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).
“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.
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.