First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by Richard J. Atkins, Ed. D.
Tue August 28, 2007, 05:45 AM CDT
With its latest opus Street Symphony, the subdudes, once again, has earned top scores. After regrouping in 2002, the band worked hard and succeeded at regaining the ground it previously had covered. Outings such as Miracle Mule and Behind the Levee have elevated the ensemble to a level where it can arrive at the sort of no-apologies-necessary, take-no-prisoners approach that is omnipresent on its latest thematic release.
It would have been difficult to predict the future back in 1989, but even then, it was clear that the subdudes had significant musical prowess on its side. Almost 20 years later, the group has grown its loyal fanbase by performing hundreds of shows throughout the nation each year. On Street Symphony, Tommy Malone (acoustic and electric guitars, vocals), John Magnie (keyboards, accordion, vocals), Steve Amedée (tambourine, drums, percussion, vocals), Jimmy Messa (bass, guitar, vocals), and Tim Cook (vocals, percussion, bass) collectively tell an intriguing story that takes the form of a suite of interrelated songs.
Street Symphony, which hits store shelves on August 28, is another runaway victory for the subdudes. Magnie recently defined the project as a "story of a bunch of different characters, all set to what we described as a ‘street symphony.’" Working with producer George Massenburg in his Nashville studio, the band sculpted an album that draws heavy inspiration from the damage and subsequent controversy caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Street Symphony starts with Fountain of Youth, a spirited tune that highlights the dueling guitars of Malone and Messa and is underscored by Magnie’s growling keyboards. The careful listener will appreciate Amedée’s falsetto double vocals during the refrain. Skillful lyrics remind the audience that we "can’t hide old."
Poor Man’s Paradise begins with a dramatic opening that is followed by a delightfully upbeat musical stroll. Lyrically, the ideas that are presented here bring the listeners through the hard times and havoc that came after "the big winds blew." The song, which also serves as Street Symphony’s first single, tells stories of perseverance and resilience in the wake of the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Although the subject matter hurts, the musical presentation offers healing and joy.
Stranger sounds like an easy drive in the country. It is an enjoyable musical cruise, and although it seems to pick up speed as it approaches each turn, it ultimately maintains its pace. Listen for Malone’s and Messa’s glorious acoustic guitar wanderings. The track asks poignant questions like "When can we finally put hate aside?" It also extends the hope that "maybe we can become friends instead of strangers."
Thorn in Her Side hammers away, while giving another voice to, as Magnie puts it, "people who can’t stand the way the government is running the country." His accordion is as prominent as Malone’s contentious lyrics: "Money and blood spillin’ in the sand / Plantin’ our flag in someone else’s land / What about the people for which it stands / How about takin’ care of our own / Like the people down South / Drownin’ in their homes / I guess my God and your God don’t see eye to eye." As far as the subdudes’ songs go, this one is loaded.
A tender guitar introduction begins No Man. A tremolo effect adds the essence of timelessness to this gorgeous ballad and its soulful a cappella break, which is accentuated by Cook’s deep bass vocals. The song closes with a ripping guitar solo, a veritable Byzantine dance of fingers on the instrument’s neck and fretboard.
On Fairweather Friend, Magnie and Malone share vocal duties. Driven by a solid groove, the lyrics (possibly) speak of the many people who deserted the devastated area, while others stayed behind. The singers continue to point to (and focus on) the wind as a metaphor: "When the wind dies down and the sun comes up / Maybe I’ll see you again." In addition, the lines "North, South, East, West, the winds of change are blowin’/ Business between you and I is growin’" express the revitalization of New Orleans.
Amidst the soulful harmonies of Brother Man, Magnie cries out over the divides of race and religion. This song is offered as a delicate, slow-moving crawl that dredges the swamp of human behavior. The message from these self-described "peaceniks" poignantly asks everyone to "look a little deeper." The power of the question "Where did we learn to hate?" is answered in the line "If you will look into my soul, you would know that, just like you, I’m afraid." The solution presented is clear: "Won’t you try to get to know me / Try to understand / And I’m going to try to get to know you / Brother man."
A picture is worth a thousand words, but that’s only Half of the Story. This track recounts a tale of people who get a second chance at life. In an instantly memorable chorus, the subdudes reminds its fans that things are not always what they seem. Under the gentle spell of acoustic and electric guitars, Malone discovers the great fortune that springs from uniting two people who need and value each other.
Work Clothes is a fun song about people who get dressed to make money, but go fishing instead. The staccato shots are poured by Amedée as the band follows "in suit," so to speak. Messa’s powerful, walking bass-guitar wanderings lead listeners through a decision-making process that heads straight to the nearest river bank and finally to debtors’ prison!
During Absolutely, Malone declares his devotion to the love of his life: "Absolutely crazy over you / I am truly hypnotized by you." As Magnie’s haunting accordion presses on, the song is a complete outpouring of emotion, a sincere promise of lifelong building and rebuilding of a relationship or, perhaps, a city. (It is left to the listener to decide).
When Magnie sings I’m Your Town, he brings attention back to the many sounds, smells, images, and people, all of which contribute to making a place feel like home. The implication of questions like "Do you know me?" and "Who’s going to save me?" place the responsibility of care on the shoulders of everyone.
The set culminates with its title track, which completes the tour de force in a gospel-like celebration of the people who ultimately comprise the street symphony. Punctuated by harmonies and handclaps, the song conveys the comfort and joy that can be experienced in getting to know one’s neighbors better. The tune comes off as the perfect ending to a perfect day; it is the final movement in a gumbo-style concerto.
Street Symphony is a delightful meet ’n‘ greet for listeners and musical personalities; it is a soundtrack of hope and rejuvenation. Uplifting melodies and strong vocal harmonies, backed with adept musicianship, combine to give this offering a classic subdudes-style signature. ½
Richard J. Atkins, Ed.D., is the CEO of Improving Communications,
a New York-based corporate training firm.
Street Symphony is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box