When Dan Bubien was laid off from his day job early this year, it was sad, of course ... but it was also fortuitous. The former Sun Kings frontman was working on his first solo album, and suddenly it became his main job.
"It was honestly the best thing that could have happened to me," he says with a laugh.
Bubien, an Aliquippa native who lives in Baden, has been playing music for most of his life. As a teenager, a sports injury sidelined him from athletics, and he took up guitar, something he picked up from his dad, also a musician.
"When I was young and I first started to really delve into it, I always liked blues music," Bubien explains. Later, he got into reggae, and then funk, both of which came through in his late-'00s band, The Sun Kings. That band broke up in the early 2010s, leaving Bubien to continue developing his signature sound: a blend of blues roots, Southern-soul vocals and funk sounds.
The 36-year-old Bubien wrote much of his new album, Empty Roads, with friend and collaborator Roman Marocco, another Aliquippa native who wrote the lyrics to more than half of the songs. Bubien recorded it with Jay Dudt at Audible Images, who helped to fill out the roster of studio musicians.
"Jay was really digging it," says Bubien, "and he kept saying, ‘I really hear horns right here,' or ‘I hear a girl singing here,' and I'd say, ‘Yeah! Yeah! Me too! Let's make this happen!'"
Between Bubien's contacts from his Sun Kings days and Dudt's friends from Duquesne University, where he teaches, there was plenty of assistance. The result is an album as slick as anything on WDVE, with names like Eric DeFade and Ralph Guzzi — both local jazz favorites — in the liner.
Bubien's solo work is more rock-and-soul than the blues-and-reggae stuff he previously was known for. But that kind of thing happens, he says, when you've been playing for a long time.
"As you get older, your tastes change, your interests change," he notes. "That's what happened here."