It’s a real tossup when it comes to deciding which inferno blazes hottest: the blues-rock fretsmanship or that five-alarm voice? Either way, the human flashpoint that is Lance Lopez ensures Trouble Is Good—the Texan’s tenth and hardest-rocking burner since busting out solo in 1998—is an adrenaline binge that, when fed the merited decibels, doubles as a grand disturb-the-neighbors option.
Because the meters get pegged immediately.
From the very first headbanging second of the opener, “Easy to Leave,” those hammering bottlenecked notes are already redlined. Fully engaged, fully enraged. Accompanying drum concussions join Lopez’s razored singing about shoving off from a bum relationship in ensuring everything gets yanked tight, leaving no slack in the excitability. The precedent is set for the next 40 fired-up minutes.
One jolt after the next—“Jam With Me,” with its shout-along chorus and returning slide guitar; the raving, stomping title track impaled by harmonica; “Wild Country,” a rover’s anthem whose furor leaves behind a metallic taste; “Take a Swing,” pure provocation with a bullet-fast solo—sequentially build that state of constant exclamation. Yet the 46-year-old doesn’t necessarily need a fast song to go combustible. His fingers and savaged throat generate velocity and tension galore, whenever and wherever they want. Neither “Reborn” nor the exasperated power ballad “Uncivil War” are inherent speed rushes. “Slow Down” goes as far as declaring so in its title. Yet do they lull? Let you off the hook? Never, still striking like a bolt of lightning between the eyes.
But then again, Lopez has been flaming guitars—Gibsons, preferentially—for years now. It’s a trick picked up and honed from working elbow-to-elbow with home-state pals Billy Gibbons and Johnny Winter, as well as such non-Texan friends as Steve Vai, Robben Ford and Walter Trout. Add to this a formal pedigree that began by touring the American South in Johnnie Taylor’s van, when backing the blue soulman on the chitlin’ circuit in the mid-1990s. Then came more teenage years on the road; this time crisscrossing the world with Lucky Peterson’s band. Later, there was Buddy Miles Express, Band of Trouble (Tommy Shannon, Buddy Miles), Supersonic Blues Machine, and countless stages shared with countless brand names. Not bad company, huh?
That trend continues on these sessions with guest sidemen who, for instance, have drummed for Whitesnake, pounded keys as part of Lynyrd Skynyrd and throttled bass alongside Lenny Kravitz. Such consolidated rocker experience gets put to use blasting out songs with siren-like urgency for the back row to hear. And whereas Lopez’s past albums could sprinkle in roaring takes on, say, Hendrix (“Spanish Castle Magic”) to Wolf (“Killing Floor”) to Robert Johnson (“Traveling Riverside Blues”), Trouble Is Good differs: 10 tracks with zero covers.
As snitched by its cosmic title, “Voyager: Sunrise, Voyager, I Am Ra” is the most ambitious of the bunch. The lengthiest, too. Its seven sectioned minutes arise like a mirage, in a mysterious swirl of strings and ethereal synth haze. That symphonic prelude instantly vaporizes once the blistering begins, be that via a scalding downpour of notes; a tip of the headstock to another mentor, the late Jeff Beck; heavily clanging riffs; or the whiffs of “Kashmir” somehow embedded in the DNA of its Eastern texture.
Bust out the Kevlar. Because for those about to blues-rock, Lopez scorches you.
Label: Cleopatra Records
Release Date: 7/14/2023
Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski
Artist Website: https://www.lancelopez.net/