by Casey Dolan
Take a note on a guitar. A G below middle C, for example. Add the fifth, the open D string. Add the octave, the open G string. Now pump either an early 60s Gibson Firebird or, here’s a thought, a Dobro (!) through a vintage 50s Fender tweed amp (a Champ, anyone?), letting those adorable 6V6 output tubes start to subtly distort with gain, add a touch (just a touch) of reverb or barely a ghost of an echo and you start to plunge into the heart of beautiful, open-stringed darkness of…Daniel Lanois.
“Daniel Lanois?” you might say. “This is supposed to be a review of Rocco DeLuca!” But Lanois is fundamental to DeLuca, not only as producer of the new album, “Mercy,” but also as guitarist in DeLuca’s current bassless trio version of his band, the Burden. Instrumentally, last night’s show at the Troubadour was as much Lanois’ as it was DeLuca’s, the differentiating factor being DeLuca’s astonishing voice. When DeLuca hits his high register, either in falsetto or full voice, the sawdust drone of Lanois is transcended with a keening clarity. More than one listener summons up Robert Plant or Jeff Buckley.
However, for better or for worse, sawdust drone it is. That’s a good thing in small doses. Tons of great performers from Neil Young to Wilco to, heck, Daniel Lanois have mined this vein of ambient Americana. Lanois has employed it to great effect over the years as both performer and producer (Emmylou Harris’ “Wrecking Ball” being a consummate illustration of that approach). But DeLuca and cohorts took nearly every song last night at the same slow to mid-tempo pace. The new “Save Yourself” (with its compelling opening verse: “Pull yourself from the room/Walk into the afternoon/Did you think you’d be immune to machines and perfume?”) was almost the sole exception, and even that was slower than the record, accentuating its peculiar 6/4 bridge. One might have expected more variety of tempi and dynamics, but such was the overriding concept of the music that, when drummer Ryan Carman went to mallets, it felt like a structural shift in the music’s architecture.
There’s nothing critical one could say about that howling, yearning, pleading voice. It has to be one of rock’s current powerhouses, head-to-head with a Chris Cornell. The visceral impact of a Elmore James-like sedative stomper like “I Trust You to Kill Me” is undeniable and an opportunity for Lanois to treat his guitar as a percussive response to DeLuca’s mortal wailing on such lyrics of complete surrender:
Ask for nothing – nothing in return
Catch a fire watch it burn
I trust you to kill me
I trust you to kill me
Opening act, honeyhoney, have a good frontwoman in Suzanne Santo with her strong, powerful jazzy voice and doubling on banjo and fiddle, but much of the band’s material sounds like yet another camp follower of Plant/Krauss. It’s easy to see why they were paired with DeLuca — both stylistically and in sharing the same label — but they need more work on seamlessly incorporating those gospel bluegrass 3-part harmonies into the rest of their sometimes confusingly eclectic set.