CD: 10 Songs, 47:05 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock, Roots Rock
Can the blues be beautiful? Is that adjective only fit for genres such as classical and instrumental music? To the second question, the answer’s no, and to the first, yours truly pumps her fist in the air and shouts, “YES!” Pennsylvania’s Dan Bubien proves it on his sophomore studio album, Grinding These Gears. The gritty title might lead people to suspect its thirteen original songs of being 98% screaming shredder, and 2% everything else. Au contraire! Bubien brings out the beauty of the blues through another applicable “B” word some bands dismiss: balance. No one musical element, even lead guitar or vocals, overpowers another. All mesh together like the colorful threads in the world’s best artistic tapestries. Genre diehards might think this is more of a rock album than a blues album. They’d be right. However, to ignore it would be oh-so-wrong.
Dan Bubien’s 2013 debut, Empty Roads, has already garnered much critical acclaim, including the “Best Self-Produced” award at the International Blues Challenge for that year. It charted as high as #14 on the PA Roots Charts and #41 on the Worldwide Blues Charts. He and his posse have made several festival appearances throughout his home state, as well as the Blind Raccoon Showcase in Memphis. He’s performed with bands such as Ana Popovic, Magic Slim, Tinsley Ellis, and Shemekia Copeland. Such company can only bolster his already fantastic prospects.
Performing alongside Bubien on vocals, lead guitars and bass are Andy Taravella on drums and vocals, and Joe Munroe on keyboards, vocals and bass guitar. Additional musicians include Tim Mabin on keyboards; Gary Ripper on bass guitar; Eddie Manion on sax for the title track; David Bufalini on trumpet, and Jeff Davis on saxophones for “Second Hand Man.”
The following songs are the best gems polished by Dan’s relentlessly Grinding These Gears:
Track 01: “Palest Rider” – In biblical imagery of the Apocalypse, Death is portrayed as a rider upon a pale horse. No wonder this opening number is so bone-chilling – especially its intro and mid-song guitar solo, howling to a heaven that may or may not hear it. When the end of life hunts our narrator down, he’s not prepared to “go gently into that good night.” Tim Mabin guest starts on keyboards reminiscent of “Riders on the Storm,” and Gary Ripper plays bass guitar.
Track 06: “Second Hand Man” – David Bufalini and Jeff Davis comprise the horn section on this mellow ballad, an accusation against a partner who’s less needy and more greedy: “I don’t want to be your second hand man, the one you come crying to when your other man can’t. Time for to ramble, so believe what you can, but you and I’ll only be where we began,” Dan warns her.
Track 10: “The Struggle is Real” – 21st-century-speak for “life is hard,” the title and refrain of the album’s closer is the catchiest thing since a cold. Sung to a backdrop of clanking chains and grinding gears, this stunning stomp marks not only the relentless series of problems we must face, but the relentless march of time as well. Are we all just cogs in a machine, or even worse, slaves to such machinery as the “grander scheme of things”?
Dan Bubien from Aliquippa is all-equipped to play beautiful, balanced blues!