Smile Politely

Album Review: Dan Hubbard’s See You Again

As many times as I’ve eaten them, mashed potatoes will never blow my mind. Chicken potpie will never be earth shattering. Biscuits and gravy will never change the world of food as I know it.

Dan Hubbard’s fifth album, See You Again, won’t redefine genres or reshape the musical landscape. But like the comfort foods we indulge in time after time, See You Again has a satisfying familiarity to it that makes it worth returning to. It’s a well-composed, accessible album that is surprising in its staying power. While its light country influences and simplistic lyrics are not typically elements that would draw me in, the whole of Hubbard’s work is refined, effortless, and easy to love.

Hubbard is almost a local boy, based in Normal, IL, about an hour from Champaign. See You Again is his fifth full length and was released on August 6th, with Hubbard himself managing the release. Hubbard’s first full length, “No Worries”, came out in 2003, followed by two more solo albums before he joined up with The Humadors in 2008. The band released their self-titled album together that year, and while See You Again was released this year as a solo album, Scott McRae, Kevin Yarger, and Kyle Yap all supported Hubbard on the album.

See You Again opens boldly, brightly, showcasing Hubbard’s strong modern country influences in its simple, steady backbeats and its antithetical themes-to love or hate, to live or die? “In Between” is one of the album’s strongest tracks, and roots itself where Hubbard feels most comfortable, with layered guitars and straightforward bass setting the tone.

The second track, “My Name” abandons the country influences for a heavy-handed piece that relies on deep bass and repetitive vocals. It’s a strong-armed counterpart to the easy flowing opener, instead becoming loud, demanding, and insistent.

“Years” slows the tempo and catches your ear, starting out as the quintessential soft-spoken country love song, with Hubbard’s simple lyricism as the star. It’s a welcome quiet moment in the progression of See You Again and layers hand-plucked strings and killer lap steel guitar. It’s sweet, soothing, and easy to sink into. Tempo and momentum gather into the third verse, with the steel guitar becoming the star.

The title track is the standout for me, a song full of warm nostalgia sang for an old friend who’s been long gone. This is the kind of story Hubbard tells well; honest and uncomplicated, it’s captures a shared sense of gentle regret and affection for the past.

Hubbard lets himself cut loose a bit and relax on “New Jam”, a song that is exactly what it promises to be: a loose, spirited number chock full of mini guitar solos and supported by a rhythmic beat.

Instead of the better-suited second-to-last song, “The Reason”, the album closes with a stalker-sung track made infinitely creepier by its refusal to acknowledge its own insanity. Patient, straightforward acoustic guitar chords underscore blunt, tell-it-like-it-is vocals: “I am scary obsessed/When you get tired of hearing my voice/Just remember that you have no choice.” It’s an intriguing, possibly misguided note to leave us on-Hubbard telling his trapped listeners that there’s no way out.

Despite the dark sendoff, I find Hubbard’s songs working their way into my subconscious and showing up in my head unexpectedly in bright moments of harmony. This is See You Again‘s greatest strength — it stays with you. It gets stuck in your head; on second listen I caught myself already tapping my toes with anticipation to the intro of the title track. After a day together I found myself humming along. In spite of any of my brain’s criticisms, my body, at least, had already made up its mind.

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