Danny Mangold has the kind of credentials that give someone carte blanche in the studio. But instead of hogging the spotlight on Hey Rainmaker, this well-travelled vocalist and guitarist – he’s worked with the Neville Brothers, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Heart and the Spin Doctors over the years – used that experience to guide him toward a more collaborative triumph. Over the course of this 12-song cycle of blues-infused traditional gospel favorites, Mangold shines a spotlight on a series of tremendous new voices – even as his own nervy concept of mixing and matching genres takes shape.
By the time the self-released Hey Rainmaker stops spinning, they’ve covered a stylistic – and emotional – waterfront. This is music for the heart and mind, presented in an endlessly varied, utterly engrossing way.
“Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” opens things with a locomotive propulsion, as Mangold fashions a dramatic expansion on this 1935 country blues from Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter. Vocalist Jody Hanks – making the first of several notable contributions to Hey Rainmaker – handles the lyric with a tough bravado, even as the grinding riff is augmented by a series of rollicking tabernacle shouts. That sets a template for the amped-up back pew glories to come. “You Can Run On For a Long Time” features the initial appearance from Neal Virgil Brown at the mic with Hanks this time on harmonica. Together with Mangold, they add a rockabilly attitude to this Bill Landford hit from the late 1940s. Hanks returns on vocals for “There’s a Leak in this Old Building,” offering a gruff recitation of a newer item originally done by LaShun Pace in 1984.
Roger Mark Wood contributes a series of smart keyboard flourishes on “There’s a Leak,” and also sits in for “Wade in the Water,” which offers a chance for vocalist Patricia Lee to plum the depths of this ageless turn-of-the-1900s gem from the Jubilee Singers. Wood then provides the sizzling, old-school Hammond intro for Andre Crouch’s “Soon and Very Soon,” opening the door for Esther Rose’s emotional take on the lyric – and then a silky smooth contribution from Rulon Brown on alto. “Mary Don’t You Weep,” again from the Jubilee Singers, features Mangold collaborating with Megan Allen, who shows off her own gritty swagger.
“Why Am I Treated So Bad,” a 1960s-era Staples Singers hit later redone as a soul-jazz classic by Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, features a turn from singer Danelle Hayes that’s as mysterious as it is sultry. Then there’s the Edward Sanctified Singers’ 1928 chestnut “Lay My Burden Down,” which Chris Larson transforms into a Southern-rock infused cry with help from a scalding solo by guitarist Tony Yardley.
C.J. Johnson’s “You Better Run,” which dates back to 1965, begins with a haunting chorus before Shandon Hayes joins the aggressive cadence – singing with a throaty menace. Dave Hillis’ ghostly turn on the guitar only adds to the track’s newfound sense of portent. “John the Revelator” possesses a similar hard-eyed attitude, but expands Mangold’s basic sound – and Blind Willie Johnson’s initial groove – to include not just David Ayers on vocals, but also Jakael Tristram with a grease-popping turn on the guitar and Ginine Mizerski with a saucy background vocal.
“Fire and Brimstone,” a 1971 Link Wray tune that was memorably redone by the Nevilles in the late 1980s, finds Mangold again joined by Brown (who boasts a dusky Nick Cave-esque growl), along with guitarist Frank Grace – who unleashes a wondrous solo that’s somehow both spaced out and serrated. Finally, “Hallelujah” recaptures the broken, stripped-down beauty of the Leonard Cohen original, rather than the more well-known – and more polished – remake from Jeff Buckley.