Phantom Blues Band -
Delta Groove Productions
Review by Dale Clark
I would hire this band in a heart
beat to do a television theme or popular movie soundtrack, to back a
pop singer in a Vegas show, or to lay the sound under a commercial.
But I wouldn’t walk a block to
the nearest city park to hear them play for free on a warm summer
evening, and I certainly wouldn’t tell a friend to buy this album or
spend any of her or his finite lifetime listening to it.
This is the kind of music you hear
all the time inadvertently, the soundtrack of our commercial lives.
This is “industrial music” in the sense there is a music “industry”
and elite members just beneath
the celebrity echelon get called on when someone needs a
“professional” music job and needs it fast without any “creative”
Need a classic (the Nat King Cole “A
Cottage for Sale,” for instance)? Check. Can you prove you are
paying attention to the blues trends with a bit of a stomp (“When
Malindy Sings”)? Bank it. Want to show you’ve got a sense of humor
(Rufus Thomas and B.B. Cunningham’s “Fried Chicken”)? Done.
How about a keyboard plaint (“A Fool
For You”)? You bet. Can you do a pseudo-spiritual, a kind of Blind
Boys from Alabama thing (“Chills and Fever”)? Amen. Need a washed
out, de-politicized reggae (“When the Music Changes” sounds like a
cleaned up “Small Axe“)? Can do.
And when you are through recording
don’t even bother to thank your mom, girlfriend, and God Almighty;
but instead compose some soothing words to your label head and
thank the likes of Fender,
Ampeg Amps, Sabian Cymbals, AKG Microphones, Protection Racket
On this album every guitar phrase is
turned just right, each horn line is crisp, the keys are sparkling,
the vocal moans are in strategic places, the ensemble timing is
almost machine precise-- all as if effortless. Phantoms are now you
see them, now you don’t phenomena, perhaps with supernatural powers
or at least with the power to
trigger our own wild imaginations. The name “Phantom Blues Band”
seems a most deliberately chosen evocation of the invisible
sideman. Being highly regarded studio musicians and backing players
(notably, the Phantom Blues Band is Taj Mahal‘s band) has to give a
person a here and gone ego, an economic existence dependent on the
ability to suggest things that may or may not be so, and then
On this album these phantoms try to
spook up the notion we have heard that authentic blues thing, the
intangible “real deal.” But some of us do not believe in phantoms
and are pretty sure the authenticity thing is tangible enough,
though the difference does have a great deal to do with what the
band can get the audience to
imagine. Popular music consists of familiar codes. Recite the
codes, make glib associations to good times, trigger the pleasure
centers of the brain, and win the appreciation of the happy crowd.
Invisible players, gifted phantoms, can do these things.
But the authentic artist addresses
us as human beings, stimulates far more than the pleasure centers of
our brains, throws us some unfamiliar code to decipher, gets us
re-living our lives, and in
some way-- however indirectly-- makes herself or himself vulnerable
to our response.
There is not one thing about this
album that suggests this band could possibly care what we think,
that they are in any way susceptible to being changed by our
response, or even that they
believe we are capable of thought.