Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Great Albums I Have That You Probably Don't: Nuclear Valdez - I Am I

Nuclear Valdez - I Am I [1989]
Unless you've from the Miami area or have worked in a music store in the late 1980's, you've most likely never even heard of this band. I happened to pick this cassette out of "The Box" because darn-it I just needed something new to listen to for my drive home; plus the artwork really caught my eye. Most of the items that sit in "The Box" do so for good reason. Only a very small percentage of the time do you get lucky and find a gem among the junk. Nuclear Valdez band members are all of Cuban descent except for the lead singer, Froilan Sosa. But by all definitions they are an "American" rock band and it shows in this debut release on CBS Records.

The first track you'll hear is called "Summer" which got some MTV circulation when first released, but largely forgotten after that. It's a well-constructed song opening with a single electric guitar strumming the open chords and then building in crescendo with the whole band joining in by the 12th bar. It's at this point when you first get to hear the soulful voice of lead singer Froilan Sosa. It's not a voice you will not soon forget. "Summer", a soaring commentary on the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the plight of the Cuban citizens since that time. But you can hardly notice the political subtext through the dance-able beat and catchy chorus.

Track 2, titled "Hope", is probably my favorite cut on the entire album. Sosa wistfully recalls a romantic breakup that he now painfully regrets, which he conveys strongly through the chorus. Musically well-emphasized punches on the downbeat, a well-written bass line and tight vocal harmonies provide Sosa the emotional landscape needed to complete the song. This song was well-written and well-produced and makes me think that if I were still in a band, I would add this song to the play list.

Track 3 - "Trace The Thunder": This song is the first you'll hear of their Latin roots. While the song is in 4/4 time, it is up-tempo and there is a lot of emphasis on the drumming and rapid strumming on an acoustic guitar. Breaks between the chorus and verses drop the music and give the drummer 4 beats to solo. If you're the "dance-where-you-are" type these breaks will give you plenty of reason to shake your booty and carry-on to the end of the song.

Track 4 - "If I Knew Then" is another very strong power ballad. This blues-heavy composition, compared side-by-side to more popular power ballads, would give any of them a run for their money. Once again, well-produced and composed to give Sosa full use of powerful vocal range. If you don't finish hearing this song with a tear in your eye or a lump in your gullet, then there might be something wrong with you, seriously.

For Track 5 "Unsung Hero", the band once again picks up the beat to mid-tempo. It is subtitled as "A Tribute To Lenny Bruce". However, since I don't know much about him other than knowing he was once a famous comedian and I'm pretty sure he's dead now, it's difficult for me to make an emotional connection to the song. However, Mr. Bruce aside, this is a good song with a catchy chorus and well-placed backing vocals. I guess I'm partial to good backing vocals because you don't hear them much anymore, at least not with rock bands.

Track 6's "Strength", is in it's catchy chorus and driving guitar rhythm. Also, there's a nice blues breakdown towards the end of the song, showing off the solo stylings of Jorge Barcala; followed by a nice crescendo into the chorus one last time. This song will be in your head for quite some time.

Track 7 - "Eve": If I were the promoter for this group I would have pushed to make this their second single. It's a simple mid-tempo acoustic breakup song. It's strength is in its chorus, "Eve, I don't believe in words, I don't believe in lies, I only believe in love love love." There's some vocal backing emphasis on the last word of each line giving it that extra emotional push of sincerity. It's a very radio-friendly song fading out at 3:32. It's a shame that CBS records didn't know they were holding gold in their hands.

Track 8 - "Apache" once again picks up the tempo for a nice drive-home song. This would also be a fun one to play live as it has a nice guitar hook during the chorus. Admittedly, I can't recall what the song has to do with Apaches. Certainly the chorus doesn't give us any hints. I'm weird that way though, I don't always follow the lyrics of a song unless something compels me to listen to them. If you're familiar with this song, please enlighten me.

Tracks 9 & 10 mark the beginning of the end for this album in my opinion. Both "Run Through The Fields" and "Where Do We Go From Here", while still better songs than I usually write, sound like filler material for an otherwise great first release. They don't reduce the experience of listening to the whole album, but after one or two tries, you might find yourself skipping these and going back to the beginning of the album or moving on to the next one.

Speaking of 'moving on' that concludes my first installment of "Great Albums I Own That Most Of You Probably Don't". You can give these songs a listen on most major music download sites, including Amazon,, and I'm sure several others including the most famous of all music download sites. While there, you may also be compelled to give a listen to their second release, Dream Another Dream. Don't let me stop you as this is also on my list of "Great Albums..." and will probably be reviewed next. It is, in my opinion a much better album and actually makes the playlist more often than I Am I.