You can hear Alex Lopez and the Xpress’ musical pedigree in every song of his sixth album Nasty Crime. He draws deep from the tradition of guitarists as varied as Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hendrix, and Jimmy Page, among many others. He likewise pulls from the singer/songwriter work that has soon often utilized the blues or blues-rock idiom over the last half-century and utilizes its strengths well. Lopez’s songwriting has a strong social consciousness, but it has an equal amount of vulnerability that, six albums into his career, Lopez has refined to an intelligent and often eloquent shine.
“World on Fire” serves listeners notice that he’s far from an observer. Lopez’s songwriting and music place him in the middle of the action, so to speak, and are primarily reflected through his vocals and guitar work respectively. The former is rugged without ever being unmusical while the latter tosses one six-string fireball after another in the listener’s direction. Lopez, like all great guitarists, sounds like he is physically engaged with his instrument and closes any distance between himself and the guitar. At the risk of sounding slightly mystical, he’s in the zone.
“Just Wait” has an in-your-face groove with considerable hop thanks to the drumming. Lopez belts out the song’s lyrics with tonsil searing conviction and his crashing guitar chords reinforce the song’s percussive qualities. “When the Sun Goes Down” takes the album in a more tradition direction as Lopez unleashes his own variety of sweet melancholy blues. There’s a shot of whiskey spiking the sweetness, however, and Lopez’s guitar often burns with atmospheric power. “See the Light” has a light AOR vibe recurring throughout the course of the album, yet Lopez never sacrifices authenticity for accessibility. The track succeeds on its own merits rather than through pandering to listeners.
The title song is a funk-influenced raver with aggressive guitar playing and the organ playing a vital role in supporting the six-string. It comes at a typical place for title songs in an album’s track listing, but that isn’t a reflection of it being a middling tune. It doesn’t break new ground for Lopez, but it is as impassioned of a statement as any of the album’s best cuts. “The First Time”, however, deserves consideration as Nasty Crime’s finest moment. We are in acoustic territory for this one and his playing is as steeped in blues as ever. It’s wedded, however, to perhaps the album’s best lyrics and Lopez renders them for listeners with all of the passion he can muster.
Engaging but straightforward dynamics are the foundation “No Way” relies on for its success. The guitar playing is as strong as ever, but it’s the brief breaks in the song that give it much of its flavor. It may not seem like much but, in the grander scheme of an overall album, such decisions are crucial. The closing blues of “That’s Alright” is, of course, an ideal way to bring Nasty Crime to an end. It has a different texture than the earlier “When the Sun Goes Down”, but they nevertheless inhabit the same overall universe. “That’s Alright” brings the curtain down on Nasty Crime with every bit of the passion and stylishness I expect from this performer.
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