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A Feeding Fest on Rock's Roots

June 03, 1997|MIKE BOEHM



"Hidin' From the Devil"

JT Records

Michael Ubaldini is one of rock's true believers. The Fountain Valley resident started out 13 years ago with punk underpinnings but was so captured by rock's deepest sources that he turned himself into an eager student of its beginnings in the American South. On his second album, he covers much the same ground that he did on his debut release, "Mystery Train" in 1994. But with hot rockabilly, swampy blues, soulful R&B and twangy, elegiac country-rock playing equal parts, Ubaldini, 30, has mapped out expansive turf worth exploring over and over.

For him, feeding on rock's roots means ingesting magical substances that can lift him out of the day-to-day routine of a life lived far from the mythic South he knows mainly from spinning old records. Much of "Hidin' From the Devil" is spent rekindling myths about voodoo swamps, haunted crossroads and soul-restoring country comforts. There are hints that he knows that these myths are only myths--and endangered ones at that--but that only makes his belief in them all the more poignant and urgent.

He pays open homage to some great forebears. For "Murder at the Crossroads," his gritty blues trip to the Mississippi Delta, Ubaldini borrows Bob Dylan's "From a Buick 6" groove as his drive train. Creedence references, an "Exile"-period Stones tribute and a Memphis soul workout also flavor the proceedings.

Ubaldini can wax romantic (as during the fetching twanger "Down Home Sweet Girl") or deliver convincing yet never crude sexual come-ons in his rockabilly and blues modes. He's a sharp and versatile lead guitarist with an assuredly cranking band augmented by some rich, warm Hammond organ playing.

What he lacks is a singing voice with the Mitch Ryder-like clout or Jagger-style fullness of tone to give his songs their maximum impact, and the bucks to produce a really vibrant studio sound. A sharp producer and ample studio time might enable him to make the most of his tunefully gritty but slender voice and to put extra fire into Mystery Train's attack. It's the least the music business could do for a true believer.

(Available from JT Records, 3601 W. Verdugo Ave., Suite 121, Burbank, CA 91505; (818) 846-9247 or

* Michael Ubaldini & Mystery Train and Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys play tonight at the Rhino Room, 7979 Center Ave., Huntington Beach. 9 p.m. $8. (714) 892-3316.

Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with three stars denoting a solid recommendation.

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