Album Review

From the Mouths of Babes: "Onward" by The Christian Lopez Band

The Christian Lopez Band - Onward

"And Jesus spoke, yea; have you never read? Out of the mouths of babes and suckling children you have perfected praise." Taken from the King James Bible, this passage is open to interpretation based upon the reading and understanding. In modern English it has become an idiom signifying the brilliance that sometimes falls from the lips of those from whom we least expect it.

It is a grave disservice to us, but unfortunately America has a preoccupation with youth and beauty. Especially when it comes to entertainment. About a decade ago Nashville offered up their greatest hope for re-engaging the youth market in Taylor Swift. Her music wasn’t exactly brilliant, and if you go back now and listen to her titular first release you can spot instances where her voice spits and cracks from youth. While similar teen acts haven’t aged as well as Taylor Swift, their impact on popular culture (of course, I mean sales) became immediately clear.

Over here in the Americana genre we like to poke fun at our friends in the pop/rock/country realm. We insinuate about their motives while simultaneously questioning their relevance as if music, like politics, has become just another game of us versus them. We glorify lineage, and some articles begin to resemble the Book of Genesis in the writer’s effort to connect back into the dim memory of our shared past.  Should we ever get too haughty it’s important to consider that amongst the new releases we have more than our own fair share of acts and artists on the shy side of thirty.

And why shouldn’t we? I know the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys are a novelty act. But dang if I don’t like seeing a kid aged in single digits out-pick me on the banjo, guitar or mandolin? It is with youth as well, the greatest amount of ambition and variety lies. It’s exciting to hear young people take a stand, get up on the stage and sing as if they’re going for broke.

Allow me then to introduce the next major teen contender for chart success. Christian Lopez, front-man, song writer and namesake to the Christian Lopez Band should be right up the acoustic purist’s alley.  His release, Onward (Blaster Records) drops today and if I had to call it I think you’ll probably be hearing his name around in the next few months.

With the exception of a traditional number popularized by Hank Williams when he himself couldn’t have been much older, the West Virginia native, 19, has created a pleasing, passable album of original material. Tracks like the upbeat trad-bent picker, “Will I See You Again?” successfully balances the youthful focus on the interpersonal against a more time tested rhythmic vehicle. While the album perhaps leans too heavily on ballads, certain tracks do well to keep the work as a whole from falling into monotony. See the rock tinged decoration of “Oh Those Tombs.” By keeping the call and response chorus intact, the material is taken in a new direction when performed with a full band and completed by a rollicking electric guitar lead.  

And though there are more ballads than necessary, sparks of brilliance flash across a handful of the singer songwriter additions to Onward. The only real issue seems to be Lopez’s inability to articulate his true voice. Across the album we hear him wobble from an early Ryan Adams Heartbreaker style delivery on “The Man I Was Before,” or “Goodbye” to an “Easy Peaceful Feeling” type country-meets-elevator-jazz on “Morning Rise.”

It’s unfair to be too critical about a first album, especially when the musician is still a child. At 19 few have yet to establish their own identities, so I’m fully prepared to give young Mr. Lopez the benefit of the doubt. After all, he wouldn’t be the first to ever go and fake it just to make it. Onward doesn’t come off as an industry cash grab, and neither does Lopez feel like a personality massaged from the very cradle to generate as much capital as possible in a market that is continually seeing diminished returns.

Onward is somewhere between T-Swift’s self-titled and Oberst’s Fevers and Mirrors. When Lopez sings about the road, it seems compulsory, but when he sings about the passion of young love we get a slice of his life delivered without pretense. And if like the Beatles he can go from “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” to “A Day in the Life,” in the span of some eight or nine years, he’ll still be younger than most groups who will only then be releasing their first albums.

At the end of the day Lopez isn’t exactly a wunderkind. He isn’t a Welles, Oberst, or Rimbaud. That being said, Onward isn’t a half bad record, all things considered. It won’t really strike a chord with the more seasoned crowd, but it would make a good primer or introduction for the young people in your life you’d like to steer in the Americana direction. I for one am interested to see the direction Lopez’s career takes.