The third studio release from guitarist/songwriter/vocalist Alex Lopez and his band the Xpress, Slowdown, is easily the artist’s defining album thus far. He’s certainly expended tremendous effort on the album’s fourteen tracks, but they fortunately never feel belabored or overwrought. Lopez has never lacked the instrumental chops or failed to surround himself with the right accompaniment in order to deliver his highly authentic interpretation of the blues form, but he elevates his game several notches with this release. Slowdown has a personal edge that benefits the blues trappings even more and Lopez’s vocals get it over with just the right amount of technique and deeply felt passion. This is certainly the highest peak yet for this unit and there isn’t a song on this album that the band couldn’t get over in front of a live paying audience.
“Dangerous” comes snapping its jaws straight out of the gate and Lopez’s snarling lead guitar licks make this a memorable opener. Lopez has the necessary muscle and swagger alike to carry these sorts of tunes. This sort of material doesn’t necessarily till new ground; the subject matter of these fourteen songs comes across as part of a long tradition, but Lopez expresses himself in such a straight-forward way that he claims a piece of tradition for himself. There’s some top notch slide guitar on “The Wildlife”, but it works best because of the exceptional interplay between the guitar and quasi-barrelhouse piano percolating beneath. “Slowdown” comes early in the album for a title song and it’s perhaps an indication of Lopez’s confidence in the album as a whole. It has considerably more finesse than many of the other songs on Slowdown, but that’s not a knock on the other songs. It’s refreshing to hear Lopez do so many things so well and “Enough of It” adds to that mix with a more restrained approach less reliant on powerhouse electric blues guitar passages. We’re back in familiar blues rock territory with the hard driving “I Don’t Know” and Lopez puts it out there with a lot of authority.
There’s a lean, streamlined pop edge with the song “Redeem Me” and it has a strong commercial edge for radio that should garner some much deserved attention. Lopez gives an ear catching vocal that rides the song with just the right amount of confidence. “I Love You, Blues” is definitely a slow burner, but it isn’t guitar heavy like similar efforts might have been. Lopez achieves a more torch song quality with this performance and his voice invests the lyric with measured theatricality. Some of his pop influences come to the fore with the remarkably hook filled and melodically superior “Alive”. The intensely personal nature of the lyric strikes a notable contrast with the playful melody and Lopez’s oddly childlike, vulnerable singing. “Dance the Night With Me” is a trio performance, essentially, with understated acoustic guitar, lyrical piano, and Lopez’s nakedly emotive vocal carrying the day. It’s another face of many different musical appearances we get from Alex Lopez on his latest release and helps make Slowdown one of the 2017s best all-around albums.