this selection snap, crackle and pop is that great tension – applied here on some cuts more than others – of post-civil rights hippie liberalism (dig Duane and Gregg’s psychedelic shirts and shoulder-length hair) finding its place in the archly conservative bible-belt South – where a handful of years previous they had been burning Beatles records. My bet is that it was a little easier to let your freak flag fly in San Francisco than it was in Macon, Georgia.

That said, the studios, artists and producers of the South – the legendary Muscle Shoals Studio was the centre of one particularly gritty universe for years – came up with some wild stuff. Joe South’s frug-alicious ‘Hush’ has everything – a stomping beat, a go-go band and South’s country twang carving though the middle of it all. Both Boz Scaggs’ ‘I’ll Be Long Gone’ and Cher’s ‘I Walk On Gilded Splinters’ take a soulful tack, albeit with a hint of psychedelia in the production.

Southern sex-kitten Bobbie Gentry is featured on three tracks here and it is the tension between these that explains Gentry’s huge appeal (and equally the appeal of Delta Swamp Rock – Sounds from the South). On ‘Papa Won’t You Let Me Go To Town’ she is sugarcane-sweet, a little girl; on ‘Mississippi Delta’ she purrs with a vamp’s bluesy rasp. Mix these come-ons with her image – a Priscilla Presley in blue jeans – and you can see why she was the perfect ambassador for Southern pop-rock.

Lynard Skynard get two surprisingly pastoral cuts here as do the fantastic Barefoot Jerry –  a stoned Southern Eagles (why did they not go places?). Duane and Gregg Allman also get two – their version of ‘Morning Dew’ is a little too close to the Jeff Beck Group’s, which highlights the British blues-rock influence on Southern rock. By the time of the Allman’s ‘Ain’t Wasting No Time’ (also featured here) their sound was set in stone and primed for world domination.

The Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings cuts display the deep country feeling that led to yet another offshoot of the Southern rock wellspring – that of ‘outlaw country’ – and Leon Russell’s ‘Out In The Woods’ sets the template for his later Shelter Records sound and the Southern funk that captured the imagination of Eric Clapton, when he was lost in the post-Cream wilderness.

Without exception these pieces are beautifully produced and recorded – there is no scuzzy rawness, harsh blues or psycho rockabilly. As with the Motown artists and producers further north, these Southerners realised the purity of soul that could be achieved within a clean and sympathetic sound-frame. Billy Vera’s ‘I’m Leaving Here Tomorrow Mama’ has as much style and ache as any Miracles or Temptations A-side.

Apart from Tony Joe White’s irresistible ‘Polk Salad Annie’, there are few, if any, Top 40 chartbusters here. This is not a greatest hits compilation but an impeccably selected taster course. Optionally presented in double vinyl format with a sumptuous eight page insert (or double CD with 68 page booklet), Soul Jazz has created a spinning star which will – like so many of the gems contained within ultimately did – lead to other worlds of discovery.

Published June 2011 on www.liveguide.com.au

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