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Verse Chorus Verse: Matthew Stubbs – “Soul Bender”

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This is the 627th article I've written for Blogcritics since joining the site in August 2004 and the 143rd Verse Chorus Verse entry since the series debuted in August 2009.  Over the course of five-plus years and all those articles, I've created a small cache of readers who gather to read the random synapses of my mind and/or to heckle me.  It's a relationship I've come to count on and the familiarity is something I quite enjoy.  In fact, it's because of that familiarity I can do what I'm about to right now which is to let you in on a little secret. 

This is the first VCV I've published in which I've dropped the name Matthew Stubbs.  It won't be the last.  Welcome to my latest musical obsession.

I'd never heard of Stubbs until I got an advance of his upcoming record for Blue Bella, Medford & Main.  Having obsessively listened to it for a little while now, I went in search of more biographical information about Stubbs and found out Medford is only his first album for Blue Bella though not his first album overall.  Soul Bender was released for VizzTone in 2008 and I couldn't imagine one more day of my life passing without grabbing it.

Allow me to borrow from the cinematic masterpiece, The Three Amigos, where an older woman says to the character Carmen, "Let me prepare you for the way El Guapo makes love."  Let me prepare you for the blues stylings of Matthew Stubbs.

As a devout fan of the Chicago school of blues, I've not given some of the other regions and traditions the time and attention they deserve.  Stubbs may have cured me of that because I now want to buy every Booker T & The MGs album I can find.  I don't know all the ins-and-outs of that sound and style, but the soul-influenced blues of that label and era is clearly central to what Stubbs is creating and it's brilliant.

A lot of instrumentalists try to sell their records based on their chops and technical wizardry.  They string together a series of solos and a torrent of technical sorcery and call it a song.  Stubbs writes songs and sometimes remembers to write himself a solo.  What makes these songs stick to you is the way the parts themselves stick together.  It's the sound of his guitar blending with his horn section, led by Sax Gordon.  The guitar doesn't talk, the groove does.  The goal is soul, and you'll find it in every note Matthew Stubbs does (and doesn't) play.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://dagoddess.com Joanie

    “The guitar doesn’t talk, the groove does. The goal is soul, and you’ll find it in every note Matthew Stubbs does (and doesn’t) play.” That says it all, Josh. I’m sold. Count me in!

  • Josh Hathaway

    He’s really great, Joanie. It’s not about a seizure-inducing flurry of notes. This is about groove and texture. He’s got such terrific feel. His debut is very good and his follow-up due in March is even better.

  • http://dagoddess.com Joanie

    This is exactly my thinking. I’m done with incessant musical wankitude. I want notes played because they mean something and not just because they CAN be crammed in. That Stubbs knows this already puts him on my list of ones to watch and listen to.

    You’re totally making me go out and pick up the CD now.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Stubbs is one of those guitarists who could create an entire album using fewer notes than some guitarists (blues and otherwise) use in a single song. He has chops, but he plays when there’s something to say. He does understand it and I am making it known here and now that I will campaign for his record.

    Grab this one and then be ready for Medford & Main on 3/16!

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    this is exactly why i love players like Ronnie Earl. ‘flash’ is OK, but i like it when somebody dig in, y’know?

  • Josh Hathaway

    And Ronnie is one of those players who, while he may play a lot of notes in a given composition, has something to say with what he plays. It’s about having heart and soul in the music and the playing. There are countless ways to do that and they’re all valid. I do admire economical players, though.