Some albums come as a pleasant surprise no matter how much hype you may have read (and ignored) about the artist in question. Stepping neatly into that category come San Diego’s Delta Spirit and their debut album Ode To Sunshine, which has actually been knocking around the States for a couple of years but is only now gaining a UK release.
Delta Spirit actually began life as emo outfit Noise Ratchet but gravitated towards a rootsy rock sound more in keeping with their musical influences. And there are plenty of those all over Ode To Sunshine, from old-time blues through ’60s country rock to Americana.
The brief opening track Tomorrow Goes Away sounds like something The Kinks might have shoehorned onto their ‘country’ album Muswell Hillbillies. It is also the first introduction to Matthew Vasquez’s quavering vocals, which to be frank can be a bit of an acquired taste, but fans of The Cave Singers will be in safe territory.
The single Trashcan is a terrific slice of early ’70s-styled Rolling Stones country ‘n roll, driven by a bluesy piano riff and Vasquez letting rip with a throat-shredding vocal. It’s a style that is revisited on another of the album’s standout tracks, the taut Parade. The latter is also one of the few songs to use guitar as lead instrument, a tactic the band would do well to revisit in future.
Like The Cave Singers there is a distinct whiff of southern revivalism laced throughout Delta Spirit’s lyrics, which at times is overt (Children; People, Turn Around) and at others more palatably oblique (People C’Mon). Elsewhere the album deals with drug abuse, family betrayal and sexual perversion, and while the lyrics can be heavy-handed (“I’ve finally found the cure for my own cancer” is the worst offender) generally the mood fits the music.
There are some delightful musical touches throughout Ode To Sunshine, notably the banjo on People, Turn Around and the Salvation Army-style horns on Bleeding Bells. True, the Violent Femmes did it all 20 years ago but there is enough musical variety on offer to counter claims of Delta Spirit being merely musical magpies.
Above all there is a keen ear for a killer pop melody on show here. Two of the best are Strange Vine and Streetwalker, which mix busy percussion with acoustic/electric guitars to shimmering effect. The fact that Vasquez also tones down his vocals is another plus point.
It is a shame that Ode To Sunshine has taken so long to surface over here, although it must be said the UK is less susceptible to heart-on-sleeve roots rock (as the long suffering Coal Porters will attest).