Just when I figure that too many Bay area musicians have gone and drank the Americana Kool-Aid, along comes a young group like Roppongi’s Ace — singer/guitarist Alex Spoto, drummer Max Norton and guests — to remind me that the well is definitely not dry. The young Tampa band’s debut, Into the Night, is a strikingly mature effort, with the members sounding wise and seasoned well beyond their years.
This grizzled quality is spearheaded by Spoto’s barbed and craggy voice, full of bluesy swagger that doesn’t sound the least bit contrived. I’ve read that he’s attending Brown University, so I’ll go ahead and assume that he didn’t grow up in a shotgun shanty on the other side of the tracks. That only makes his singing more impressive.
Listen hard enough and you can detect various touchstones: Uncle Tupelo and post-Uncle Tupelo, Bottle Rockets, The Black Keys. But these and other elements are so well integrated that the band does not come off as anyone’s acolyte.
Into the Night brings the heavy twang and deep blues, but at heart it’s a rock ’n’ roll record. Cut at Steve Connelly’s Zen Den Studios, the tracks have just the right kinetic feel — bracing, in-y’face, at times bordering on unhinged. Spoto has a way with hardscrabble guitar licks, ragged chord sequences and razory slide lines. Save for a clumsy, ill-advised jam at the end of “Mulinax,” he keeps his guitar breaks right on point.
The duo’s choice of guest musicians — Jesse Norton on harmonica (and, thank you, bass) and Tommy Cooper on pedal steel — allows Ropongi’s ace to emphasize the country or the blues as desired; and then sometimes they cram it all into a blender for a down-home cacophony. (myspace.com/roppongisace)