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Popa Chubby – The Essential Popa Chubby

Blind Pig Records

16 tracks; 74.58 minutes

Popa Chubby (real name Ted Horowitz) has been a prolific performer and recording artist since the mid 1990s. He is very popular in Europe and plays frequently right across the continent as well as back home in the States. He is originally from New York and this CD represents a value for money ‘Best Of’ collection from his decade-long association with Blind Pig.

I have kept an interested eye on this guy since the first time I saw him. Not just because he played a good set, but also because of the way he behaved towards the main band that night. He was supporting Little Feat in London and after playing his set he immediately installed himself at the front of the theatre to watch the entire Feat set, paying rapt attention to the two guitarists, Paul Barrère and Fred Tackett. I observed that here was a young guy intent on learning as much as possible from an opportunity to watch two great players in action – all credit to him.

On this collection we have tracks from all Popa Chubby’s albums with Blind Pig apart from his two Hendrix covers CDs, “Electric Chubbyland Vols 1 and 2” and the compilation of early tracks “The Hungry Years”. All material is original except for three covers, live versions of “Hey Joe” and “Hallelujah” and AP Carter’s “Keep On The Sunnyside Of Life”, though the version here is a far cry from the Appalachian country original! Chubby plays all guitars and harp (as well as drums and bass on two tracks), supported by a variety of bass and keyboard players and drummers.

I expect that most readers will be familiar with Chubby’s output, but for those who are not what you get is plenty of cranked up guitar, lots of slide and good tunes. From an early stage in his career he has blended a wide range of influences, including something of a rap feel in some tracks – opening track “Daddy Played The Blues And Mama Was A Disco Queen” is one such example, “Life Is A Beatdown” another. The tracks here are an excellent introduction to the big man’s repertoire, offering a cross-section of styles.

“How’d A White Boy Get The Blues” is almost a country blues, “Somebody Let The Devil Out” features some strong harp work as well as slide. “Slide Devil Man Slide” comes into similar territory, with an element of autobiography in the lyric. “Like The Buddha Do” is very catchy, as well as funny.

Chubby has a way with his titles and ones such as the slide-driven rocker “If The Diesel Don’t Get You Then The Jet Fuel Will” is an immediate winner! The earliest song here is a live version of his first big success “Sweet Goddess Of Love And Beer” (a concept the guys can easily relate to) which featured on his first album released on Okeh in 1995. It’s classic Chubby, catchy tune and an amusing, slightly unusual lyric. The longest tracks are a respectful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which stands up very well, in my view, to other better known versions and “Grown Man Crying Blues” which is a classic slow blues, beautifully played. My personal favourite here is “Back In My Baby’s Arms” which is a real rocker, and I also enjoyed the slower paced “Another Ten Years Gone” and the slide driven “Somebody Let The Devil Out”, but frankly every track is a keeper. The last track, the cover of “Keep On The Sunnyside Of Life” takes what was a country tune and pushes it through an urban filter – the result is an uptempo romp with a positive message, a great way to conclude the collection and no doubt the reason why it is the only exception to a strictly chronological approach.

You should also be aware that Popa Chubby has issued several CDs on other labels, so if this one ‘floats your boat’ there is plenty more to listen to! Those who already have many of his Blind Pig albums will not need this CD but for anyone just getting acquainted with him this is a highly recommended place to start.

Review John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music. He was recently on the January 2011 Legendary Blues Cruise.

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