DELTA LADIES – Album ‘REFUGEE
Review by Mike Morrison www.americanrootsuk.com
Until receiving my review copy of this extraordinary album I had never actually heard of the Delta Ladies. I was shocked to discover they often, whilst based in London, play in my area. I'm guessing that I hadn't heard of them because their ever expanding fan base wanted to keep them as 'their secret.'
If the DELTA LADIES aim was to achieve a nice safe sanitized recording that would appeal to the mainstream they have failed miserably. If, the DELTA LADIES aim was to release an album that has a raw 'realness,' is challenging and genuinely takes various roots music aspects into new territory, (which is more likely!) they have succeeded totally! Pleasingly, the album never gives the impression of merely being way out on the boundaries of the various genres for the sake of it. Everything on the album has a totally natural feel of the development of their sound and songs, albeit in directions few others have tried.
These two hugely talented musicians could well be a catalyst that helps to invoke further developments in blues and country without ever leaving the 'traditional' elements so far behind they are out of sight.
The duo consists of Vicky Martin on vocals, Guitars, Irish Bouzouki, Kandela (Chromatic Dulcimer), and lap steel; Diana Stone on vocals, piano and violin, with various friends drafted in to fill out their unusual sound. There are a couple of the above instruments that I've had to Google to find out what they are ..... and I'm still not exactly sure! To my ears some of the instrumentation is what you would expect to hear on a recording from the Indian sub-continent and sounds very much like a 'tabla.' Irrespective of what it is their take on roots music and the directions they move in are highly original and whilst they are labeled as a blues band they have taken the genre to a very different level and incorporated country and even folk into this unusual but quite addictive mix.
Seven of the songs are written solely by Vicky Martin, plus three co-writes with Diana Stone and one solo by Diana and there is also an astounding version of the traditional House of the Rising Sun, here just called ‘RISING SUN’
And so to the songs; ‘LAST TRAIN with it's chugging guitar and sinister fiddle that rises and falls eerily on this deep dark blues is actually set in or around London and yet it has as natural a bluesiness as if recorded in the Mississippi delta or even Chicago, the two most famous homes of the blues! It really is a haunting, eerie tale that has a solidity and density that can only be achieved by the finest, most committed players. The following song, ‘MORE TROUBLE’, takes us in much more of a country direction with harmonica, occasional steel guitar, accordion and an excellent rural feel thanks to the lead and harmony vocals but it's not long before the listener will think; is this country music, or is it a totally new offshoot of the tradition before actually realizing the latter is the more likely but not definite! ‘RISING SUN’ is an astonishing Delta Ladies arrangement of the classic House of the Rising Sun. There is a lovely dulcimer intro that when linked with the violin and occasional haunting harmonica takes this classic song deep into the darkness that was intended when the song was first conceived. There is a powerful percussive sound in the background that sounds like a tabla but in all probability is the Udu drum? Whatever it is, even without Vicky's hugely evocative vocal, the instrumentation alone creates what must be one of the spookiest ever sounds recorded with instruments rather than studio trickery. The following ‘PARANOIA’ evokes exactly that! It is a deep dark almost schizophrenic instrumental with piano, guitar, violin and harmonica gradually giving the impression of the Paranoia deepening as we progress through the wash of sound that includes occasional little havens of peace, but that deep darkness is never far away throughout this five minutes plus musical experience.
‘BROWN WATER EVERYWHERE’ includes a lovely flowing violin that contrasts with the harmonica; another tremendous song that is rooted in the blues, evoking the old Mississippi floods, famously written about in song by the late great Charley Patton. We will never know for sure, but I do feel old Charley would have approved of the dynamic of this song and the atmosphere of grinding hopelessness that it creates.
The album's astonishing title track ‘REFUGEE’ is a real epic of the various styles and tempos covered in deep dark roots music. It is not only rooted in the blues but also African and eastern European folk music, country, American folk and probably many other strands that I can't decipher. This haunting tale is tied together by the wandering violin and percussion, with the vocal adding to the eeriness on this addictive tale that genuinely doesn't feel too long at almost eleven minutes!
