Sunday, November 5, 2017

Popa Chubby: “Two Dogs” (2017) CD Review

Last year Popa Chubby (Ted Horowitz) released a two-disc live album titled Big, Bad And Beautiful Live that featured mostly original material, but with a few covers, including a couple of Rolling Stones songs. In my review of that two-disc set, I mentioned how I wished his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” had been included. Well, he has a new album coming out in a few weeks, and though it is a studio recording, it includes two bonus live tracks, and, yes, one of those is “Hallelujah.” (The other is another Rolling Stones song.) So I was incredibly excited to pop this disc in. The studio recordings are all original songs, and there are some damn good songs included here. Popa Chubby plays guitar and percussion, as well as drums and bass on certain tracks. Joining him on this album are Sam Bryant on drums, Andy Paladino on bass, Dave Keyes on keyboards, Tipitina Horowitz on trumpet and Andrew Garrison on saxophone.

Popa Chubby kicks off the new album with “It’s Alright,” an energetic rock tune that really grew on me, particularly because of these lines: “I spent my whole life wasting away/I wait for the day when I’ll hear you say it’s okay/Hey, hey, baby, it’s alright/You tell me, hey baby, it’s alright.” Popa Chubby is really tapping into something there, putting a voice to something a lot of people are feeling to some extent. It’s followed by a heavier bluesy number, “Rescue Me.”

But for me, the third track, “Preexisting Conditions,” is when the album starts getting really good. This one made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it, right from the first lines. He begins the song by playing on a familiar line: “I got the rocking pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu.” For a moment we might think we’re in standard territory, but he follows it with this line: “And my knees don’t do what they used to do.” I love it, particularly as I’m waiting for an appointment with an orthopedic doctor after tearing the medial meniscus in my left knee at work. But this song isn’t just about aging, as its title lets you know. “I’m telling you I’m a man on a mission/I’m going to die of preexisting conditions.” The song addresses the fear of losing health insurance and calls out that prick Donald Trump directly at the end, which of course I appreciate. Plus, there is some wonderful work on horns.

“Sam Lay’s Pistol” is a very cool, mean blues tune about drummer Sam Lay. This song begins with just a beat on the hi-hat, and then the vocals come in over it: “If Sam Lay were behind that kit/And the wolf turned around, said shoot that shit/He’d do it/Sam’d do it/And I’d do it too/’Cause I’m meaner than Sam Lay’s pistol.” Oh yes. And then the rest of the band comes in. The wolf mentioned in those lines is Howlin’ Wolf, one of the artists Sam Lay played with. Popa Chubby makes that clear in the line, “And the wolf was howlin’ at a strawberry moon.” The “cha cha cha” ending certainly surprised me. That song is followed by “Two Dogs,” the CD’s title track, a song with a good, prominent beat and some wonderful work on guitar. This is another song that really stood out the first time I listened to this disc. It’s kind of twisted and excellent, and is also a bloody good jam.

As I anxiously await more news from the investigation into Donald Trump and the screwed up 2016 election, lines from “Shakedown” really strike a chord. “There’s going to be a shakedown/Truth is going to be told.” Of course, that’s not what the song is directly about, but I can’t help but think of Trump’s imminent demise when I hear these lines. “You keep talking about fiction/Truth’s gonna burn your soul.” That’s followed by another of my favorites, “Wound Up Getting High,” a thoughtful, mellow tune that really works for me. “I sit down and read the papers/I hang my head and cry/I turn on the TV and watch the news/A thousand people died/Think about getting coffee/I wound up getting high/As time slides by.” There is a pretty instrumental section. I love this song, despite its use of the teardrops/rain cliché (“A thousand teardrops fall like rain/They fall down from the sky”).

The studio album concludes with an instrumental track titled “Chubby’s Boogie,” a fun, rocking little jam with good stuff on keys and a catchy guitar part. That’s followed by the two live bonus tracks. The first is a good cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” recorded in France. This track features Andrea Beccaro on drums and Francesco Beccaro on bass. The second (and final track on the CD) is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the track I was most excited to hear. It was recorded at The Falcon in Marlboro, New York. Though the date of the concert isn’t given in the liner notes, it was within the last year because Popa Chubby introduces it by saying “This is a song by the late great Leonard Cohen.” The sound isn’t perfect, and you can hear people talking in the background, which is weird and rude. But it’s a good rendition. One thing that makes this version interesting is Popa Chubby’s choice of verses. He begins it, naturally, with the “secret chord” verse, then follows it with the “love is not some kind of victory march” verse. He then does the “You say I took the name in vain” verse, which is often left out these days. That’s followed by the “What’s really going on below” verse. Popa Chubby changes this one slightly, singing the first two lines as “Was a time not long ago/You showed me what was down below” instead of “There was a time you let me know/What’s really going on below.” Popa Chubby adds “Oh yeah, oh yeah” to the end of each chorus. There’s a really nice instrumental section, featuring good work on keys and then guitar. Popa Chubby addresses the audience after that section, asking the folks if they’ve been having a good time. He then sings the “Maybe there’s a god above” verse, and follows that with another instrumental part to end the song. So he left out the “Your faith was strong” verse and the “I did my best” verse. This is interesting, as I’ve seen live recordings of Popa Chubby performing both of those verses (while leaving out others). As far as I know, Leonard Cohen himself never performed all the verses together, as the song changed over time. Anyway, Popa Chubby’s reading of the song is passionate, and is of course one of the disc’s highlights.

CD Track List
  1. It’s Alright
  2. Rescue Me
  3. Preexisting Conditions
  4. Sam Lay’s Pistol
  5. Two Dogs
  6. Dirty Old Blues
  7. Shakedown
  8. Wound Up Getting High
  9. Cayophus Dupree
  10. Me Won’t Back Down
  11. Chubby’s Boogie
  12. Sympathy For The Devil
  13. Hallelujah 
Two Dogs is scheduled to be released on CD in the US on November 27, 2017. Apparently it was released in Europe last week. (Note: the tune “Cayophus Dupree” is listed as “Cayophus Dupree” in the track list on the back of the CD case, but is referred to twice as “Clayophus” in the liner notes.)

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