New York City experimental rock outfit The Mortal Prophets, helmed by John Beckmann, recently announced the forthcoming release of their debut LP, Me and the Devil, due December 9. The band announces two singles from this record: “Crossroad Blues” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” Each track gives a contemporary reinterpretation of the blues classics that helped mould our musical landscape. Beckmann joined forces with Irish musician and producer William Declan Lucey (Rubyhorse, Leftbank), with whom he developed the record’s atmospheric, noisy sound. It also features collaborations with Morphine’s Dana Colley, vocalist Aoibheann Carey-Philpott, and more.
Baby, Please Don’t Go is a traditional blues song popularized by Delta blues musician Big Joe Williams in 1935; likely an adaptation of ‘Long John,’ an old folk theme which dates back to the slavery era in the United States. Blues researcher Paul Garon notes that the melody is based on ‘Alabamy Bound,’ composed by Tin Pan Alley writer Ray Henderson, with lyrics by Buddy DeSylva and Bud Green in 1925. The song, a vaudeville show tune, inspired several other songs between 1925 and 1935, such as ‘Elder Greene Blues,’ ‘Alabama Bound,’ and ‘Don’t You Leave Me Here.’ Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Monette Moore, Henry Thomas, and Tampa Red all covered the song; later interpretations by AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Them (with Van Morrison) brought the song into a different light.
Beckmann’s version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” is boldly synth-laced, with percussion and sax. It’s bluesy roots are on display here, but with a no-wave interpretation of the song. If James Chance and latter-day Leonard Cohen had joined forces, it dwells in that vein.
Robert Johnson’s 1936 masterpiece “Cross Road Blues” (also known as Crossroads), originally cut with just vocals and an acoustic slide guitar, is now a ghostly, shaking vocal with minimal percussion, melancholy, echoing guitar, and an eerie church organ.
“These songs are the essence of America’s primal scream,” says Beckmann. “They are chilling and profound in their austere beauty and directness; they are so full of tragedy and hope, lost loves, and personal and societal struggles. Not much has changed in a hundred years. They are all songs that I find deeply moving and poignant. My versions are not covers, in the true sense; they are contemporary reinterpretations, it’s a poetic attempt that hopefully, people will appreciate, and I’m very proud of it.”
Earlier this year, The Mortal Prophets shared their highly anticipated debut EP, Stomp the Devil, produced by David Sisko and featuring collaborations with Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart).
“Life is about unknowing yourself,” explains Beckmann, “and so it is with making music. It’s about the journey, and I know that will be discernible in the music as new songs and new albums are released over the next few years.”
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