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I Hear Sparks: Delta Spirit – History from Below

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San Diego’s Delta Spirit concern themselves with the power of the people with their second album, the lush and anthemic History from Below. The record is beautifully crafted, carrying the weight from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States with Americana and folk-rock tones that will have fans of Springsteen and Tom Waits clapping their heads and stomping their feet.

As the follow-up to the extraordinary Ode to Sunshine, an album that I said was “everything music should be,” History from Below exceeds and evolves beyond the gorgeous, expansive tones of its predecessor and tells a rambling, earthy tale of the discovery of what it means to make history and what it means to be human.

The influences of Springsteen, Dylan, Guthrie, and Waits are worn proudly by this amazing band, that’s for sure, and the stories they weave are perhaps the most mesmerizing in modern folk-rock.

Delta Spirit may have dwindled from five to four members as they took to the studio to record History from Below, but their sound is all the fuller for it.

The record springs out, ambitious and proud of itself, from the opening number and never withdraws from its unavoidable path. The noble, gorgeous tapestry of Americana, folk, blues, and rock come from places deep within, drawing emotions, tears and smiles all at once.

Vocalist Matthew Vasquez is an instantly captivating personality. As with his work on Ode to Sunshine, he valiantly engages the listener with warm, broad tones. He is an artist without an ounce of affectation.

The album’s first cut, “9/11,” sets the tone for the exploration. The song comes across like a pithy Dylan number, bolstered by hammering and burning piano and Vasquez’s calculated pronouncements of the intuitive. Check out how he stretches out the word “glory” as the song comes to a close. Brilliant.

Whether it’s the driving rock of the exceptional “Bushwick Blues” or the absolute pop-rock enchantment of “Golden State” with its addictive guitar sweeps, every single instant on History from Below adds up to the greater whole.

Even when Delta Spirit attempt the ambitious, like on the eight-minute “Ballad of Vitaly” or the prayer-like “Devil Knows You’re Dead,” there’s an openness and a tenderness to it that offers, as Vasquez says, “shelter from the storm.”

Without question, History from Below will find a lawful place on my much-celebrated Best of 2010 list. It’s a sweeping, astonishing, spellbinding, poignant, absorbing piece of work from one of today’s best rock bands. The honesty with which Delta Spirit construct their tunes and write out the contents of their souls cannot be ignored by those who take music the least bit seriously.

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