4PAN1T.qxdBy Dave Rubin, 2005 KBA recipient in Journalism

Musical technique and vocal ability are prerequisites for popular music, the blues and related genres included. However, when impressive skills everywhere abound, it is indefinable “feel” and unfiltered personal expression that separates the exceptional from the merely excellent. Extraordinary singer, songwriter and guitarist Dan Bubien, emerging from the gritty blue collar world of Western Pennsylvania, fulfills the requirements with overpowering passion and commitment to his artistic vision.

Bubien makes his big league debut with 11 original blues, funk and silky R&B tunes boosted by Gary Ripper (bass), Andy Taravella (drums), Timmy Mabin (keyboards) and additional guests. The title track is the most odiferous funk this side of Little Feat. Bubien sings poetically “I drove alone through midnight, December air was cold. I wore your favorite jacket, babe, the leather one so old…” intensified by his introspective guitar solos. Hard funk kicks “Fight Club” with Bubien “skanking” like a JB, his deeply soulful voice imploring “Don’t let ‘em take the fight out of you. Don’t let ‘em take away the things you love to do…” that could be a political declaration as Eric DeFade honks sax like Maceo Parker. Expansive vocal chops on the dreamy, heartbreaking ballad “Crazy Days” are accompanied with hip guitar fills and luscious guitar harmony as Bubien waxes lyrical with “Forced in your fun, never paying for one, your mystery I’m loving. Precious diamond rings, pretentious limousines, your style keeps me wandering.”

“Exile Blues” swings the shuffle, Bubien picking sweetly on his Dobro and employing the carnal imagery of “Use to rock me all night long, ride upon my love, woo hoo. You use to rock me all night long till my brain would come undone, woo hoo. And you sting like morning whiskey, stain me like a bad tattoo” as Chris Nacy blows snaky harp and Timmy Mabin accompanies appropriately on piano. Bubien and Nacy stop in the Delta on the way “To Youngstown,” his rhythm guitar barking like a hellhound, his slashing slide guitar punctuating his lust with “If you take my love to Youngstown so we can be low key, keep them bed sheets burning in flames of ecstasy.” On the tender ballad “Brother,” Bubien builds to a cathartic vocal and guitar crescendo, emoting “It gets lonely out on that island, stars shine but you’re stuck behind them. Lonely thoughts get lost just floating in the wind” with evocative word pictures of loneliness that permeate the record. Hot, horn-driven Latin funk on “Dizzy Eyes” underscores accusing lyrics to an addict with “Years of buried truths hidden by disguise, fears deep in root a garden of lies resides. See I don’t want to wait, racing in my mind, no other love but you can my body find.”

Nodding to Smokey Robinson on “Irony,” Bubien crafts a gorgeous, classic R&B ballad, his sweetly pleading tenor belying the lyrics “Irony, these words indeed can’t express my love. These melodies they ring in me, laughing, dancing high. Heaven moves inside of you, lonesome alibi, be your dreams reality, floating through the sky,” his yearning guitar solo and Joe Munroe’s organ underscoring romantic frustration. Digging deeper on the breathy, low lights ballad “Keep Love in Mind,” Bubien is most vulnerable with “Sweet love don’t deny this heart I have inside as these dreams stray away…don’t leave it all to find all the loneliness in life. So just, keep love in mind.” The rollicking “Love Games” and his exuberant slide guitar buoys the mood while Bubien undercuts the joy with “You have no shame in this love game, darling, now how can that be? Songs we sang yesterday fade like empty dreams.” The lilting country hoedown of “Sniper” lulls as Bubien spins a chilling story of a spurned stalker with “We left in poor condition, we left it all behind. Dying for forgiveness, giving up inside. My finger’s on the trigger, your heart is on the line. Waiting for the time, to say goodbye,” his sprightly Dobro a distraction from the reality of the lyric content.

Dan Bubien sings and plays like a man possessed by an inner fire to make music. The fortunate recipients of his creative compulsion are the lucky listeners who will make Empty Roads a destination.