Excerpt from Lawrence Specker, Mobile Press Register, Al.com: "They can say 'Nobody Don't Know,' but the word on The Deluxe Trio is getting out"
With all due respect to the personnel involved, there was some cause for concern when word got out that The Deluxe Trio was holed up in a Dog River studio, at work on an album.
The musicianship of the players -- guitarist Steve "Duck" Varnes, bassist Stan Foster and guitarist/mandolinist Phil Proctor - was established. And there was no question that Wet Willie cofounder Rick Hirsch could capture amazing sounds at his Studio H2O. But this was a group whose appeal drew strongly on their sense of spontaneity and unplanned interplay.
A strong sense of tradition runs through everything they do. Yet to watch them is to behold an ensemble in which the partners are, quite obviously, frequently surprised by each other, in everything from their choice of songs to their choice of notes to their between-song interplay. (At a recent performance, Foster was heard to say "nice segue," congratulating Proctor on an especially gonzo stream-of-consciousness transition between one song and the next. "Nobody got hurt," replied Proctor, and on the music went.)
Happily, Hirsch and the Trio and a few select co-conspirators managed to capture lighting in a bottle. The group's debut album, "Nobody Don't Know," exemplifies the group's almost whimsical mix of music, which ranges from '20s blues and mountain music up to contemporary Americana writers such as Ryan Adams.
Proctor says that the key to The Deluxe Trio isn't the bandmates' ability to play. It's their ability to listen. And often that starts with one member challenging the others with a new song they don't know.
"Steve brings in songs that are a little more complex than the typical song," says Proctor. "They're off the beaten path."
Varnes, for his part, credits Proctor with an "encyclopedic" knowledges of roots and contemporary tunes. But when it comes to what the band actually plays, Proctor says, "A lot of these songs, I've never heard the recorded version."
One powerful example of the band's ability to make old music fresh is "How Can A Poor Man Stand (Such Times and Live)," a highlight of the band's recent live shows and a centerpiece of the album. It's a Depression-era ballad from Blind Alfred Reed that could easily sound maudlin, but Varnes doesn't overplay the sentiment as Reed's lament builds from simple economic problems to something much heavier.
Preachers these days preach for gold
Very few of them preach for souls
That's what keeps all us poor folk down in a hole
We can hardly catch our breath
We've been taxed and schooled and just preached to death
The song easily could come off as corny. So could the traditional "Denomination Blues." For that matter, so could John Prine's "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness," the only contemporary cover on the album. What saves them is Varnes' earthy, careworn delivery and a sense of reverence from the band as a whole. There's a gospel tinge to the harmonies; not just in the way the voices blend, but in the way it seems that they raise their voices at a particular instant because they're moved to, rather than because they mapped it out that way.