Delta Spirit

History From Below

Written by: TL on 15/11/2010 18:49:09

I was recently asked by PP, in one of his more responsible moments, if I couldn't prioritize the review of "History From Below" by Delta Spirit, which I have apparently been neglecting for a while. Delta Spirit are a four-piece from San Diego who can count themselves lucky enough to have a subsidiary to Universal Records as their distributor, and given how a publication such as ours often depends on the mercy of labels, to provide quality coverage of band-related events, I had better hustle if we wanted to stay friends with the big boys - And I write that with no failed sense of rebellious bitterness or punk-rock resentment, I just simply couldn't come up with anything better in terms of an introduction to the review.

You see, introductions always come harder when you're writing about a band you've never actually heard about till the moment their record lands on your doorstep, and this could also possibly be the reason for my not having been in any particular hurry to check this record out. Now that I have been doing so for a good week or two however, I can report that Delta Spirit are of an indie/folk-rock persuasion, and that they rely on a rather eclectic assortment of instruments and a healthy doze of classic American inspirations in the deployment of their soundscape.

For most of the album, I can't quite shake the feeling that these boys sound a lot like Ryan Adams, and that like with his music, theirs can be pretty accurately described as a contemporary reinterpretation of the style one Bob Dylan made famous a good many years ago. Twangy guitars mingle with banjos, pianos and soulful vocals in a way that constantly encourages comparison to the busy ex-Whiskeytown frontman (that would still be Adams), but I guess I can also hear occasional similarities to artists such as Bright Eyes, Cold War Kids, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and The Decemberists. Of course has maybe twenty bands I've never heard of, listed as more closely related, so I guess that just reveals how shallow my familiarity with this genre/scene really is.

Regardless, to my ear, what mostly makes "History From Below" feel good, are similar things to those that give Ryan Adams appeal. Mood-setting country instrumentation and soulful singing is always a winning combination, and songs like "Ransom Man" and "White Table" are proof of it. However, in the back of my mind, a nagging critical urge rears its head for similar reasons. This is enjoyable, sure, but not as much as Ryan Adams, it doesn't have enough charisma for that, and the elements that Delta Spirit bring to the table don't seem to really set them apart, as much as they occasionally just seem to clutter the soundscape up a bit. It makes me feel like the band could be better if they employed a slightly more confident less-is-more approach. As it is now, if I turn my full attention on the songs, I'll get a feeling here and there, like the band is slightly overstating both its sound and its lyrical points (see for instance album opener "911").

For this sole reason, I tend to favour "Bushwick Blues" as the highlight song on the album, with the bass actually being allowed a driving presence, and the mood mostly being of a more cool, Kings Of Leon-ish nature. It's on this song alone that I feel like Delta Spirit are a band that I want to really listen to, while most of the other songs appear to me as more suited for chilled-out background music. Don't be fooled though. The fact that I can even imagine having this on in the future - background or foreground - is actually a tribute to a fairly good band, given how retardedly critical I've become from being in this reviewing business.


Download: Bushwick Blues, Ransom Man, White Table
For The Fans Of: Ryan Adams, The Decemberists, Bob Dylan, Cold War Kids,

Release Date 05.07.2010
Universal/Decca Records

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