Chris Cubeta And The Liars Club
Independent release, 2011
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/29/2011
This album’s liner notes feature a quote from William Faulkner. In the hands of your average everyday singer-songwriter, this might appear a tad pretentious. If you’re gonna quote Faulkner, you’d best have the chops not to look silly doing it.
Fortunately for all involved, Chris Cubeta has the chops—and the lyrics and arrangements and production skills and an absolutely crack band behind him in The Liars Club—needed to match his artistic ambition.
I’ve been following singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist-producer Cubeta since his 2003 solo debut Sugar Sky arrived on my desk, alternately dreamy and raging, full of artistic bravado and rock and roll soul. Follow-up Faithful (2006), the first credited to both Cubeta and The Liars Club (John Passineau on bass, Jeff Berner on guitar, and Danny Lanzetta on lyric assistance / “soothsaying”), further honed Cubeta’s distinctive songcraft, which is part expansive Springsteen, part irascible Hiatt, and part—yes indeed—surrealistic, rather Faulkneresque poetry.
On their new self-titled disc, CC and the LC pull off yet another evolution in sound, both tightening their focus on the lyrical side and loosening the feel of the music, creating a cycle of songs about love and need, solitude and togetherness, truth and lies that simultaneously rocks as hard as anything Cubeta has ever recorded. How can a record that pours out this much raw emotion and delivers this many thought-provoking lyrical nuggets also make you want to dance?
Great albums are built in the songs but polished and magnified in the production and sequencing. Chris Cubeta And The Liars Club starts off with a wordless 71-second intro that functions like either an overture or a launch-stage rocket, depending on your tolerance for metaphor. It picks you up and accelerates steadily, so that by the time it flows right into true opener “All We Are,” you’re already traveling at speed and ready for the next stage. And “All We Are” is indeed a fresh booster, an anthem that fits a lyric about loneliness in the big city and how our nature guides our choices to a rich, resonant riff and steady backbeat.
This philosophical undercurrent is woven through each of the songs that follows—whether the heavy, edgy interrogation “Truth Be Told” or the bright and airy “Approach”—giving uncommon weight and substance to an album of three-to-four-minute roots rock tunes. The propulsive beat and bold guitar sound of “Iana” drives a lyric that seems to be about experiencing an attack of emotional vertigo at a critical crossroads (“I am not alone / And I am not above / And I am not afraid / But this is not okay”). “Midnight” closes out the first half with a beautiful meditation on nighttime in the city, complete with spot-on orchestration at the climax.
The third quarter opens with a plea: “Come on and talk to me / You’re never there” as “I Need You There” lights up the speakers with precision riffing and a fat chorus. “No Idea” opens in full-on spooky mode, with funereal Hammond organ, fuzzed-out chords and a surreal lyric about dreaming awake, breaking up, and swimming in the negative emotion of the moment. A pair of tight, raging guitar solos gives voice to the coiled anger at the core of the song.
Cubeta breaks out the acoustic for “Apathy,” singing high and strong over the opening, with a sinuous electric line coming in underneath as the beat picks up and resolves into an upbeat tune that seems to be about overcoming its incongruous title. By contrast, “I’m Sorry” brings things down and in, an echoing, contemplative lament/apology decorated with acoustic, harmonium and tambourine. It’s the perfect set-up for its complement, album-closer “You Should Be Too.” Sky-high guitar, crashing cymbals and soaring vocals bring the cycle to a thundering, satisfying resolution, falling back mid-song to the plaintive close, a final plea: “I will find you there / Because I am / You should be too / Because I am.”
As Cubeta’s voice fades, you feel it, that little ache that hits at the end of any album that’s connected squarely with your gut. You want more, but you also know it had to end just like this. Loose and precise, soaring and earthy, fiercely intelligent and utterly unpretentious, Chris Cubeta And The Liars Club is a triumph, a majestic, heartfelt, beautifully crafted album from one of the finest artists on the modern roots-rock scene.