Those of us who live in the bluegrass-rich areas of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky can easily lose track of the fact that a great many fans – and pickers – aren’t always so lucky.
In today’s world, fans can access the music they love quickly online, and performing acts travel to just about every corner of the world. But for aspiring artists, not every region has the same opportunities for learning and refining their craft. I’ve known several European grassers who have spent summers in the US to improve their skills and feel for the music, just as US musicians fascinated by Celtic folk arts might well seek to spend time in Scotland or Ireland.
There are places in the US where folks are plenty aware of bluegrass, but where some other regional culture holds sway. Such a spot is the US Gulf Coast, from Corpus Christi, TX to Tampa, FL, where tourism and the beach scene dictate the culture of the cities, and fishing and agriculture hold sway in rural and waterfront areas.
Pat and Benita Murphy, the founders of Delta Reign, grew up close to dead center along that stretch, and fell in love with bluegrass. The pickings were a bit lean when they were young, and they moved to Virginia for a time where some sort of living could be made in the music, but the call of home was too strong and they moved back when their son was born. So it’s south Alabama for the Murphys… home sweet home.
Like many artists in relative bluegrass deserts, they found ways to adapt, often performing for the tourist trade, but ultimately seeking to take the show on the road with an original and distinctive sound. Pat is a dedicated Earl Scruggs-style banjoist, while Benita is a guitarist and vocalist with both skill and expertise in grass, along with swing and Americana music.
The result is Delta Reign, which combines all those styles with a depth and maturity that only comes from a lot of years studying the disciplines. The band is completed by a pair of Panhandle Floridians, George Mason on fiddle and Joshua Fall on bass, and as a foursome they’ve built a following and a reputation along the Gulf Coast.
A new album, Nothing But Sky, is set for release on April 14 on Travianna Records, the Mountain Fever imprint designed to promote artists that flirt with the edges of bluegrass. Delta Reign flies pretty close to the bluegrass brand, but with distinct elements of swing and folk music in the mix.
Here’s video of a full set they played at the Dugger Mountain Music Hall last summer to give you an idea of their approach.
Pre-orders for Nothing But Sky are being accepted now, and radio programmers are invited to download the tracks from Airplay Direct. Audio samples are available in iTunes.