Smokin Joe Kubek And Bnois King - Fat Mans Shine Parlor

By Matthew MacDonald
November 2015

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This is Kubek and King’s fourth Blind Pig release, consisting of 12 tunes very heavily emphasizing a hard Texas groove and bringing to mind, at different points along the way, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and ZZ Top.

Although this is a guitar album, it’s not a guitar hero album.

Kubek and King have very different playing styles that complement one another very well. Their 25 years together help with this, as does their approach – they trade licks in the interest of the tune rather than in an effort to outdo each other.

This is especially important on Fat Man’s Shine Parlor because the songs, all written by Kubek and King (with the exception of the very T-Birds sounding “Brown Bomba Mojo”, on which Steve Hecht shares the credit), are interesting and developed enough for the listener to be genuinely curious about how things are going to turn out for the hero/anti-hero. From musings on empty relationships (and emptiness of self) in “River of Whiskey” and “One Girl By My Side” to the loss of someone who matters in “Diamond Eyes” to somewhere in between (“Don’t Want To Be Alone”) to the self-explanatory “Done Got Caught Blues”, familiar ground is covered in its own way ranging from the dark to the darkly comic.

Even the more mundane rants about airline travel (“How Much”) and raves about food (“Cornbread”) come across in such a conversational way – that’s Bnois King’s twang talking to you – that, although you may at first not be all that interested, the down-to-earth earnestness and naturalness of his delivery will soon draw you in.

Fat Man’s Shine Parlor is, in a sense, a theme album. In the promotional material, the story is told of a young Kubek walking through a rundown neighborhood in Dallas, coming across the shoe shine parlor of the title, and finding that it also provided an outlet for “other activities such as gambling, drinking, and womanizing.”

Minus the shoe shines and gambling (of the cards and craps variety), for the most part the songs here stay well within that topical realm. Listening to this disc for the first time, it also brought to mind the main purpose of a record, back in the day: it was an advertisement to go and see that band when it passed through your town. That’s what this is, and it succeeds in spades.

All the way through, I kept thinking of what a fantastic show these guys must put on and how, next time, I would make sure to go and see them. So, it was a little bittersweet to have just been exposed to this great duo and then to discover, while preparing to write this review, that Smokin’ Joe Kubek passed away October 11, at the age of 58, on his way to blow the lid off of another “shine parlor” in another town.

He’ll be missed.

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