Album Review: Popa Chubby – Tinfoil Hat

Popa Chubby

photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Album Review of Popa Chubby: Tinfoil Hat

A couple years ago I shared the awesomeness that is a Popa Chubby live performance. Well, there ain’t nothin’ like one of his records, too. Popa Chubby is a one-of-a-kind blues cat, and to those who like their blues guitar-driven and rockin’, he’s one of the elite.

This newest album, Tinfoil Hat, is an ode to that weird year that was 2020, including those bits that have continued in 2021. It’s a folk-in-the-style-of-blues protest album. As Popa Chubby states in the album-ending number, “1968 Again,” “It’s 1968 all over again.” In the context of that song, he’s drawing comparisons between this past year of civil rights marches, protests, and loony politicians and the events of that sizzling, raw ’60s summer of change. In that vein, this album, Tinfoil Hat, is mostly one long, groovin’, bluesy protest album.

To kick things off, if you’re in-line with his pro-vax, pro-mask, pro-civil rights, anti-Trump viewpoint, you’ll find this album a rollicking, rousing musical protest romp. On the other hand, if you differ with Popa Chubby on one of those issues, you’ll have to choose your songs carefully. And if you differ on all of them, well, there are still three or four songs you’ll totally dig, but you’ll want to skip the rest.

I’ll actually kick off with those tracks (so you can skip the rest of the review if it’s likely to rile you up).

Popa Chubby – Tinfoil Hat

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

“Embees Song” is a bluesy crooning love song. Sweet, soulful, and rough around the edges. “I want to know that you want me, baby. Every morning you drive me crazy when you make my coffee and you shake it for me.” There’s a reason bluesy-growled love songs are the best. You can feel the heart in every gruff, emotionally-wailed lyric.

The instrumental “Boogie for Tony,” of course, with its lack of lyrics, falls into this everyone’ll-love-it grouping. The energetic number is reminiscent of the sorts of tuneful, melodic, high-octane instrumentals you’ll often find on Bob Malone’s rockin’ blues albums except, of course, that Bob’s are piano-driven while Popa Chubby’s instrumentals are guitar-powered. Doesn’t matter that it’s an instrumental, though; it’s so catchy you’ll soon find yourself “singing along.”

“Someday Soon (A Change is Gonna Come)” has an implied message in the context of the album, but as a standalone song, you can just rock to it, with its guitar runs and the occasional variance from its even-keel vocal sitting atop a churning, steady blues rhythm.

And, again if taken outside the context of the album, “Can I Call You My Friends” is an anthemic number that you can also just rock to. (Of course, the accompanying music video will quickly disabuse you of that notion.) The militarily rhythmic tempo builds as the lyrics intensify, and there’s some very cool guitar noodling in the bridges. This is one of the songs on Tinfoil Hat most likely to get stuck in your head.

Several of the songs are about COVID-19, particularly complaining about those who refuse the vaccine and/or who refuse to wear masks. Kicking things off is a song for anyone who doesn’t traffic in conspiracy theories – for those who cringe when they hear the term “do your own research.” The disc-opening title track, “Tinfoil Hat,” is a current events-driven blues-rocker mockin’ the crazies.

“Baby Put on Your Mask” gets the pro-masking point across with lyrics that, for example, rhyme “don’t make me spank that ass” with “baby, put on your mask.” Not exactly Robert Frost or, for a more recent reference, Amanda Gorman, but clever and effective.

“Another Day in Hell” is a heavy, slow-paced guitar rocker that could pass for a song solely about those who make our lives miserable at any time, if not for the opening reference to mask-refusing COVID deniers, though a deeper dig suggests it is, at its core, a reference to the monotony of remaining isolated during the height of the pandemic.

The reggae-infused “Cognitive Dissonance” is a very cool musical change of pace, one that, among other things, highlights the disparity of impact upon different segments of the population during the pandemic and the deference to the economy at the expense of human lives, including lyrics like “humans expendable, testing undependable” and “you say ‘my body, my choice,’ but a mask has no voice.”

Civil rights, which for most of the past year-plus has primarily revolved around addressing the disproportionately violent police response to minorities in the U.S., forms the basis of “No Justice No Peace,” reflecting the famous rallying cry. The song is driven by a heavy wall of sound and a plodding, undeniably forward-moving pace. Lyrically, the song can be summed up by its own lyrics, “You can’t turn the guns on your citizens and expect them to comply. It’s America, and the people say, ‘No more black men die.'” There’s also a long, shredding, wailing guitar solo that runs through the song’s midpoint that encompasses the full spectrum of anguish better than any vocal could. For this particular topic, “No Justice No Peace” is an exceptionally suitable, compelling, well-constructed, angry protest song.

“You Ain’t Said Shit” is a bluesy protest number with a catchy recurring guitar hook, and it’s quite obviously about a certain recent ex-president. And if you don’t catch on from early lyrics like, “Why don’t you just shut your mouth. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You got the best words, but you know that you ain’t said shit,” it becomes increasingly obvious as the song goes on with references to “stable genius” and, at the very end, “covfefe.”

