When most folks think of the Gulf Coast region, bluegrass is not the first musical style that comes to mind. Maybe blues, maybe country, maybe even the easygoing stylings of Jimmy Buffett. For the folks in Mobile, Alabama-based Delta Reign, however, bluegrass comes first. They call their style “delta bluegrass,” and sure enough, their songs do often bring to mind the relaxation and laid back vibe of coastal towns. They recently released their fourth album (and first on Mountain Fever’s edge-of-bluegrass Travianna imprint), Nothing But Sky.
The album moves back and forth between swingy, jazzy bluegrass and a more folk/acoustic country sound. Things start out on the folk side of things with Calico Sundown, a lost love number which lead vocalist Benita Murphy fills with longing. George Mason’s fiddle and Weissenborn lap steel from guest Aaron Ramsey add to the melancholy feel of the song. The trucking song Long Haul adds a bit of grass to the folk sound, thanks to Pat Murphy’s banjo. Both songs are enjoyable, and are reminiscent of something Kathy Mattea might have recorded in the 1990s.
Country Sunday and I’m Forgiving You also share this peaceful country style. The former is a familiar-sounding ode to the simpler life, dropping mentions of fried chicken, front porch sitting, and family prayers. The latter finds the singer finally letting go of an old love and trying to put the past behind her.
The more uptempo numbers are mostly a fun mixture of swing and traditional-leaning bluegrass. Among the highlights is a bouncy cover of the classic I Can’t Get You Off of My Mind that very likely brings dancers to their feet at live shows. Elvis gets a similar treatment with a unique version of Heartbreak Hotel. Benita Murphy has a great handle on the western swing vocal style, and Mason offers some fine fiddling. Mason’s fiddle also anchors the closing track, Turn the Cards Slowly, which is another great swing number.
Traditional country fans will likely enjoy Delta Reign’s take on the Tommy Collins song If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’), which reached number two for Faron Young in the 1950s and hit number one for George Strait in the late 1980s. Both country versions are a little more honky-tonk than the cut here, which again features excellent swing-style instrumentation and vocals.
Interestingly, none of the songs here are specifically drawn from the bluegrass canon or even popular bluegrass songwriters. Although this might turn away some die-hard fans, it actually gives the album a fresh feel and allows the band to further develop their unique sound. Benita Murphy (rhythm guitar), her husband Pat Murphy (banjo), George Mason (fiddle), and Joshua Faul (upright bass), contribute fine instrumentation, along with guests Aaron Ramsey (lap steel, mandolin, guitar) and the Murphys’ son Sean on drums. Mason’s fiddling in particular really stands out, as he switches easily from country to bluegrass to western swing styles.
For more information on Delta Reign, visit their website at www.deltareign.com. Their new album can be purchased from a variety of music retailers.