Alex Lopez – Slowdown
Alex Lopez serves up a wide platter of his best blues guitar on the rocking, swooning, and reeling Slowdown. The fourteen song collection certainly dwarfs a lot of similar releases but Lopez and the Xpress show no sign of weariness over the length of the album. Instead, they maintain a tremendous pop in their step from the first and finish just as strong as they begin. Lopez began playing music at the age of eight and came to the guitar later than most, but his natural facility with the instrument is apparent on all of his releases and this latest effort sounds like the culmination of his efforts so far. It has the best production yet for any of his releases and the live quality achieved on the recording undoubtedly gives listeners some indication of what they are capable of as a live unit. Lopez and his band the Xpress are an obviously well oiled machine, but they are a band capable of leaving an emotional mark on their audience.
The strength of this collection is obvious from the start. Slowdown kicks off with four consecutive home runs – “Dangerous”, “The Wildlife”, the album’s title song, and “Words of Wisdom”. The first two tracks are straight ahead blues burners with an emphasis on razor sharp guitar passages, tight support from the rhythm section to keep these mothers swinging, and energetic vocals from Lopez. The album’s title track gets a decidedly different approach to the sound with a airtight funk romp that highlights Lopez’s ability to lock down on a riff and milk it for all its worth. “Words of Wisdom” mines a familiar vein with impressively individualistic results. The neo-Zeppelin riffing is pulled straight from a 70s blues rock handbook, practically page one, but Lopez and the Xpress discharge it with such snappy dispatch that you never fault them for aping the style. “Exodus/Long Long Time” is essentially a brief instrumental introduction tied into a very different and dark acoustic track, almost a folk song, that Lopez tackles without losing any of the swagger or head of steam he’s built up since the opener.
“Redeem Me” takes on the stance of a streamlined, built for speed commercial blues rocker, but it bears all the stamps of the same personal approach to songwriting that defines this release in its entirety. Things could scarcely be more different on the track following it, “I Love You, Blues”, a soulful and understated jazzy take on the genre with Lopez delivering a particularly effective vocal. The track “Alive” breaks the mold for this album relatively late in the game, but the remarkable turn of musical imagination is welcome and Lopez doesn’t miss a step. The last track on Slowdown, “War Without a Face”, ends the release in a way that’s characterized its duration – raw, unadorned musical poetry with a finely tuned arrangement that helps better dramatize the vocal. This is an album unified in theme and effect the way few releases ever are. Slowdown will be appreciated by longtime fans of blues and blues rock, but even causal listeners will find something here to admire as well.