Preview Red Arrow by Christian Lopez.
Red Arrow by Christian Lopez
When Rolling Stone responds to a performer’s first album by calling him an artist to watch, that vote of approval comes with big expectations for the follow up. If Christian Lopez felt the weight of that anticipation, he didn’t let it get in the way of recording Red Arrow, the light-hearted and uplifting set of songs that make up his second album.
Just 22 years old, Lopez is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter who has been inching closer and closer to making himself a household name. As a teenager, he appeared twice on American Idol, both times progressing through several rounds of competition before being cut. He moved to Nashville at 18, after dropping out of college; cut a record by the time he was 20, and worked relentlessly to hone his craft and garner attention.
The results of his musical education to date are on display on Red Arrow. This is an album of country-rock tunes that are engineered to pop perfection. Every song has a hook, the lyrics are deceptively simple and accessible, the musicianship is polished, and the vocals incredibly sweet. Lopez wrote them all, the majority through that Nashville institution of the co-writing session.
The first track on the album, “Swim The River,” establishes his country music bona fides with an arrangement that includes banjo and fiddle as well as the familiar rock formula of electric guitar, piano, bass and drums. It’s a foot-stomping tune that also shows off his range as a vocalist, as he shifts seamlessly into falsetto for the chorus to swear his determination to win the girl. The song also is the source of the album’s title, which is tucked away in the final verse.
I’m not good at aiming but I’m taking every shot
Pointing my red arrow at your heart.
I’m no good at swimming, but I’ll give it all I got
Until I finally float away in your arms.
Despite his youth, the album rings with nostalgia. On “1972,” for example, Lopez explicitly calls out his appreciation for the past he’s far too young to have experienced, except through used cars, old records and television re-runs. The lyrics are a marvel of economy in storytelling, starting with the opening lines.
You put on my winter coat
My old scarf around your throat
It ain’t pretty, but it ain’t broke
It sure looks good on you
In my 1972
Fittingly, the music evokes the southern California country rock sounds of the time period, too. It’s the sort of song that makes you want to sing along, and it’s not the only tune with that quality. “Don’t Want To Say Goodnight” is a happy tune with a skipping beat, a big guitar riff and a mass of voices on the chorus; “Someday” rides in on an ethereal beat, but also features a big chorus; and “Say Goodbye” sounds like an outtake from The Knack. (Those last two songs include a few snatches of synthesizer that sounds like it was copied from a Yes album; it actually works.)
The album also includes several acoustic ballads—“All The Time,” offering a world-weary take on the grind of daily life; “Caramel,” a duet with Kenneth Pattengale of Milk Carton Kids, and “Still Standing,” an imaginative song that reflects on the role that objects (in this case, a chair) play in the lives of the humans who own them.
Perhaps the most unusual song, “Steel On The Water” comes from a trip that Lopez made aboard the U.S.S. aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, where he entertained a ship of homebound sailors. The lyrics talk about the men and women who served in the armed forces and the sacrifices that they make for the nation.
Some from the college, more from the poor
Some for tradition, some last resort
No luck getting in, no luck getting out
There’s steel on the water and boots on the ground
It’s the only tune on the album that Lopez wrote alone. It’s a big subject for a pop song, and it telegraphs his ambitions as an artist who tells stories that move listeners emotionally and inspires everyone to join him on the chorus.