I first saw Kenny Dubman years ago on the circuit when he was with the Jersey hard rock band Prophet. And while I never knew him personally, his guitar playing was something we all knew well. Fast forward a few decades, and I was at Langosta to see my good friend Charlie Mills’ latest band, Rocket 88, and lo and behold Dubman was the guitar player in the group. The foursome blazed through a 45-minute set of some of the best rock and roll tunes while managing to demonstrate the years of honed talent on the little stage. As a guitarist, my focus was on Dubman, and I was both majorly impressed and a little bit jealous of his seasoned style and six-string ability to say the least.
It was that night that I found out through Charlie Mills that Ken had released an album recently, so I contacted him and got my hands on the music.
Reckless Abandon is the first solo effort from NJ native and lifelong six-stringer Kenny Dubman, a veteran of three albums with NJ melodic rockers Prophet. Loaded with earthy, organic ’70s-influenced hard rock, Reckless Abandon will most certainly fill a gaping void in today’s musical climate. “I wanted to make a song record first; making a guitar record was never really part of the equation,” says Dubman, though guitar fans will likely want nothing on this offering.
Blending elements of Bad Company, Deep Purple, Kansas, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, with subtle hints of Queen, Ozzy, Montrose, Pink Floyd, and Rush, Reckless Abandon pays homage to its ’70s rock roots while still forging an identity of its own… due in no small part to Dubman’s powerful, raspy vocal performances. Lyrically, Reckless Abandon tackles some deep and dark subject matter; not much boy-meets-girl fare on this record. “I’m not sure where these song ideas came from; I feel like they were channeled through me rather than originated within… like I didn’t write them. I think the great Tony Joe White sums this syndrome up best: ‘… the music is all given to me anyway.’
‘Writing and playing and making music, not for the benefit of having a number one record, just to let it out of your soul, means somebody has fed it down to you.’ That’s right on the money. Origin non-withstanding, Kenny Dubman has created (or channeled) something special on this record.
The first track up is called “Ain’t Too Late For Memphis.” The sound of an old crackling record leads into a resonator before the band kicks in with all the fury of Bad Company’s 1974 debut album. Dubman’s raspy vocals lead the band as he blasts tons of power chord moxie across the soundscape of the piece. Bass and drums (supplied by Eric Winnicki and Joe Bellia) are thick, tasty and steady as a proverbial rock. Dubman’s playing style is reminiscent of early Mick Ralphs of Bad Co. and Mott The Hoople. With a tone that lasts for days on end, Dubman is probably one of the best guitar players in the area. He joins a shrinking list of guys that play from the heart and worry less about record company opinions than he does about pure heart soul and vibe. Dubman’s lyrical journey delves deep into the real-life experiences of a guy that’s seen quite a bit in the world of rock and roll, and he tells his story with an innocent honesty that comes through in spades. Verses and choruses work in harmony as he moves from section to section with a fluidity not seen by many out there today.
“Devils Brew” reminds me of a strange combination of Kiss and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Dubman’s band is a slick, metered crew that knows what to play and how to sound without becoming pretentious and bland. Once again, Dubman sings from the heart, telling the tale of adversity as he “gets what he needs” and the choices we all make. Verses roll into savvy choruses, getting into your head and staying there all week long. Guitars, bass, drums and keys (courtesy of Tony Nardini) mix eloquently as Dubman tears into his middle-eight with all the fury of Ace Frehley back when he rocked the world in 1976. Slide guitar melds with frenetic, single note runs from hell, and it’s good stuff. I also loved the acoustic work in the back end of the tune.
“Angel Of Mercy” kicks into gear next. This mid-tempo number combines extremely melodic vocal work with bass, drums, and acoustic guitar as Dubman and crew spin a magical web of singalong rock magic. Dubman sings like a man who bleeds the pain of ages and the topics of everything we all feel in our time on this planet. As the band gears up and things come to a boil, Dubman, Nardini, Winnicki, and Bellia step up and deliver the most believable music I’ve heard in ages. The choruses are beautiful and filled with emotion, passion, and skill. Backing vocals by Mary Sue Murray are seamless and blend with Dubman perfectly. What can I say? I’m a huge fan of real rock and “Angel Of Mercy” is a prime candidate for airplay in several types of musical outlets.
“Brother Against Brother” is up next and hits the floor vamping hard. Nardini starts things off with warbling keyboard work before the boys kick the ass out of this song extolling the civil war stories of a family against family. Dubman goes into extreme detail describing the two sides and the number killed and those left to clean up the mess. “Blue and Gray will die today, for the sins of their fathers.” Winnicki and Bellia nail this piece to the floor as Nardini and Dubman supply the topcoat. Nardini’s middle-eight solo is pure Matthew Fisher (Procol Harum), and Dubman takes off in the vein of Tom Scholz in the back end before coming down into the acoustic guitar to refocus the chorus.
Next up is “Son Of A Colt 45.” Dubman unleashes a gritty combination of rhythm and slide guitar before slipping into his vocal focus. I dig the rhythm team of Winnicki and Bellia. These guys are deadly accurate and thick as Tennessee gravy. Verse and choruses once again all make sense and comes off with a sharp delivery born from living the real music scene in a time where guitars ruled the planet. Mary Sue Murray is back with her able vocal assist and the overall feel I get from this song is one of the stories of genuine outlaw bravado.
“Wolf At The Door” features the piano work of Nardini as Dubman sings over the top. Acoustic guitars mix with electrics in perfect harmony as Dubman sings about the person we all know is poison to our very soul. When electrics kick in the band shifts into high gear. Riff rock hits at its finest as Dubman glides back into some incredibly tasty slide work. Think Duane Allman in his early days of fame, and you’ll be right there. Another killer tune that addresses darker issues with a style all its own.
Moving around the disc, I wanted to also mention “Ghost On The Wind.” Utilizing a smart, bluesy style, Dubman and crew pound out the beat of life’s disappointments, loves, salvation and losses through the ages. Dubman flies into his riff-based solo with all the vengeance of Robin Trower or Stevie Vai, and it’s damned good. Another song with a memorable chorus that will have you singing along after the second listen. Mary Sue Murray is back in support of Dubman, and it’s a tight fit. Nardini’s keyboard work is flawless as is the rhythm work of Winnicki and Bellia.
The last song on this fantastic disc is called “After The Bomb Fell.” Twelve-string guitar starts things off as Dubman sings of better days where happiness played a part in life. Percussion chimes in for the second verse, adding to Winnicki’s bass line as Dubman sings his heart out. Ken pulls off a searing melody lead that reminds me of Doug Brown from Bob Segar’s band. Bellia focuses things before relinquishing to Dubman’s acoustic 12-string strum pattern.
Ken Dubman is probably one of the last true guitar-playing troubadours out there today. With a combination of smart compositional direction and a talent to match, he has delivered one of the best records of the year in my humble opinion. I can only wonder where this record will take him next. His choice of performers is top-notch, and the production work that he did (along with Steve D’Acutis) is stellar. If you get the chance, buy this record and get lost in the sounds of a genuinely believable artist dedicated to the real deal sounds of our rock heritage.
For more information on Ken Dubman and his excellent new record, Reckless Abandon, head over to http://www.kennydubman.com.