New Jersey singer/guitarist Kenny Dubman had left the main stage behind. The band Prophet had a string of acclaimed albums in the 80s touting that expansive arena rock sound. But the scenes moved on, and by the start of the next decade, rock music had undergone a seismic change. The band released their last album Recycled in 1991 and since then Dubman has largely disappeared from the spotlight. Fast forward to 2013 and after enduring tough years and a series of personal struggles, Dubman found a lifeline: The Whippoorwill of Blackberry Smoke. Something about the band’s rock ‘n’ roll revival rekindled something in him and on Independence Day 2016 Dubman returned with his solo debut Reckless Abandon.
This year, Dubman taps into that well again to release Conflicted, a Southern-tinged slice of classic rock ‘n’ roll bolstered by a few heavy-hitter appearances. The album thematically explores the idea that everyone is grappling with difficult decisions and personal dichotomies that make easy definitions or categorizations impossible. In many ways, recognizing this conflicting nature in all of us would heal some of the extremely dualistic behaviors that have gripped our society in recent years.
The first single ‘Old Dog’ released on Friday serves as the album’s opener. In a full-loop moment, Dubman is joined on the track by Blackberry Smoke frontman Charlie Starr. Four-wheel-drive, rev-engine guitars propel this straightforward rocker. Organ and guitar take turns ripping solos while the rhythm section leaves plenty of room for drama.
‘Toeing the Line’ takes a step back from electrified jams to sit in an acoustic slow-motion. Dubman stretches his vocal cords as he belts out this sardonic sermon. He borrows a guitar kick from the mighty Jimmy Page, mimicking his cycling lead in Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone.” Astute guitar master Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society, Zakk Sabbath) lends his talents to “Cruelest of Them All,” an unassuming mid-tempo track that builds to meet the spellbinding ax acrobatics of Wylde. The guitar slinger hands out a blazing solo like he’s always done on command for the past 30 years. The fast boogie rocker “Pitiful Fool” is a throwback to Dubman’s 80s metal past. To this he adds his new style of southern rock vocal delivery, which makes for an interesting hybrid. This two-stroke juggernaut is the latest album shot in the arm.
Dubman’s solo career shows that inspiration can come as much from the next generation as from the previous one. There can be this feeling that “they did it better in the past and the new ones don’t understand”. But staying fresh means listening to what’s emerging around you and never shutting down. Dubman found new life embracing a different style of rock.