First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2004, Volume 11, #5
Written by John Metzger
Starting with its eponymous debut in 1989, the subdudes developed a grassroots following that quietly picked up steam, despite a lack of attention from mainstream press and radio. By the time it disbanded in 1997, the groupís unique blend of The Band, Al Green, Little Feat, and the Neville Brothers had begun to turn heads on a sizeable scale, but growing pains kept it from delivering on the promise of its initial pair of outings. Now, eight years after what many thought was its final studio effort, the band has reunited to record Miracle Mule, and although the return is a welcome one, the 12-track (and obligatory bonus tune) collection comes up ever so slightly short.
For the record, the subdudesí performance is one of a rejuvenated ensemble, and the resulting music doesnít feel nearly as flat as the bulk of Primitive Streak does. Yet, the group continues to insist upon undermining its trademark sound by delving too frequently into barroom blues. Letís face it: the subdudesí music is supposed to be subdued. So, when the group utilizes a beefed up rhythm section and has Tommy Malone rev up his electric guitar, itís not surprising that it loses sight of the very thing that makes it so special: its subtlety.
Nevertheless, Miracle Mule actually fares quite well in spite of these transgressions, and for the first time, the subdudesí electrified ruminations, which increasingly have crept into its music, donít feel terribly out of place. Yes, the snarling guitar that draws Iím Angry to its conclusion seems to spring out of nowhere, but on songs like the gently swaying If Wishing Made It So and the driving Little Feat-like shuffle Standiní Tall, the two disparate images of the band coalesce into a remarkably functional and cohesive whole.
This undoubtedly is due to the fact that, for the most part, the subdudesí particular knack for crafting sunnily soulful pop nuggets has remained largely intact. Brightest Star is as passionately hopeful and uplifting as anything the group has ever concocted, and both Known to Touch Me and Donít Doubt It ó with their accordion splashed melodies and light, airy percussion accompaniments ó are positively radiant. Elsewhere, the bandís gospel and R&B-hued harmonies flourish on Sound of Her Voice and Morning Glory, while Maybe You Think draws the Fabulous Thunderbirdsí Texas brew through Memphisí legendary Sun Studio. So, even though Miracle Mule isnít quite the return to the subdudesí early days for which many might have hoped, it is unquestionably a bold new beginning ó the very sort of thing about which reunions are supposed to be. Ĺ
Miracle Mule is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box