Independent release, 2006
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/28/2006
The application of writerly talents -- impressionistic descriptions, telling details, passionately told tales that resonate with some primal emotional truth -- to rock and roll has been attempted by many, and mastered by a precious few. The list of the masters is rich with familiar names like Springsteen, Young, Hiatt and Duritz.
And maybe, just maybe, sometime in the future you’ll see the name Cubeta on that list.
Last year I discovered Chris Cubeta’s superb 2003 release Sugar Sky. His brand-new disc only increases my sense that this gifted singer-songwriter is not just for real, but quickly earning a place among the more prodigious talents of the decade. Faithful is the kind of mature artistic statement you expect from a big name, and do a double-take hearing from a guy hawking his wares on CD Baby.
Cubeta, a 27-year-old New Yorker, weaves his richly textured songs with compelling characters, revealing stories, urgent melodies and memorable arrangements. From the opening notes of kick-off “Me And The Radio,” his warm, lived-in voice captures your imagination, ever the centerpiece of this steady-building number about starry-eyed young lovers growing into complicated adults.
The richness of Cubeta’s work lies in the genuineness of the emotional truths he tells, both musically -- the trilling, propulsive banjo on “Main Street,” the wide open piano-based arrangement on “Much Too Cold In Winter” -- and lyrical -- “You can say whatever you wanna say / But you can never tell that I was putting on a face for you / Even after all the years I’ve known you.” And the raw honesty of his vocals on the remarkable “Clementine” -- “Don’t make this hard / This is hard enough / Leaving you” -- is simply devastating.
The richness also comes from Cubeta’s nuanced exploration of a variety of different moods. “Radio” feels hard-nosed but essentially optimistic; “Main Street” shimmers with a similar sense of muddy-cheeked resilience. But harder realities intrude in the dark fury of “Right Away” and the bitter brilliance of “Better Alone.” The latter is a merciless self-examination set to a bulldozing rock and roll beat, undeniably potent and devastatingly true.
Multiinstrumentalist Cubeta employs a full band this time out in his Liars Club of Jeff Berner on guitars, John Passineau on bass and Marc Capaldo on drums. They power the heavy numbers and ease into the softer ones with equal aplomb, while Cubeta both drives and fills out the arrangements, employing acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica as the song demands.
Faithful feels like just the right title for an album that keeps faith with both the characters that inhabit it and the musical storytelling traditions it emulates. It’s literate roots-rock of the first order, full of sharply-drawn characters, powerful arrangements and raw revelations, sung in a voice passionate enough to dare any cynic to believe.