Papa Mali Extols Mark Rubin

Former locals gone New Orleans bond over Southern Discomfort

Mark Rubin arrived in Austin on August 28, 1987, and left for New Orleans last spring. “OK, so like, I sent my new CD to Papa Mali and asked if he’d give me a nice pull quote for my press kit,” emailed Rubin. “Instead, he wrote a whole review.” Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne, also a former local, did better than that. He captures Rubin as perfectly as the new LP art.

Writes Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne:

Laughing Just to Keep From Crying

Mark Rubin first made his name with the Bad Livers, a trailblazing Austin trio that performed string-band music with the ferocity of punk rockers and the musical authority of old-time ramblers. In the process, they somehow managed the unlikely: amassing a hardcore following of indie rock fans, who may have initially discovered them through constant touring and affiliation with labelmates Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, and The Jesus Lizard, yet recognized the real deal when they heard it.

That was only the warm-up act for Rubin the producer, bandleader, multi-instrumentalist, and sideman. Everything he’s done since then has resonated with the sort of authenticity that can only be earned the hard way. In his case, that means constantly pushing the boundaries of what is traditional and working with a vast array of respected, regional roots and folk artists as notable and diverse as Santiago Jimenez, Jr., Erik Hokkanen, Frank London’s Klezmer Allstars, New Orleans’ Panorama Jazz Band, and many more.

Following a recent move from Austin to New Orleans, he finally emerges as a powerful songwriter on Southern Discomfort, a new album of nine original tunes and three covers. First, let me just say that this album, like most great art, challenges the casual observer to dig deeper and pay closer attention. From the confrontational album cover – an outsider/folk-art hokum montage of hate-crime imagery and down-home, Semitic pride – to the subject matter of the songs, this isn’t easy listening and it’s certainly not background music.

It’s “in your face” and undeniable – a perennial truth.

It’s the angry, uncompromising voice of reason that’s been pushed past the breaking point. The Everyman with a shiny new badge come to clean up Dodge City. It’s a scathing indictment of the system, both timeless and timely. It’s an attack on racial and religious intolerance, an assault on corporate greed, a hard self-examination of personal lifestyle choices.

No one gets out unscathed, including Rubin himself.

Did I mention that it’s also really fun and often hilarious? See, if there’s one thing Mark Rubin understands, it’s the old adage that you can get away with saying almost anything if you say it with a smile and a wink, and keep ’em laughing. And man, do the laughs keep on coming! Imagine Richard Pryor and Mel Brooks collaborating on songs with Homer & Jethro.

This isn’t to say that Southern Discomfort is a comedy album or that Rubin takes his music or his subject matter lightly. Great musicianship is always front and center, and gravitas is applied at the appropriate times. Take, for example, one of the album’s thematic centerpieces, “The Ballad of Leo Frank,” a bone-chilling historical account of a vigilante lynch mob in the throes of hatred and bloodlust.

The same somber tone permeates “Rumainyan Fancy,” played beautifully on the violin by Adam Moss. It’s the perfect solemn meditation to prepare you for the next round of head-shaking, knee-slappers, all delivered with the plain-spoken wisdom of Will Rogers, the pissed-off proletarian voice of a modern-day Woody Guthrie, and the droll, comedic, corn pone of Mr. Haney from Green Acres. I’ve listened to this album at least a dozen times in the last 10 days and I still laugh aloud every time I hear the end of “Keychain Blues,” wherein our recently downsized and homeless protagonist declares earnestly, “Now, I live in a box!”

Mark mentioned that he’s already begun work on a new batch of songs. Southern Discomfort succeeds on every level, hitting its intended target squarely on the funny bone with both barrels blazing. I, for one, can’t wait to see what he’ll take aim at next.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Mark Rubin, Papa Mali Malcolm Welbourne, Bad Livers, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, the Jesus Lizard, Santiago Jimenez, Jr., Erik Hokkanen, Frank London’s Klezmer Allstars, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Homer & Jethro, Will Rogers, Woody Guthrie

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