Delta Spirit | History From Below (Rounder)

As different as the album might be from a musical and production stanpoint, the heart of the songs remains the same. 

 In some ways, the new release from San Diego’s Delta Spirit is quite the departure from their debut full-length, Ode to Sunshine. The album seems to have lost some of the pop influence that was present before: the songs are grittier and twangier, the production less slick, and Matt Vasquez’s vocals have gotten rougher, sounding as though he’s maintained a steady two pack-a-day-habit. The lack of polish is not necessarily a negative, however. Some of the songs, such as “Ransom Man” and the lead-off track, “911,” would not be nearly as powerful if they were sonically cleaned up; the edge and the gruffness are there, and it’s quite obvious that they should be.

That said, as different as the album might be from a musical and production stanpoint, the heart of the songs remains the same—and that’s all for the best. The previous album was filled with songs that touched on issues of coming of age, family  and social justice.
The issues remain on History From Below—perhaps a bit more weighted toward personal relationships than the last album—but are there nonetheless. The rollicking "Golden State" takes us through the life the band has lived over the past few years; it manages to convey both the bumps and bruises that come with living on the road, but also the indescribable joy that comes with working with your best friends doing a job you love.
Not all of the songs are joyful, though; the previously mentioned lead-off track "911" deals pretty explicitly with, among other things, the anger that a lot of people felt—and continue to feel—about the U.S. presence in Iraq after 9/11. Vasquez sings, "All the old boys said they could make it last/ Like Vietnam without a draft/ Got the best in the biz for the marketing/ We’ll turn the Marlboro Man into a marine." This is where the gruffness lends itself well to the subject matter: war isn’t pretty, and while it can be very sad, it is at its core very angry. The song isn’t screaming—the intro is downright upbeat—but it’s certainly rough around the edges and has an earnest zeal that helps convey the emotion of the song.
One of the album’s standout tracks is the closer, the eight-minute “Ballad of Vitaly,” based on the true story of the murder by Russian Vitaly Kaloyev of Dutch air traffic controller Peter Nielsen. Kaloyev blamed Nielsen for the in-air collision that killed his wife and two young children. The song tells the story of the murder, the aftermath of his conviction of premeditated killing by the Swiss courts, and his eventual release and reception in Russia as a hero. The song also examines how things could have gone differently and how the murder robbed Kaloyev of any chance of forgiving Nielsen. It’s melancholy and powerful, and a sign that Delta Spirit can continue to create heartfelt music, even if they move toward a rougher sound. | Teresa Montgomery


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