This is one of very few albums I've heard recently that can be said to be true to the traditional makeup of blues, country and even folk music, whilst taking some of those elements and sometimes blending them, but always pushing on to a higher level of experimentation. That experimentation is not just for the sake of it either, but is actually a fully formed modern development of those traditions that whilst full of originality never leaves the traditions so far behind that the links become unrecognizable. To say the Delta Ladies have achieved something new and excellent in roots music is an understatement!
DELTA LADIES ‘REFUGEE’ ‘Reviewed for Around Kent Folk’ magazine by Kathy Drage
This is an album that draws together and reflects the many styles of music that Vicky Martin and Diana Stone love; –roots, Americana, blues et al. They both sing and Vicky plays guitars, bouzouki, Kandela, lap-steel and Diana plays piano and violin. The album is full of character, and richness with groove flavoured songs. ‘DEVIL CALLING OUT MY NAME’ is a dark roots based groove while ‘HELLBOUND’ –is what the Ladies refer to as ‘Battersea Bluegrass’, and it is a catchy and cheerful delight.
Their country roots show on Diana’s reflective ballad about final parting ‘SOMETIMES THE END IS JUST THE END’. The instrumental tune ‘PARANOIA’ is darkly atmospheric and ‘DEVIL ON THE STREET’ was inspired by sense of dark fear on the streets at the time of the London riots. ‘BROWN WATER EVERYWHERE’, a great somg, is a tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The track ‘ZEN HOE_DOWN’ is outstanding; composed on the Kandela it is a hypnotic and mesmerizing mix of Appalachian Mountain music and Eastern dance, just brilliant! The Kandela is hybrid instrument, across between an Appalachian dulcimer and and Old English Psaltry – it gives a unique Eastern Feel to a lot of the material. The Ladies’ ‘RISING SUN’ is an original take on ‘House of the Rising Sun’, with their own melody using kandela, udu drum, fiddle & harmonica; just brilliant! Other musicians - Alan Glen, Lee Collins, Danny Bryan, Mark Stevens, Mattieu Werchowski, John Davis and Glynn Evans play on some tracks. Get to see the Delta Ladies whenever you can and be entertained by their superb musicianship and singing. You won’t be disappointed.
Delta Ladies: REFUGEE - Review by Tim Aves of Saint FM Radio and presenter of the FM Radio show ‘The Blues is Back’
THE Delta Ladies, Vicky Martin and Diana Stone, first emerged as a cleverly-named duo offshoot of the band Elephant Shelf, veterans of many gigs around the London blues circuit and beyond in the noughties and teens of the 21st century.
The Shelf are now history, but these “ladies of dubious origin” as they style themselves, are still going strong. Stronger than ever, in fact.
Vicky Martin and Dee Stone generally gig as a duo, but when the occasion requires, can also draw on a diverse cast of musicians, notably percussionists/drummers Lee Collins and Danny Bryan, bass player Glynn Evans, singer Anita Mazzotta and Alan Glen, harmonica player extraordinaire to everyone from Nine Below Zero to the Yardbirds.
This is the basic “team” the Ladies field to quite splendid effect on their new album, Refugee, making it easily the best thing they have done to date in this reviewer’s opinion.
“Vintage New Orleans rhythm & blues, Americana, swing, rock & roll, bluegrass and American roots music” is the way the Ladies describe the breadth of their canvas on their website. On Refugee, however, they add a strong Indian flavour, courtesy of those two percussionists.
The result, on tracks such as ‘Devil Calling Out My Name’, ‘Last Train’, and the title track, is a haunting, trance-like combination of Vicky Martin’s droning acoustic guitar rhythms, Asian percussion, Dee Stone’s soaring, sweeping and weaving violin and Alan Glen’s tuneful and always tasteful harp contributions.
This approach carries across to what is probably my favourite track on the album, the Ladies’ very individual approach to the only non-original song on the album, ‘Rising Sun’. A close relative to a certain “trad arr” standard about “…a house in New Orleans”, this version is more New Delhi than N’Awlins in sound…but none the worse for that!
The old Elephant Shelf tune, ‘In Trouble Again’, gets a dusting off, too, this time as ‘More Trouble’. It gets a western swing treatment with some nice pedal steel stylings from John Davis, while the strumalong ‘Hellbound’ takes the Ladies deeper into C&W territory, with Dee Stone sawing away like good ‘un on the fiddle and Alan Glen putting in some rather lovely country licks on harp.
