Rowan's own: The Delta Drift is a rock band with a country and blues flavor
by Sarah Hall, Salisbury Post
The Delta Drift made a rare hometown appearance June 9 at Las Palmas.
The band's heavy touring schedule has been taking them everywhere but close by as they've been traveling throughout the Southeast and up to Cincinnati, performing and promoting their new CD, "Desolate City."
The "Drift" part of their name is appropriate, given their long hours on the road. And, in a case of life imitating art, a yearning for travel is a pervading theme of songs on the Desolate City album, The "Delta" designation pays tribute to the geographical region that engendered the blues, the style at the heart of the country- and blues-infused rock and roll that The Delta Drift delivers so well.
This "Delta" has nothing to do with the Greek letter, although they were a hit with at least one college crowd where a Delta fraternity cheered as if each song were just for them.
The Delta Drift nails the old school rock and blues style on the head, citing influences like Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Band and Gram Parsons. Their music also includes heavy doses of country, especially when lead guitarist Cameron Thomas switches over to pedal steel.
While some may label them "alternative country" Thomas maintains that they are a rock band first. He points out that the Stones went through a country phase, but nobody ever called them anything but a rock and roll band.
The Delta Drift has only been playing together as a group for about nine months, but their sound has already coalesced into a self-assured balance that other groups might take years to achieve.
Also unexpected — the ages of the band members. Three of them are in their mid-twenties, effectively channeling a performing style from before they were born. It helps that they can rely on their drummer, Jimbo Martin, who at age 42 has a two-decade head start over the others in the music business.
Martin says he feels like "the big brother." But not an older brother who tries to run things. He says right now he's just along for the ride, waiting to see what happens. He credits Thomas with being the driving force behind the business part of the band, and says member Nick Foltz is currently "on fire" creatively as a songwriter.
Thomas, Foltz and Martin aren't Salisbury natives, but they all ended up here by attending Catawba College. The fourth band member, bass and guitar player Josh Goodwin, was lured to Salisbury by Thomas. They knew each other from when they both lived in Columbia, S.C. Goodwin's bass completed the band's sound, and he brought singing and songwriting skills as well.
On "Desolate City," all songs are originals, and the band member who wrote each song also sings lead on that particular track. So, with seven of the songs on the CD written by Foltz, he's also responsible for most of the lead singing on the recording. He's also heard playing guitar, harmonica and piano.
Foltz is from Northern Kentucky. He was influenced early on by his father, a jazz musician. Foltz came to Catawba for drama rather than music, earning his theatre degree in 2005. Then he took off for New York, where he spent a year writing songs and performing in the subway, before returning to Salisbury. According to Thomas, Foltz writes songs as effortlessly as "most people brush their teeth."
Martin ended up with The Delta Drift because he was "scoped out" when he was playing for open mic nights at Las Palmas. Salisbury has been home base for the Florida native ever since a college rep recruited him for Catawba's music department, even though he had only played in rock bands and didn't really read music at the time.
Martin has garnered impressive credentials since then. As drummer for the band Museum, he got to share the stage with the likes of Gov't Mule, Widespread Panic, 10,000 Maniacs and King's X. From 1995-2000, he played for Mercury Dime, a local group that went far, thanks in part to producer Mitch Easter (best known for his association with R.E.M.)
Mercury Dime took off fast, but it was an often bumpy ride. They developed quite a following in Europe as well as the U.S., but there were too many problems for them to maintain their musical prominence. So it's with caution that Martin views how fast things have moved for The Delta Drift during their 9-month existence. They already have a full-length CD and packed touring schedule. Martin, drawing on his Mercury Dime experience, wouldn't mind taking their time. But fans won't let them slow down. The CDs are "selling right and left" and there is no shortage of playing opportunities.
Foltz's title track isn't about any city in particular when he sings, "Lord, take me back to that desolate city." Asked why someone would want to go back to a desolate place, he responded that the desolate city might be a person's home, and we all want to go home from time to time.
Foltz's lyrics are encased in a variety of styles on the album. The song "Desolate City" is straightforward, vintage-sounding rock. In "Don't Leave Your Light On," Foltz's harmonica coupled with the clicking of Martin's sticks on the drum's rim evokes an image of a wandering cowboy.
In the lively "Miss You, Miss Jenkins" Foltz poetically expresses longing for travel:
"I can hear that road, I know it calls me, like a siren singing out there on the rocks. Lord knows, sometimes the very thought appalls me, but the wind keeps telling me I've got to walk."
Foltz's "Hey, Hey, Hey" has an endearing simplicity and infectious quality that gets it stuck in your head. The song is also a standout for Martin's creative drumming.
In "Fade to Blue" Foltz's lyrics go from subdued pangs of regret to triumph over the past, and the music evolves as well, starting sparse and reflective and moving toward an almost gospel-like climax.
Thomas' songwriting contributions to the recording, "Lonesome Fiddle" and "Part IV" are decidedly country in nature, as are Goodwin's two contributions, "Git" and "The Bottle." The latter has a particularly unusual structure. It starts with a wild, bluesy punk intro that dissolves into a hillbilly song about his woman preferring the bottle over him. In the end, electric guitars return to take the piece out the way it came in. Goodwin describes this song as "The Cramps meet Merle Haggard."
Drummer Martin didn't sing with or write songs for his previous bands, but with The Delta Drift he's comfortable sharing his abilities in these areas. He provides vocal harmonies on this CD, and while it contains none of his compositions, he has written songs and is currently working with Foltz on more. He says he's also "a closet bass player" and plays keyboard.
Las Palmas owner John Gray calls The Delta Drift "a hard-working group of artists," and says "these guys are serious about their music." Gray is more than happy to host their rare hometown visits.
Downtown Salisbury was anything but "desolate" Saturday night with The Delta Drift in town.
You can listen to Delta Drift at www.deltadrift.com