Delta Spirit Delta SpiritHistory From Below
To debut with an album recorded in a shack, somewhere far off in the hills of San Diego (sculpted, note by note, with your own hands), without thinking whether there would be anyone willing to listen to you when you were done with it is commendable, at the very least. This happened with the first album by Delta Spirit, “Ode to Sunshine” (yes, the title is as evocative as its framework - little more than forty minutes of alt-country with a wild smile and a four-day beard), put out in 2007 (at their own expense and risk) and recovered a year later by Rounder Records, the label that gave Matthew Vasquez and his band the definitive backing that placed them in the trenches of grungy folk pop, among the most vital groups (no, they aren’t Herman Düne, but the taste for syncopated percussion —something entirely understandable when we learn that four of the five members have at some point been drummers— gives their songs a special energy, a positive one, and to listen to “White Table” once to be convinced).
Two years after that, “History from Below” arrives, an album that broadens horizons and consolidates what “Ode to Sunshine” outlined: far-off Americana, at times, an ambiental simulation, or a pleasant version of Castanets, as occurs in “Randsom Man”; the scruffy affectedness of a broken but pleasant (and why not, seductive in its own way) voice of the start-up, “911”, and the gospel of a wooden church in the middle of the desert (on the choruses of “Golden State”). These songs seem small, but they grow along the way (yes, you can hear the cars passing by in “Scarecrow”) or are simply enormous (the more than eight minutes of contained story and bittersweet spirit of the closing, “Ballad of Vitality”). Yes, “History from Below” is bigger than the previous album (although the band has gone from being a quintet to a quartet), and yes, the shadow of the Violent Femmes and the Waterboys still hangs long, but it’s clear that Vasquez and his boys are clearer all the time about where their little homage to Jon Jameson’s uncle (founder of the band, along with Brandon Young — Vasquez was recruited later) is heading; he was an air-traffic controller in Birmingham (Alabama), and ran a company called Delta Spirit.
Yes, perhaps the label Americana-soul is still a little too big for them, but they are on their way towards something that definitely mixes soul, gospel and Americana with rock roots, without forgetting the atmosphere (we go back to the Castanets, an easily-digestible version). The lyrics continue to chase girls, but they are also still sitting in the back rows at church every Sunday. This is definitely a firm step towards some other place, somewhere that’s sure to be as dusty as the mountains of San Diego.
Laura Fernández* Listen and buy here