American Roots Sessions Album Review: Rocco DeLuca - "Rocco DeLuca"
"Rocco DeLuca" (August 15, 2014)
It’s interesting when an artist, particularly a solo artist, decides to put out an eponymous album. The obvious choice is to do it on the debut album, introducing yourself to the masses right out of the gate. The pretentious, and almost universally ‘bad idea’ choice is on the second release, particularly when it follows an incredibly successful debut (seriously, there’s nothing like alienating your legion of new fans by telling them that your second album is who you really are). Outside of that, it’s a virtual crapshoot.
For Rocco Deluca, the perfect time is now…and rightfully so. The Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter spent the last two albums reinventing himself after the relative success of his 2006 debut, “I Trust You To Kill Me.“ Since ITYTKM’s release and accompanying documentary of the same name have been somewhat well-told (Deluca’s increasingly troubadourian spirit, his introduction to musical kindred spirit Daniel Lanois prior to 2009’s Mercy) and somewhat shrouded in mystery (what prompted the increasingly reclusive personae, what happened between he and former band The Burden and self-appointed Deluca discoverer Kiefer Sutherland – though this writer assumes both of those are linked in an effect-cause relationship).
Deluca’s 2012 release Drugs ‘ N Hymns was not only his first release for his current label home (429 Records), but his first true solo album, having shed himself of Burdens both literal and figurative in nature. For his fourth album (released August 19th), Deluca spends less time reinventing himself yet again and more time building on the intimate, dark blues of his last album. Album-opener “Colors of the Cold” is a slow burning tale of life going on around us, or perhaps in spite of us. The delicate, effects-laden rhythm and ethereal guitar line add to Deluca’s falsetto, setting a trippy tone for what’s to come.
“Free” follows and starts in a manner not unlike the bombastic tones of Deluca’s 2009 single “Save Yourself.” Yet “Free” almost immediately takes a left-hand turn, with a distorted lab steel coming across like a piece of alien machinery from a far off galaxy. Deluca’s slightly distorted vocals strike a similar tone as on “Colors of the Cold.” Another tale of moving on, of redemption, of things working out, of the sun rising again another day. “If I should fall / I will be alright” is not only the chorus of the song but also the album summed up in a nutshell.
From there, Rocco Deluca takes a its first real familiar turn as the album’s namesake’s trusty National resonator takes center stage on “Feather and Knife,” a down-tempo modern take on a delta blues style. (Editor’s note: The album’s liner notes and tracklisting are mislabeled. “Feather and Knife” should be third, “Everything Hurts” is fourth.) “Everything Hurts” is a delicate song, featuring melodeon, piano, violin and an understated appearance from the National under an “all that’s left is love” refrain.
Many of the songs Deluca has been penning over the last several years are quieter and more intimate in nature than fans of his debut album may be comfortable with. The big, heavy rock riffs that were the center of Deluca’s explosive live performance are gone. Yet the overall sparsity of the sound of the last couple of albums creates tones that are as beautiful as “Swing Low” or “Gravitate” were uptempo. “Congregate,” for example, may be a quieter song, but it still features some of the dirty, nee grimy, slide guitar sound that Deluca does better than anyone else in the business. “The World (Part I)” and its gang chanted chorus “There’s a world of hurt / coming down on me” and “Through Fire,” with its heavily distorted Moog and lap steel might be most familiar to the “I Trust You To Kill Me” crowd, though neither gets quite as explosive
Rocco Deluca starts and ends with a quartet of songs that each may be the best representation of where Deluca now finds himself as an artist. “Thief and the Moon” features Deluca on the Gibson acoustic, another sweet, melodic tale of finding hope when all seemed lost. “Two Bushes” is an instrumental track that features Lanois channeling his inner Brian Eno. “Will Strike” is another delicate, National-driven melody that seems inspired by Lanois’ recent trend toward effects and dubs (see Neil Young’s 2010 album Le Noise) though it doesn’t overtly feature either. Lanois is at his best as a producer when he lets the instruments talk, weaving beautiful, textured soundscapes.
Lucky for him, this fits Deluca’s recent songwriting perfectly. The “less is more” instrumentation approach suits Deluca’s playing and voice perfectly, in ways that a traditional studio band just can’t. Perhaps nowhere on the album is this better personified than on the closing track, “Simple Thing.” Yet another delicate track whose first half features just Deluca and a lightly-strummed acoustic guitar. As Deluca sings “once I was clever / but now I could not say one thing except that it’s hard to do a simple thing,” one can’t help but think that while it might be as “hard, hard, hard, hard” as he says, he’s developed himself a lack for making it seem simple as only the best artists can.