Alex Lopez – Slowdown
Alex Lopez and the Xpress have recorded three superb albums reveling in tradition but, also, taking an unique modern voice and applying it to a timeless musical form with a proven track record of connecting with audiences. The thing we respond to most strongly in performers and musicians of this ilk is the ring of authenticity – and Lopez has that in spades. The fourteen songs on his third studio album Slowdown have a personal bite that many songs in this tradition maintain a distance from, but it’s presented in a solidly conversational way that has obvious intelligence and an ability to connect with its intended audience. These are songs, likewise, built for roadwork. There isn’t an apparent reason why the band couldn’t play any of these fourteen songs at any live show and the collection greatly expands their potential set list so they can offer live crowds an effective overview of their career. For anyone who loves blues guitar, Slowdown is a sure winner.
Its winning qualities are apparent from the first track “Dangerous”. Lopez tears into this barnburner with the zest of someone twenty years his junior and the band pushes things along behind him with a great deal of commitment and skill. This isn’t blues rock by the numbers. There’s an immediate passion for what he does audible in every second of these songs. The title song reinforces that assertion. It does so, however, with a much more subtle approach than we heard in the first two performances. “Slowdown” with a sharper focus on groove than the blues blasters preceding it. “Words of Wisdom” has a rugged musical approach that recalls classic blues rock guitar workouts of yore while still giving it its own transformative personal character. Lopez’s guitar has a warm and well defined sound that rubs against the listener but never comes off as strident or abrasive. Lopez and the Xpress cop a slight rockabilly feel on the track “Enough of It”, but it’s never so pronounced as to become the song’s focal point. Like his heroes before him, i.e. Clapton and other British blues players, Lopez has a sure grasp on how to take the blues form and commercialize it some without losing any of its authenticity or credibility.
The brief instrumental and acoustic song pairing of “Exodus/Long Long Time” is another of Slowdown’s peak moments. The introduction is, essentially, a guitar flourish flawlessly segueing into the mid-tempo acoustic thrust of the second track. Lopez takes great care to give this song one of the album’s best vocals and its muted portions do nothing to dull its overall power. His talents take a more mainstream turn with the track “Redeem Me”. It’s a relatively heavy sentiment for what, essentially, aims to be a straight forward rock track with some finessed and pared back guitar. “I Love You, Blues” has a sort of torch song vibe, even sporting a little understated jazzy flair, and ranks as one of the album’s more charismatic vocal and lyrical turns. One of the album’s more inventive moments comes with the track “Alive” thanks to its glorious pop influences and the final track, “War Without a Face”, has some assertive percussion and a wicked snarl in its slide guitar lines. It wraps up Slowdown in convincing fashion and puts an emphatic punctuation mark on what stands as Alex Lopez’s best release yet.