In a year where many musicians failed to release new material, Oscar LaDell has released two full length albums. Whether due to youthful exuberance, or conjured from the abundance of societal malaise, LaDell manages to find enough inspiration to reboot, and offer his latest collection, Love & Revolution. A considerable improvement upon his impressive debut, he reaches into the musical past to color and decorate his set of original numbers, uncovering more than a couple sounds from great blues eras of the past.
LaDell avoids basic retreads of familiar sounds, and instead lets the sonic stencils provide structure in which he continues to explore his abilities as a singer, guitarist, and writer. “Intro – Those Who Are Lost” opens the album with a bold, spoken-word reflection played over a very clean electric guitar progression. The lyrical theme of healing a damaged society carries over into both of the following tracks, “Change the World – Pt. 1” and “Change the World – Pt. 2,” but the music charges head on into a funky ‘70s groove that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Curtis Mayfield record. A large part of this vibe can be traced to LaDell’s ability to sing in that unique falsetto vocal tone, but he also excels in creating a sound that maintains the impression of space, while incorporating a lot of different timbres.
“Moonlight,” “In Your Arms,” and “Falling For You” belong to that same family of song, in that the voice and groove possess an organic retro feeling. “Falling For You” may overstay its welcome for some, but LaDell earns the extended guitar play on its second half through its sheer quality and his instrumental restraint on the accompanying tracks. Attentive listeners will notice the quick-but-crucial guitar licks carefully placed in many of the songs. LaDell seems to understand the musical tenet that less can sometimes be more.
“Ask My Baby” grabs hold of the swinging blues from an epoch even farther back, with clean, crisp rock and roll guitar passages and an old-timey call and response centered around the song’s title. “Please Forgive Me” displays yet another subgenre of which LaDell has full command. In both of these tunes, he shows different facets of his considerable vocal range—not only in pitch, but more impressively, in style.
LaDell uncovers his best musical persona when he delves deep into original roots blues. “Every Day” wows with its chopped chords and LaDell’s gruff, world-worn voice that sings about a society in disarray and the daily slog to live within it. The warbly, watery guitar solo that accompanies the bridge is one of the album’s highlights. “Well of Sorrow,” with its shimmering slide, Elmore James-esque riff, and blues truisms, may find its way into the pantheon of modern blues staples as a song that belies the youth of its 21-year-old author. “Salt and Sand” similarly conveys a writing ability that far exceeds LaDell’s age.
The overall direction of the album, or lack thereof, may be a detractor for some listeners due to its scattershot approach. Most of the songs are rather short—almost vignettes. Lyrical topics oscillate from societal commentary to open-hearted love poems, the sounds from big-band blues, to pre-war solo efforts. An intro and an outro bookend a pair of songs split into “Pts. 1 & 2,” and another tandem is separated by placing a song in between its namesake and its “reprise.” This author believes this to be a result of a young musician exploring the range of his talents and creative abilities, not an indicator of an unfocused effort. LaDell shows an appetite for artistic risk, and it pays off on Love & Revolution. The album succeeds on the strength of its individual songs—varied as they are—and the charismatic musical chameleon of their creator who appears primed for a very interesting career.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Change the World – Pt. 1
– Every Day
– Well of Sorrow
– Salt and Sand
The Big Hit
– Every Day