Los Angeles folk & roots outfit Diane Hubka & The Sun Canyon Band releases new single "Baton Rouge," out today. Hubka's charming vocals lure you into dancing along to this feel-good Guy Clark cover. It's like a sunny walk through a swampy town in this song about picking up your life and starting somewhere new. Something we can all relate to in this post-covid world. New Orleans-born drummer Lynn Coulter (Leon Russell, Carole King, Rita Coolidge) takes zydeco and african beats and melds them with legendary guitarist Albert Lee's (Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, The Everly Brothers) one-of-a-kind guitar sounds.
Their debut album You Never Can Tell (out Jan. 20) dances from '60s folk, delta blues and lilting ballads to Texas swing and heartland country rock. Co-producer/arranger and bassist Chad Watson (Ronnie Milsap, The Burrito Brothers, Janis lan) brings together Hubka's honey-toned vocals and rhythm guitar, Rick Mayock's melodic vocals and expressive guitar work and Albert Lee's exceptional mandolin picking and standout guitar prowess.
Hubka is known across the country as a jazz artist. She fell for the style in college while taking guitar lessons from “a jazz guy,” she said. That’s where she first heard influential vocalist Carmen McRae sing. “I knew then I had to be a jazz singer.” Hubka said.
She moved to Washington D.C., where she soaked in the city’s jazz scene, and then to New York City, where she studied voice, piano and guitar, received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and became an integral part of the city’s jazz scene for two decades.
“I really do believe in on-the-job training when it comes to music,” she said. “There's something about playing in front of an audience that’s so rewarding. It ups your game.”
Hubka recorded three albums in the Big Apple, including one with legendary saxophonist Lee Konitz, before moving to Los Angeles in 2005, where she recorded three more albums, and even made it big in Japan, touring the country multiple times.
In early 2017, however, everything changed. Upset by the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election, Hubka turned away from a lifetime of jazz and went in a new direction – one that just felt right.
“I wanted to sing protest songs, and union songs,” she said. “And I think I was just ready to try something different. After all those years playing jazz, I suddenly felt a calling to get back to my acoustic and folk roots.”
Before her time in D.C., NYC and L.A., Hubka grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Western Maryland. A child of the ‘60s folk revival, with a mother who sang in a folk group, she was a big fan of Peter, Paul & Mary, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. So she tapped into those roots, bought an acoustic guitar and started performing her new Americana repertoire at a coffee shop a couple blocks from the Pacific Ocean.
Five years later, Hubka and her Sun Canyon Band are releasing their debut album You Never Can Tell, a sprightly and seamless blend of breezy Americana, Western swing and California folk-pop that recalls the work of ‘70s country-rock icons Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. The album is split between originals (written by Hubka and Mayock) and covers of classics by artists like Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Chuck Berry and Guy Clark, and it features the playing of legendary English guitarist and mandolinist Albert Lee, best known for his work with Harris, The Everly Brothers and Eric Clapton.
“I’m happy to pay homage to this great American music that I love, while putting my own spin on it,” Hubka said. “I like bringing life to songs that I think are great.”
You can hear her and the Sun Canyon Band doing exactly that on tracks like Guy Clark’s “Baton Rouge,” dressing it up with kitchen-sink percussion and Zydeco vibes, or “Albuquerque,” an instantly hummable ode to clean air and small-town life. Written by Rob Carlson, it’s a Western swing song that gives Hubka plenty of space to flex her jazz chops.
Similarly, the band seems to comfortably inhabit “Shady Grove,” steering the traditional song into a deeply rooted groove. “We did it more like the Grateful Dead version, rather than the Doc Watson version,” Hubka said. “It’s fun to take bits of inspiration from everywhere and come up with my own.”
The most affecting song on You Never Can Tell, however, may just be Hubka’s original, “Home,” which uses images of blue skies, lush fields and rolling hills to evoke the personal freedom and warm memories of her Appalachian home. It’s a sweet, easygoing folk song that spotlights Hubka’s talent for drawing beauty from simplicity.
“I get my spirituality through nature, and ‘Home’ is about leaving the city and getting back to nature,” she said. “It’s about the simple values that I grew up with in the ‘60s & '70s– anti-commercialism, anti-materialism. I’m inspired by those values and I feel them coming out in this music.”
Now, it’s time for Hubka and her band to share that music with others. They’re planning to play live as much as possible, both at conferences and on tours of the West coast, with an eye toward recording and releasing more music soon.
Making You Never Can Tell, Hubka said, has freed her up to rediscover her musical roots and reconnect with the sound that resonates deep within her soul.
“I’m a stronger singer now. I’m more physically and emotionally connected to these songs. And, I’m a more mature musician because of this project,” she said. “It’s been an important part of my journey to completely reinvent myself!”