Suddenly is an appropriate name for FUBAR's debut CD only in this sense: You're waiting around a long time for someone you expect. You give up hope. And then your visitor shows up, suddenly.
Or maybe the title is meant to be ironic. For those of us who've been hearing FUBAR in its sporadic local performances for years, band organizer Randy Tessier's continued assurances that the group would soon release a CD began to sound like a running gag.
A better title would have been At Last. But then you would have expected to hear Sophia Hanifi soulfully crooning the Etta James ballad of that name. Alas, that's one of many excellent FUBAR covers missing from Suddenly (along with favorites from Jackie Wilson and the Byrds).
However, you can't blame a group this talented for using ten of the disc's generous seventeen tracks on original material - especially not when those selections include Hanifi's soul-searching anthem "The Great Divide," guitar genius Tessier's lovesick rocker "Resignation," and keyboardist Andy Adamson's rousing, optimistic "You and I."
I can't complain. After all, while FUBAR covers one Bob Dylan ("It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"), one Carole King / Gerry Goffin (the tart "Oh No Not My Baby"), and one Ray Davies ("Dead End Street"), FUBAR finds room for two tunes by Love, the great obscure 1960s group whose work I admire and whose challenging songs are rarely attempted.
In fact, Suddenly leads off with Love front man Arthur Lee's frenzied "A House Is Not a Hotel," an apocalyptic love song that calls paranoid attention to the color of bathwater, among other omens. It's a brilliant start, with Hanifi belting out the half-crazed lyrics and the band at full tilt. But four songs later, Love's haunting "Alone Again Or" is slowed from a defiant love-power anthem into something closer to a jazzy Spanish ballad. It's one of several tunes that sacrifice some of FUBAR's potent spontaneity for studio polish.
this highly listenable CD, production values are impeccable, and it's obvious the group labored long and hard to get everything right. That couldn't have been easy, given that band members have other gigs both workaday and musical (Tessier with George Bedard and the Kingpins, notably), and FUBAR is truly a labor of love.
Fortunately, Hanifi's sassy, sour-sweet voice is front and center, not always the case in live performances in cramped venues. With the surging power of bassist Oni Werth's licks, the honky-tonk hijinks of Adamson's keyboards, the brassy calls of Dave Cavender's trumpet, and the driving beat of Jim Carey's drums - not to mention Tessier's wild-man guitar solos - FUBAR is a group that needs room to roam.
The multifaceted musicianship of this wide-ranging group makes it seem one step away from stardom - or breakup. It's potentially intoxicating, and first-time listeners might fall in love with this CD. To this FUBAR groupie, though, the band feels a bit hemmed in, toned down, and smoothed out in the studio. Capturing the spontaneity of live FUBAR performances is like bottling sunlight. I think FUBAR continues to underestimate its possibilities, and with one CD finally, suddenly under its belt, I look forward to seeing the group break loose to explore even wilder terrain.
FUBAR celebrates the release of Suddenly at the Firefly Club on Saturday, June 11.
[Originally published in June, 2005.]