Under pressure 

Delta Spirit transcends the sophomore slump

Delta Spirit's Jon Jameson says the group's new album, History From Below, was harder to make than the group's 2008 full-length debut. And while he's hoping it'll be easier next time around, he's not necessarily counting on it.

"It was trying," says Jameson of the San Diego "soul/Americana" group's sophomore effort. "We have four really strong opinions in the band, so it's difficult. Everything's always like a hand-wringing process, which is good ultimately because it makes our CD better. But it's not always fun while it's happening. Everyone's got a different opinion. It's complicated, but it's what makes us who we are."

Jameson says the circumstances surrounding this album's songwriting process made disagreements in the studio pretty much unavoidable.

On 2008's Ode to Sunshine, the recording all took place before the group had a deal with Rounder Records, which allowed the guys to work on songs from the ground up. But that proved impossible when it came to making History From Below.

"On the first record, we kind of wrote songs by just getting together every day, because that's all we had to do," says Jameson, who holds down bass duties in the band. "We weren't touring yet at that point. So we just got together and played music together, and the songs were fun. This time we were touring so much that a lot of the songs were written on acoustic guitar in between tours, largely as folk songs that [singer] Matt [Vasquez] was just putting together. So we had to decide what to do with that.

"It was a confusing album to make," he continues. "There were a lot of songs, and a lot of different ways we could have recorded the songs. So I think we're all really surprised and excited about how well it came together and how it does feel like an album."

Jameson and his bandmates (Vasquez, multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich and drummer Brandon Young) have good reason to be proud of the new album: It's a richer, more dynamic album than its predecessor, one that amply demonstrates the growth that has occurred within the band after three years of touring.

Where the first album had an acoustic feel — largely because several of the songs were anchored by piano — History From Below stretches the sonic and instrumental palette considerably. Yes, the band's rustic core sound carries over on tracks like "Vivian" and "Devil Knows You're Dead," but this time out the group is clearly going for a more muscular, more electric-centric sound. That approach works especially well on the album's uptempo songs. "Bushwick Blues," for example, rocks steadily behind its pounding drums, while the rollicking "Golden State" may remind some of "Trashcan," the standout rocker on Ode to Sunshine. "White Table," meanwhile, is a moody mid-tempo rocker that builds to a percussive climax, with Jameson's bassline pulsing beneath ringing guitar chords.

The album also has its quiet side, as evidenced by the ghostly feel of the stark acoustic "Ransom Man" and the deceptively sweet summer-evening sound of "Scarecrow," which actually masks some fairly gritty lyrics.

The new album is also a better representation of Delta Spirit's live sound — which Jameson says was intentional.

"We definitely consider ourselves a live band; I think that's where we really thrive," Jameson concludes. "Recording has always been a bit of a challenge for us."



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