Ocha La Rocha’s “Stealing Time”
“A seamless combination of vintage sound, gritty vocals, and straight-up raw freaking talent . . .” -GOGuest Writer
out of 10
Ocha La Rocha
It’s kind of funny to love a band more than the albums that the band produces, but Ocha La Rocha’s recent release, “Stealing Time,” makes feel precisely that way. A seamless combination of vintage sound, gritty vocals, and straight-up raw freaking talent, Ocha La Rocha is evidence that music can still do something that no other art form can. That it can make you want to nod your head and pump a fist, buy a new set of speakers and drive across the States, strip down and throw whatever garments seem throwable at a stage proving Rock can still live up to its name—and occasionally all at the same time. In short, there’s something classically refreshing about this Georgia-based band, bringing rawness and passion back into an industry that too often feels pre-processed and stale. In shorter, what they bring is themselves. And to this reviewer, that makes one hell of a difference.
That said, I’m going to have to be honest here and admit that my rather optimistic album rating is actually much less for the album, and much more for this band as a whole. Part of the problem with “Stealing Time” is that Johnny La Rocha’s band can just do too many things incredibly well. And unfortunately, on this six-song release, they tried to do them all. Rather than give the record a cohesive feel, they chose instead to dabble back and forth between crooning classic rock and clear-twanging country, psychedelic reverb and crystal-key instrumentals. Each song stands up beautifully on its own. But as a whole, I don’t really feel as though I’ve gone anywhere. Despite what the last song, “Taking a Ride,” would have you believe, there’s no real ride going on here.
The album opens with “You Baby You,” a song where the pure grit and grainy timbre of La Rocha’s vocals practically backhand you into paying attention. A mixture of classic rock and electro-psychedelia, this one grabs you right from the get-go, wrung with a sort of honest intensity that can turn even the rotest clichés into something true and alive. This, it seems to me, is what really good music can do. It takes those feelings that can become commonplace in real life and forces you to feel them again, in all their resonance and all their force. So that when La Rocha sings a line like “You baby you / you got me going out of my mind,” you not only groove to it, but you actually believe him. And the emotion he pours into this song is a feat on-par with The Beatles’ taking a verse as trite as “I want you so bad” and turning it into the sexiest song ever written. Like the passion of Frankenstein and the intensity of lightning, La Rocha brings lyrics back to life.
“Circle Round,” the second song on the album, is a pretty significant tonal shift. Lacking the force of “You Baby You,” this tinny-sounding country song comes as a slight disappointment after the classic rock build-up of the first track. One imagines a kind of cross-mutation between the Grateful Dead and Tea Leaf Green, seasoned with a little extra twang. It’s not bad, and it certainly displays La Rocha’s versatility as a vocalist, but it also lacks a sort of fire, in my opinion. This one, along with “Dearest Lady”—the fifth track on the album—are the only two songs on the release that I never really feel compelled to go back to. If they stumble out of my speakers on their own, then sure, I’ll let them play through, but I don’t consciously seek them out. They just don’t blow you away like the others. But then again, they do have a lot to live up to.
“Tomorrow Is Coming” is a different story. This is just a great song, matching the flare and fervor of the opening track with a smooth, organic feel. Think Lynyrd Skynyrd. Think Marshall Tucker Band. Then mix it with the originality of La Rocha’s vocals, the cool crescendo of looping electric riffs, and the open-air feel of Milton Chapman’s organ. This song makes me want to go out and rent a car with no power windows, just so I can physically roll them down. Although the album as a whole doesn’t take you anywhere, this song definitely does.
“Asleep at the Wheel,” is another great one. Displaying some of the best instrumentals on the album, with the incorporated syncopation of Chapman’s piano, this song doesn’t necessarily have the best-written lyrics in the world, but with the quality and ease of the accompanying music, you also don’t really care. Again, La Rocha’s band manages to make you not only believe but internalize the refrain—“It’s cool, baby, cool.” A minute into this song, and you’ll feel compelled to let yourself recline, relaxing in the crooning vocals and the jazzy float of the keys. In fact, you sink into this song so fully that you actually don’t get embarrassed when it makes you say a line like “jazzy float of the keys.” And that’s saying a lot.
“Taking a Ride” is the last song on the album. It’s a full-on instrumental, and a kind of jazz/funk hybridization with a little bit of 60s Rock viz. The Doors tied in. It tends to run on these little 25-second jam cycles, and though it’s without a doubt the best show of musical talent on the album, it is nonetheless a disappointing song to end on. Because it’s comprised of these little recursive jams, it lacks the feeling (for this listener, anyway) of a fluid forward movement. Which is not to say that it doesn’t smoke. It does. Just not in a way that I would want to end on.
So all-told, I suppose that “Stealing Time” is technically a just-above-mediocre album. Nevertheless, I’m leaving my rating uncommonly high, because in the several places throughout this release where you see Ocha La Rocha in their element, they rock in a way that only expletives can express. So this goes out to you, Ocha La Rocha: consider this rating one reviewer’s investment. As a newly converted fan, I can only hope that it will pay off in the future.
And to the readers out there: be sure to keep your eyes on this one.