Musician: Dan Bubien
Album name: Empty Roads
Why you should listen: Dan Bubien’s freshman album has four photos for the cover art. Bubien’s likeness is in two of them but his resonator guitar appears in all four. He plays the six string beauty across the entire 11 tracks. Bubien collaborated with Roman Marocco and Jonathan Vallecorsa penning these songs. A native of Pennsylvania he carries the banner for a regional sound, giving credit to a one hit (“The Rapper) band out of Pittsburg called The Jaggerz. Bubien tops velvety Motown influenced vibes with just a little dash of southern blues. Particularly attractive is an abundance of trumpet and saxophone. It's what make this collection far more evocative of big city steel mill streets and less cotton fields below the Mason Dixon line.
Bubien has been a professional guitarist for over two decades and he takes advantage of the connections made during that time. Fifteen other musicians perform on this disc including two different bass and keyboard players along with a trio of back-up vocalists. With an arsenal like that it’s hard to go wrong. Bubien’s vocals are semi-dramatic, quavering, rising and falling precipitously. The brass and keys pull his singing fat out of the fire routinely. Bubien is at his best as a torch song crooner on “Keep Love in Mind.” Second track “Fight Club” sounds remarkably in cadence and tone like the aforementioned 1970 gold record single by his home town heroes. Lyrically the songs are not striking and seem to be an afterthought to the music. The record’s title was a clue. In one instance the song is downright weird. It seems ill-advised at best to end an album with a weird composition titled “Sniper.” It’s a disturbing southern ditty, with banjo no less, that never should have reverberated in a recording studio. Rattling off several former Confederate states doesn’t make it a Delta blues song. It’s an unfortunate final destination on an otherwise solid musical avenue.
Musician: Jim Suhler
Album name: Panther Burn
Why you should listen: In addition to being a whiskey brand and small Mississippi town, Panther Burn is now title for a memorable blues album. Jim Suhler may be best known for being a member of George Thorogood’s band The Destroyers. This is Texan Suhler’s fifth record with his own combo called Monkey Beat. It’s difficult to tell from the liner notes who are included in Monkey Beat because no one track shares identical personnel. There are a few familiar names here and there including Carolyn Wonderland on back-up vocals who performed here in Norman recently at Jazz in June’s Blues Night.
This baker’s dozen of Suhler original compositions plus one cover is a southern slither through swamps, hill country and mysterious pine forests where you still might find white lightning in clandestine distilleries. For your ears Suhler’s guitar is the equivalent of a shot of that high-proof liquid fire. “Between Midnight and Day” calls forth a double guitar blistering that threatened to melt the Bose speakers it was coming through. “I do my best work between midnight and day/ Yes I do,” Suhler sings. “Across the Brazos” is a mighty hymn to the longest river in Texas. Accordion reminiscent of Sir Douglas Quintet will carry you across the current running from headwaters up north to the Gulf of Mexico. Although the states share no common border at any point, Suhler musically joins Mississippi and Texas in “Texassipi.” He affirms that’s where he’s from and the lyrical result is confirmation that it’s a state of mind rather than physical location. “Sky’s Full of Crows” is creepy southern Gothic at a gallop. You probably have to live down here to relate to this Flannery O’Connor short story set to music. “Oklahoma chrome and painted silver ladies/ by me on the left on a semi doing eighty,” Suhler sings in “Dinosaur Wine.” It’s an ode to that go-juice we’re all about here in the oil patch. The sanctified liquid that makes wheels turn and engines burn. From moonshine to Texas Tea, Suhler serves up the south in a shot glass.