I know I’ve taken the songs out of order. The disc-ender is actually “1968 Again,” which is an astute choice for tying together this collection of songs. Tinfoil Hat is the sort of top-shelf rockin’ blues you’d expect from Popa Chubby. It strays a bit farther from blues than usual in spots, with homages to the folky protest songs from a half-century ago and topical references to the last year – year and a half, actually, by the time I’ve finally written this review. Your enjoyment of this disc will depend upon whether or not you agree with Popa Chubby’s politics, but his position is very clear, as is (as always) his musical and songwriting talent.

Looking Ahead

You can catch Popa Chubby live at a variety of dates and locations. He has shows in the northeast U.S. (NY, NJ, PA, MA, RI, MD) in November December, and on January 1st. He’ll be in Brussels on FJanuary 19th and then will tour around France for the rest of the month. In February 2022, you can catch a few Florida dates. And in May 2022, he has a tour of Germany scheduled, with an opening date in Rubigen, Switzerland. Find additional details about these tour dates (and others, as they’re announced) on the “Tour” page of his website.

Live Review: Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Popa Chubby

9 Wallis, Beverly, MA

May 10, 2019

It’s a shame I live and work in parts of the Boston area that make travel to Beverly for an evening at 9 Wallis an annoyingly difficult journey. Since shortly after it opened in April 2017, I’ve wanted to get out to this intimate concert venue/”listening room” on Boston’s North Shore. Top-notch national, regional, and the very best local acts perform there, including a lot of incredible blues artists, though far from exclusively, as personal favorite performers from many genres regularly dot 9 Wallis’ concert calendar.

Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

One of those rock/blues acts, of course is New York-based internationally-touring Popa Chubby. The dude’s a tour de force whose personality and talent fill the room, his shows a guaranteed good time, assuming you’re able to enjoy the blues. But I knew that before attending. Not from owning any of his recordings – though that would be a great idea – but rather from conversations with those who know and then, of course, listening to some Popa Chubby online. I had unsuccessfully attempted to squeeze a previous Popa Chubby 9 Wallis performance into my calendar, so when I saw this gig announcement, I circled the date on my calendar (figuratively speaking, of course, online) and avoided any scheduling conflicts.

On this particular night, the room was filled, and the joint was hoppin’. Popa Chubby’s vocal and performance style ranges from pure blues to rockin’ blues to rappin’ blues and beyond. Many of the songs this evening could be found on the Prime Cuts album, I believe (since it’s not in my notes, but even all these months later I recall Popa mentioning it frequently during the show), the most recent release of a long, nearly three decade career spanning dozens of albums, and a great intro to the broad range and exceptionally soulful, all-in blues style you can expect from Popa Chubby. At this 9 Wallis gig, and I get the sense this is typical based on others in the room who had been to prior Popa Chubby shows, every song was a blues jam, supported by Dave Keyes‘ talented keys with a very organ-like sound and a solid rhythm section.

Following are some highlights from the evening, as I jotted down notes whenever a song inspired me. And, truth be told, I was often so caught up in the show I didn’t think to take notes until I couldn’t remember the song titles anymore, so consider these some of the many highlights.

Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Popa Chubby opened the night with a rollicking rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” featuring shredding axework, showing off the keyboardist’s skills, and absolutely great guitarwork and vocal growl.

Emotional favorite “Grown Man Crying Blues” – check out Popa Chubby’s performance of the song in this video on YouTube with nearly half a million hits – featured a shredding, wailing, and practically crying performance.

Popa Chubby original “Angel on My Shoulder” charged forward as a straight-ahead rocker with a blues strut, delivered emphatically and, of course, sporting guitar and keys jams.

Popa Chubby’s delivery of “Hey Joe” was soulful, psychedelic, progressive, and classic. “69 Dollars” kicked off with a weeping guitar opening and some edge and liquidity throughout.

Finally, in the anything-goes, full-on-enjoyment spirit of the evening, I very much dug the electric guitar-driven versions of the Godfather theme song and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Also of note, for one song during the set, the band was joined onstage by drummer Joey Pafumi of the Paul Nelson Band. And late in the set, Popa Chubby showcased his keyboardist Dave Keyes’ boogie-woogie keyboard skills. Keyes also sang vocals a little during the set, bringing a smoother blues vocal style to the songs he led vocally.

So glad I made it to this show; it was completely worth the effort, as Popa Chubby and his band gave it everything they had. And I can now confirm that 9 Wallis is, indeed, the great North Shore listening room I had heard so much about.

Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

Popa Chubby is currently touring in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.  He’ll return to the northeast United States (New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey) for a month in early/mid-December before returning to Europe for a month of gigs in the UK, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Click on the “tour” page of Popa Chubby’s website to see when he’ll next be performing near you. If you have a pulse, you’ll have a great time and be treated to some world-class blues-based musicianship and showmanship.