For a band boasting a fourteen-year career (though granted, complete with a brief hiatus), one would perhaps expect a little more than three full-length albums out of Boston-based rock vets Rubikon. However, it takes just one listen to their latest release, titled Delta, to appreciate the time and patience dedicated to honing in on a particular sought-after sound and direction. Delta is in many ways a departure from what one might expect in context to American Dream Machine, but it exemplifies a band that have returned to their roots to fine-tune what has always been at the heart of their music, and that’s extremely commendable — and effective!
Rubikon, the self-proclaimed “musical meat grinder,” have been known to pick and choose elements from a wide array of genres and meld them into their own special brand of “musical sausage,” and Delta comes as no exception. The choice to title this album Delta is extremely fitting, whether it be coincidental or calculated, considering the spirit of the delta blues genre is alive and well throughout, from the abundant soloing atop minimal accompaniment, to the elaborate finger-picking and slide guitar, to the featured use of the harmonica. However, that’s certainly not the only genre from which this release takes its cues. Classic rock-informed and proggy as always, Rubikon beef up the album with groove-laden riffs, thick, chugging bass lines, and a whole lot of jazzy keys, escaping the pigeonhole of a one-trick pony.
The album kicks off with the leading single for the album, “Live That Lie.” Thick, dirty, and deliberate, this track sets the tone for the album. A wicked guitar solo pushes the song towards a powerful final chorus before plunging off into the second track. “Three Days” foregoes the density of its former in favour of a minimalistic bluesy groove overtop of which vocalist Jae Sims employs a grimy Southern drawl. “Vipers” carries on in much the same manner but mixes in some seriously thick chugs and some slide guitar to keep things fresh, rounding out the first third of the album.
It’s at this point that things start to shift. The fourth track, entitled “Sermon”, features some killer lady guest vocals and is a definite stand-out on the album. The chorus packs a wallop and nicely contrasts the scaled back groove into which the verses settle. Both “Swingers” and “Captain Deep” take a page out of the classic rock book and run with this theme, though they do not altogether abandon the blues-informed elements favoured by the rest of the album. Situated between the two is the acoustic gem “Wasting Time,” which starts off slow and mellow before escalating to a frenzied finish, complete with banjo solo.
The second-to-last track, “Through the Looking Glass,” comes straight out of left field — or rather straight out of the seventies. Funk-drenched and poppy, this track features the keys and marks a change in vocal delivery, at times bordering on falsetto. While it provides some variation from the rest of the album, it feels a little bit jarring so late in the game, and comes across as a teensy bit kitschy. The charade tires after a minute or so, condemning the track to something of a lull. Luckily, it’s compensated by its successor, “Pretty Pretty,” which brings a sense of energy that was previously missed. In fact, with its shredding guitars, driving drums, and grungy vocals, the closing track is the Delta‘s heaviest and most aggressive, and is a satisfying summation to the album.
It’s worth making mention of the way in which Delta was recorded. It requires little stretch of the imagination to believe that the solos on this album were in no way premeditated beyond a designated sixty-four bars for guitar here, thirty-two for keys there. Indeed, there is a distinct gig-like and improvisational feel throughout, and there’s a reason for it. In true blues fashion, Rubikon opted to go the live-recorded route for Delta, and the decision to do so works well with their desired sound. With allegedly minimal overdubbing, the success of the live-recording process is a true testimony Rubikon’s confidence with their musicianship and familiarity with each other as bandmates.
Overall, Delta is solidly written and performed. If you dig blues-infused classic rock, you’re absolutely going to want to check this album out. Heck, even if that’s not your scene, Delta has much to offer, and is a worthwhile listen for all heavy music audiophiles.
Rubikon’s Delta gets…