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Reviewed by Greg M. Schwartz
Anyone who's seen the band in a live setting knows that guitarist/vocalist Henry Garza is one of the modern era's hottest six-string axe-slingers, and that his brothers – JoJo on bass and Ringo on drums – form a lean, mean rhythm section machine. The band's unique vibe stems from the blend of power trio instrumental prowess with melodic sensibility that mixes American pop forms with the band's “Texican” folk background. You can't expect the album to forego one for the other.
“Heart Won't Tell a Lie” opens the album with a sharp-edged, blues rock vibe that will please the guitar purists. Henry Garza's smoking wah-wah licks recall legends like Jimi, Stevie Ray and Carlos, and this tune will surely be a powerhouse jam vehicle in the live show. The title track follows with a move into the more soulful Texican rock that shot the band up the charts. The laid back groove and soulful vocals seem to have the makings of another hit, and even though he's reeling himself in, Henry puts some cool rotary effects on his guitar that you won't find on standard pop fare.
While some may feel this goes too far into slick pop territory for a band of such talented musicians, it's a tune that will go down real smooth on a hot summer night with a cold beer in hand. The rest of the album is a tug of war between these two musical realms, with a majority of the tunes leaning toward the latter Texican soul vibe. But Henry's fiery lead guitar licks keep popping up all over.
“Staying with Me” is mid-tempo, major-key blues with a pleading love song vibe. “Loving You Always” brings in some nylon string guitars and a walking bass groove for a Los Lobos-style Mexican folk flavor, which is not surprising considering the two bands are touring together this summer in what seems a match from musical heaven.
A cover of “I'm a Man” – a tune the Garzas’ father used to play for them – recalls the psychedelic blues of Robin Trower, with Henry leaning on the wah-wah for some funky flavor and stinging Stratocaster licks that could melt faces. Ringo adds some sweet cowbell work on the smoking jam at the end that will surely please the Will Ferrell crowd. “Make It Better” is one of the album's more unique tracks, mixing the soulful Texican crooning with a Beatle-esque harmonic flavor for a catchy number that sounds like another hit. “Love Don't Care about Me” offers a bluesy ballad, while “Cruel” features some more hot wah-wah licks on a slow-burning blues. “You Can't See the Light” blends it all together – the bluesy licks, soulful vibe, Texican groove, Hendrix-y rhythms.
The last three tracks fall into the standard soulful blues formula, leaving the album feeling like it's missing at least one more big rocker. It's a shame the band decided fans should have to patronize Wal-Mart in order to get the version with two bonus tracks, which sends a tacky sellout message. But be that as it may, there are few major label “pop” artists these days offering up the instrumental prowess found on Forgiven. That at least offers some challenge to the status quo.