Popa Chubby tells it how it is on It’s A Mighty Hard Road

As I said in the introduction to Poppa Chubby’s last release, Prime Cuts, I have long been a fan of Theodore Joseph “Ted” Horowitz; I admire his uncompromising approach to the guitar, the bite in his lyrics as well as his compositional nous. This is a great place to start if you’re new to the wiles of Poppa as it is a ‘best of’ and showcases his talents really well. He has been playing blues-rock for 30 years and across more than twenty studio albums. His image is as uncompromising as his playing with an imposing figure, a shaven head, tattooed arms, a goatee and a performance style he describes as “the Stooges meets Buddy Guy, Motörhead meets Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix meets Robert Johnson” …fortunately, he plays as well as that curious mix sounds.

The good news is that he has a new album called It’s A Mighty Hard Road available with a generous fifteen tracks including two covers. Packed with his trademark, stinging guitar providing riffs and solos aplenty, this is Chubby at his best as he travels the blues in his own inimitable way calling in on Leon Russell and Prince at the end of the journey.

Opening track, The Flavor Is In The Fat, lifts the spirits with the lovely guitar phrasing and a recipe for all self-respecting carnivores…”Give me no tofu, I won’t eat that…” Add in a guitar performance of sheer quality and here you have a faultless piece of modern blues. The title track brings keyboards into the mix for some classic (in every sense) slice of blues-rock. As with all of his lyrics, there is always plenty to listen to as he delivers cutting commentary with humour and usually makes a lot of sense. Another guitar solo arrives with similar quality but is a little on the short side for me!

The tempo moves to a bluesy r’n’b as Buyer Beware tells the story of buying a guitar of dubious history. The piano barrels away to give the backing depth as the guitar picks phrases that reflect the story. It Ain’t Nothing is a neat rocker with some added roll and adds up to solid blues, with delicious slide punctuating each line and Chubby puts mountains of tone and feel into each movement of the bottleneck….the solo is shiver-inducing slide mastery…I hate him! when I tried it on my Strat it sounded like strangling a cat. Let Love Free The Day opens with some neat snare and then funk-ish guitar and a cracking bass line as the more soulful side of Chubby’s blues show through on this sensitive song.  The guitar work is still astounding even in this slower love song. The next track isn’t the one you may think as If You’re Looking For Trouble, as composed by Poppa, is a hard-rocking number that still shows its blues roots behind the raw riff and guitar phrasing behind every line…the solos are wonderful as he always senses how to pour emotion into every note without any need for overplaying unnecessary shredding.

The Best Is Yet To Come is more from the soulful side and, as I said, his lyrics are always meaningful…“If you’re worried about tomorrow, your anxiety’s strong, I got something for you, tomorrow never comes.” That’s nearly up there with Ken Hensley’s immortal line: “Today is only yesterday’s tomorrow”. Anyway, the soul is strong but we still get guitar playing that makes every note worth paying attention to and the solo is stunning, inventive and too short! Unsurprisingly, I’m The Beast From The East is a humorous return to weighty blues and not about the snowstorms of recent years. It is all about the man himself and his birthplace. More great guitar throughout and a couple of outstanding solos that combine rock ‘n’ roll and blues deliciously. The curiously titled Gordito is next and serves up an instrumental that has a softer side as the percussion summons up images of the sea and surf while the guitar speaks in its own way…a simple melody that is relaxing and still holds the attention as Poppa uses every picked note, bend and fret glide meaningful. The electric piano interlude adds nicely to the mood too, but it is, as always, the guitar that’s the star. Enough Is Enough shifts into a funkier gear with the lyrics as stinging as the guitar playing…I won’t comment on US politics; I’ll leave that to those lyrics and yet more stunning guitar as he wah’s the barred chords and then delivers another inventive solo using the pedal to great effect (pun intended).

More Time Making Love is an amalgam of Bad Co doing soul and actually works. The solo again uses just the right amount of notes to convey meaning and passion…too short though! Back to a more humorous lyric in Why You Wanna Bite My Bones as lines like “You can have my skin, it’s soft and fair, you can chew my fat, I just don’t care” don’t come along often. This has an infectious r’n’r, Berry-ish feel with neat bass and piano underpinning the melody and the guitar joining in after each line and delivering a lovely solo. Lost Again completes the originals and is a slow and nearly sultry swing with the brushed drums and low register vocals. The guitar is suitably laid back behind the melody and then contributes a solo that is languid and entrancing: the whistling is nearly a spoiler but, after a couple of listens I was joining in!. The first cover is Leon Russell’s I’d Rather Be Blind like you’ve never heard it before…OK, it still has the essence but the rhythm of keys and guitar transform it into a (dare I say it?) a much better song…especially, needless to say, the solo. The final track addresses Prince’s Kiss. Now in my humble Prince was, like Marc Bolan, an artist that only seemed to be discussed in terms of their ‘glamour’ and yet they were both exceptional guitarists. So it is fitting that Poppa puts everything into his version and interprets the guitar pieces brilliantly and even puts in some fitting and funky harp work too.

Once again Mr Horowitz has put together a fabulous album of blues-drenched rock, soul and funk and it is giving my previously favourite album, Peace, Love And Respect a run for its money. No more to say really except…listen to it and you will want to buy it.

Bluesdoodles rating: Stupendous album of blues-drenched rock, soul and funk

Track listing

  1. The Favor Is In The Fat
  2. It’s A Mighty Hard Road
  3. Buyer Beware
  4. It Ain’t Nothin’ Let Love Free The Day
  5. If You’re Looking For Trouble
  6. The Best Is Yet To Come
  7. I’m The Beast From The East
  8. Gordito
  9. Enough Is Enough
  10. More Time Making Love
  11. Why You wanna Bite My Bones
  12. Lost Again
  13. I’d Rather Be Blind (Leon Russell, Don Nix, Donald Dun)
  14. Kiss (Prince)
  15. usicians:

    Popa Chubby: guitars, background vocals, all percussion, drums, harmonica

    Dave Keyes: Piano and Organ

    Steve Holley: Drums

    Don Castagno: Drums

    Brett Bass: Bass

    V.D. King: Bass

    (The iTunes run on tracks were lots more Chubby! I moved to the next artist and was transported back to the heady days of true NWOBHM with a very early Paying Mantis track called Give Me A Reason…those were the days!)

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