Two years is a long time to sit on a completely finished album, but that's the fate Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas experienced in getting Secret Evil onto shelves. Produced by Latin Grammy winner Milo Froideval, it was recorded for Blue Note, but indefinitely shelved after the label's acquisition by Universal. Hernandez got her record back and signed with Richard Gottehrer's Instant Records. Demons, an EP, appeared in 2013. ("Caught Up," the single from that offering, is here.) On the album, there's a deep sense of Hernandez's Southwest Detroit culture, and the Motor City's vast musical heritage from Motown to psych, gospel, and garage rock, as well her band's love of surf, punky ska, and blues. This kaleidoscopic brew, mixed by Gottehrer, readily reveals Hernandez & the Deltas' influences. The production and charts frame her big, passionate voice with a sense of concert hall theatricality. With a band as intuitive as the Deltas, this ambitious collection of songs comes off almost without a hitch -- there is little filler. The swaggering rock and funky soul in opener "No Place Left to Hide" is pure Detroit. "Sorry I Stole Your Man" melds a girl group backing chorus (by the Iveys), Latin rock & roll, and fat, old-school, horn-driven R&B, with Hernandez soaring over the mix. "Dead Brains" is a hooky, fingerpopping, pop/rock cum ska groover with a surf guitar break, swelling organ, and punchy bassline. Her vocals here and on "Tired Oak" add weight and heft to the band's playing; together they deal out a devil-may-care hedonism. "Run Run Run," featuring John Raleeh's trombone playing in classic Willie Colón style, underscores sexy Latin rock in a soulful heartbreak song. "Cry Cry Cry" (not the Johnny Cash tune) is a slow weeper that showcases the softer side of Hernandez's voice, and a more nuanced side of the Deltas. "Downtown Man" weds psych and a funky Cuban groove. There are misfires here: "Neck Tattoo," despite its quality vocal performance, contains a cheesy synth that the melody can't overcome, and the closing "Lovers First," a sophomoric ballad, should have been left off. These tracks aside, Secret Evil delivers on the promise of the Demons EP. This young band delivers well-written and unapologetically retro pop/rock; that said, their enthusiastic delivery and clever arrangements are decisively modern.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek