Sharps & Flats

Goddamn! Soul-punk R&B fans the Delta 72 trade sharp angles for shaggy, stoned beats.

By Mac Montandon
Published April 6, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

A friend of mine has two voices. His usual voice is that of a short, white, educated guy. But occasionally he slips into the deeper love vox of a long-waisted soul DJ hosting a rock star biography show. For this second persona, he drops his pitch down half an octave and massages a single line: "He didn't start the fire ... he just harnessed the heat."

Though this is meant as a moment of pure fantasy, he might as well be talking about the very real Delta 72. On their third full-length disc, these four Philly fanatics of old-time R&B and sinewy '60s garage rock have harnessed a fire ignited long ago. Theirs is a music fueled by groovy organ figures, stoked by Chuck Berry, Otis Redding, James Brown and, later, the MC5.

But where the previous recordings the Delta boys -- four of them after a couple of women split -- burned ferociously at both ends, "000" finds leader Greg Foreman and his mates hushing the Hammond just slightly. Rather than trying to match spasmo soulmates, the Make-Up, wail for wail, the band has settled into a loping, implacable groove reminiscent of "Emotional Rescue"-era Stones. This is an album where handclap credits are listed in the liner notes.

With the grinding, twisting dust storm of the opening "Are You Ready?" it's clear that Delta 72 has outgrown some of the sharply angled earlier punk sounds for a shaggier, stoned beat. As Foreman's wah-wahing guitar comes into focus he salutes the listener with a throat-splitting party call, "Woooooooo." For the chorus, he's joined by two women from the Ford Memorial Gospel Church: "Are you ready? Do you hear this? Woo, woo." In case you didn't notice, Foreman seems to be saying that this is a new Delta 72. Later in the same song, he's having so much fun, the only way to express it is with an emphatic "Goddamn!"

From there the album takes two quick turns, first to the Hammond-centric, stutter-stepping instrumental "The Doctor Is In!" then to the bouncy dashboard-tap-along anthem "Just Another Let Down." The latter is music to drive around looking for your best girl, the one who just left you and is out having a better time than you are. "So if you wanna stay lonely, keep playin' on with those lies," Foreman warns in a high plead.

In a way, the further the group strays from its punk-soul roots, the better it sounds. The last two tracks here are the most experimental by Delta standards. The instrumental "Great Paper Chase No. 1" is an excellent impersonation of a 1966 Miami hotel house band high on too many Cuba Libres. And the too-short closing number, "Sun the Secret Prince," strips the Deltas to their essence, Foreman and his quick-strumming guitar sounding strangely Elliott Smith-ish. He even lowly whispers the word "fucking." Fantastic.

"000" is the first Delta 72 long-playing release in almost three years. The intervening time has allowed them to develop into a more capable, comfortable-sounding band. If they continue to explore fresher sounds on subsequent albums, the group may yet be remembered for starting a few fires of its own.

Mac Montandon

Mac Montandon is a freelance writer in Portland, Ore.

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