There’s an unbeaten, assertive quality present during Alex Lopez and the Xpress’ eleven song release Rising Up. It’s easy to expect such a quality from someone so thoroughly steeped in the blues, it’s the genre’s raison de entre in some respects, but what makes the deepest impact on listeners is the utter sincerity of those qualities. Alex Lopez couldn’t fake it if he tried. His obvious love for blues and blues rock comes through during these tracks, but moreover his love for communicating and performing. You get the impression, early on, that Lopez would still play and write songs no matter if they were ever heard by the public. It isn’t so much a question that he likes music and playing, it is that he has to play, he has to write. We should be thankful he feels such a compulsion.
Inspiration is plentiful throughout the album’s eleven songs. It is true Lopez shares a common frame of musical reference with a variety of solo acts and bands, but he puts his own stamp on that frame thanks to his clever variations on recognizable turns. The terse yet muscular guitar heard during the opener “Light It Up” is a harbinger of many things to come and you can’t mistake both his inspiration and comfort level with this type of material. He’s well versed in what the music requires for success. “Paradise” is a natural choice for a single, I think, and introduces Hammond organ for the first, far from the last, time during the release. The warm, fat and distinctive tone of the Hammond provides, as it always has, a compelling counterpoint for electric guitar. It is a far simpler tune, superficially, than the opener, but no less impactful.
“Not This Time” embodies how steeped in blues Lopez really is. It is a slow burn tune with a behind the beat crawl courtesy of five-star drumming. The rhythm section, overall, provides a solid foundation for Lopez’s six string extemporizing, but it’s notable how Lopez can unreel such fantastic seemingly off the cuff playing while remaining well within the track’s borders. There’s no heavy-handed self-indulgence marring this track – it’s well-aimed and free from any unnecessary bloat. “Anymore” is reminiscent, in some ways, of the earlier “Paradise” in the way it follows a relatively straight line free from the adornments heard in other tracks and it’s another strong candidate for an album single.
“Falling” hails from the same aesthetic but has more blues present in its musical DNA than “Anymore”. It’s an easy track to miss, perhaps, considering its placement in the album’s running order, but it’s one of the album’s best and most complete tracks. The final curtain on Rising Up falls with the track “Smile” – this is a well-tuned love song with ample guitar, once again, and a deeply felt singing performance from Lopez. The overall mood of this release, barring a few tunes, is positive, and even the handful of songs undeserving of that label are never mired in despair. It’s a great addition for anyone who loves versatility and blues/rock songwriting.
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