|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2012||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 60%|
|Running Time: 42:00|
This is a good old-fashioned, gritty and driving blues based hard rock album that, in many respects, is in the mould of Rez Band, Mission Of One, Tommy Wales, Sign Of Jonah, Derek Close and a host of others within the genre. Jesse De La O might be a new name to many, but he is not new to the hard music scene in having gotten his start as a vocalist in the late sixties while honing his skills in various bands throughout the seventies and eighties, including PAX, Jensen and Bois D’ Ark. He proceeded to go solo for the nineties and began producing compilation albums in addition to recording several personal projects, with the most notable being his Tripping On Life psychedelic series, 2009 seventies rock album Count On Me and multifarious 2012 independent release How I’ve Changed.
Musically, the artist lists his influences as “everything from doo-wop, pop of the 50's, old blues masters, as well as the masters who reinvented it - so to speak - in the 60's and now, the new age or experimental music of the late 70's, and up to the metal of the 90's”. Yes, a wider array of musical styles could not be found (and not all are represented on How I’ve Changed), but what I hear beyond the bluesy hard rock foundation are elements of acoustic rock, classic rock, artistic Beatlesque pop and a bit of reggae. How is that for variety- not to mention something different? Of course, different is not bad as long as the music holds up, which it does for the most part.
The lone caveat, and main particular preventing the project from reaching its full potential, is production. I am the first to cut independent artists some slack and give them the benefit of the doubt in this regard, but How I’ve Changed comes across on the thin and muddy side of things. The problem revolves around an imbalanced mix, which at times forces me to adjust the volume button. For example, on several lighter tracks the instrumentation is so far in the backdrop I have no choice but to turn up the volume significantly. Yet, on many heavier pieces, I end up blasted out and subsequently adjust things back down again. Some tightening up would have proved beneficial here.
Production to vocals also suffer in coming across muffled and bottom heavy (almost as if too much reverb or effects were added) to the extent the artist’s true abilities are masked. Which is too bad when factoring how De La O has a competent voice, with a darker and more somber timbre in comparison to some hard rock vocalists, albeit capable of reaching low for some courser grit and gravel (as becoming the genre).
Production notwithstanding, How I’ve Changed presents with its share of good musical moments. It starts with heavier tracks such as “Wake Up”, an aggressive riff driven mauler with a grooving bass line (Rez Band could not do it any better) and “I’m Coming To You”, faster and more melody based in allowing a classic rock element to stand out (not to mention some of the albums more engaging guitar work). “If I Knew” plods to a deadly and ominous low-end groove that yields a near doom-ish effect (the vocals melodies remind of Pilgrimsprog), while “His Call” picks up the tempo with its traditional blues heavy rock flavorings (the fiery guest female lead vocals of Marlene Rodgriguez lend the perfect touch).
Albums best are closing tracks, “Tell Yourself” and “Take It Back”, a pair of rousing seventies style hard rockers in which the artist puts forth his finest vocal performance (he sings in a raspy and guttural style that reminds of Alice Cooper). Former comes across haunting with a thick and weighty milieu in which a discordant feel makes its presence felt (some more doom-ish aspects can be found). Latter rollicks in a high-energy fashion as a raw, streetwise aura and technically catchy form make defining statements (if the artist came up with 9 or 10 more like this he would have a near classic on his hands).
Lone heavier piece not to do it for me is “The Waiting”, which suffers from albums worst production. The problem is that the song features so much distortion and reverb it can be difficult to stomach, particularly the disquiet backing vocals that are drowned out too the point of being indiscernible. I really want to like this song (it is not bad musically) but it comes off so harsh and awkward I have no choice but to hit the skip button.
I appreciate how De La O mixes in lighter moments with the heavier. “First Day Of Destiny” walks a fine line between both from interweaving acoustic guitars with rhythm guitar tinctures in playing up an uplifting milieu (quite catchy and nice use of female backing vocals). A slight Jamaican reggae quality can be found on “Bound And Gagged”, smoothly flowing with acoustic guitars blended with wistful keyboards (very accessible as well) and “Back On Track”, playing up a pronounced organ presence and pumping bass line (not to mention slower tempo overall). Albums title track highlights those ‘Beatlesesque’ overtones with its acoustic laced ballad basis and leisurely if not ethereal feel, as does “Would You”, exquisite from giving prominence to larger than life backing vocals and artist pop essence (lone complaint is that this one is a bit short at just two and a half minutes).
Artist leaves little doubt that How I’ve Changed is a Christian project in making several statements of faith throughout, most notably on “The Waiting” (Thank you Lord for Your great patience. For I’m an evil man. The things I do I should never do. Make me an better man) and “His Call” (You better do it now. So don’t even think twice. Cause if you die now you have to pay the price. Answer His call). “If I Knew” stands out equally in this capacity: Stand on Your Word each day. Lifting up my voice to pray. Don’t let my mind go astray. I will follow You. I wish I had more to present but lyrics were not included as part of the packaging (again, vocals can be difficult to discern due to production).
Speaking of which, it must be noted the reflective album cover featuring a black and white photo of a child holding a giant stuffed bunny rabbit. The initial impression is ‘out of place’ in that cute, furry animals and hard rock, obviously, do not go hand in hand. That said, I do not wish to be disrespectful either in that perhaps some sentimental value is at hand (I would not be surprised if the photo is of De La O as a child). Hence, the theme behind the albums title in chronicling how the artist has changed over the years.
How I’ve Changed proves solid musically with its blues based and classic hard rock framework. Yes, there is some variety, but it is good variety in that songwriting holds up throughout (the artists vast experience pays off in this area). Production, however, represents the main area of improvement worth noting, particularly the need for a cleaner mix of vocals. In the end, if into artists such as Tommy Wales, Derek Close and Sign Of Jonah that emphasize hard rock but are willing to branch out at the same time, then Jesse De La O comes with a solid recommendation.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Wake Up” (4:07), “How I’ve Changed” (3:38), “Bound And Gagged” (3:20), “The Waiting” (3:47), “His Call” (2:58), “First Day Of Destiny” (3:03), “If I Knew” 3:40), “Back On Track” (4:08), “I’m Coming To You” (3:39), “Would You” (2:29), “Tell Yourself” (3:46), “Take It Back” (3:26)
Jesse De La O - Lead Vocals, Guitars & Bass
Malene Rodriguez - Lead Vocals
Darwin Shows - Guitars
Jose’ Diaz - Guitars
Mike Kosacek - Drums
Terry Daun - Drums
Alfie Reyna - Drums