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Music Review: Popa Chubby – ‘Universal Breakdown Blues’

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Popa Chubby has been around the blues scene for about 20 years. His early memories, according to his biography on Amazon, include listening to the jukebox in his parents’ candy store that played the pop and R&B songs of the ’60s. After his father died, he was abandoned and by 18 he was in New York playing the blues, gaining and overcoming a heroin habit. He is clean today, but all those experiences add texture and depth to his music.

popachubby

Chubby shows off his rich voice and powerful guitar playing in a bold and fiery style right away with “I Don’t Want Nobody,” a song about letting go of bad relationships with some brilliantly blistering guitar work.

The next song, “I Ain’t Giving Up,” has the emotionally intense gospel soul feel of Otis Redding or Sam Cooke. “Universal Breakdown Blues” continues to channel old school soul and furious guitar, while “People’s Blues”  adds a psychedelic touch without losing any of the intensity or fire of the vocal or playing.

“Rock Me Baby” is a great piece of modern blues rock, while “I Need a Lil’  Mojo” adds some Southern rock to the mix. “69 Dollars” and the deliciously suggestive “The Finger Bangin’ Boogie” draw heavily on those early R&B roots while “Danger Man” has more of a pop feel very similar to the Johnny Rivers hit “Secret Agent Man.”  There’s even a song for the stoners, the rocking “Take Me Back to Amsterdam (Reefer Smokin’ Man).” And it all ends with the amazing rock song “Mindbender,” with that incredible scorching guitar and voice that could fill an amphitheater.

But the most unusual song on the CD and the thing that sets it apart from every other modern blues rock CD is the incredible version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” You’ve heard this song a million times but I promise you never heard it like this. In the first place, Chubby starts out playing an entirely different song, Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” and then segues into the angriest, most unsentimental and yet beautiful version of this song you will ever hear. The CD is worth the cost for this track alone. Add to it the other 11 amazing and versatile tracks and you have a real winner.

Popa Chubby says he plays “blues for the people,” and so he does. Universal Breakdown Blues is highly recommended.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.