(c) 2014 T-Boy Records
- Panic & Run
- Will You
- Youth Of The Nation
- No Ordinary Love Song
- Strength of My Life
- It Can't Rain Every Day
- Lost In Forever
- I'll Be Ready
- Set Your Eyes To Zion
Sonny Sandoval--Lead Vocals
Marcos Curiel--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Traa Daniels--Bass, Backing Vocals
Wuv Bernando--Drums, Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
It is difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that P.O.D. is now more than 20 years old as a band! Without getting into too much of the band's history, the band has been recording since 1994 when they released Snuff The Punk on the independent Rescue Records label. In 1998 they moved to major label Atlantic Records, where they enjoyed massive success with The Fundamental Elements of Southtown and the multi-platinum selling Satellite album, also garnering multiple radio singles and MTV video hits. The band then bounced around on independent labels, releasing a fistful of albums with some minor radio and satellite radio success and finding themselves involved musically with the WWE for a time. It would be easy to say the band's career has largely been a successful one with little arguement.
Despite these previous highs, P.O.D.'s popularity and success have fallen off in recent years, which, again, is not overly surprising considering the band has been around for 20+ years now. Drop-offs are to be expected. What was NOT expected, at least by me, was an acoustic album by these modern rockers who were among the first Christian artists to embrace the rapcore style that was sweeping the rock musical landscape in the mid-90's. How in the world is a band like P.O.D. going to carry their vibe and sound over into the acoustic realm?
So Cal Sessions can't really be considered a career retrospective, because there is virtually nothing from the early years of the band. Yes, there are a couple of tracks from Satellite (there would probably be a fan-base riot if "Youth Of The Nation" and "Alive" weren't included), but only one from Fundamental Elements of Southtown (album closer, "Set Your Eyes To Zion"), with nothing from Brown or Snuff The Punk finding its way onto the set list. On the flipside, there is a LOT of material included from the last four albums, including songs that were never really big hits for the band, while songs that would seem obvious fits, such as "Goodbye For Now", are completely ignored. So it is ovbious that this is not designed to be a retrospective or greatest hits package by any means.
So, song selection aside, what works here and what doesn't? First the parts that work for me...
The album opens with a very reggae-meets-Latin music version of "Panic & Run", which I think is exceptionally well done. I really like the tone and temp used here and the band sounds like they are having fun with this track. "Youth of the Nation" works exceptionally well here, with the scaled back chorus parts and the deeper instrumentation on the chorus and bridge being a really nice addition. "No Ordinary Love Song" is also nicely done, with Sonny seeming to channel a bit of Anthony Keidis from Red Hot Chili Peppers in his vocal delivery style here, especially on the opening verse. Again, some nice Latin guitar work is included here and really adds a nice, unique flavor to the track. "Strength Of My Life" comes across a bit more "plugged in" than some of the songs here, largely because of the (minimal) effects that are used on Sonny's vocals. Again, a nice reggae beat carries the track, and Sonny shows that even in this more stripped-down arena he is able to pull off some impressive lyrical tongue twisting as he alternately rushes through some sections and stretches others out. "Alive" was surprisingly well done here musically, but the chorus vocals left a little bit to be desired to my ears. "Set Your Eyes To Zion" is a perfect closer and is very well done, giving long-time fans a familiar track with which to end things.
So, with that said, what doesn't work so well here? Well, I think "I'll Be Ready" comes across as rather disjointed and "clunky", for lack of a better term. "Higher" is decent, but was never one of my favorite tracks by the band and the more laid back delivery here really doesn't do anything to improve my feelings for this track. I thought "It Can't Rain Everyday" would come across a bit stronger than it does in this type of format, but the band altered the song enough that it loses some of the original's strength for me. I also really didn't like the way "Beautiful" worked in this format for some reason; it really turned me off and I found myself wanting to skip it after the first couple of listens.
My other real complaint is that no risks are taken here. All of the songs that the band chose to rework were songs that lend themselves to an acoustiic interpretation. A true test would've been to go with some of the band's harder, heavier material, challenging and stretching themselves a bit more musically. I would've loved to hear "Boom", "Outkast", "Rock This Party", "Lights Out", or especially "Southtown" thrown into the mix...maybe even "Sleeping Awake".
Speaking of the mix, the recording here is solid, with the mix done by Clif Norrell and the band producing the album themselves. The packaging is a pretty simple 8-page insert, with no lyrics, song selection or album info, and minimalistic thank-you's. There are, however, a lot of pictures, both color and black and white, some of which I'm guessing come from the band members' personal collections as I haven't seen any of these previously.
I didn't have very high expectations for the record when I received it for review, and I actually put reviewing it off for quite some time, to be honest. It is nowhere near as bad as I had feared it would be, and thankfully it is an in-studio acoustic effort, not one recorded in front of an audience, so the songs are given a chance to be arranged and mixed properly, and not just presented as four guys sitting on stools strumming acoustic instruments. Again, I think the song selection could've been a bit stronger, a bit more challenging, but that's more a personal preference than a flaw with the album.
If you are new to the band, I would suggest skipping this effort until later, and would recommend instead that you pick up the band's greatest hits package, Satellite, and possibly Payable On Death or Testify to find out what the band has been about historically.
The band is reportedly planning a new full studio project for 2015, so keep an eye out for that, and follow the band at www.payableondeath.com for tour and other information.
Rating: Not terrible, but not something I'm likely to play very often, either. Rock this to a 6, at least as much as you can "rock" an acoustic record.