Popa Chubby,
The Essential Popa Chubby
(Blind Pig, 2011)

The problem with Popa Chubby is that when he releases a new CD you never know which Chubby is going to show up: will it be the bluesman, the rocker, the balladeer or the psychedelic guitar hero?

But one thing about Popa Chubby, whatever he is, he is never boring or predictable. Each album finds him going in whatever direction suits him at the moment. He followed up a blues album with a two CD set of Jimi Hendrix covers and followed that with a program of arena rock. If you're a person who likes to put things in neat categories, Popa Chubby is going to confuse you at the same time he delights you.

If this originality is a problem, Blind Pig, his record company, has found the solution. The Essential Popa Chubby is a collection of his best material, chosen from his entire back catalogue; the company has placed all of his various musical identities in one CD and the result is well beyond wonderful. It's the best showcase this artist could have asked for, showing his full range of talent and interests, and it's also a fantastic listening experience. It's a long time fan's dream and a newcomer's ideal introduction.

The first couple of songs are about the musical birth of the speaker in the songs. It begins with a rock number with a touch of rap in it called "Daddy Played the Guitar & Momma was a Disco Queen," which features some superb slide playing. It establishes the mood of the album perfectly and is followed by an explanation of "How a White Boy Got the Blues." Having told us where he is coming from, Chubby alternately attacks ballads, rockers and blues shuffles, making it all sound easy and natural. For me, the album's highlight is a cover of a song I never thought I'd hear this artist do: Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," recorded live, which is pretty much the most sensitive and fully felt version of this chestnut I've ever heard. Chubby makes a familiar anthem sound brand new.

I've always enjoyed Popa Chubby's work but this album showed him to me in a new light, moving me from admirer to fanatical fan.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

19 March 2011

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