Kenny Dubman is a bonafide Jersey Shore singer-songwriter who also just happens to be a hell of a guitar player. I covered his very first release, Reckless Abandon, last year, and I’m happy to have him back for round two with his next record titled American Songbook. Dubman has been on the scene long before many of you were even in diapers, and he logged time with the Jersey Shore legends, Prophet, back in the day. Dubman’s “meat and potatoes” approach to music means that his concentration is on real music and less about fancy presentation and production.
Not to knock his production though. Dubman knows what he wants and goes after it like a shark in a large pool of baitfish, slashing and merging to get the exact sounds that he wants and a production style that compliments his musical abilities to the most significant degree.
When asked to describe what he does and why he does it, Kenny doesn’t mince words. He quotes the great Tony Joe White when he says, “Writing and playing and making music, not for the benefit of having a No. 1 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 (and channeled) something special on this second record.
American Songbook is a collection of brand new songs from guitarist/singer/songwriter and NJ native Kenny Dubman. Captured live and unplugged at Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar, this new material packs a punch both musically and lyrically. “Hard-hitting rockers, relaxed groove ballads and songs about the reality of life’s struggles all combine for a listening experience with a lot of heart and depth.” Kenny’s second album, American Songbook sees this artist taking a more definable and identifiable direction with his songwriting… though viable traces of his ‘70s rock influences are still apparent.
“Since all my writing is done on an acoustic guitar, I figured why not present these songs in their pure form, exactly as they came out of my head?” he says. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was going to be the right choice until I cranked the entire disk in my car on a long drive… then I knew. There’s a lot of raw energy and power, and I couldn’t be happier with the end result.” Kenny is joined by Ritchie Rodriguez on acoustic guitar. The tracks were recorded live and later mixed by Steve D’Acutis at Sound Spa Recording Studios in Edison.
So, let’s take a listen to a few songs that make up American Songbook and see what Kenny Dubman has been up to.
First song up is called “Bottom of the Slide”. The audience is keyed up and can be heard as Kenny and Ritchie dig into their performance. Crisp acoustics kick in unison as Ken winds up and delivers his gritty. All American rock vocal. If there’s one thing I can say about Ken Dubman, it’s that he doesn’t spend much time on niceties. Lyrically speaking, he gets right to the point, and along with Ritchie, the guitars slash and hum across the spectrum as Dubman blasts the crowd with his superior chorus. “Sometimes the weight is more than we can carry/Sometimes our demons walk into the light/Slip out of your bonds of woe and worry/And I’ll see you at the bottom of the slide.” That’s right; eventually, we’ll all wind up at the bottom of the slide. Some may get there quicker than others, but ultimately, we all arrive.
“Into Your Own” is up next. If you’re a fan of the James Gang or Soul Asylum “Into Your Own” will be right up your alley. Once again, Dubman shreds with lyrical precision. The first part of the first verse says it all. “He’ll kill you just as simple as a gun/With suffering much longer, and pain that much stronger/If you knew better, you would turn and run/But there ain’t no crystal ball, for lonely fools about to fall.” Dubman and Rodriguez sound like they’ve been playing together for years and honestly, they may have, I don’t know, but the guitars are clean and bell-like in tone as well as laying down a cool rhythmic pattern for the vocals. Dubman’s compositional skill is some of the best I’ve heard. Verses flow into savvy bridges and addictive choruses like very few can do, and it’s all him. The acoustic lead break is both sensible and melodic. There’s nothing not to like here if you’re a fan of rock music.
Moving around I came to a song called “Get the Picture.” This is a song that reminded me of growing up in the 1970s. Big block chords roll over verse riffs and melodic structures as bridges soar towards brash and emotional choruses. Dubman has a knack for dredging up the past without bringing up the drudgery. His sound is new but old at the same time. This is a bonafide rocker who grew up in a time when we had real music and its stuck to him like glue. Once again, his middle-eight acoustic break is brief but boisterous, getting in and saying what he needs to before heading back to the chorus. If there’s a modern-day poet in the rock genre, Ken Dubman is in the top 10 around here.
“Off the Leash” is dedicated to Chris Cornell. Bold chords push Dubman’s passionate vocals into the forefront. Rodriguez is a great partner for this as his playing is steady and strong. Dubman blows out little leads breaks in the bridge before heading back into the verse. The chorus is strong and tells the tale of the eventual undoing of Cornell. The bridge goes even further as Dubman sings, “Were you lost in a haze, did ya fall on black days, with no one to lean on?/Did your demons haunt you at night, did you long for the light?/Trying in vain, to bury your pain.” A telling tale of a singer that had it all stumbled and fell never to get back up again. The middle-eight slide work is killer and matches the chorus perfectly.
The new record has a total of nine songs, and while I don’t have space to cover the entire album here, you’ll be able to pick it up and listen for yourself shortly. American Songbook will be celebrated with a release on July 20 and information can be found over at kennydubman.com. You can also check out Ken’s Facebook page at facebook.com/kennydubman. Do yourself a favor, if you love real rock ‘n’ roll music, go check out American Songbook by Ken Dubman and add it to your collection, you’ll be glad that you heard it here first.