Old Man Motel kicks off with an old car engine starting, followed by a John Fogerty-esque chord and then a pummeling drum beat. The lead track, “Ride”, is, like many of the cuts here, a smartly structured roots-rock song performed with wonderfully reckless energy. Fernando’s fourth record (including last year’s tasty Pacoima, a side project of East L.A. Latino rock) is the first that comes close to catching the dynamic magic of his live shows. Not only is Fernando a passionate frontman, but he has a first-rate band, further assisted here by producer Luther Russell.
John Lennon fans will find plenty to like on Old Man Motel. While the Lennon influence has always been there for Fernando, here it is out in the open — particularly on “Jesus”, which sounds like a newly discovered Plastic Ono track. More than lifting any particular sound, Fernando shares Lennon’s brutal honesty and emotional openness. Fernando’s world is tough; his songs reflect the hard road he has traveled from dependence and despair to survival, from Argentina to the streets of Los Angeles to Portland. But he can just as convincingly deliver a strong ballad such as “So. California” or a pure pop gem such as “Same Ol’ King”, the delicacy of which catches you off-guard.
The highlight here is “Couldn’t Believe”, with Dan Eccles’ swirling, psychedelic guitar and the melodic bass lines of Joe Chiusano setting up an absolutely killer chorus. Fernando’s singing has never sounded as good as when he stretches out the word “believe” to hit the highest notes in his usually low range: “And I couldn’t believe, couldn’t be-lee-eee-ieve, believe you’re the only one/You’re the only one.”