subdudes embark on new tour with new album
By Richard J. Atkins, Ed.D.
The subdudes, a New Orleans-based act spanning numerous genres (blues, folk, R&B, country, Cajun, funk, gospel, and rock) have released of Behind the Levee, which hit the shelves January 24, 2006. At the same time, the band hit the road on an extensive US tour to promote their sixth studio CD, their second release on the Back Porch label. Tour dates started in New Orleans and bring the band to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia. Multi-city shows are scheduled for New York, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, Colorado, and California.
Before the band regrouped in the new millennium, John Magnie said about the subdudes, “The sum is greater than the parts.” The parts that make up the subdudes are: Tommy Malone (lead vocals, lead guitar); John Magnie (lead vocals, keyboards, accordion); Steve Amedée (vocals, tambourine, percussion, electric mandolin, drums); Tim Cook (vocals, percussion, bass); and Jimmy Messa (bass, guitar, vocals). After an eight-year recording hiatus, the subdudes returned to the studio to deliver Miracle Mule in 2004. Relentless touring and an extremely loyal grass-roots fan base have advanced the band’s status as a perennial market favorite throughout the nation.
Behind the Levee, the new 10-song CD, produced by Keb’ Mo’, was recorded at Dockside Studios near Lafayette, LA, prior to Hurricane Katrina’s arrival (May 2005). This new grouping of subdudes’ songs is the next musical milestone for the band. The road they travel continues in an upward direction.
The kickoff, “Papa Dukie & The Mud People” (AKA Love is a Beautiful Thing), in classic subdudes story-telling style, paints an image of when Malone & Amedée were young and the buses of Eddie “Duke” Edwards rolled into town. The muddy musicians, cooks, and craft makers promoted peace and harmony, a lesson well learned by the young would-be subdudes. The song itself is underscored with Dirty Dozen Brass Band accents as Malone sings. The funk of Tim Cook’s bass playing lends a second axe to the song, courtesy of the multi-talented Jimmy Messa.
Following the excitement and energy of the opener, “Next to Me,” promises the wanderer that home is only in one place. The heart of the song is wrapped with a haunting underlying accordion part from John Magnie atop the strong and steady Steve Amedée groove.
“No Vacancy” makes effective use of a metaphor—a hotel for misery—only “all the rooms are full / I don’t need to hurt like that again.” The song’s commitment to personal happiness is carried out in an ascending progression built on Malone’s acoustic guitar playing and reinforced with the adroit inflection of Magnie’s accordion.
Next, a quieter and more sensitive piece, “One Word (Peace),” explores the value of freedom from a local and global perspective. Amidst gorgeous harmonies, a timeless-sounding guitar solo emerges—tasteful and economical, but, as always for Tommy Malone, not overdone.
As though stepping back into the Carnival days of Mardi Gras, the vocal musings of John Magnie, supported by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, ask about what is going on in the “Social Aid and Pleasure Club,” a staple of the New Orleans cultural makeup through the 1940s. The song closes with the man at the club’s door saying, “just come on in and see for yourself” (an appropriate invitation to listeners).
The only cover track on Behind the Levee is from the legendary Earl King. The subdudes recorded another King song, “Make a Better World,” for an upcoming CD to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. For this album, their execution of “Time For the Sun To Rise” is as gentle as the sunrise itself. Malone reaches deep into his soul to deliver homage to the song and to the New Orleans bluesman.
“Let’s Play” demonstrates Malone’s love for having fun with the language as well as his uncanny ability to draw out the extended metaphor of games and play throughout the song. The wordplay (and the word, “play”) floats effortlessly over hypnotically winding, intertwining, dual guitar melodies and harmonies. Here is where Tim Cook shines bright as he carries the low end with a sturdy and unyielding bass line.
In a cool and harmonious duo piece, “Looking at You,” Malone and the sultry, sexy voice of Zydeco sweetheart, Rosie Ledet, play back and forth in a soulful question and answer between two almost-lovers who really know “who’s got the love I need.” Once again, Messa’s second guitar rounds out the swing of this track, which practically encourages involuntary head bopping and foot tapping.
One of the highlights of “Keep My Feet Upon the Ground” is the deep thunderous wanderings of the bass guitar, in true Jimmy Messa style. The active instrumental section of building chord progressions with a fantastic guitar solo makes it difficult for the listener to cooperate with the song title’s direction. Here’s a piece that has Steve Amedée driving the band like a team of huskies as the other members contribute around his playing.
Behind the Levee closes with a “Prayer of Love,” featuring Amedée’s beautiful tenor singing voice. The lyrics are written to his sister after she had experienced some personal turmoil. This final track leaves the listener focused on the qualities of sensitivity, having faith, and a search for true love and good friends.
Behind the Levee is a compelling and resilient offering; the next logical step on a musical path traveled by a group of wiser and well-seasoned musicians who give all to their craft and their fans. With each new record and show, the subdudes give new meaning to “well-oiled machine.” Of the songs on the album, subdude Steve Amedée says that it’s a “more artistic approach” for the band. “There are lots of different feelings that you’ve never heard on a subdudes record before.”
Make no mistake about it. The subdudes are here to stay.
Richard J. Atkins is the CEO of Improving Communications and an Adjunct Professor of English at Long Island University.
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