Neilson Hubbard: Sing Into Me

Jason MacNeil

Neilson Hubbard

Sing Into Me

Label: Parasol
US Release Date: 2003-05-20
UK Release Date: Available as import

Neilson Hubbard has a little bit of everything in him. From the spiritual side to the more morose section of his muse, the former member of the Living Hand has worked with an eclectic array of writers and musicians from Garrison Starr to Cindy Wilson of the B-52's. But throughout his solo work, the comparisons to Elliott Smith and Pedro the Lion are justifiable. On his latest record, Hubbard goes a bit deeper both musically and lyrically for a series of brief yet poignant vignettes. The opening "Stars" is a great example of this. Here, Hubbard works with a simple verse and shapes it into something grander than it should be, from the keyboard touches to the subtle backing harmonies courtesy of either Betsy Ulmer or Cathy Horne. The verse is repeated twice but somehow feels totally different. The Beatles influences can be heard in well-placed instruments and the lengthy yet gorgeous backing vocals.

"The Lord Is My Strength and My Song" is written on the back of the liner sleeve and for a good reason. "You'll Be There" is another pretty piano-laced ballad that could fit on any radio format. What makes it work so easily, though, is how Hubbard refuses to beat the listener over the head with an overtly religious messages like some contemporary Christian bands. Instead, a song like this one works on multiple levels. Hubbard's strumming over David Henry's cello brings to mind a "born again" Michael Penn in his early albums. "When the lights go down and there's not a sound / You'll be there", which could mean either the big person upstairs or your better half. The back-beat on "Ready for You" sounds tired, though, being a well-worn sampled back beat that was all the rage three or four years ago. If brushes were used here they would fit better. This is a decent Neil Finn B-side at its best, but this only happens during the latter portions of the song.

Hubbard possesses all of the necessary chops to have a long and fruitful career if he sticks to his bread and butter. The title track, with his hushed delivery over whispered harmonies, is gorgeous to the ears. Hubbard never resorts to taking the easy way out with clichéd lines or soppy phrasing. It is the best of several stellar moments on this 35-minute album. The guitar playing is not the best but more than adequate, bringing to mind the quirky manner in which Ron Sexsmith picks. And he never emotes the vocals for the sake of it. Fading out nicely with some more strings, Hubbard has found that special something. Turning the tempo up is the sugarcoated "Everything's Starting", a song where Matthew Sweet or Velvet Crush are somewhere eating their hearts out. The back porch or campfire aura makes the song work all the more. "Everything's starting to look brand new / And I'm starting to feel it too", Hubbard sings before taking the song down just slightly for the bridge.

The serenade-like lullaby "Say You Love Me" is another strong track, but the strings here seems a bit out of place, making the song sound needlessly bigger than it should be. The tune suffers terribly as a result, making it half the track it could be before abruptly fading out. "Nothing without You" is a heartfelt singer-songwriter tune where Hubbard mixes traces of Eddie Vedder and Tom Petty into his voice. Warm, yet a tad distant, the song would fit perfectly on Petty's album She's the One. "Jesus" is a cover of the Lou Reed song. Yes, that Lou Reed. Void of the minimal guitar riff or catchy primal rhythm section, the song is a very odd rendition. Mixing ambient and organic Eno-like keyboards over a bland tempo, Hubbard never really gets this song off the ground. The title of the song is appropriate, but the meaning infers what one would utter after feeling dejected by this attempt. Fortunately it's only one miscue on an otherwise stark and haunting experience.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.