This is most categorically not a blues album. Then again, there’s a lot on Refugee to be enjoyed by blues fans – especially those who have been enchanted by Ry Cooder’s frequent sideways glances at the blues via a variety of world musics.
Nice work, Ladies!
Delta Ladies –‘Refugee’ Review for Blues in Britain by Trevor Turley
The core of this band, are multi instrumentalists’ Vicky Martin (Guitar/VOX) and Diana Stone (Keys/VOX/Violin) , they are long standing performing and writing partners. Their allegiance and dalliance has manifested itself in duos and bands (remember Elephant Shelf?) over the years and if NE London had a Delta, then this collective and aural delight gracing my ears would fit the genre perfectly. The DELTA LADIES have collected along the way, some quirky instruments, a Kandela no less, that is highly featured throughout this Album ‘Refugee’. The style I’m feeling is a fusion of World, Roots and Americana with a cockney slant,. . . It’s almost as if they have been aiming for this point in their gestation, and travelled trauma, gathering and trying out various soupçon’s off the menu, which in fact has been cooked up by the ladies themselves. The feel here is in their joy in playing the many styles of the music they love and the quirky instrumentation they bring, as they weave in and out of each other to colourful and varied effect.
‘Refugee’ is full of character, both musically and of the musician’s themselves, in fact it is a stunning fusion of roots, Americana and World rhythms. There is a dark richness in style throughout, and I would suggest the overall feel is Eastern, Indian with a tinge of southern States, both in old style blues, bluegrass and country. Ther is a mixture of structured and grooved based songs, heavy on contrast (light and shade), on this 12 track CD and includes the obligatory bonus track the English traditionally styled ‘Flamborough Bay’. Its only very loosely a blues album and both the new and old blues guard will have to persist with listening here as ‘Refugee’ might not give them instant blues appeal.. The more groove based songs, like the mighty eleven minute workout of the title track, needs time to appreciate, definitely a grower. However, if you are expecting a million guitar crotchets in one bar type solos then this is not for you. The style guru’s amongst blues fans will relish and sense, like I do, that this is an album to be listened to as a whole, no dipping in and out allowed.
The 12 songs, bar one, are written by a combination of both Vicky and Diana as well as solo contributions. The song ‘Rising Sun’ is their take on the more well-known traditional classic ‘House of the . . .’ and is given an Indian sheen. Martin and Stone are supported by a fine array of musicians, singer Anita Mazzotta and percussionist Lee Collins are given credit on the liner, but all the contributors and guest musicians I would suggest are instrumental, no pun intended, in giving ‘Refugee’ its International and Worldly feel. Alan Glen’s harmonica has a major contribution throughout, veering from traditional blues to almost drone like harmony.
This is a fine testament to the Musical Master Chefs of Martin & Stone who can now be sampled and tasted nationwide with added Eastern and European condiments!
DELTA LADIES – ‘REFUGEE’ - BLUES MATTERS Review by Alan Pierce
Ah ha, the new twelve track album from the Delta Ladies arrives. It is very good to read that half of the duo Vicky Martin has defied the odds and recovered from major heart surgery while Diana Stone has also recovered from serious back problems and I think you can tell there is optimism in this album. It features the joyous harmonica of Alan Glen interweaving with the violin of Diana giving an understated Cajun flavor.
There is lovely playing throughout by all involved and we hear some gorgeous pedal steel work from John Davis, neat piano and violin from Diana, even accordion from Mark Stevens. In combination there is an ethereal creation of sound that is emotive, evocative and soothing. An album of very strong songs opens with ‘DEVIL CALLING OUT MY NAME the track builds on a distinctive guitar riff with a pulsating violin behind leads and it is hard not to tap the feet and bob the head to this as the Eastern flavoured percussion, harmonica and piano all weave around each other and trip along very evocatively.
I almost imagined Robert Plant doing some of the vocals on this material at points. On the hypnotically rhythmic ‘LAST TRAIN’, you can almost feel the sway of a train running through a dark night, the song is about the end of a relationship with one partner unable to return home, the vocal has a light touch while the mournful violin is a joy to hear.
