“Light It Up” begins Alex Lopez and the Xpress’ new release Rising Up on just the right note. Lopez’s stock and trade, since his first studio recording in 2013, has always been the time-tested fusion of blues and rock motifs, but he never limits himself. Like previous recordings, Rising Up features some stylistic detours, but the release nevertheless centers itself around his guitar and, to a lesser extent, his singing. The highlights of the first song for me are the percussion and, of course, guitar, but Lopez isn’t a vocal slouch as well.
You may find yourself wishing for a little more grit in his voice, but he never fails hitting listeners square between the eyes with first rate phrasing. It’s an invigorating opening number and promises much from this collection.
“Paradise” is a track I loved on the first listen. It’s very straightforward, you won’t hear any pretentiousness here or the other tracks for that matter, and the effortless way his vocals and, especially, his six string work commands your attention will likely have you listening to this track a few times before moving on to the remainder of the album. It introduces Hammond organ to the album’s sound and it’s an excellent addition, though you may find yourself hoping it will become a little less shrill as the song progresses. It counterpoints his guitar well, there’s several gripping exchanges, but it would have soared even higher with a meatier sound.
The best song on the album, for me, is the title track. Only one other song comes close. This is Lopez at his finest, resolute, unstoppable, and apparently capable of pulling riveting guitar playing out of some bottomless magic hat. The sheer variety of his creativity is impressive. It’s stamped, as well, with his personality and possesses unmistakable spirit. “Not This Time” is a contender for best song too. This pure blues tune begins like so many before it and even more to come, but Lopez has developed his own twist on these time-honored styles that sets it apart from other similar tracks. The relaxed, deliberate pace he takes on is, of course, perfectly suited for this performance.
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“I’m Always Wrong” is clever in the way it contrasts the pessimistic lyrical content with the its irrepressible musical agility. The drumming and bass are stand outs here. Having said that, however, the change of pace Lopez’s jazz influenced guitar playing exerts over the album is a welcome respite from the opening four tracks. “Mountain Rain” is another break from the expected. He ventures into acoustic territory with this track producing something not far removed from his wheelhouse but, nonetheless, more folk than quasi-Albert King. His vocal sensitivity is notable as well. There’s a slight ballad-like feel to the final track “Smile” and I am gratified he chose to end the release with such a positive, life-affirming moment. Alex Lopez’s Rising Up is a worthy addition to his growing discography and opens the door to an even brighter future than he’s known so far.