Review Summary: Former noise punks trip out to the desert and return with a record drenched in white-boy soul and good old-fashioned roots rock.
Energy is one thing Delta Spirit decidedly does not lack. From the opening campfire sing-a-long of “Tomorrow Goes Away” to the brisk bar band vibe of single “Trashcan” to singer Matthew Vasquez’s unique, soulful howl, Delta Spirit is a band that cares about making impressively inspired music. Showing a fondness for American roots rock that wasn’t apparent in the band members’ previous noise punk work, Ode To Sunshine succeeds on Vasquez’s unquestionable passion and the musicians’ creative arrangements, and fails on those songs that don’t play to those strengths.
“Trashcan,” the first fully developed song on the album, is the sort of accomplishment that Delta Spirit spend the rest of the album trying to live up to. A lively rocker that propels itself on a ragtime piano melody and Vasquez’s ragged voice, it wouldn’t sound out of place blaring out of some desert saloon. The rhythm section is tight and the climactic choruses are what make rock great, all tinkly piano and a dirty guitar as Vasquez cathartically wails “my love is coming, I can barely hardly wait around.” If you ever needed a more fitting definition of immediacy, you have one now.
Delta Spirit keeps the vigor up on following track “People C’mon,” a track that relies on Vasquez’s powerful vocals to support it even more so than “Trashcan”, and he steps up to the plate admirably. The band shifts down a few gears on the slow strummer “House Built For Two,” a song that succeeds on a beautiful piano melody and some of Vasquez’s most heartfelt lyrics. You can practically picture a drunken, bearded piano man straight out of the Depression-era West belting this out to the equally hammered patrons.
After the following “Strange Vine,” a solid mid-tempo rocker with a shuffling beat and some fine drum work, however, the second half of Sunshine tends to lessen up on the gas pedal. “People, Turn Around” is slow, country-ish anti-war ballad that still works largely on its Dylanesque vibe, but “Parade” is a thumping rocker that never really picks up any major steam and never really rides away in an interesting direction, instead eating itself up in a standard instrumental freakout.
Vasquez’s lyrics also become more and more preachy as the album continues, particularly with the sentimental “Children,” and while “Bleeding Bells” is the kind of acoustic solo you would expect Vasquez to sing, it pales in comparison to the excitement and urgency of their more fleshed-out songs.
Luckily, Delta Spirit are the kind of band that has promise galore, as epitomized by the entire first half of Sunshine and the closing title track, a piano-stomping tune of musical optimism praising the good gospel of good ole American rock ‘n roll. In Delta Spirit’s universe, melody and talented songwriting are their God and Jesus, and Vasquez and company are their priests.