Artist: Sean Michel
Title: Back to the Delta
Release Date: January 19, 2012
Reviewer: Taylor C.
- When The Saints Go Marching In
- Death Knockin’
- Everything I Had
- Lord of the Harvest
- Hosea Blues
- The Curse is Broken
- My Jesus
- He is the One
- Not My Home
- When the Saints Go Marching In
- (Bonus Track) I Wanna Be More Like Jesus
“…there’s a metaphysical quality that I want to recapture. So I’m gonna go back to the Delta.” –Sean Michel
With Back To The Delta, former American Idol contestant and beard-enthusiast, Sean Michel creates so much more than an album; he forms an atmosphere, accomplishes a vision, and pulls the rocking-chair out from under what has become the standard model for music-making. Before embarking on this project, Michel stressed the fact that he wanted to recapture what the old Delta Blues musicians had…something that modern music had lost.
Released solely on vinyl and cassette tape, Back To The Delta was recorded in two October days in an old church of Rolling Fork, Mississippi. All tracks were taped like they did back in the day: in one take without any editing or mixing…just raw, authentic music captured by a microphone. The music itself is traditional, slide-guitar Delta Blues blended with some rock ‘n’ roll elements, harmonica, background vocals, acoustic guitar, and stomping, clapping percussion. In short, I was surprised that the tape didn’t come with a bowl of my grandma’s turnip greens.
As far as organization goes, Sean Michel takes advantage of the Side A and Side B concept and divides the record into two related but separate themes and sounds, all the while keeping up the folksy blues tradition.
Side A of the album has old, honest-to-goodness, back-porch blues running through its bones. Opening with a slow, melancholy version of “When Your Saints Go Marching In,” it’s accompanied by a wailing harmonica and slide-guitar that previews the style of the entire album. This first section is accurately described as a “walking dirge to the grave,” examining the gothic darkness and mortality of the sinful world, while also reflecting on hope and deliverance. It ends with the song “Hosea Blues,” sung from the viewpoint of ‘a jealous God’ who is going to do ‘whatever it takes, baby, to get you back in my arms.’ This is the awesome transition needed to step over the line (or flip the tape, depending on the age of your cassette player) to the emancipation of Side B.
In contrast with Side A, Side B is a victorious march out of the shadow of death. “The Curse Is Broken” introduces this second section with an energetic, rock ‘n’ roll anthem that reminds the Christian of Christ’s resurrection, and smells like the muddy waters of a river baptism. The album closes with another “When The Saints Go Marching In,” but rather than the distraught troop of Side A marching through the trials of earth, this version celebrates the fact that the Christian’s hope is restored and that we’re marching to Glory.
Overall: So did Sean Michel accomplish his vision without selling his soul to the devil like Robert Johnson? I believe he did. Along with the well-crafted tracks and stunning background vocals/instruments, his unique and passionate voice rings out throughout the record in a way that can only be captured with a one-take performance. Listening to the album, you know that he went “back to the Delta.” And with this release, he takes the listener along with him.
RIYL: Muddy Waters, Son House, Robert Johnson, Derek Webb, Johnny Cash
(Buy the album here)