Matthew Stubbs released Soul Bender last August to positive critical reviews, and well-attended release parties in his native New England. He moved to Los Angeles several months ago to play with big name artists. But he gathered up his local musical friends to record Soul Bender at Middleville Studio in North Reading.
Recorded just before his 26th birthday, the disc shows that Stubbs has learned a lot touring with the likes of Janiva Magness, John Nemeth, Lynwood Slim, and Charlie Musslewhite.
Soul Bender is full of impressive and enjoyable moments. All instrumental, these tracks showcase the Stubbs guitar technique as well as his composition skills.
Along for the ride are Boston players Sax Gordon Beadle, drummer Chris Rivelli, bassist John Bunszell, trumpeter Scott Aruda, baritone sax man Tino Barker, and a second bass player named Wolf Ginandes.
The title track opens with masterful playing, and the next 10 tracks follow suit with the same discipline and talent.
“Sticky Bunz” finds Stubbs cranking out some crunchy guitar chords, brief melodic phrases, and nimbly picked rhythms - all in the context of a tight, compact song with a lot going on in its rhythm section. The slow tempo “Rivelliís Mood” gives Stubbs a chance to show his generosity. His understated guitar playing stays out of the way of Beadleís cool sways and delicious swings.
“Jacksonville Jerk” jumps out of speakers with the action packed intensity of a great movie fight scene. Stubbsí chords and rhythms here remind me of “Born To Be Wild” in that he kick starts his band into a frenzy. This makes me wonder if Stubbs, or one of his tour mates, had to clock a jerk in Jacksonville, even though this piece feels more like a rumble than a one-on-one fistfight.
“20 Gallons Of Beadle Juice” has a great sixties feel. Stubbs peals away many layers of feeling with his melodic phrasing, while Beadle offers a steady progression of horn shots until heís ready to take the melody spotlight.
What I like most throughout these tracks is the way Stubbs writes to showcase both guitar and tenor sax. Stubbs has a double-track mind that allows him to put both instruments upfront simultaneously, before finding the right moments when one should lead and the other should augment - an unusual level of composition skill in a player his age.
Stubbs has been informed by 1950s rock ní roll and this shows mostly in “Stomping On Thru.” The guitar playing reminds me of all the 50s classic in its tone and intensity. Beadleís sax lines make me imagine a sock hop crowd of people trying to Limbo under the ever-lowering stick. Stubbs also found a 50s jam pace that makes this tune explode near the end.
I donít think anyone will have trouble finding something to dance to, bob their heads to, or just snap their fingers.
Iím not sure who “Charlotte Ann” is, but I am sure people will identify with this easy going piece that anchors the listener in its feel good vibe. “Funky Head,” meanwhile, bops to a lilting groove thatís marked by Stubbsí work on the lower notes of his axe.
“The Meat Sweats” feels like a 1950s jam session of some previous tracks here. Only this time it has a surf feel. The guitar and brief drum rolls remind me of “Wipe Out” in a nostalgic way. I can almost picture the young people sitting around the bonfire on the beach while their transistor radios play the latest West Coast dance craze.
“Stubbzillla” is the second piece on the disc named after Stubbs, and the fifth to feature at least one band memberís name. These guys donít take themselves too seriously and theyíre willing to have some fun with Stubbsí material. Another point in the recordís favor is the breezy feeling that keeps it from becoming self-indulgent. Although Stubbs is a master guitarist, he favors serving the song rather than strutting his stuff on the six-string.
Lacking those egotistical artistic flourishes, and guitar pedal devices that plague so many other young players, makes this disc so musically solid. Itís just a fun album to listen to, and at the same time, it reminds me of my parents 50s and early 60s records I listened to back in the early 1970s.
Stubbs has bridged the musical styles from those decades. That is no small feat for a player and composer still under 30.