Most contemporary bands can’t help but sound somewhat like another band. The Subdudes manage to avoid this pitfall by drawing from so many musical influences that their final synthesis becomes unique. They blend Cajun roots with an urbane mixture of rock, country, folk, blues, and gospel to create some of the freshest music I’ve heard in ages.
Formed in 1987 by pianist and accordionist John Magnie and guitarist Tommy Malone, and disbanded for a period in the late ’90s, the current roster includes Steve Amedee on percussion, Tim Cook on bass, and Jimmy Mesa on guitar. Everyone sings, giving the vocal harmonies a musical density and complexity not often found in today’s pop music. On the second cut on Miracle Mule, “If Wishin’ Made It So,” Tommy Malone’s rich slide guitar part foreshadows the wonderful wall of harmony vocals that open the song. The third tune, “I’m Angry,” features a spectacular double slide guitar solo featuring producer Freddy Koella’s guitar chasing Tommy Malone’s slinky slide.
Even with electric guitars in mix, the primary sound on Miracle Mule is acoustic. According to the album notes, engineer Warren Dewy recorded most of the parts at once, in a live situation. The live recording technique lets the music stay fresh, but this recording method also tends to homogenize parts as the sound from each instrument leaks into the other microphones. But due to Warren Dewey’s mastery, the sound remains clean and articulate. It’s also a tribute to the Subdudes’ musicianship that they could perform so spontaneously in such a technically constricting recording situation.
When a band with special personal chemistry disbands, you can’t help but wonder what additional music they could have created if they’d stayed together. On Miracle Mule we have the opportunity to discover that the Subdudes had some of their best material still in their heads and hearts. Now we can all share the magic.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.