ALBUM: Secret Evil
ARTIST: Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas
These may not be delta blues, but Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas harbor a bluesy energy. They’ve finally arrived on the scene with their debut full-length Secret Evil, released after a label merger halted the process. In the wake of a blues-rock revival, The White Stripes and The Black Keys commanders of the twenty-first century audience, bands like Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas are looking to pave the way to their own niches. The band describes itself as dark soul, citing influences like Tom Waits and Gogol Bordello, though it’s easy to compare them also to contemporary female-fronted blues rock bands like Deap Vally and the Dead Weather. What makes the Deltas grounded, though, is that they also look back to the predecessors of the genre, to the soul greats and sassy girl groups of the 60s, to inform their sound. On this record, their expansive musical depth in terms of influence translates to only a surface-level interpretation. The product is musically lukewarm, but the soulful and passionate croons of Jessica Hernandez manage to keep it afloat.
It’s no secret that Jessica Hernandez is the driving force behind this record. After all, separating her name from her band’s implicates that she’s somehow in charge, and doubtlessly, she is. Her voice has the vibrato and quality of a more polished Aretha Franklin or even Amy Winehouse, but her own unique vocal qualities make her a force to be reckoned with. On the album opener, “No Place Left To Hide,” she has this special lilt to her delivery that twists and turns at every note before she lets loose with a soulful and soaring yell. This lilt resurfaces in “Cry Cry Cry,” a heart-heavy ballad where it is loaded with a heavy emotional weight. Hernandez is an equally talented vocalist and lyricist.
Her phrasing is impeccable especially in her fierce wails in “Caught Up.” The songs aren’t interrelated, but many focus on motifs and actions of the body, like “Cry Cry Cry,” “Dead Brains,” “Neck Tattoo,” and “Run Run Run.” In relation to the record’s title Secret Evil, perhaps these themes—in conjunction with the allusions to past failed relationships—could point to Hernandez finding this “evil” within herself and others, and she’s seeking to combat it. This rings true especially in the final song “Lovers First,” with her crooning, “I won’t be a damn fool.” Her emotional progression is captivating. “Damn” is the only curse on the whole record, loading the lyric and reinforcing the declarative.
With Hernandez in the lead, though, the music falls behind. There’s so much pressure on her voice to be the standout feature of each song that the cracks start to show. The Deltas’ contributions in each song are hit or miss, but on the whole, they remain very bland. The band has a strong range of instruments from piano to guitar to horn to organ to tambourine, but the repetitive chords and simple rhythms deny the Deltas the synergy they’re after. “Run Run Run” is a highlight for the band as the carnival-esque hook and strong horn section combine well with Hernandez’s powerful vocals. Other pairings aren’t so symbiotic, though. The frequently vanilla instrumentations create a divide between them and the vocals that force Hernandez to overcompensate vocally. Sometimes, this comes in the form of some slick production as is the case in “Dead Brains.” The unfortunate consequence of this studio polish is that it diminishes the raw soulfulness of Hernandez’s voice. Still, through these shortcomings and imbalances, they manage to craft a solid batch of songs that are as catchy as ever and demonstrate great promise for growth in their future endeavors.
“I will always try to fight for something.”