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Delta Spirit Changes It Up

Courtney Eckerle | Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trashcan lids and youthful exuberance gave Delta Spirit both acclaim and a sense of destiny when they first hit the scene in 2006. With hype for their third and latest full-length album “Delta Spirit” snowballing from a successful SXSW appearance and tour with My Morning Jacket, it seems as though the band might finally break into mainstream consciousness.

There have been a few setbacks, including a lackluster “History from Below” sophomore album and a brief sojourn with trio Middle Brother for lead singer Matt Vasquez. The venture was a singer/songwriter project with Taylor Goldsmith and Deer Tick’s John McCauley.

But armed with new guitarist Will McLaren, the band set to work in Woodstock, N.Y., on this album.

Last year, the band told Rolling Stone they were sick of being shoved into the Americana genre. They spoke of incorporating into this album their “love of hip-hop, the ’90s progressive production” and finding slow jams “closer to Montell Jordan than Neil Young.”

Although they were among the best of Americana bands, this determination for genre growth produced a solid album with perhaps more general appeal.

However, the band may have put aside some of their unique voice. Most of the songs feel like televisions songs – they work well in the background because they don’t distract from the scene too much. This is a real departure from previous albums centered on rowdy, gut bursting howling from Vasquez.

The band has said that this album is its first eponymous album because it has finally found its voice. The name draws up images of a spooky deep south of blues and hoo doo. “Delta Spirit” sounds much more like something out of their home state, with the first single “California” an ode to it.

Vasquez’s backwoods-bar-jukebox howling brings enough of the blues to “California” to carry along current fans, jumping up and down the musical scale like a raspy Tarzan. It doesn’t hurt that he has an ideal look to go along with his haunting voice either, like a swarthier Stevie Ray Vaughn.

“Money Saves” has a rhythm and chord progression with edge that is reminiscent of previous works, specifically “Bushwick Blues.” Starting off with a high pitched tongue roll, “Telling the Mind” is also a more familiar track with its out of control pace and creative arrangement.

The album’s opening track, “Empty House,” is like running in slow motion. You know it is actually moving quickly, but you feel it very slowly. It is without a doubt one of the most compelling tracks on the album. The band champions the blue collar worker over a great guitar hook with the opening line, “Glinting gems, in the concrete I paved / One every couple of feet / They got mixed up, in the lyme and the sand / Nobody noticed, but me!”

Considering Delta Spirit’s initial appeal with their fresh and creative trashcan banging and exuberant “I Think I’ve Found It EP” sound, this album comes as a mild disappointment. The songs aren’t always ideal for Vasquez’s voice, but that comes off well, as more importance placed on a collaboration of band taste than strategy on how best to display him.

There are more ballads than up-tempo heart kicking songs that gave the band their niche. However, it may serve as the impetus to get the band the attention and appeal they need to indoctrinate new listeners with the Delta Spirit. The band members made this album, for better or worse, for themselves – a modern rarity that should be applauded.