Independent release, 2003
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/01/2005
Unlike cats, independent releases usually get about three lives with me. If I haven't found something to react to -- positively or negatively -- by the third listen, I'm probably not going to, and that means it's time to move on.
Which brings me to Chris Cubeta's Sugar Sky, a disc I've been listening to off and on for over two months now, probably ten or twelve spins, and I'm still not entirely sure what to say about it, except for this: it's good. Very good, in fact. Certainly good enough to pop it in again while I sit down to finally write this review.
Cubeta is a singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist whose material arguably falls under the umbrella of Americana/roots-rock, but whose vivid musical and lyrical imagination launches these songs off in a wider range of directions than that easy label could ever hope to capture. His creative approach to lyrics -- these songs read more like poetry than pop -- is augmented by superb acoustic and electric guitar work (not to mention bass and drums, all performed by Cubeta) and impassioned vocals. (Side note: I really don't have time any more at this stage in my life for singers who can't be bothered to sing like they mean it…)
Highlights are abundant. The album opens with the raw, Dylanesque acoustic and harmonica intro to "Billy Elliott" before the song accelerates into a propulsive electric rocker at the close of the first chorus. "Save Yourself" follows, a boozy lament that's quickly counterpointed by the deceptively light-hearted country-folk rhythms of "Athena." The latter's strong dynamics and emotional, mysterious lyrics sum up this disc as effectively as anything here; you may have a hard time interpreting exactly what the song means, but its crisp energy and rich melodies captivate.
Before he's done, Cubeta tosses off several more strong upbeat tunes ("Broken Heart," the Counting Crows-ish "Whiskey Midnight" and the rising-falling title track), as well a pair of terrific ballads in "Careful," and the moving "Fall Down," the latter carrying overtones of early Springsteen. "Blood Rush" provides a brief detour into straight-ahead rock as Cubeta works out dirty riffs and dark thoughts ("you were diggin' my grave with a broken spoon / I thought I told you that I ain't ready to go") to a steady backbeat. Closing strong, Cubeta bookends the album with "Someone Else's Dream," presenting a series of sharp, fleeting ideas and images laid down over a dreamy, repeating piano melody ("a lullabye for the broken down / an argument for the heaven-bound… I can't offer more than this / there's a mystery in every kiss").
Cubeta's artful, oblique approach to lyrics and musical versatility make this disc a consistently intriguing listen that promises more revelations and insights with each repetition. Fine, then. Time to spin it again.