Review Summary: Americana done right.
My most cherished bands have always appealed to me not only with a sense of timelessness but with a feeling of placelessness as well, as if they could be from anywhere or, even better, if they evoke the sound of a region or era without coming off as copycats or sycophantic rubes. By only their second album, Delta Spirit is already rapidly becoming one of my favorite unsigned bands, thanks largely to their ability to pull off just that aura of sounding like a region whose music I unabashedly love (the South) while hailing from a place I’d love to visit (San Diego). These are two dots one would likely not be able to connect listening to the band – singer Matthew Vasquez’s whiskey-soaked voice calls to mind the Allman Brothers Band or the cracked rasp of Walkmen vocalist Hamilton Leithauser, while the band pumps out a genuinely raucous Southern-fried blues rock that has matured well since their 2008 debut. History From Below
is just what a sophomore effort should be, equal parts a step forward and eleven songs stronger, all the red-blooded rock and soulful vitality of their debut while expanding on their trademark Americana sound.
To be honest, there was nothing here that struck me as forcefully as Ode to Sunshine’s
first single, “Trashcan,” nor nothing as quite as in-your-face raw as “People C’mon,” but unlike their debut, History From Below
is quite the studio album, revealing more and more upon each subsequent listen. The band’s growth as songwriters is quite pronounced, as a listen to a slow burner like “White Table” or the flamenco spice on “St. Francis” makes apparent. Delta Spirit never would have tried the conceit of an eight-minute closer before like they do here, but “Ballad of Vitality” never crumbles under the weight of its own ambition, nor ever really feels like an eight-minute song, which is probably the greatest compliment I could give it. Swelling as it does from a campfire ballad to a charging blues beast, “Ballad of Vitality” exemplifies the band’s evolution from dyed-in-the-wool live performers to accomplished studio artists. That talent of transferring their backwoods bar-band vibe onto record isn’t something to be taken lightly, allowing a tune like “911,” one that fits best in a live setting, to coexist seamlessly with a acoustic ballad like “Scarecrow” without a hitch. It’s an impressive achievement, and one many bands that have made their name on the road have been unable to pull off.
But perhaps the greatest praise should go to Vasquez, who, in the span of only two records, has already become one of indie’s most distinctive and powerful vocalists. I don’t think the band knew what they were getting when they found Vasquez playing guitar for money near a train stop, but he possesses a throaty set of pipes that take just as well to vicious love songs as they do to gentle ballads. He really is the band’s identity, taking the same kind of guitar-fueled alt-country so many bands are doing nowadays and injecting it with the kind of vigor and passion that a group like Fleet Foxes wish they could have. The best parts of the record are when Vasquez really takes off, like when he goes into full-on tears-in-my-beer self-flagellation on “Vivian” or the way his howl tears itself apart so beautifully on the final chorus of “Bushwick Blues.” And when Vasquez is practically the lone instrument as he is on the record’s centerpiece, the haunting, lovely “Ransom Man,” it’s clear that he is the heart and fire that will be the reason this band this hits it big. And big they should be. I’ve gone through plenty of bands who have teased me with excellent debuts and then floundered on the follow ups (damn you Futureheads), but Delta Spirit have already proved they can maintain a level of consistency matched with a clear penchant for musical growth that has me fairly salivating for what the future holds.