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
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
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