Alex Lopez and the Xpress open his new album Rising Up with “Light It Up”, a fiery number and ideal opener even if both its texture and sound will be familiar to anyone waving a flag for blues rock acts. Despite its predictability, Lopez demonstrates why he has been successful carving out a niche in the indie music world with this decidedly retro, though time-tested, sound. I never questioned his commitment a single time during the track. He brings a steely-eyed toughness to his phrasing that is, nevertheless, equally musical – there’s a subtle swing in his vocal delivery on this track and others that readily hooks into the rhythm section with outstanding results. “Light It Up” hints at the explosive possibilities contained within Lopez’s music without crassly exploiting them.
The album’s title song is one of its peak moments. “Rising Up” gains a great deal from its percussion – the drumming sets a definite tone from the outset and gives the cut a formidable musical voice. Lopez flexes his musical muscle throughout this piece and the sheer variety incorporated into his guitar playing cannot help but impress all but the most cynical of listeners. He owes clear artistic debts but “Rising Up”, among others, proves he’s skilled at subsuming those debts into his own work and putting an individualistic spin on them.
Interplay between the instrumentalists is another key to the album’s success. “Not This Time” has an assortment of highlights well worth a listener’s attention, but the chemistry struck between Lopez’s guitar and the Hammond organ gives this number a slow burn aspect that will draw many into its web. He further punctuates it with an emphatic solo in the second part of the song. “I’m Always Wrong” has an enormous amount of polish, but Lopez doesn’t allow the professionalism of the track bleed it dry of authenticity. There’s an understated rambunctious spirit within this tune that never breaks free but, nevertheless, gives its overall pleasant inflections a certain amount of edginess.
The acoustic strands of “Mountain Rain” is a definite 180 degree turn from the preceding material. “Mountain Rain” reveals more of Lopez’s impressive talents – his playing encompasses a wide range of hard-hitting electric guitar work and relaxed melodicism as heard in this track. It is light with the vocal and lyrical content when compared to its layered musical foundation and low-key sense of dramatics. Lopez and the band work up a good sweat with the romping R&B tinged track “Blues in My Groove”. It’s built on the back of another memorable rhythm section performance, but Lopez’s guitar work matches them step for step.
Alex Lopez and the Xpress have been mightily prolific since he first hit the scene in 2013 with a handful of studio releases to their credit and scores of live performances under their belts, but you get the sense they haven’t yet reached their full potential. Based on the powerful effect this release had on me, I hope I’m still listening when they paint their masterpiece.
by Bethany Page