Fresh off his headlining performance at the Long Branch Jazz & Blues Festival, Popa Chubby has released his new double CD “Live at G. Bluey’s Juke Joint,” a full-service sound studio in Long Island City. Recorded over two nights in front of a 25-member hand-selected audience, Popa describes as, “the most discerning music lovers I know,” this 19 song CD was released on Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast Records. Accompanied by The Beast Band, Michael Merritt on bass and background vocals, Mike Dimeo on keyboards and background vocals and Stefano Giudici on drums and vocals, this record is more than two hours of exciting live music, from start to finish. Comprised of eleven originals and eight well-chosen covers, it finds Popa and his band at the top of their game in this intimate setting. The first tune, Neil Young’s “Motorcycle Mama,” finds Popa’s energized guitar and vocals backed by a band that certainly lives up to their name. The original tune “Another Ten Years Gone” continues that energy and serves as a touchstone for the passing of significant musicians that punctuated the decades of Popa’s life. Reflecting on the lyrics, it seems to me the years have passed as quickly as the song. It’s some powerful stuff for those whose lives are tied to the blues the way Popa Chubby’s is. It’s followed with a Hendrix styled take on Billy Roberts
“Hey Joe,” a song that started as a pop anthem by the Leaves but was elevated to a blues classic by Jimi. Here it is given terrific reading in the hands of a master of the six string, with a band that knows how to support his every nuance. “Dirty Lie,” another hard-driving original, gives Mike Dimeo the opportunity to stretch out on keyboards, and he doesn’t disappoint with some inspired soloing. From there Popa takes over with his guitar wizardry, getting more sounds out of his guitar than seems humanly possible. “69 Dollars,” another original, changes the tempo to a Samba-like beat which is built around some minor chords and again is highlighted by some sweet guitar runs that squeeze out Santana-like emotions, including some great scatting by Popa. When you hear the name Luca Brasi, you know Nina Rota’s “Godfather Theme” can’t be far behind, and Popa puts his own spin on this, the shortest track of the collection. Another original, “Dirty Diesel,” from the 2016 release “The Catfish,” again puts Mike’s B3 sound to great use, showing why live music heightens the listening experience. Popa’s “Grown Man Crying Blues” is a nearly 14-minute take on one of the oldest stories in the genre, a woman running off with her man’s best friend. The soloing by Popa on his trusty Strat and Mike’s organ take this tune to another level. The closer on disc #1 is Harold Arlen’s classic “Over The Rainbow,” which mesmerized our festival crowd, and shows those of you who weren’t there why in this live version.
Disc #2 opens with the title track from his 2020 release, “It’s A Mighty Hard Road.” Strong vocals and Stefano’s driving beat propel this rocker to new heights with more of Popa’s signature licks and Mikes solid organ fills. There’s no letdown in this relentless version of Popa’s tune “I Don’t Want Nobody,” and you really get the sense that the band is not going to leave anything on the table. The self penned “I Can’t See The Light Of Day” is a nice blues interlude which allows Popa to weave an intricate solo around the lyrics and it allows the rhythm section to step out, with Michael Merritt’s bass work leading the way. “Embee’s Song” is dedicated to Popa’s life partner, Mary Beth Stolz, and it’s a heartfelt ballad that rings true here. Another original, “Steel Horse Serenade” is a mid-tempo instrumental that features some great licks with sweet organ fills laced throughout. Next the band tackles Leonard Cohen’s iconic “Hallelujah,” a song covered by innumerable artists, and Popa and the band give it a fine blues rock turn without losing the message of love it contains. Tom Waits “Heart Attack and Vine” is much more lively than the dirge-like original and is a better song for it. “Sweat” is a Popa original that is ushered in with finger popping, a great bass line, and a story that you need listen to if you are to fully grasp the meaning of the title. The Jimmy Cox song “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out” is a terrific version of this depression era tale with Popa and Mike shining on guitar and organ. The closing track is one of Jagger/Richards’ most famous compositions, “Sympathy For the Devil,” but what sets this version is the ferocious guitar and the NYC centric “Chubby’s Story” spoken word interlude as only a native like Popa could pull off. Two-plus hours has never gone by so quickly, and if you’re a lover of live music like I am, this absolutely needs to be part of your collection.
more info about the band, their performances, and a link to purchase the CD on www.PopaChubby.com