- Artist: Rocco DeLuca and the Burden
- Title: Mercy
- Format: CD and Digital Download
- Genre: Rock/Blues
- Beverage of Choice: Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA
In my opinion Rocco Deluca has been woefully overlooked and underrated by the mainstream music industry, critics and audience. Whatever the reasons for this sorry state of affairs, he really deserves a much wider appreciation because his talents as songwriter, guitarist, singer and arranger are prodigious.
His debut album, ‘I Trust You to Kill Me‘ is well worth a spin as it introduces these talents in raw form without the benefit of a truly professional producer; the major influence that Daniel Lanois has on the sophomore effort focuses the sound around Deluca’s voice with lush arrangements and a cohesive track list. ‘Mercy‘ gives us a peek into Deluca’s soul while elevating his artistry and musicianship. A few weeks ago I published a review of Daniel Lanois’ debut solo album ‘ Acadie’ and I mentioned Lanois’ genius as a producer of other artist’s work. Here is more evidence of that unique ability to shape and focus the sonic heart of an album and extract the best from a fellow musician.
‘Mercy‘ begins with the title track, featuring swooning vocals and strings backed by a solid rhythm section and keyboards but noticeably absent of Deluca’s trademark dobro and slide steel sound. His voice ranges on this song (and across the set) from a low growl to a pure and unaffected falsetto, sometimes reminiscent of Jeff Buckley in its span and power.
I attended a gig in downtown Los Angeles in 2009, shortly after the release of this album, and spent the night no more than 6 ft away from Deluca and Ryan Carman (drums) in a tiny and crowded room. It became really clear to me that this was the real deal; a tortured artist, rock star and performer living out his dream; Rocco pours everything into his music – heart, soul and mind. It’s just a pity he hasn’t achieved a wider fan base; here’s hoping that this review will add to it!
“I Trust You to Kill Me” is , oddly, the second track on this album but also the title of his debut album with the Burden. The song showcases Deluca’s aforementioned strength on slide and dobro (resonator guitar). On this slow blues-based burner with incredible power, the band also shows off their collective chops; Ryan Carman on drums, Greg Velasquez on percussion and keyboards, David Beste on bass. But it’s Deluca’s playing that steals the spotlight with an obvious attention to honoring his blues influences while achieving his unique sound. In turn moody, punchy and loud, he pours out his soul through the strings and ‘asks for nothing in return’.
“Open Pages” is another song that superbly highlights Deluca’s vocal range and expression; listen to the way piano and synth strings provide a space for his voice to fill. Wonderfully intimate and direct, this is one of my favorites on the album. Similarly, “Nightingale” demonstrates his vocal control, individuality and precision. Accompanied by piano, acoustic guitar and more strings, his voice sweeps up and up , heightening the tension and effectiveness of the music to a beautifully breathy and emotional finale.
“Save Yourself” is a rocker with a focus on slide steel in the breaks and a power bass line. The Black Keys would be proud to have this tune included on any any of their albums – and I’m a huge Black Keys fan, so it’s not a criticism!
“Lilja” is an oddity, opening with spoken lines in a language I don’t recognize (maybe one of you dear readers would let me know what it is?) and then moving onto a very Lanois-like instrumental arrangement and Deluca singing in the higher end of his range. Excellent examples of slide guitar prowess along with effective percussion elements (listen to the far left and right edges on the sound-stage, especially through some good headphones for a master class in production from Lanois). I especially love the clean and distinctive banjo playing on this track.
The first couple of minutes on “Bright Lights (Losing Control)” is a soundscape, again very reminiscent of Lanois’ own work, with choir-like vocals, keyboards and echo; a short silence and then dobro, punctuated keyboards and Rocco’s unmistakable voice telling a cautionary tale with authority and power. Listen for the wonderful (if short) slide steel solo near the end of the track.
“Junky Valentine” demonstrates Deluca’s vocal range, maybe the most Bucklyesque of the tracks on this album with similar themes of addiction and love. His voice is really quite beautiful and makes me feel his pain, frustration and despair as he beseeches his love to “circle yes or no“. Some Zeppelin-like strings close out the song with a loop that emulates the cycle of hope and despair in the subject matter.
The closing track is one of the more introspective and moody on the album with a theme of hurt and hope; listen for the double-tracked vocal harmonies and Lanois’ signature guitar sound for another great example of craftsmanship, vision and musical prowess.
I continue to be a Rocco Deluca fan even though he has changed direction over the intervening years, being even more closely associated with Lanois and more experimental in his output. This album, however, provides immediate rewards and yields more and more gifts on subsequent listens.