By choosing Sin Miedo ("Without Fear") as the title of his solo debut and using a stylized illustration of an evil-eye talisman on its cover, Lupe Olivarez symbolizes his hope for a seamless transition into uncharted territory. Still, the Basics grad hasn't gone off on some quirky tangent now that he's by his lonesome. This music is cut from the same rock en español serape worn by his old band. In fact, Basics drummer Robbie Parrish, guitarist Artie Villaseñor, bassist Jeff Balke and keyboardist Marie English are all over half of the CD's ten tracks. And Olivarez's love of classic, new wave, progressive and lite-metal rock is still very much his driving force. (Although we question the wisdom of comparing himself to Santana and Los Lobos, as Olivarez does in his Web page bio at www.lupeolivarez.com.)
The arrangements and production skills that longtime collaborators Olivarez, Parrish and Villaseñor bring to the table are strong, and the wall of sound on such tracks as "La Verdad" ("The Truth") and "Whispers" (featuring English's barrelhouse-cum-early-Doors piano chops) works well. The dreamy, spacious "Not the Same" builds on the foundation of a Latin beat and finds Olivarez flitting between Spanish and English lyrics. The album hits its peak with "Mas Gris," a radio-friendly pop-rock song that combines Tex-Mex accordion with an economical song structure.
Somehow, though, the second half of the record gets lost in the translation. You do have to give Olivarez credit for stretching out, but generic Mötley Crüe-ish power riffs are not the answer. Then there's "Kiss Kiss Kiss," with lyrics as stilted as those from a Latvian band taking its first stab at writing in English. And we can only say ¡no más! after hearing "Madre," which features excruciating vocals by Sidonie Olivarez accompanied by forgettable noodling. The final four tracks seem like works in progress, quickly affixed to the final product to get the thing on the racks.
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Those who have followed Olivarez know he has the drive. If he can smooth out the rough edges, he may indeed elude the evil eye that watches over all artists who dare walk alone.