We loved the startlingly original arrangement of the traditional song ‘RISING SUN’, aka ‘House of the…’ with mournful violin and harp intro and percussion bubbling under and featuring Vicky Martin on Kandela and Danny Bryan on Udu drum and Djabouki, this is a fine and refreshing version.
The title track ‘REFUGEE’ shows the Delta Ladies have moved a long way from the blues – two Eastern style instrumental sections frame a song of political conviction about the plight of the refugee – a long and epic track that harks back to the 70’s and evokes the darker side of the Incredible String Band, very listenable and likely to reveal new depths on repeat listening.
I greatly enjoyed this album a lot and I simply love violin/fiddle played this way. I was most especially taken by the instrumental ‘PARANOIA’ which runs at 6.20 an original conceptual blues played in modal tuning.
DELTA LADIES -REFUGEE review by ‘Blues and more again’ - the website & blog of David Innes
Refugee, with its earthy, spontaneous feel and honest, frill-free mix might have been recorded on a single primitive mic at a Saturday night rave-up in a Mississippi turpentine plant. It’s all but forgotten, amid contemporary string-bending pentatonic frenzies, that original live blues was non-rigid in structure, did not need to fit the three-minute demand of radio, and was played to allow the South’s downtrodden poor momentary respite from drudgery and slavery in dancing and the almost-inevitable consequential activities of such close, sweaty bodily contact and hip-shaking rhythms.
Whilst familiar blues and country structures predominate less frequently - , Vicky Martin's vocal delivery is defiantly and pleasingly English. Inventive instrumental tunings combine with off-kilter world music melodies and licks to nudge the contents of Refugee beyond its undeniable Delta roots. A run-down of the contents, including- ‘DEVIL CALLING OUT MY NAME’, ‘HELLBOUND’, ‘RISING SUN’ (yes, that one, but with a welcome fresh Ladies’ feel) and ‘DEVIL ON THE STREET’ - are a sure indication that down-home blues is a significant influence.
Bubbling Louisiana swamp rhythms are drawn variously from scrubbed and damped guitars and guest Danny Bryan's diverse armoury of percussion tools. At the same time piano, blues harp, fiddles, steel guitars and accordion add necessary, but sparing colour.
There’s a bit of diversity too; Dee Stone’s own forlorn country ballad, SOMETIMES THE END IS JUST THE END is beautifully arranged for her own piano accompaniment and is devoid of obvious studio trickery, Stone’s vocal is heavy with authentic hurt. ‘MORE TROUBLE’ is a brighter blues with accordion and steel promptings and a country-tinged and structured refrain.
The spacious ‘PARANOIA’ broods and menaces, creating an atmosphere fitting of the title and whilst it follows a traditional blues pattern, splendid interplay between Dee Stone's piano and Mathieu Werchowski’s fiddle draws on influences way beyond the cotton-fields or Appalachian mountains.
Delta Ladies REFUGEE
Shelf Life HHI review for Maverick Magazine
Dynamic duo Delta Ladies show off a broad range of talents on their latest album, Refugee.
The Delta Ladies provide a distinctive brand of music that spans multiple genres seamlessly, and this particular quality is ever-present throughout Refugee. With Vicky Martin on vocals, guitar, kandela, lap-steel and bouzouki, and Diana Stone on vocals, piano and violin, this album provides ample opportunity for them to deliver a masterful collection of tunes.
In terms of technical artistry the pairing doesn’t disappoint. This is clearly the work of gifted musicians, and it’s clear to see why the Delta Ladies have achieved several rave reviews for their live show. There’s also plenty of originality, spanning from the mesmerizing 11-minute title track Refugee, to the unique take on The Animals’ classic hit Rising Sun.
Nonetheless, whilst it’s easy to tell that the Delta Ladies and their lengthy roster of support artists are gifted at what they do, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a great album. This list of songs, played in this manner, would make for a superb live gigAnd as I’ve used words already like ‘Masterful & mesmerizing, originality and ‘unique’, ‘distinctive’ ‘technical artistry’ ‘gifted’ and ‘rave reviews’ you’ll get the drift – this is very good.