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Straight from the Heart

Carlos Guitarlos

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Album Review

Carlos Guitarlos has a pretty dramatic back story, one of going from cult figure (major in Los Angeles, minor everywhere else) as lead guitarist of '80s punk-blooze blasters Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs to long, hard years scuffling as a street musician in San Francisco. The fact his self-released solo debut pulls in John Doe and Dave Alvin for one song apiece gives some idea of the musical company he ran with.

Straight From the Heart is a solid slice of blues-leaning, Americana roots music that favors songs over guitar heroics and unadorned R&B ballads to a surprising degree. Some of the latter are quite good ("The Love I Want," the title track, and the bluesy "You Don't Know What Love Is," with its strong guitar and sax solos) and some are lukewarm to tepid (the cloying "Sea of All My Troubles" or the jazzy noir of "The Drought Song").

Mostly it's a mixed grab-bag, with the fun rockabilly rave-up "Poppin' & Bumpin'" featuring Alvin and Doe chipping in on the honky tonk-themed "Two Tavern Town." There are some country tinges on "Easy Rider," a nod to the Rhythm Pigs' past with the rip-roaring "Dance With Your Baby," and a Bo Diddley beat powering "Everybody's Got the Blues." "Atchafalaya" kind of references Chuck Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" with a Cajun twang and "Ain't That Lovin' You" with Mike Watt on bass is '60s soul with an organ and horn section that evokes "Ain't That a Lot of Love" more than an original.

And in a lot of ways, that sums up Straight From the Heart because there's nothing here you haven't heard before. "Co Co Club" sort of wants to be a New Orleans R&B tribute, imagining the kind of mythical roadhouse that really doesn't exist anymore. And, of course, you might wonder if another rough-hewn boogie called "Women and Whiskey" or the totally dismissible "Keep My Hot Tamales Warm" ever needed to exist in the first place.

The lyrics tend to work off a single good line or phrase and don't go much deeper, but that's where the title of Straight From the Heart comes into play. It rings true because there's no absolutely artifice to the music here — the songs project sincerity and lay open what ultimately is a good heart.

Just listen as Guitarlos' ravaged, hoarse voice struggles to negotiate "When the Pain Stops Killing Me" and then announces, "I can't sing any more." It's the truth, his voice is totally shot, the great "I'll stop killing the pain/When the pain stops killing me" chorus smacks of hard-earned truths from a hard life, and there simply couldn't be anymore fitting wrap-up for this disc.

Straight from the Heart, Carlos Guitarlos
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