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Bill Barrett

Paul deLay - Heavy Rotation

Paul DeLay is one of the most innovative harp players in the non-jazz field today, both on diatonic and chromatic. His specificities are not technical but rather in phrasing and use of sound. He has started to release distinctly personal albums in the early 90s after a life-changing experience of two-years in prison following drug-related charges. "Heavy Rotation" is the fifth album released on Evidence since that time, and the fourth with the Paul DeLay band.

Let's get the bad stuff out in the open straight away : that CD cover is UGLY ! OK. That's the bad stuff dealt with.

Paul DeLay's sound and style remains decidedly linked to the sound and style of his band. His previous album and first recorded infedelity to the band featured DeLay surrounded by a Chicago Blues band for an aptly titled "DeLay does Chicago". Although not without it's merit, that album didn't quite deliver : it wasn't Chicago enough to be efficient as a classic blues album, and not DeLay enough to be efficient as a Paul DeLay album. Paul is now back with the musicians that have accompanied him ever since the early 90s, and man do they sound good...

The line up is Louis Pain on hammond organ and organ bass, Peter Damman on guitar, Dan Fincher on Tenor sax and Kelly Dunn on drums, the only "new" guy in the band. This combination gives the band a definite R&B feel, especially with tha hammond-sax combination. This feeling is reinforced by Paul DeLay's vocals, surprising mid-range for someone of his corpulence.

What makes the Paul DeLay sound is also his songwriting. Even though the blues is never very far, you won't hear no "woke up this morning" or "highway 49" on this record. Paul's lyrics, even when dealing with "classic" blues subjects are always deeply personal and combine soulful poetry with a dry cynical humour. For example, see the bittersweet metaphors of old love in the ballad "Love Grown Cold" : It's a diamond ring / With a little tiny stone / Sitting in a pawn shop window / Sitting there all alone... In a more cynical register, the lyrics of "It isn't easy being big" are quite cruel : You gotta eat the wrong foods at the wrong times / And you can't just go movin' around / You got to sit right in your easy chair / Or you might lose on or two pounds...

And then there's Paul's harp playing. Paul is one of those rare players who practically never uses those classic harp riffs we've all heard a hundred times. The closest he comes to it in this album is on "Wealthy Man", where his professed admiration of Sonny Boy 2 can be briefly heard in the introduction. That gives DeLay a very audible and recognisable style, and his phrasing is nothing if not inventive. That is even more evident when he picks up his chromatic. He manages to play in a style that remains bluesy with some jazz touches, original yet accessible.

This record really has all the qualities of a good Paul DeLay release. The deliberate choice of not overdoing production also adds a real freshness to the sound of the Band. Peter Damman's guitar is more biting than ever, Louis and Dan's contributions, mostly in the background, are well placed and don't smother the sound. All in all, I'd say that this is the best Paul DeLay release since "Ocean of Tears", and considering the ones in between weren't half bad, that's saying something !

Benoît Felten

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