On The Delta Saints’ new album, Bones, their first for Loud & Proud Records, the Nashville-based band have stripped their roots/blues sound down to its essence, having rearranged the elements into something uniquely their own. Steeped in rock ‘n’ roll’s building blocks – country, R&B, soul and gospel – The Delta Saints’ second full-length effort explores influences like Jack White, The Black Keys, My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses and Led Zeppelin. Producer/engineer/mixer and Third Man Records alum, Eddie Spear [Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Neil Young] provided a ghostly, psychedelic atmosphere at Nashville’s Sputnik Sound studios, yielding a sound unlike anything they have created before.
“We got to the point where what we were recording and playing had veered from what we were listening to and loving on our turntables, which can lead to discontent,” said Louisiana-born singer/lyricist Ben Ringel, who co-founded the band almost eight years ago with fellow Belmont University student, Kansas native bassist David Supica. Soon after, they were joined by Tennessee-bred guitarist Dylan Fitch and later, after a health scare with the band’s former harmonica player, enlisted Louisville resident and keyboardist, Nate Kremer, who was added to the lineup only two weeks before a two month long European tour.
Taking a novel approach of writing songs spontaneously in the studio, The Delta Saints were challenged to create in the moment and as a result, Bones is their most adventurous effort yet. The album is a collection of eclectic songs, beginning with The White Stripes-meets-Led Zeppelin fuzz-toned garage-rock blast of “Sometimes I Worry.” The spare, spooky strains of “Butte la Rose” tell the band’s tale of a Louisiana town purposely flooded and displaced five years ago to save New Orleans. The Grapes of Wrath drama of “Dust,” based on Ringel’s grandfather, an East Kansas farmer, builds to a primal wail at nature with a stunning coda in which Dylan Fitch’s guitar drops out and Kremer’s B3 organ provides the climax. The title track, “Bones” features hoodoo organ riffs and African-influenced trance music, which came from listening to the Sahara desert African groove of Niger’s Tuareg guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar and Mali’s Tinariwen. The grindhouse honky-tonk chain gang chants of “Heavy Hammer” celebrates the work ethic in no uncertain terms, a call for unity in the wake of Ringel’s frustration about getting stuck in the rat race and feeling trapped by some of life’s mundane tasks. “Berlin,” the first song they recorded after adding Nate on keys, started out as an instrumental penned in the title city while on tour. It eventually metamorphosed into a country twang intro and a prog-rock jam. Bones is a complete work veering between despair and apocalyptic dread.
“We’re trying to push ourselves forward to do something more modern, but at the same time incorporating where we come from,” explained Ringel.
“It was incredible to be able to write a song on the spot and immediately hear what it sounded like,” added Supica. “It was a great way to capture the magic right when you come up with an idea, preserving that raw element. We were used to playing a song for months on the road before we recorded it. Still, on the flip side, it was absolutely terrifying to sit in the studio watching the clock tick and waiting for a song to come out. That’s where (producer) Ed Spear came into play; he was so good at keeping us pointed in the right direction.”
“This record was made out of both necessity and desire. We needed to be fulfilled and surprised by music again, and we also needed to fulfill that love of writing and recording again.”
The Delta Saints have independently released two EPs (2010’s Pray On and A Bird Called Angola), a full-length album (2012’s Death Letter Jubilee) and a live disc (2014’s Live at Exit/In). They have spent the last eight years touring the US averaging almost 200 shows per year, organically growing their audience, fan by fan, city by city. Major appearances include several festivals including Wakarusa, Summer Camp, Harvest, The Ride, Summerfest and The Simple Man Cruise. A testament to their mixed appeal, they have opened for such diverse acts as Blackberry Smoke, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Taj Mahal, Dickey Betts and Michael Franti & Spearhead.
The Delta Saints have also have a large international fan base having toured Europe a total of six times, selling out countless venues and playing more than 200 shows in Spain, Sweden, France, Switzerland and Germany, as well as several festivals in Holland (Moulin Blues, Ribs and Blues), Belgium (Gevarenwinkel) and Germany (Grolsch Blues Fest).
With all that they’ve accomplished as a hard-working group on their own, The Delta Saints have earned their graduation to industry veteran Tom Lipsky’s Loud & Proud Records (which has been the home of Rush, Lynyrd Skynyrd, KISS, Robert Plant, Rob Zombie, Lenny Kravitz and The String Cheese Incident, among others).
“Don’t look so tired, my dear,” sings Ringel in Bones’ closing track, “Berlin,” echoing the band’s progress. “We may be bruised, but the day is almost here.”
“It’s hard to see progress when you’re in the middle of things,” said Supica about The Delta Saints’ ambitions. “We try to take stock every six months or so and look back from where we’ve come, from eating at McDonald’s and sleeping on people’s floors to staying at a Motel 6 and graduating to La Quinta. We mark our success by the hotel chain where we’re staying. When we get to Marriott, we know we’ve made it.”
Bones proves The Delta Saints are well on their way to making that reservation.