They look and sound like they've been around forever, but the band has "only" existed for twenty years (counting the roughly eight-year hiatus from 1996-2004), mainly flying under the radar. They come out of that musically rich town of New Orleans, but have rarely been mentioned in the same sentence as Dr. John, Galactic or the Neville Brothers. With the release today of Street Symphony, that may finally change.
Because if Street Symphony doesn't gain them the wider audience they've earned long ago, it's a damned shame; this is one fine album. More amazingly, it's a fine album that almost anyone can appreciate right away, and with no concessions made. To paraphrase that quote often used to explain the blues, "if this stuff doesn't move you, you've got a hole in your soul."
For you see, the Subdudes make handcrafted music. No, really, that's not just a cliché in this case, these guys craft music the old-fashioned way. There's attention to detail in the melodies. There's attention to detail in the lyrics. They sweat the details on the harmonies. They fuss over getting the instrumentation just right. There's no reliance on studio trickery or trends; even their 1989 debut sounds as fresh today as it did back then. When you are done listening to them, you feel like you've been fed a four-course homecooked meal, not prefabricated, processed food from (insert favorite restaurant chain you love to hate here). It's long been a Subdudes policy to play musical instruments they can haul to the stage themselves, which is part of the reason why, for example, Steve Amedee's "drums" is a simple tambourine set and keyboardist John Mangie totes an accordion. These things go a long way toward explaining why their sound is richly organic and timeless.
The music that results from all of this minding the details isn't slick or overdone. It's got the soul of Al Green, the mellow tone of The Grateful Dead, the Big Easy blues-boogie of Little Feat and the creole spirit of Chifton Chenier.
The prior, Keb Mo-produced CD Behind The Levee was first-rate as Subdudes releases tend to be, but this time, there's a greater sense of purpose. Street Symphony is the first Subdudes album written and recorded since Hurricane Katrina left a trail of devastation in their old stomping grounds two years ago this week, and the boys greet this grim scene with all the emotions felt by most of the victims: anger and sadness, but also hope and faith.