A niche audience that actually gets what's going on...
If the music of The Rubes reaches any audience at all, it's sure to be a niche audience that actually gets what's going on here. These songs are quirky, sometimes to the extreme, and the performance is raw and, some would say, less than musical. I know there are critics who will dismiss this music as amateurish and just plain not well done. I know there are some professional musicians who may describe the performance as bad or simply not music at all.
I disagree. On the other hand, I readily admit that I'm coming at this music from a different perspective.
Reviewers who have academic music training and musicians who work in a pop (rock, county, formal jazz, etc.) or classical media often tend to have a narrow view of what is or is not "good" music, a view which may even turn into an extreme case of tunnel vision. These individuals like what they understand and if they don't understand [or get] it, then they dismiss it. [That is, their very narrow attitude is that: "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."]
My background is less formal and far more eclectic. I grew up in rural Alberta with a pair of very well educated parents (one a professional musician; the other a hardcore fan) with broad and eclectic tastes. In the community, I grew up with the old-timey sounds of square dances and round dances and barn dances. On the CBC, I heard music ranging from maritime to pop to country and classical. At home I heard music ranging from cowboy songs to rockabilly and R & B to The Carter Family and other hillbilly music to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and Burl Ives to the Boston Pops and European pop stars. My exposure to music was very wide-ranging indeed.
I should also admit a certain bias. I first heard this group more than two years ago on the garageband.com website, where I reviewed individual tracks. While I did point out the areas where these recordings deviate from the norm, I also acknowledged that I really do like the end result. It was as a result of these reviews that Kevin Wilson sent me this release to review. [Kevin may be a glutton for punishment.] As well, when I record my music or perform it live, that music tends to fall into something very near the same quirky niche inhabited by The Rubes, so I have a natural affinity for the sort of thing they do. Hence: a certain bias.
So why won't you like this music? For starters, Kevin Wilson has a very distinctive, raw edged voice and rough, non-musical vocal style. This ain't no pop star. Wilson's singing on this release reminds me of such other niche artists as Leonard Cohen (on such songs as "Diamonds in the Mine" or "Let's Sing Another Song, Boys"), Kris Kristofferson ("Sunday Morning Coming Down"), Gilbert Bécaud, or Tom Waits. It's not so much about making beautiful music as it is about expression. The music has a random feel to it, rather like rockabilly meets jazz meets the symphony tuning up. While there is a certain structure to the music, it seems as much based on anarchy as order.
"Wally" and "Cigarettes, Reefer and Beer" both fall loosely into the same genre as "Sunday Morning Coming Down" but with some basic differences. The first song has a very "Hollywood Argyles" feel while the second song is pure Fifties country music. In both songs, Wilson's vocals seem ideally suited to tell the story built into the lyrics.
"Surf Fever" has a self-descriptive title. This is just plain rough-edged garage-band surfing instrumental rock and roll. Perhaps the only surprise here is that it was performed by three middle-aged men. For those of us who remember, this one is a real blast out of the past!
"Another Macaroni Night" and "Quick and Painless" very much have a Jimmy Buffet Sound. At least they do unless you listen to the lyrics and realize that these songs have a great deal more social relevance than Buffet ever did.
While it also has a very country feel, "Between the Lines" reminds me very much of Eric Clapton's song "Wonderful Tonight" in both its theme and its melody and arrangement. Now there's a weird juxtoposition... an artist as mainstream as Clapton and a band as off-the-wall as The Rubes, yet the similarity is there.
"Hooperville Blues" is a rambling, rhythm-based number with lazy vocals that most listeners wouldn't consider to be blues yet would be mistaken in that assumption. Unlike many modern blues, the guitar here plays a minor role, simply carrying the music forward. The mournful lyric is pure blues-based if not set up in a standard blues format. Wilson's harp complements his vocal, wailing an equally mournful strain throughout the song. The effect is ultimately pure blues.
"No Biscuits" is more readily recognizeable as an acoustic blues of the type originally recorded in the Thirties and Forties, what they used to call a novelty song. Here's a tale built around a bad metaphor that works in spite of itself, carried forward by some great guitar licks, solid rhythm section and, of course, Wilson's unique vocals. Very nice.
While there is a certain unity to this release, every song seems to belong to a different genre, and some seem to wander in some wasteland between genres seeking a home. This music is wonderfully experimental with no indication it was ever intended to be so. I personally like it.
At least some of you will probably not like most of the music on this release. I highly recommend that you give it a listen anyway. It may broaden your horizons. In this music I have heard echoes of artists as disparate as Eric Clapton, The Doors, Kris Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Horton, Gilbert Bécaud, Tom Waits, Jimmy Buffet, The Rolling Stones (in songs like "Far Away Eyes" and "I Want My Baby Back"), The Beatles, George Gershwin, and others. Who knows whose influence you may hear?
If you want to check out The Rubes and their music, you can go to their site at IUMA.