John Lisi & Delta Funk,
Dead Cat Bounce
(219 Records, 2007)

If all you hear is the first (and title) cut, you may come away with the impression that John Lisi & Delta Funk are laying down a sort of crunchy, skeletal music on a J.J. Cale template. Nothing wrong with that; Cale sounds are always welcome in these ears, and "Dead Cat Bounce" gives us nothing to complain about. By the second, however, things head in other directions. The mordant "Woke up Pissed" is a joke for blues cognoscenti who know that approximately 34,227 known blues numbers open with the phrase "Woke up" followed by attitudinal or temporal reference (ordinarily "this morning" -- you could argue, of course, that morning is the time most bluesmen are just starting to think about going to bed).

Lisi's band comprises the ubiquitous rootsmeister Jimbo Mathus (bass, piano) and Cody (son of Jim) Dickinson (drums) of the terrific North Mississippi All Stars. John Hiatt is in there somewhere, though the liner notes, such as they are, are unhelpful with the specifics. The notes do underscore what any attentive listener will have figured out for him- or herself: that the musicians are playing together in the same room and everything was recorded in one or two takes.

Lisi boasts that this is an "old school throw down record ... a flashback to the divine works of art manifested by Sun, Excello, Stax and Chess Records." That's a big and immodest claim, but it shouldn't offend. This is a large-hearted, exuberant, often laugh-out-loud funny recording, not imitative of anything that the above-mentioned labels waxed but certainly informed by them. The sound is (largely) electric, percussive and organic, shaped from elemental rock 'n' roll, funk and blues without in every instance sounding like any single genre in particular. On the other hand, "Po' Jon" is a creative vamp on the blues in its purest, Mississippi-Delta folk expression. And I like it that on "Bad Luck Roy" there's an affectionate reference to "one of them fellers in an old Doc Watson song."

You might call what's going on here garage music with brains. You could also say they just don't make 'em like this anymore, except that they just did.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jerome Clark

16 February 2008

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