The Subdudes have been pretty subdued for years—their last album came out in 1997—but they come back strong on this live-in-the-studio recording. While the band now includes two newcomers plus three of the four original members, they pick up right where they left off stylistically.
Soulful harmony vocals remain front and center, and John Magnie’s accordion still warms many tracks. The rhythm that helps define the music comes, as on past albums, mostly from alternative percussion instruments such as tambourines and congas. And as on previous releases, you can hear the influence of the group’s native New Orleans.
Particularly on Miracle Mule, though, the Subdudes display too much versatility to fit under a musical umbrella even as big as New Orleans implies. They seem as rooted in rock—and even pop, in the best sense of the word—as in funk, R&B, and Cajun. Imagine a cross between the Neville Brothers and Amazing Rhythm Aces, but then add the Band’s rock instincts, a penchant for romantic ballads, and a taste for everything from violin to slide guitar to glockenspiel.
The gospel-inflected “Morning Glory” and “Maybe You Think” sound more impressive than exciting. But lilting, passionately sung ballads such as “If Wishing Made It So,” “Don’t Doubt It,” “I’m Angry” and “Brightest Star” stay with you long after the record ends. Ditto for “The Rain,” a vocal tour de force.