CD Review of Street Symphony by The Subdudes
Recommended if you like
The Mavericks, Los Lobos, The Band
Label
EMI/Back Porch
The Subdudes:
Street Symphony

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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S
ince reforming after an eight-year hiatus in 2004, the Subdudes – a.k.a. Tim Cook, Tommy Malone, John Magnie, Jimmy Messa, and Steve Amedée – have picked up right where they left off, which is to say, they’ve released a trio of successively more impressive albums which have simultaneously refined their songwriting talents and showcased the unique blend of soul, gospel, and funk that made them a cult-sized roots-music draw in the ‘90s.

All of which is a pretty big mouthful when all that really needs to be said is “Man, the Subdudes are fuckin’ great,” but brevity is the soul of wit, not rock criticism.

Their second post-reunion album, last year’s Behind the Levee, was arguably the best, most upbeat, and most explicitly New Orleans-inspired collection of the band’s career; unfortunately, it arrived on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, during one of the only times in American history in which “party” and “New Orleans” were mutually exclusive. It isn’t as though this affected the album’s commercial performance – the Subdudes have never had anything approaching a hit record – but the band must have wished it was promoting a timelier album. As limited proof, here’s Street Symphony.

Don’t misunderstand – this album has political overtones, but they aren’t called the Subdudes for nothing; it isn’t like they’ve morphed into a bayou version of Rage against the Machine. If you aren’t listening carefully, you’ll miss the sentiment behind tracks such as “Poor Man’s Paradise” and “Thorn in Her Side” – and really, the expression of those sentiments says less about the band than it does about the deeply divided, endlessly politicized times in which we’re living. It certainly has no effect on the group’s bourbon-soaked sound, which still effortlessly bridges the gaps between rock, folk, funk, soul, and blues; if anything, Street Symphony might be the Subdudes’ earthiest album to date. (This is sort of amazing when you stop to consider that it was produced by George Massenburg, but whatever. Way to strip back the varnish, George.)

The songs, of course, are top-to-bottom solid, which is about what you’d expect from an album in which a couplet like “You can hide your heart / But you can’t hide old” rubs shoulders with “How about takin’ care of our own / Like the people down South / Drownin’ in their homes.” Nearly 20 years into a career as rich in artistic rewards as it has been bereft of commercial ones, it’s a minor miracle the Subdudes are even still together, much less at the top of their collective game. If you’re a fan of honest-to-God, living, breathing rock music, and you aren’t listening to this band, it’s hard not to wonder what’s wrong with you.

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