Delta Spirit’s History From Below [Album Review]

by oz on June 8, 2010

delta_spirit history_from_below cover art

Today, Delta Spirit will embark on a journey that will find them many new fans . Their sophomore album, History From Below, is one of the finest albums you’ll hear this year. Inspired by Howard Zinn’s novel “A People’s History of The United States,” the album is a giant step forward and an accomplishment I thought them incapable of achieving.

I was a fan of their self-produced debut, Ode To Sunshine, but this release trumps it in every way – songwriting, instrumentation, production, arrangement, musicianship, and intellect. It’s theme may be consistent with Zinn’s novel, but the songs are varied with lively, Springsteen-ish piano/guitar driven anthems and reflective, vintage Waits-style Americana ballads. The latter is fitting, considering the band recorded in Cotati, CA at a studio thrice occupied by Tom Waits for different albums.

The album starts with the politically charged “9/11,” a cheerful song that belies its subject matter. The driving electric guitars in “Bushwick Blues” follow, building into a climax with Matt Vasquez’s screeching vocals bleeding into a dramatic guitar solo.‚  “White Table” showcases percussion comparable with what you’d hear from modern day contemporaries like The Dodos or Local Natives. With the exception of the pop gem, “Golden State,” the rest of the album glows with slow-moving Americana folk-rock.

It’s these songs that captivate me. “Devil Knows Your Dead” is a dreamy blessing, reminiscent of old Irish prayers with lines like “May the wind be always at your back/ And the sun shine warm upon your face” and “May the road, may it rise beneath your feet/ And be downhill all the way to your door.”

“Vivian” was written for Matt’s grandparent’s who died during the band’s first two tours. You can watch the video below and listen to his words. I won’t be able to do that one justice with a description. “St. Francis” follows combining near-perfect lyrics,‚  fiery vocals, harmonica, country-western guitars, and horns to create an intensity that’s palpable.

And finally, this carefully crafted body of work is finished with 8 minutes of glory that is “Ballad of Vitaly.” History From Below was released today and I can’t say enough good things. I’ve seen the band live and loved their debut, but this release shows that they mean business and proves that they are well beyond ordinary.

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Delta Spirit – Bushwick Blues

Video: The Delta Spirit – Vivian (KEXP Session)

Video: The Delta Spirit – St. Francis (via The Alternate Side)

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dustin Roberts June 8, 2010 at 9:31 am

I knew you would review this soon. This is my favorite album of the year. It is the one album that can get Edward Sharpe off my Ipod. Great review yet it still does not do this album justice. It is an absolute must listen!!

Woody June 9, 2010 at 5:44 am

I will admit that I had worries about Delta Spirit pursuing a more mainstream album and somewhat selling out. Thankfully that is not the case and they delivered a fantastic album.

Michael Diver June 9, 2010 at 10:00 am

Thanks for this review. This is one reason I love this blog — you inform me about bands I might not hear about otherwise. “Bushwick Blues” sounds great. I hope this album shows up on eMusic soon. A small point — the Zinn book is a revisionist history, not a novel.

Justin June 9, 2010 at 12:23 pm

this album is horrible comapared to their first one. every track on ode to sunshine trumps this one hands down.

oz June 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Justin – your comment is shocking to me.

Michael – Good insight into book genres. I rarely read anything without pictures.

Josh June 9, 2010 at 8:06 pm

I just saw them last night at Belly Up in Solana Beach. The new songs sound amazing live. Great review of the album too.

Michael, “revisionist” suggests that it’s not factual. Wouldn’t you agree it’s just another view of how history effected different people? Revisionist history is what they’re doing to the textbooks in Texas.

Justin, you high?

Michael Diver June 10, 2010 at 9:30 am

Josh, revisionist is a fresh look at a subject that departs from previous histories. I certainly did not mean to suggest it is not factual. (That’s why I mentioned it is history, and not a novel.) Any work of history is an interpretation of sorts.

Now, back to the music. I did not mean to divert from Delta Spirit so much. I’m glad you liked them live, Josh. I’ve really got to get onto this band. Emusic has their first album.

Alec June 10, 2010 at 11:12 am

I’ve gotta agree with Justin, I thought Ode to Sunshine was better all around than History for Below too. HfB is starting to grow on me, but I wasn’t as immediately taken as with OtS.

I saw these guys live, opening for Dr. Dog a couple years ago at a tiny club and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I’m seeing them again in about a month and can’t wait. This is definitely a band that puts on an awesome live show, so regardless of your opinions of which album’s better, go see them live. You won’t be disappointed.

Brian July 11, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Not a bad record, especially taken at face value. Unfortunately, it contains not a single track as immediately gripping as those found on their debut.

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