Liner Notes to Heavy Rotation,
by Paul deLay Band on Evidence Music,
release date August 21, 2001
"One of the finest blues songwriters around. . .easily outclasses
most of the competition when it comes to songcraft and spirit." --Washington
"If Little Walter had lived another 20 years, we might have heard similar sounds. You could take the other top five harp-playing bluesmen active today and, even combined, their talents couldn't match deLay's." --Real Blues Magazine
Good things happen when you don't die young. Ask Paul deLay.
By every way of guessing such things, there was little reason to think Paul deLay would be around these days and now, damn, he's pushing 50. But it was easy to underestimate this wonderful mountain of a man. Hell, he underestimated himself for years, burrowing so deep into drugs and alcohol that his gifts couldn't flourish.
But since the "wake-up call" of his 1990 drug bust, Paul has chalked up ten years of sobriety, and, with the release of Heavy Rotation, six brilliant CDs. During that decade, a startlingly clever songwriting voice has emerged, with articulate, mature, and highly personal themes. This in stark contrast to the retreads performed by the legions of boogie boys on the blues circuit these days. And Paul's writing is only part of the package: his deeply soulful vocal style and innovative harp playing have been renowned in blues circles since the '70's.
Heavy Rotation, deLay's fifth Evidence Music release, showcases Paul at the peak of his artistic powers. Here is his signature mix of humility, humor, optimism, clever wordplay, and eye for the human condition. Here is the superb, cliché-free harmonica work-both on diatonic and chromatic. And here is a mature, confident bluesman who, despite themes that depict his own human frailties and vulnerability, walks and performs with regal elegance.
Paul's hard-won wisdom mirrors the growing maturity of his band. In fact, the Paul deLay Band is very much a band, not a collection of sidemen assembled for recording dates. While the lyrics of Paul's songs are wholly his own, the music is a collaboration between Paul and the talented musicians he's assembled: Dan Fincher on saxophone, Peter Dammann on guitar, Louis Pain on organ, and Kelly Dunn on drums. Through a process of Paul bouncing ideas off the band and vice-versa, he combines his band members' wide-ranging musical vocabularies with his own to better tell his stories. On Heavy Rotation, the effectiveness of this approach is apparent: the disparate styles and influences blend naturally under Paul's guidance.
On this project, Paul and the band perform the tunes the way they do live, with no special guests, few overdubs, and Louis "kicking" the bass lines on his B-3. In this stripped-down, unvarnished context, the musicianship of the band, the freshness of the arrangements, and the originality of Paul's writing, singing, and harmonica playing shine through. Avoiding the temptations of over-production requires confidence and maturity from an artist, and on Heavy Rotation, Paul's restraint clearly pays off.
Not all of Paul's battles are behind him, as you can hear on this CD. "It Isn't Easy Being Big" is a frighteningly raw piece of writing about his girth. "I'll Quit You Tomorrow" addresses the demons that never leave any recovered addict entirely. "Remember Me" sounds at times like an epitaph. And in "Wealthy Man," Paul struggles for respect and dignity in the world he's made. Yet even when dealing with these subjects, Paul's sense of humor delights. Because the message of Paul's music is finally, and unmistakably, life-affirmingas befitting a man who, against all odds, didn't die young.
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