304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen for a quality group of musicians showing their wares…and some seriously good harp work woven through nine tracks of blues-based and innuendo-laden goodness.
Here we have a harp player you’ll probably haven’t heard of, but will have heard… Michael Rubin has been playing the harmonica for thirty-five years and has appeared on a multitude of stages and CDs by the likes of Ruthie Foster and Cyril Neville. He also performed a significant role in the Tony-nominated musical, The Civil War…no, me neither but it was pretty big and very successful on Broadway. Inspired by players such as Rick Estrin and influenced by the blues; James Harman, Mose Allison, Sonny Boy Williamson II and non-blues such as Jonathan Richman, Tom Lehrer and David Bromberg.
The most significant, lovable (to me) fact about Michael is that he knows the blues are not all about misery…in fact, on his ‘debut’ CD most of the self-penned tracks are liberally laced with humour and smut, joining the hallowed ranks of artists such as Lil Johnson’s saucy, bordering on filthy, innuendo-laden Press My Button (Erja Lyytinen did a brilliant update), Big Bill Broonzy was happy to clown around town but didn’t want Mama to Tear My Clothes, but on another song, he did it All By Myself; and poor Johnnie Temple had the Lead Pencil Blues and try a search for the song Shave Me Dry if you dare! Humour is also a welcome change, particularly as the world seems to be going to hell in a basket at the moment.
To the eagerly anticipated music, and opener Got A Thing Going On doesn’t disappoint with a class riff
Delayed by Covid, when it was due to be part of Michael’s 50th birthday celebrations, this release has been possible thanks to his fans who helped fund the whole recording process and contributed to what has been entitled I’ll Worry If I Wanna which sort of sums up the ethos of the writing as does the artwork of a lotus positioned balding man tearing what’s left of his hair out…a bit close to reality, although I don’t have a beard and couldn’t assume the lotus position even if I wanted to, it could well be me!
Opening with the thinly veiled innuendo-laden Little Rabbit: importantly, the music is great…a bluesy and jazzy mix of slide and multi-harp playing over a neat shuffle. The slide solo and a genius bassline make this more than a harp song and it all combines rather well. As for the lyrics, how about “I wanna get you hoppin’, make you feel real loose, Let you nibble my carrot and taste my carrot juice, I’m a little rabbit, You’re a little rabbit too, When I burrow baby, I know what to do.” Well, it is in a rabbit’s nature and, on the next track, Go Milk Your Own Cow, cows enjoy themselves too. Inevitably beginning with a cow-bell, this infectious and New Orleans jazz/blues has some great 50s guitar and the harp is again judicious and very effective…even when Michael imitates the chickens when he asks for their opinion: yes, really! The fiddle section works too and lyrically…I’ll let you listen for the many puns and jokes although it does have the odd serious allegorical bite and does make you pause and chew the cud.
Old Rodeo Dreams harks back to old Western movies and does have a piano and guitar solo to back the mournful harp and sense of an old cowboy’s memories…sort of. Kama Sutra Girl is the only song I know that features twelve different harmonicas! I didn’t know there were that many, but I’m guessing it includes chromatic of various pitches and a bass harp. Wrapped in a simple but effective three-chord structure with delightful bass harp, it assumes the position(!) of blues with 50s pop if it was performed by Lou Reed on a good day. The harp work shows how different (as Ian Gillan calls them) gob irons can make them even more fascinating. Oh, and the upright bass line and guitar solo are brilliant too. Can We Break Up Again is smoky, jazzy blues introduced by a lovely piano piece and neat percussion. Humour is woven through the lyrics as he wishes for time to say the things he didn’t say the first time. The more subtle, clever and well crafted harp carries the humour in its melodies too.
The title track, I’ll Worry If I Wanna, is jumping blues with a more traditional and bouncy harp intro and more excellent guitar playing and a solo that revisits times past in its exuberance and the fun increases when the harp joins in. Beer Belly Baby celebrates the fact that size isn’t important and a six-pack isn’t always about muscles, as the humour pours over a dirty blues riff with more great harp work. Chain Letter Blues slows down to let the harp, backed by restrained keys, weep their sound as he laments the effects of the long-standing scam of chain letters. The harp soloing is excellent throughout and talks to you as much as the lyrics.
Fourth Coast closes the album with a suitably complex harp…the title is derived from a 16 hole chromatic harp in the key of A, also known as the fourth position (keep this secret, but I looked that up!) It is a bouncy blues with the band contributing fully as Michael slots the harp meaningfully into the ‘big band’ structure.
A difficult album to categorise: it is blues, it is fun and funny and Michael writes the songs first and fits the harp into them seamlessly, rather than the other way round. He also ensures that the songs are built around the whole band and that makes the album all the stronger. OK, he isn’t the best vocalist you’ll ever hear, but it works well with the style of blues and the subject matter.
Got A Thing Going On
Go Milk Your Own Cow
Old Rodeo Dreams
Kama Sutra Girl
Can We Break Up Again
I’ll Worry If I Wanna
Beer Belly Baby
Chain Letter Blues
All songs by Michael Rubin
Michael Rubin: vocals, harp
Mike Keller: guitar
Michael Archer: upright bass
Mark Hays: drums
Emily Gimble: keyboards
Dr Sick: fiddle
Lindsey Verrill, Dan Grissom, Ted Hadji, Ryan Conlin, Wilson Marks: backing vocals
Produced by Michael Rubin and Josh Fulero at Six String Ranch in Austin, Texas
(iTunes moved to another Michael…a certain Mr Schenker and joined by one of the finest rock vocalists ever, with Graham Bonnet delivers the genius of Assault Attack.)