Popa Chubby – Back to New York City (2011)

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This is a script-flipped blues rock record, with a plugged-in emphasis on the rock part. Back to New York City, in many ways, is as loud as it is brash — a thundering restatement of Popa Chubby’s outsized persona and even outer-sized personality.

But peel away the scalding licks, and the stomping rhythms, and the braying vocals, and you find — like a beautiful wildflower pushing up through the cracks in a rugged city sidewalk — these moments of touching, real-world lyricism.

Chubby embraces the contradictions: “People look at me,” he has said, “and expect a certain thing. They don’t realize there’s more behind the picture. They see a big, burly guy with tattoos — and they expect to get beat over the head.” Here, he pauses, then adds: “And you will get beat over the head, but you’ll also get rocked to sleep, and there’ll be poetry in there, too.”

Chubby, whose real name is Ted Horowitz, is just as adept at the searing electrified Texas shuffle of “She Loves Everybody But Me” (a nod, it seems, to Stevie Ray Vaughan) as he is the pleading album-rock wail of “A Love That Will Not Die,” as apt to tear into a wall-shaking groover like “Warrior Gods” (a nod, it seems, to Motorhead) as he is a slow-cooked take on Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

Stevie Ray and Bach? Throw in punk rock, too. A fan of the late-1970s CBGB scenesters, Chubby eventually worked as a sideman with Richard Hell — whose band the Voidoids, along with contemporaries like the Ramones and the Cramps, added an element of danger that had been missing in rock music for some time. Chubby aims to do the same with the blues, and he’s been largely successful at that, notably on 1995’s Booty and the Beast, the Tom Dowd-produced gem that included the radio hit “Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer”; and (after an ill-advised detour involving pop and hip hop) during a burst of activity a decade later that included the three-disc Jimi Hendrix-tribute Electric Chubbyland set and tour.

Along the way, Chubby also saw his writing mature, a progression which made a huge step after the attacks of 9/11 on his hometown, sparking the memorable commentary “Somebody Let the Devil Out.” That continues with Back To New York City, out today on Provogue Records, as Chubby balances these many disparate musical influences with confidence and grace. More interestingly perhaps, the album connects on a visceral level too, as Chubby makes a number of telling, note-perfect comments on every-day life.

You knew Popa Chubby could throw sparks on the guitar. Back To New York City shows he can turn a phrase, too.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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