Michael Ubaldini

Mystery Train Sessions

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Michael Ubaldini is far from a household name -- so resurrecting recordings that he made over a decade ago might not sound like a particularly promising endeavor. Sure, Mystery Train Sessions was produced by ex-Stray Cat Lee Rocker and features appearances by him and his Stray Cat comrade Brian Setzer. This disc, however, holds far more interest than just to Stray Cat completists. It comes fully stocked with enjoyable, rough-hewn rock & roll. The first two tracks -- "Don't Say Goodbye" and "Scratch My Back" -- are rugged rockabilly numbers that don't feel like museum pieces. "Scratch My Back," in particularly, is enlivened by Ubaldini's nimble guitar playing. It's on the next two songs that he shows his promise of being something more than a rockabilly revivalist. Both "Mardi Gras" and "Jean Harlow" break out of the rockabilly shell and bloom into muscular roots rock. "Mardi Gras" serves up a raucous portrait of (pre-Katrina) New Orleans while "Jean Harlow" ranks with the Smithereens' "Behind the Wall of Sleep" as a terrific straightforward rocker that compares a dream girl to a movie actress. The raspy-voiced Ubaldini, in fact, sounds like an East Coast roots rocker, but in actuality he is a popular member of the same Orange Country, CA, roots music scene that also spawned Mike Ness and Social Distortion. The rest of disc alternates between more rockabilly moves and classic rock-inspired tunes. On "Rock 'n' Roll Hot Legs/Jack on the Rocks," Ubaldini trades some sharp guitar licks with guest Michael Acosta's saxophone work. "Shake It One Time," meanwhile, is a hard-driving rocker that builds its riffs off of the Rolling Stones' "Happy," and "She's Gotta Move"'s rock & roll boogie recalls Bob Seger's "Get Out of Denver" and, of course Chuck Berry. Another song that stands out -- both due to its quality and for being the disc's sole acoustic number -- is "Only Passin' Through," which foreshadows Green Day's spare turn on "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." Most of the songs here focus on girls -- including the vicious closing kiss-off "Rockabilly Tramp" -- and the lyrics lack some of the depth and breadth that Ubaldini displays on latter recordings. Still, this disc delivers plenty of fun, old-school rock & roll without any of the datedness that sometimes surfaces in modern rockabilly recordings. A worthwhile reclamation project.

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