Alex Lopez – Slowdown
The fourteen song third album from Cleveland born, Florida based blues guitarist Alex Lopez marks his full on emergence as not just a powerful instrumentalist, but a first class songwriter capable of revitalizing the form for a new generation. Rather than aping the obvious modern giant in the genre, Joe Bonamassa, Lopez’s style has its roots in Chicago style blues and ends up only two steps removed from those young men who migrated north from the Delta from the late 1930’s up to after the Second World War. Pedigree is important here, but it’s more important how Lopez perpetuates that pedigree. He embraces his influences while molding them towards his own personal ends and he communicates time tested devices and lyric turns with a dash of charisma that’s essential for getting this sort of music over with modern audiences. Slowdown is likely the best release you’ll hear from the blues guitar genre in some time.
“Dangerous” is one of the album’s best recordings and really presents the group in full-on stun mode. Lopez is the instrumental focal point, of course, but the mix gives proportionate sonic space to the rhythm section and other elements of the performance. His blood drawing guitar attack takes a front and center role in the sound, but his vocals have an equally profound effect on the listening experience, albeit in a different way. “The Wildlife” makes good use of slide guitar sounds and Lopez’s songwriting serves up a clever verbal twist on a sturdy subject in the genre. Lopez doesn’t strike listeners, initially, as having anything like a classic voice for this material, but the truth is that once your ears adjust, his singing performances gain more and more luster. The title song is an excellent example. The musical style shifts gears here, somewhat, as the song opts for a slightly funkafied approach on “Slowdown” that his vocal rides with absolute confidence. You might not initially be able to hear him tackling this sort of song and making it work, but a listener’s faith in him will grow with each passing song.
“I Don’t Know” is a hard hitting and chaotic tune. Lopez plays some fiery guitar work and unleashes a vocal that underscores its go for broke quality, but the later track “Stolen” is rather different. This is Lopez’s closest invocation of the broken, whiskey soaked three am blues popularized by the Chicago sound and it’s a doozy of a tune. Lopez’s vocal, however, is the most surprising element – he completely dominates the singing on this one and makes the song all the more meaningful. “Redeem Me” does an about face turn from that sort of pose and goes, instead, for the bare knuckled adult rocker approach – it’s never too hard nosed, but it gets over in a very visceral and well produced fashion. Some of his avowed influences surface on the song “Alive”, but its Beatle-esque turns are never so boldly imitative that you want to roll your eyes. The sense of whimsy in this song is very real and appealing, but it hides a darker edge that the melody thankfully sweetens. “Dance the Night With Me” is another impressive pop jewel hiding near the album’s conclusion and the wailing emotion Lopez conjures from his voice is alone worth the time required to hear this track. Slowdown is a colossal statement from an increasingly powerful musician and songwriter, but he’s mastered another important facet – the vocals. This powerful voice doesn’t announce itself with stunning displays of technical ability; instead, it gets under your skin and stays there. The songs on Slowdown do the same.