Matthew Stubbs released Medford & Main on Blue Bella Records last month, and that makes this his second solo CD and his first on his second label. It is not clear why Stubbs has moved from Vizztone to Blue Bella, but his sophomore effort is a lot more exciting than his debut, so it is a loss for Vizztone.
The songs are better crafted this time around, and Stubbs uses dynamics a lot more on this effort. He comes across more confident and seasoned than on his 2008 release, Soul Bender. He has more power and control on this CD. You hear this immediately in the first song, and it carries through the entire work.
The title track opens up with a loose feeling vibe with breezy saxophone and Stubbs’ nimble guitar picking lead. The composition feels like a Sunday afternoon drive. In a groovin’ old time, almost-Stax sound, Stubbs switches gracefully here between strong chords to sweeter melodies and rhythms. A lot is going on in this opener and yet Stubbs’ guitar remains the aggressive driving focal point. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a well-rounded drummer like Chris Rivelli backing you with the right amount of backbeat.
“Pistol Whip” is a more action packed song. It earns its title with Stubbs action packed guitar. Riffs come at you like quick punches from a great fighter. Notes and chords hang tough over a hard smacking rhythm section. This song almost sounds like movie theme music for a fight scene, only it’s more sophisticated.
“Uncle Sonny” finds Stubbs paying out a lot of amicable rhythm guitar. The vibe on this one conjures up images of family reunions. Funky guitar riffs and funky bass lines give this song a foot moving anchor. Stubbs knows his Stax catalogue well. Its influence here is strong. . Stubbs rides his knowledge and skill like a motor cross champ, twists and turns in the road, obstacles, are just more opportunities for adventure and fun.
“Sleepy Eyes” illustrated Stubbs’ development as a composer. It has a slow dance song groove with Gordon Beadle’s sweeping sax melody creating a lush feeling of easeful movement. Beadle and the horn section gently pull the listener into a swaying lush melody. Stubbs is smart enough to stay out of the way of these really cool horns and simply join the rhythm section at setting the pace.
“Double N” is surf music while having a pure rock and roll feel from the late 1950s to early 1960s. Stubbs’ high flying guitar phrase makes me think of the kids at the major beaches gathering up their surfboards and heading out to catch some waves. For a brief moment we gain a glimpse into Stubbs’ song structure. He guides his guitar phrase through a maze of grooves. A brief bass solo from Marc Hickox highlights how this band works structurally with the youthful guitarist.
The Stubbs’ tune “Tube Top Sensation” has swells (no pun intended) of guitar and horns between the old time beat that reminds of old Chicago blues. Stubbs focuses consistently and intently on the rhythmic phrase with a concentration of a guy who cannot take his eyes off a young woman in her summer clothes. “Yikes Ike,” is, as the Ike in the title implies, an ode to the music of the 1950s style of guitar, images of Chuck Berry and Bill Haley And The Comets coming to mind. “Mangos” is an ode to tropical melodies and provides a nice break in the frenetic action before “Rug Burn” swings and jumps into some rock and blues action in which Stubbs whips out some quick pristine leads. Sax Gordon blows up a storm on his tenor sax, making it easy to picture a wild house party, or two wild people playing house.
The other players who help young Stubbs make this work are bassist Wolf Ginandes, trumpeter Scott Aruda, and bari sax man Tino Baker.
Stubbs is definitely growing as an artist. At only 27 he is also fast making a name for himself in national circles. This Medford & Main CD is another step in the right direction towards a great career.