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Sixteen Bars
Artist: Delta Flyers
Label: Soulbilly Records
Time: 10 Tracks / 36 minutes

Blues needs individuals; it needs musicians who let their characters shine through. It needs people like The Delta Flyers.

It is easy to see this duo warming up a bar with some quality guitar work, a real feel for the blues and songs that often show a little self-deprecating humour. On disc, they have put together an impressively varied self-penned set that that centres around acoustic country blues and shows the width of their skills.

Guitar drives the music, especially when Travis Stephenson gets his resophonic guitar out.  It’s often a mix of Marshall Tucker-style picking riffs and deliciously dirty slide work that pops in and out to accentuate (as does the harmonica).

A few songs are missable. “61 Highway Blues” is the sort of twelve bar that has been done many times before, though not always with a tinny mandolin solo (probably done tongue in cheek). But even on a so-so track like this, the guitar and harp are both gritty and passionate.

The collection peaks around the middle, especially on the excellent “Sunflower River Rag,” where several tasty features all come together. Stephenson’s resonant, mellow rag picking has a lovely metallic edge to its tone and keeps bursting into slide. Both players sing a gospel-inspired chorus that would get the whole crowd joining in live and the harp solo tops it off. The song is about coping with his woman leaving two days ago, and letting the stress float over him: “The cotton needs picking, but not by me/ I’m too busy napping underneath my tree.”

Name-checking the infamous plantation, “Dockery Farm” is another highlight. Its insistent groove was just made for harp and guitar to solo over and a there is a John Mayall feel to the chorus. Like much of what the band does, the two-beat stomp “Baby Jane” must be played with a wry smile as Steve Dupree sings about his woman’s red dress and driving this Mercury. “I Got to Testify” is a secular pastiche of gospel, with the “Fabulous Inebriators” joining in the rowdy choruses.

Tracks like the Chicago shuffle “Fishin’ Little Mama” show that the whole thing is a romp, an excuse to get out and play some gutsy, upbeat blues, show some genuine skills and have a good time.

Derek Walker


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