In brief: I love this CD to death. It manages to evoke a wide variety of early jazz/blues/country/etc stylings without ever sounding dusty or staid. Recommended.
Upon first pass a listener may be excused for primarily hearing "Delta Disc" as a recording of some (lamentably) lost olde time variety show. If that were the case it would be a *great* lost radio broadcast.
But there's more to this collection than that. There is a vibrancy and clarity that keeps this a vital recording. There's passion here, not just the clinical eye of preservationists.
The first thing that knocked me back was Robert Rial's voice. He has the voice of an intinerant minstrel: solid, strong, down-home yet with a range and timbre applicable to a stunning variety of occasions. He sounds like a crooner fronting a ragtime band on "When it's Darkness on the Delta" and conjures the ghost of the legendary Phil Ochs on "Brown Recluse Girl"... this isn't a compliment I throw around lightly. (Do note that the woodwind work on this track does help invoke the spirit of the late Ochs.) In between Rial exhibits his deftness with whatever blues, jazz, country or folk is thrown at him.
That variety is what keeps the album percolating through-out. "I Truly Understand" (perhaps my favorite track found here) sways with vintage counry swagger, their take on "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" has a jazzy cool that maintains this songs position as a classic, then there's the parched throat blues "Dry County, the traditional "Katie Dear" hints at gospel and, most remarkably, they manage to devise an honest-to-god *protest* song in the venomous "The President Cannot be Reached".
Like many greats before them Bakelite 78 find themselves drawn to that King of American Dark Underbelly Music: The Murder Ballad.
They take on two, "The World's Fair Hotel" and "Long Black Veil".
"The World's Fair Hotel" closes out "Delta Disc" with its rollicking vaudeville and circus-tinged take on the tale of serial-killer H.H. Holmes. If you've read the excellent book "The Devil in the White City" you know what fertile ground there is for telling the story of a killer who stalked the Chicago World's Fair. Bakelite 78 do not disappoint, capturing this strange tale in a snap-shot filled with visual potency.
It also proves that they have some common ground with Seattle's The Bad Things.
The band's intrepretation of "Long Black Veil" is what solidified this album's status for me. This is one of my favorite songs, and one I've heard covered over and over again. But Bakelite 78 manage to give it a freshness by a subtle temp shift and amazing horn work. How-the-hell has popular music managed to go this long without a resurgence of muted trumpet? I'm mystified.