earMUSIC [Release date 27.10.17]
Popa Chubby’s ‘Two Dogs’ is one of his best ever albums. That’s no mean feat for an artist who has cut 36 odd albums in 25 years.
‘Two Dogs’ is a consistent and coherent album spread over 11 strong songs and a brace of live bonus tracks. It’s original, conceptually strong, musically diverse, and features Chubby’s best vocals.
The key to the album’s success seems to be his D.I.Y. approach. Aside from handling vocals, guitar, production, engineering and occasional multi-instrumental duties – for which he assumes the pseudonym Don Chubblione – he patently has a clear vision of what he sets out to achieve.
And in keyboard player Dave Keyes (his real name), he has a musical partner to bounce ideas off. Moreover, drummer Sam Bryant towers over the album as he infuses shuffles with relentless energy and poise, while driving the grooves in the manner of his ‘Freight Train’ nick name.
Chubby has also incorporated his daughter Tipitina Horowitz into the creative process, as she worked out the horn arrangements.
If his last album ‘The Catfish’ had a big musical sweep, then this album pushes things further, but within a blues related framework.
There’s the Motown influenced opener ‘It’s Alright’, the classic boogie shuffle groove of the outstanding ‘Rescue Me’ and the funky soul foundation of the darkly satirical ‘Pre Existing Conditions, which pokes fun at the current healthcare debacle in The States.
Chubby evokes a Memphis style groove on ‘Shakedown’, and a explores a similarly sourced feel on the instrumental ‘Cayophus Dupree’, which subtly balances out the album’s sequencing.
He rocks out on the slide-led ‘Dirty Old Blues’ – The Allman’s meets Freddie King – and he’s similarly spiky on the closing instrumental ‘Chubbie’s Boogie’ featuring Dave Keyes on piano, which successfully nails Chubby’s own signature sound.
He also cleverly juxtaposes ‘Dirty Old Blues’ and the funky heavy groove of ‘Shakedown’, with the acoustic and piano contrast of ‘Wound Up Getting High’.
It’s arguably his best ever ballad with a stellar vocal on a beautifully arranged song. His expressive vocal phrasing conveys focus, feel, emotion and wonder, all this from the man that brought you ‘Deliveries After Dark.’
He digs deep for an intro rap on the narrative driven ‘Sam Lay’s Pistol’. Co-written with his former wife Galea, it bursts with rhythmic vitality on what is essentially a showcase for the peerless drummer Sam Bryant.
The album as a whole has an inherent flow, as each song sounds like its interrelated with what went before and after. The grooves are thick as treacle, the guitar tones sparkle and the percussive phrasing always supports the song to enhance the feel. Above all, Chubby has penned some really good songs that sound as if he was inspired during the session, rather than just stockpiling different songs to fit a musical jigsaw.
Everything works hard to support the ‘Two Dogs’ concept. It frames the album with a good versus evil concept, in which Chubby’s belief in the triumph of the human spirit acts as an optimistic lynchpin to the album as a whole.
His guitar playing is disciplined, with the emphasis on dynamics and solos as an integral part of the song, meaning that ‘Two Dogs’ is his most accomplished song driven album in his 25 year career.
The additional 2 live bonus cover tracks – an American cut of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and a French recording of ‘Hallelujah’ (over considerable audience chatter) are a potent reminders of just why Chubby has world wide stage appeal.
More significantly they also serve to illustrate just far he’s come with the new material.
‘Two Dogs’ is a career high. Popa Chubby has long jettisoned the ‘never mind the quality feel the width’ approach, to craft meaningful songs with subtle arrangements that perfectly balance a vintage soul influence with cutting edge contemporary rocking blues.
Home recording never sounded so good! ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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