Deering and Down
Echo Lounge, Atlanta GA • May 28th 2004
I’ve been familiar with The Rev Neil Down for 5-6 years now after first discovering him in a pile of unsolicited CDs that come along with this music-writing hobby. The Rev — under another name — has been around a good while having done session work with some pretty high-profile folks as long as 30 years ago — and maybe even longer ago. I dunno. The Rev has an air of mystery and intrigue about him, and while he’s offered up his real name to me, I prefer to continue to just refer to him as ‘The Rev’. Some things are best left alone.
“Deering + Down Photo”
In my few years of acquaintance with The Rev, I have seen an evolution. The first album was good-but it was different American Friend was a Man’s Rock and Roll album. Even then there were ‘the signs’. American Friend was all over the place. Possibly it was the culimination of years of longing to have that first CD that brings to full-term birth all of the songs that have been kicking around in your head just waiting for an audience. American Friend had more of a sampler feel to it than his work since has had.
The influences in American Friend were often apparent, but non-apologetic — as they should be. Snatches of great ’70s sounds were stamped all over it and nods were given to some great musical styles that might not always be considered arty enough for many of the more-jaded fans of music. Good rock and roll is good rock and roll though, and I appreciated the fact that someone was open to much more than the oldest stuff or the latest trends.
One other thing about The Rev is, he’s always got a ringer. On this first album it’d have to be Jerry Scheff. Scheff may be better known as either Elvis’ bass player, or the bass player who could’ve possibly joined The Doors after he contributed his parts to “L.A. Woman.” Unfortunately, Jim Morrison died and we’ll never know.
Just when I thought that I sorta knew what The Rev was about, here he comes with another ringer – an Angel in the gorgeous mortal coil of Miss Lahna Deering. It seems that The Rev met Lahna in his home of Skagway, Alaska while he was doing a bit of carpentry and she was visiting with her mother at a tender age of 17 or so. The Rev and Lahna clicked and played together long before she could legally even be at a bar without her Mother as a chaperone.
When signs appeared in front of the local watering-holes in Skagway that said simply ‘Lahna’s Mother is in Town’, the townspeople knew exactly what it meant. Lahna is a woman who you’ll be hearing more about in the future. I have no doubt about that. If everyone else can see what I see in her and what The Rev apparently saw — then she’s Star Material.
Coupe DeVilla was aptly billed as a “Deering and Down” release — and it was. Lahna was given more that equal space for her voice as well as her songs on this recording. Some of The Rev’s best licks can also be found on this recording. It felt like an awakening of sorts and it was all about relationships the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s a beautiful album though and while it’s been chart-resistant it’s already seen one of its songs make it into an award-winning indie movie soundtrack.
When A Wrong Turns Right is the most recent offering from The Rev and it too comes with a ringer. This one is Henry McCullough. Henry was the only Irish musician at Woodstock and is perhaps best known for his work with Paul McCartney and Wings. “Live and Let Die” features McCullogh in what he has described as one of the most terrifying sessions that he’s done due to the fact that they recorded it live with a full orchestra and he was very aware of what a retake could cost.
It seems that some Swiss tourists were vacationing in Skagway, and that they were so charmed by Deering and/or Down that they had them come to Switzerland and play a few gigs. Since they were in Europe anyway, The Rev called up Henry (who The Rev had met and befriended in a session some 20 years prior). Henry eagerly drew from his local resources, band-mate and facility-wise, and hooked The Rev up with everything he needed to construct his latest. This one is billed as a Rev Neil Down album, and it is, but Lahna adds her talents to this one as well. Henry and The Rev are the real shiners on this release though. It’s got some incredible trade-off licks from two consummate professional ax men.
I say all this to get to the live show. When I first heard that The Rev and Lahna would be touring I was a bit concerned that perhaps without a full band or even a rhythm section, they might not be able to communicate their full range of talents as they had on the smoothly-produced and musical-talent-heavy studio offerings. I thought that they might not be able to reach the right audience. I feared that they would get stuck playing unplugged acoustic versions of some of their songs in venues before a more folky audience.
I was wrong.
Deering and Down don’t need no stinking rhythm section. While the live versions are different, the power is undeniably still there. There’s a whole almost yin-yang quality, or perhaps a Beauty and The Beast type of interplay in the live offerings. Lahna can certainly rock it out alone — don’t get me wrong, but much of her charm is derived from her gentleness and soft voice and touch. She sometimes almost floats around a song like a gentle rain when suddenly, in comes The Rev like a violent thunderstorm just crunching and exploding in microbursts of plugged-in fury and enthusiasm. It’s the whole “Shadows and Light” thing and it’s as good in a way as some of the great classic jazz is. This was not lost on the relatively meager-sized crowd at The Echo Lounge. There may have been no more than thirty or so patrons but they made a noise like hundred or more.
Deering and Down have a few more upcoming gigs lined up in Florida, Atlanta, and Baltimore before they head back to Skagway. See them while you can still say ‘I saw them when’. Their day is coming.
Burn Barrel Records: www.burnbarrelrecords.com