Written by: Dave Cantrell
Get yourself recalibrated, that’s our advice. It’s what one must do when confronted with the startling, the game-changing, when you find the mechanics of the familiar more or less unchanged but they’re set inside a chassis you’ve never set eyes – or in this case, ears – on before. And while the automotive metaphor might strike as a tad anachronistic, the fact is that, with respect to The Mortal Prophets album Dealey Plaza Blues, it’s entirely fitting – if from a slightly twisted perspective – seeing as the musical model at play here, American blues and blues-based rock, traces, almost exactly, the provenance of the Automotive Age and is similarly embedded in the national psyche, especially as the source material that head Prophet John Beckmann draws from tends to parallel the 50s/60s/70s apex of what we most reflexively consider the automobile’s heyday. But it’s there the comparison begins to sputter a little. Yes it’s the same engine as always driving these blues but it’s where it’s being driven, and how, that changes the course of the conversation (though in one last juddering attempt to keep the analogy alive we could maybe suggest you think of it as really slanted Slant-6, that might work). The Mortal Prophets’ current mission, to the extent there is one, is to extract the blood-and-soil soul of what is arguably this country’s most fervid native musical form – the blues indeed derives from a stew of historical sources but its conception and birth could hardly have occurred on any other continent – give its DNA a well-considered, intuitive shake and present it anew as if it’s being heard from the inside out. This is not a rebirth (the blues has never died), it’s not an ‘update’ but instead a mid-life regeneration, a kind of reawakening by virtue of a reimagining, one that could not be accomplished without a tremendous verve, vision, and, especially, energy. And the beauty of the album, the aspect that startles in its subtlety, is the way that that energy and the magic behind it is equally applied to those tracks that are quite ostensibly not the blues, be they canonical rock songs like “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Down On Me” or any of the three excellent self-penned tracks that bring a more intimate context to the whole project, an aspect most clearly underlined by the track we’re bringing you today.
A multi-layered, understated but burning phenom of a track, “God’s Gone Away” sounds designed as an offhand if dead-on score to the murmur of our everyday lives – y’know, those things we inhabit where we’re asked, nay, required to incessantly take on a level of daily stimuli, seemingly increasing by the hour, that amounts to the modern, digitized definition of ‘bombardment’ – “God’s Going Away” lurches with a peristaltic grace that shimmers and swerves but never veers off course, Beckmann’s vocal doing its usual thing, i.e. a modestly incandescent preacher ordained by the Church of Astute Irony, appropriate given the title and content, you have to admit. And while that title might at first glance portend a litany of apocalyptic despair, the track’s true gist tacks toward what we’d reckon might be termed ‘existential nonchalance,’ there’s a kind of loving detachment at work that borders just this side of cynicism, all in all a reasonable – necessary, even – state to inhabit, you have to admit. Oh, but also? Lyrically, “God’s Going Away” is, in current-day parlance, funny as fuck, which it shouldn’t be given the ‘message’ within but then again, that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s a master of their craft that can wander through the thicket of human moods and never put a foot awry, never miss a beat, in the process proving, as if proof were really still needed, that darkness and laughter not only walk through the same shadows but that their bond is so close one could easily pass for the other. And that’s not cynicism, it’s just the truth, and it’s a truth every damn one of them blues musicians knew from day one, and from the evidence of this track, it’s also one that drives John Beckmann’s work. Go on then, click it! [Dealey Plaza Blues releases tomorrow, July 28 via all DSPs]