The Delta Generators

The Delta Generators
Delta Generators make a winsome second appearance at Acton Jazz Cafe

By Bill Copeland
April 2009

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It has been a good year for the Delta Generators. Last August they won the Boston Blues Challenge and landed in the top ten finals at the International Blues Competition in Memphis this past winter.

Their appearance at the Acton Jazz Cafe on Rt. 2A in Acton last month confirmed that they have turned their combination of vintage Delta blues stylings and classic rock aggression into a winning live act.

Opening solidly with the mid-tempo groove “Matchbox,” singer Craig Rawding’s gravelly voice easily found its place in the unfolding bit of drama created when Charlie O’Neal’s lead guitar buildup added a second “voice” to the texture.

Rawding had quite a presence: black suit, red tie, and Clark Kent glasses. His harmonica smoothly infiltrated a punchy version of “Corina Corina” that also featured some subtle, tasteful fret work from O’Neal.

O’Neal’s guitar playing was the driving force at this gig. On “Sugar Sweet” his solo was a combination of lead and rhythm playing as he reached the higher notes in the chord. His slide playing on their original tune “Hand Me Down Blues” produced one of the best melodies of the evening, the kind of phrasing that simply makes the song without losing any of the blues idiom that comes when that brass tube gently strokes the strings.

The rhythm section of bassist Rick O’Neal (Charlie’s older brother) and drummer Jeff Armstrong proved they are two of four cornerstones for this sound, not merely backing musicians for the singer and guitarist. Their near-shuffle beat on the original tune “Straw Dog Strut” pulled the audience into hand-clapping action, and their ability to propel their own “Devil InThe Rhythm” with a unique pounding gave the song new depth and power in the live setting.

Armstrong also went into some tasteful solos on “One Way Out” and “Travelin’ South” later in the night.

Charlie O’Neal’s tune “Way Down” is aptly titled, as the Delta Generator boys start off mellow before bringing the number down low into its heavy groove and then returning it back up to the bright tone where they started. At first, the rhythm section got out of the guitarist’s way so he could nail some crunchy, down-and-dirty Delta-style chords. Then, with a slow build up in dynamics, the bass and drums took over, pulling the crowd into the depth and the soul of the song - that place where a lot of this music gets its power, a sacred place where the fire makes us feel and makes us dance.

Speaking of dancing, the Delta Generators showed off their crowd pleasing numbers like “Hard River To Row” with its danceable, rocking beat, and “That Evil” with a groove to make you move. But other times the rhythm section got more serious. Armstrong and Rick O’Neal brought a rambunctious pounding spirit to “The House,” and they also delivered a seductive beat to “Moon In The River.” They can handle grooves with a variety of techniques, a bopping bass line around slow drum fills, subtle changes in dynamics, locking in or stepping away and playing around each other.

A blues version of early Beatles classic “I Saw Her Standing There” took on a slow strong mellow groove ready-made for a successful couples dance number.

It really cannot be understated how well the Delta Generators combined the Mississippi Delta sound with modern dynamics. Their rendition of “Number 9 Train” found them impressing their audience with a speeded up tempo while the band locked into one of their tightest grooves of the evening. They even managed to borrow some vibes from the jazz idiom with “New Orleans Wig” and “Bop, Stroll, and Rock and Roll.”

With an ever growing set list of blues variety, and fresh takes on older material, this band will likely continue to impress serious blues fans while snake charming nonbelievers with their exciting delivery.

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