Phil Collen is known for being the guitarist and backing vocalist in the hugely successful 80s rock band, Def Leppard. The band is still technically together, but most of their industry success was between 1983 and 1987 with their mega-hit albums Pyromania and Hysteria. Collen joined Def Leppard in 1982, and therefore was part of the band’s genre-defining years. Def Leppard was known for its hard-hitting metal guitars and drums paired with melodic, almost pop-like vocals and they were most definitely considered to be rock. At this point, Collen has completely changed gears with an unexpected shift in genres. His new collaborative project is called Delta Deep, an all-star group which is largely blues-based.
Delta Deep features Collen on guitar, and will have fans instantly surprised at the one-time rock god’s skills on a blues guitar, which rival that of many blues rock greats. He has drawn from an extremely talented pool of musicians to find the other members of this supergroup. Debi Blackwell-Cook is the extremely talented blues songstress Collen conscripted for the project; they met when she sang at his wedding, to wife Helen in 2010. Blackwell sang on a number of tracks for another of Collen’s side projects, Manraze. Former Stone Temple Pilots bassist Rob DeLeo has been tasked with creating and performing complex basslines to match and carry Collen’s metal/blues fusion guitar, as well as Blackwell’s soulful vocals. Rounding out the group is drummer Forrest Robinson. Robinson is known for his R&B and blues drumming, but personally he admits he has always gravitated towards metal and rock. This made him the perfect fit for Collen’s Delta Deep vision.
Delta Deep’s debut self-titled album was released on June 23 on Mailboat Records, and features a number of special guests. David Coverdale from Whitesnake, the Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook and even Def Leppard’s lead singer Joe Elliot make appearances on this soon-to-be hit album. Featuring eleven tracks written mostly by Collen, his wife Helen and Blackwell, the album is also produced by the rock star himself. Tone-wise, the record vacillates between purist blues, hard rock and a fusion of blues, rock and soul. Fans of Def Leppard who are looking for vestiges of the iconic band’s style will likely have a hard time, as the guitar tracks on this record are all Collen originals.
Vocally, Blackwell is able to easily adapt her voice to whatever guitar machinations Collen is able to come up with, and she might remind some music fans of Alabama Shakes’ lead singer, Brittany Howard. The best songs on the album are those where Blackwell’s voice is allowed to stand alone with Phil Collen’s guitar, and no backing vocals. Whiskey, a classic blues/rock pairing is a great example of this. Songs like the album’s opener, Bang the Lid, contain Collen accompanying Blackwell on backing vocals and it is probably the one element on the album which does not work. Collen’s voice, while well-trained, is a little too restrained and British for the blues. A similar situation happens with the song Mistreated, on which Joe Elliot is featured. His vocals are just a little too rock to go with Collen’s pulsing blues guitars, though this song will likely be a hit because of Elliot’s Def Leppard cache.
Overall, Delta Deep’s first album is well-produced and clean. However, for the few exceptions mentioned above, Blackwell, Collen, DeLeo and Robinson deliver a technically sound performance without any loss of the soul that is so important in the blues. A surprising highlight on the album is Private Number, the song on which David Coverdale is featured as lead vocalist. He is able to pull off what Joe Elliot could not: converting his tightly controlled rock voice to a more soul/blues timbre. The song also has some of Collen’s best guitar playing on the album; indeed, his technique on this track rivals Stevie Ray Vaughn’s.
Delta Deep’s debut effort is full of both technical prowess and emotive, soulful tones. It is a delightful surprise to see someone like Phil Collen make such a change to his musical focus and genre, going on to succeed on a level completely separate from Def Leppard. These are the moments which truly define a musician: when someone like Collen has the talent, versatility and fearless love of music to try something different, and likely learn a whole new style to accomplish such a genre change, it is quite impressive. Delta Deep’s first release can be ordered on Mailboat Records’, website along with Def Leppard’s newest album.
Review by Layla Klamt
Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen
Mailboatrecords.com: “Delta Deep”
All images and videos courtesy of Delta Deep’s press package