February, 2009, West Coast Performer Magazine
By Michael Fortes
It’s hard to look at Daniel James, singer and guitarist for San Francisco’s Leopold and his Fiction, and not think of a guru-like figure. Similarly, it’s just as easy to listen to the contents of the trio’s second full-length, Ain’t No Surprise, and hear the results of having consumed holy musical ambrosia like 1960s British blues rock, American garage rock, and mid ‘60s Bob Dylan. The tunes run the gamut from simple, stripped down guitar and tambourine blues like “Katie Mae,” to the sprawling title track, which musically recalls Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues.”
Even though the original duo of James and drummer Ben Cook recorded the album, previous comparisons to the White Stripes are just about null. The latest edition of the band, with bassist Micayla Grace and drummer Jon Sortland, offers up the same fully fleshed-out sound of the album on-stage, which includes organ on “Broke,” and of course, actual bass lines. Only the timbre of James’ voice – cut in the same mold as fellow Detroiter Jack White, but without White’s arrogance and attitude – and the blues link Leopold to the Stripes now.
In spite of the album’s unstable recording environments – literally recorded “in friends’ houses when their landlords were out of town,” according to James – it’s a sonically consistent listen from beginning to end, and has a ragged garage rock feel that’s not too ramshackle, but just enough to keep it in line with a purely DIY rock n’ roll aesthetic. Furthermore, the overdubbed call-and-response lead guitar break in “Sun’s Only Promise” brings back that early ‘70s blues-rock jam band spirit that even groups typically lumped into the “jam band” scene rarely, if ever, manage to conjure. To hear it from a young band living the moment now, untainted by the constraints of genre and pretense, is entirely refreshing.