Smile Politely

Album Review: Dan Hubbard and the Humadors

Dan Hubbard and the Humadors’ self-titled debut album just came out last month, and the band now has a whole mess of tour dates to promote the new disc. The Bloomington-Normal-based band’s Myspace page declares that the four-piece sounds like “a can of Red Bull being poured into a glass of vodka.” Though there’s no doubt a drink like that would be consumed at a Humadors concert, their new record actually sounds more like a Miller Chill spilling onto the patio of a sports bar’s beer garden.

Hubbard and the Humadors’ influences are apparent on the lengthy, 59-minute album. A little Neil Young, maybe some Gram Parsons and a whole lot of Counting Crows greatly impact the songwriting and the instrumentation. Neil Young’s dynamic vocals and trademark guitar style made his country-oriented albums appealing and rewarding. Gram Parsons’ unique perspective on the archetypal themes of love made his songs compelling and memorable. Counting Crows got by with that dude’s crazy hair. Unfortunately, the Humadors lack all of those qualities. Despite some bright points, the record doesn’t really move out of mediocre territory.

The album doesn’t start well with “New Love Song.” The lead guitar moves predictably through scales and the rhythm guitar’s semi-funky strumming pattern sounds like a Phish song on the easy setting of Rock Band. The verse’s simple and forced ABAB rhyme scheme doesn’t help either.

Lyrics create the most problems for the band throughout the album. In the opener, Hubbard sings to his love that she makes “the sun shine brighter / the rain fall harder … you make me want to sing this song a little longer.” That’s the last thing I wanted at that point.

Though the chord progressions and key changes are predictable, the album’s arrangements are thoughtful and well-executed. At its best, the band can conjure comparisons to A.M.-era Wilco. “Bad Dream” effectively uses a reverb-soaked slide guitar to create an eerie undertone that nicely complements Hubbard’s strong vocals.

The band is at its best when it leans towards country. “Circles” is driven by a brush-stroked snare and a rolling bass line. Backup vocals and catchy guitar riffs place the listener on some Midwestern road the band seems to be traveling down.

Epic and well-performed, “Two Chord Rock n’ Roll” ends the album on a high note. Though the lyrics and dramatic build make the song one row of back-up singers short of a Bob Seger jam, the track accomplishes what it needs to. It closes off an album of songs deeply-rooted in the past. Though I’m not crazy about songs that praise the awesomeness of a particular style of music, I’m sure this soulful number would elicit some strong feelings from an open-minded and slightly inebriated audience.

Dan Hubbard and the Humadors would be perfect to listen to while relaxing on the back porch in the middle of the summer. The music is pleasant and inoffensive, but only as background music. They have obvious talent, easily mimicking songs and styles that have been around for years. But the group really isn’t doing anything new with their collective ability. It’s a dangerously safe album, but I think that’s exactly what the Humadors were going for.

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