I’m a bit ashamed to say I wasn’t familiar with Alex Lopez until hearing his new album Rising Up. I was initially a little nonplussed at the idea of reviewing a guitar/organ driven blues rock band in 2021 as I expected little more than a cookie cutter regurgitation of enough musical clichés to float a battleship. I am happy to say I was wrong to expect that. Lopez certainly honors the past, but he isn’t overly reverential, nor does he rely on imitation. He plays with the form, upending listener’s expectations occasionally, but never ventures too far afield of his comfort zone. Everything he turns his attention to throughout Rising Up’s eleven cuts plays into his strengths and it stands as, arguably, his finest studio release yet.
“Light It Up” captivated me mere seconds in. I love how Lopez marries authentic bluesy grit with seemingly effortless melodies yet neither element provides any sort of jarring juxtaposition with one another. You can hear his influences in music such as this, they are apparent from the first, but Lopez stands out because he’s able to infuse familiar blues tropes with a light touch rather than laying on everything in broad brushstrokes. The title song underlines this facet of Lopez’s music. This is, arguably, the most dramatic track on the album and its intelligent use of dynamics is a big part of what makes it so. It features some of Lopez’s best lead playing on the release; his solo is potent without ever piling on notes with no discernible effect. The keyboards and backing vocals are an especially nice touch.
The strategic pauses and hard-hitting riffs Lopez utilize during the track “Even Up the Score” gives the track a hard-edged emotional resonance anyone who has been betrayed or jilted will sympathize with. Despite its emotional tenor, Lopez doesn’t drag the lyrics down into a snarling miasma of rancor. He plays the track straight, doesn’t overemphasize its desire for settling scores, and dovetails neatly into the instrumental accompaniment. “Blues in My Groove”, the album’s 9th track, is a fiery and energetic tune from the first and the R&B influences in the music are greater than what we’ve heard from the preceding eight songs. Lopez’s guitar work is as vibrant as ever, but his vocal shows a singer having a great deal of fun belting out these lyrics.
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“Falling” is likely one of the album’s underrated songs, but it makes for an excellent addition this late in the release. It pairs up well with the closer “Smile” and this unabashedly romantic number is, perhaps, an unexpected ending, but quite effective nonetheless and because of that very fact. Alex Lopez and the Xpress are more than capable – they have the unique ability to entertain as well as touch listeners. Their new album Rising Up may be their best studio recording yet, but there’s no indication at all that Lopez will slow down any time soon. He keeps rising up to meet the challenge of pushing his music into new frontiers and will continue to do so for years to come.