I’ve had “Delta Man” in my “to do” pile of album reviews for a while. I’ve listened to it many times over the last month or so (in all candour, many more times than I usually do) so it’s time. Time to write about how fantastic it is, but also to explain the delay.

The first bit is easy. It’s simply 15 of the best country and country flavoured songs that will be released in 2022. The second bit: well, that’s trickier. I’m a big fan of Gerry Spehar, and I’d initially expected a record like that. “Delta Man”, though, is a career retrospective of the stuff he recorded with his friend Bobby Allison before quitting the music business to raise a family. The pair remained friends and there were more songs recorded in the 90s (including many that are here), but what is truly sensational about this is just how timeless they sound.

Whatever your arrival point into country (mine’s easy, my gran played a load of Jim Reeves and I got a record called Elvis Country when I was about 15) you’ll find something here.

And despite them being unreleased you might even know the first one. “Kinda Like Love” was done by Molly Hatchet, this version is better by a thousand miles. Why? Well that bit is simple. Allison has the most incredible, rich voice. Far too good to be playing Casinos on the gulf coast (which is what he did). He’s an interesting character too, paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, he also nailed Country’s ethos on “Bite The Bullet”. “This crazy life, and that passion play, it’s heaven sent and hell to pay” and when you get to it, isn’t that what just about every song entails?

There’s slow, relaxed sadness on “Baby’s Got The Blues”, there’s a quirky, jazz thing called “Just Relax” that sounds like Stephen Fearing has gone to the prohibition era, and there’s a Latin flavour on “Money.”

Perhaps because these songs were recorded a decade apart, there’s plenty of scope here. The title track has a Sun Studios thing going on, a fact that “Rockin’ On A Country Dance Floor” reinforces. “If you can’t dance to this, you can’t dance, reckon the lads and they’ve got a point. Goodness me, its fun.

And fun, is the overriding feeling in all of this. Whether it’s the swampy blues of “Eye Of A Needle” or the lovely, warm “River” (and in this one you can hear the genesis, perhaps of Spehar’s later work) then what you realise is this is two old friends enjoying the creativity.

The glorious organ driven “Bubba Billy Boom Boom” is the story of someone in Nashville who gets a record deal and finds fame. That neither of the men playing it had true mainstream success is an irony not lost.

There’s a funkiness to “25 Miles To Brady” that you can see in the Drive-By Truckers and the likes to this day, and “Train Train Train” is the sort of thing that has obsessed songwriters since the dawn of time.

The quality of the songwriting shouldn’t be forgotten, either. “Ballymoreah” looks at Bobby’s Texan heritage with a folky poignance and “Here In The Pass” couldn’t sound more content with its lot if it tried, frankly.

There was another reason for the reticence. I was told by a Country singer a year or so back that I “didn’t understand his work” living as I do in the middle of England. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t, but here’s what I’ve spent a lifetime understanding: what I like. And “Delta Man” in that respect, is a mighty slice filled with so much goodness.

Rating 9/10