Rene Lopez (pronounced Ren-ey) is a striking Spanish hipster born in the heart of Bronx, New York creating a fusion of sound he calls “electric Latin soul.” His newest solo album, aptly titled ELS, is being released on Nat Geo Records alongside the recently signed festival favorites Toubab Krewe. Lopez seems to be gaining a similar, jam-rock oriented fan base, and it’s clear from his album why, though his work with John Butler Trio’s Money Mark and ‘90’s jam band Wasabi doesn’t hurt.
On his website, Lopez calls it “a combination of rock, soul, boogaloo, and a number of other styles that have personally inspired” him, but the ultimate result is that of two worlds fabulously colliding. His father was a founding member of the Salsa group Tipica 73 and his influences are undeniable, but Lopez’ urban upbringing is also a theme easily identified throughout ELS.
The title track, first on the playlist, is a declaration of what the album is trying to achieve. It’s deceptive because “ELS” is immediately more Latin than anything else, whereas the rest of the album doesn’t really follow that trend. The lyrics are in Spanish except for the chorus, where Lopez announces, “electric Latin soul makes you lose control.” The only real parallel between this track and the others is its crazy dance-ability.
“I Flow” is sung in a sultry, rhythmic speech style and it’s a head-bopping tune but really serves as the first example of Lopez’ American-influenced side. This track also has a horns section, which seems to be the icing on the cake for any genre these days, but really does add an additional layer here.
“Johnny Wants to be a Matador” and “Honey Got Some Love” are two of the quintessential check marks an artist makes on their hopefully-game-changing album: the unattainable-goal song and the sexy-lady song. The first is a story where the character “dreams of leaving Brooklyn and moving to Spain.” It’s the familiar tale of big dreams and little possibility, but has an upbeat, shimmy feel to it, keeping the mood positive. The latter features Caribbean and tango grooves layered together with horns to support the narration of an intriguing woman.
The next few tracks aren’t as gripping as the first were, though they each offer something to album as a whole. “Fa La La” is lyrically interesting but musically slow, and “Puerto Ricans in America” overcompensates for this by being too surfer rock and dance-y. Granted, in a club scene, this intensity would work well, as would “L2 The Boogaloo,” especially remixed with heavy, late-night dance beats.
The 8th song on the album is another one of the essentials: the radio ready track. “Feeling Something Good” is undoubtedly the made-for-the-masses tune, but is pretty brilliant in it’s exposition. When Lopez coons, “It’s good to be alive… I’ve got love in my heart, wanna set it free…,” it’s vaguely reminiscent of Michael Franti’s sun-shiny style, though this island melody is little more honest than Franti’s utopian music.
The next song, “Everything We Do,” is another mellow jaunt with somewhat of an anthem vibe. In a 1980s kind of way, a group shouts the chorus with an apologetic tone. Its saving grace is the trumpet solo during the bridge.
The album gets back on track for the last two songs, only for one to out-do the other. “Shing-a-ling” is reminiscent of “Feeling Something Good” with a light Spanish glow and groovy subtleties, while “Moon Feather” is the true culmination of the album’s direction. Musically, Lopez brings back his deep, mysterious, speaking voice over a funky, laid-back, reggae beat. This song could become a favorite among the jam-band followers, as it chronicles a young “boy and girl who met tripping on some fungi,” found west coast love, started selling crafts, and teaching yoga.
All in all, this album a handful of choice singles that may bring Lopez some radio success. On the other hand, the dance party grooves of his live band may very well find themselves on the last night stage of festivals next summer. After all, in the end of “Moon Flower,” the two lovebugs “grew up to be Deadheads…”