In mid-September of 2001, about a week after that fateful day, I drove a couple hours north to Richmond, Virginia, having heard that Bob Rupe was planning to sit in for a few songs with the Silos at Poe’s Pub. This was a rare occasion; Rupe and Silos leader Walter Salas-Humara hadn’t played together for a decade. Salas-Humara has soldiered on, a revolving cast of satellite Silos supporting him through a series of albums and tours; but there has always remained something special about the music he and Rupe made together, even if it lasted for just three records.
Cuba, released in 1987, was the second of those, and at the time it seemed like the start of something “big.” Rolling Stone’s annual critics poll voted them the best new American band, they were a solid hit with college radio, and they jumped from self-release status (on their own Record Collect label) to major-label act when RCA signed them to put out their self-titled 1990 follow-up.
Yet what was special about Cuba was its intimacy. Lovely, lilting songs such as “For Always”, “Margaret” and “Going Round” were about the little things, Salas-Humara saying so much with such modest sentiment: “Every day I see my wife/Her words cut through every defense/I ask her advice/And when she speaks it’s from the heart.”
The soft-petaled ballads were balanced by a few roof-raising rockers — the slow-burning opener “Tennessee Fire”, the joyous celebration “Mary’s Getting Married”, the vaguely psychedelic “All Falls Away” — but their simplicity of expression allowed those moments to coexist quite naturally with the record’s quieter passages.
Equally important to the sound and substance of Cuba was the classically trained playing of Mary Rowell, whose violin and viola contributions swirled and swayed the music just sideways enough to make the Silos stand out from other straight-shooting rock bands of the era.
Rupe’s contributions were small in number, but not in stature. “She Lives Up The Street” (co-written with Salas-Humara) and “Memories” (co-written with John Salton) are both top-notch tunes, and his rich, resonating vocal delivery was a welcome complement to Salas-Humara’s plainspoken style. Hearing him sing those songs last September for the first time in ten years made the trip to Richmond worthwhile.
One other tune featuring Rupe’s lead vocals, “Maybe Everything”, is among the six bonus tracks included here. It originally appeared as a bonus track on a “Tennessee Fire” 12-inch single, and later showed up on the self-titled RCA album — which has now been out-of-print for a decade and dearly deserves reissue treatment.
Having Cuba back on the shelves, though, is a fine start.