Home Read Albums Of The Week: Mortal Prophets | Me And The Devil

Albums Of The Week: Mortal Prophets | Me And The Devil

A slate of Delta blues classics get, sinister shape-shifting makeovers courtesty of avant-garde New York artist John Beckmann and a cast of talented guest artists.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Midway through making his first Mortal Prophets EP, John Beckmann had an idea: Why not treat his newest rough tracks like a piece of sonic paper and invite Irish producer/multi-instrumentalist William Declan Lucey (Rubyhorse, Leftbank) to collaborate in a playful game of Exquisite Corpse?

In Beckmann’s case, his songs, a few steps away from the finish line, were shared with Lucey and he was given a simple set of rules. Lucey could add or subtract two or three tracks from Beckmann’s original files in his Cork studio. “It was a fluid process — an unusual way of assembling an album.”

Lucey also knows quite a few talented musicians who were invited to participate in this open-ended artistic experiment. Take Beckmann’s synth-laced cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go, for instance. Thanks to the spry percussion of Nate Barnes and easygoing sax lines of Morphine co-founder Dana Colley, it feels alive — a robust, red-blooded strut towards a blinding sunset.

Elsewhere, Pretty Girl In The Pines (aka the seminal folk song In The Pines / Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, famously recorded by folk-blues legend Lead Belly, bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and Nirvana, among others) takes on a new, slightly terrifying life alongside Lucey’s head-rush hooks, Joe Carey’s rip-roaring harmonica, and Joe Philpott’s sinewy pedal steel.

And then there’s Me And The Devil’s final duet, Lord I’m The True Vine. One of two wild collaborations with singer Aoibheann Carey-Philpott, it finds Beckmann bobbing and weaving through her vocals, as humbled and haunted by her soulful voice as the rest of us.

“The songs on Me And The Devil are especially poignant and timeless in so many ways,” says Beckmann when asked why he decided to cut a collection of covers in the spirit of his debut EP, Stomp the Devil. He continues, “I had to get these songs out of my system because they touched me so much. The lyrics are a form of incantation.”

Sonically, the bold, shape-shifting songbook of Me And The Devil is a softer, more poetic record reflecting Beckmann’s love of everything from primitive blues to the raucous punk of Suicide to the ethereal ambient sequences of German electronica. It features contemporary reimaginings of tracks that, to Beckmann and countless others, shaped “America’s primal scream” — this includes takes on recordings from classic blues to traditional folk and gospel.

Now that Beckmann has cleared this conceptual deck, he has one more record in mind for the coming year: another experimental album tentatively called Dealey Plaza Blues. A co-production with longtime Daniel Lanois collaborator Alexander Krispin, it’s set to feature a fearless, experimental sound and original material that brings Mortal Prophets’ opening trilogy of trippy blues tracks to a close with a deft left hook. “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.”

Whether you’re wading through the swamp rock of Death Letter or watching the final curtain go down on Crossroad Blues, it’s as much a mantra for Mortal Prophets as it is a whirlwind jaunt of songs that span a century — a crash course in the music that moves us on a molecular level.”