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Delta Spirit: History From Below (Rounder) 

Successfully combining garage and soul music requires an adhesive like the earthy passion found in Matt Vasquez's vocals. Vasquez sings with a weathered versatility that allows him to switch from relaxed to intense like few others can.

The frontman guides the band's second album through stylistic shifts that expand on the easygoing tone of 2008's Ode to Sunshine. Leaping far past any reasonable expectations, History From Below is a compelling record that not only re-establishes the band's skill for radiance, but also explores the sounds and themes more aligned with nightfall.

Two new directions for Delta Spirit emerge on History From Below: the propulsive yearning of "Bushwick Blues," and the pensive storytelling on "Ballad of Vitaly," the eight-minute album closer. It's a tough balance to strike on one record, but Delta Spirit makes it seamless.

Elsewhere, the band improves on its Southern California sound. There's the catchy "Golden State" (an ode to the roaming lifestyle of a touring band); the sunny yet relaxed finger-picking of "Scarecrow"; and the harmonica-led "Vivian," with its easy strumming and sing-along chorus that sounds like Exile-era Rolling Stones.

History From Below holds a number of thrills, not the least of which is how much Delta Spirit has improved since its debut. There isn't a forgettable song on the record, an achievement that few veteran bands can claim.

More by Eric Swedlund

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