NOW AND THEN
Sonny Aruba is a man of many moods, most of which come with a backbeat. At turns impish, rakish and plaintive, Aruba delivers a ten tune serving that keeps the attention where it belongs, on the song. The disc unwraps with guest Nick Danger cooing 'You Know Me' over acoustic guitars, but by the time the rhythm section of Bob Burch on drums and Bill Regan on bass shift the tune into gear, 'knowing' the singer may not be all that comfortable an affair. Sonny takes over the vocal at the break and offers a second perspective before unleashing a searing guitar line sent out like some sonic vapor trail into the atmosphere.
Next up is 'Lobelia', a no nonsense rocker with a 'Honky Tonk Women' cow bell opening and a nasty swamp slide guitar underneath Sonny's layered and textured lead lines. Again, Burch and Regan provide a rock solid foundation for Sonny to growl his intentions regarding the One Out of Reach.
'Pee in the Cup' is a jaunty, 'Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys' flavored social comment with a cheerful piano dance by keyboard whiz Neil Greene. Sonny swoops in again with a lead line he probably stole from a mail sack dropped at a Memphis train station platform.
'Low Feeling' keeps the cowboy mood with Nick again assuming the lead vocal over a keening, ever present harp. The break, again, filled with carefully layered acoustic guitars which conjure Keith Richards description of 'the ancient art of weaving'. Sonny's achingly beautiful harmony provides the prettiest singing on this disc.
'Miracle' forms the album's centerpiece, a tub thumping gospel romp with enough hand clappin' tambourine shakin' choir shoutin' 'Oh Yeah's! to fill every pew in the Church of Perpetual Motion. Sonny opens with an over the top oratory reminiscent of Reverend Ike ('you can't lose with the stuff I use!') at his peak. Pushed along brilliantly by Neil Greene's pirouetting piano lines, it's a celebration of the promise of the possible, no matter what. 'Look out, there's a miracle coming!'. Indeed.
'Idiot Box' features Sonny channeling Captain Beefheart with a soprano sax line initially seeming as out of left field as the trumpets in Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire', and that song turned out OK. One gets the impression that Sonny doesn't spend his nights in front of a screen of any size.
Speaking of left field, 'Bring me the Head of Ted Williams' is uncorked in a furious Ramones like rant that sums up the dismal Red Sox season of 2012 in under two minutes, about the time it took the local nine to fall behind at Fenway Park, where everything was for sale except the runs the team gave away in bunches.
'Mary Lou' is the disc's most rueful retelling. A simple acoustic guitar and solo vocal. Some tunes simply speak for themselves.
The jaunty Caribbean mood of 'Norwegian Dream' belies the story told inside, the true tale told of Sonny's parents who set off on a Tropical Cruise to celebrate their 50 years of marriage. All true stories end in death.
By this point, realizing the main instrumentation in 'Now and Then' is tuba and accordion seems perfectly natural as Sonny sort of wraps it all up and tells us that when all is said and done, and make no mistake, he's looked us in the eye to acknowledge that, indeed, that day is coming, what's important is progress, not perfection. The way to finish something is to begin. With these ten tunes, Sonny Aruba has made a very good beginning.
Dan Saul Knight