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BLOOMINGTON — It's the afternoon after, and the thrill isn't gone for Dan Hubbard.

The previous night, Hubbard saw Bruce Springsteen commandeer a 3.5-hour show at the United Center in Chicago, a megawatt performance from the 66-year-old rocker.   

"Oh, my gosh," is the tall and lanky Bloomington-Normal native's short-version review as he marvels over the stamina of a man twice his age.

Hubbard's tried it himself — that level of chronic pumped delivery — and: "I'm gasping for air after 20 minutes ..."

This, from a musician who is no stranger to aerobic endurance (he's a member of the Twin Cities' legendary Hubbard Family basketball dynasty ... another story for another day).

It is good to have something like that affirmative experience, just a week or two before his moment of musical truth comes to fruition.

Namely, the Feb. 5 release, complete with Castle Theater show that night, of the solo album he's long dreamed about ... self-titled, self-authored and, at long last, self-loved.

Meaning, says Hubbard: "It feels like what I've been working toward my entire life. I've made the best record I could."

He adds: "For all of it to come together like this ... it really does feel like a defining moment." 

Each of the 10 tracks of "Dan Hubbard," recorded a year ago this month in Nashville under the producing hand of Wilco co-founder Ken Coomer, gets full marks from the author, something he admits has rarely happened in the past.

In fact, he says there are songs of yore he can't listen to now, chiefly because he was writing through a kind of tunnel vision too often hung up on private quirks and concerns.

That may seem a bit harsh to his fans -- the faithful who've followed his evolution from the heyday of Dan Hubbard & The Humadors, through his sideline solo gigs and assorted collaborations on the local music scene.

The Humadors, Hubbard says, came to their close in October 2014, when his search for the sound he's now found led him decisively in his new direction.

"The Humadors are a very big part of who've I've been. They are great guys ... great musicians," he says of his three band-mates: drummer Kevin Yarger, lead guitarist Kyle Yap and bass player Stephen Tassio.

"I was wanting a more rootsy, Americana sound, and I couldn't figure out how to get to it," Hubbard says of the motivation to move on. "We all got together over a beer and talked it out, and we ended on a really good note. Everyone obviously wanted to move forward."

Also a factor in the change was his six years as a weekend warrior trying to find a balance on the family side of the ledger, with a fully supportive wife (and now manager), Kaetlyn, and three kids (2, 4, 11).

"Dan is one of these people who always has a positive attitude," says Coomer, who produced "Dan Hubbard," and handles percussion on each song, pitching in an occasional backing vocal.

Coomer's mile-long resume includes membership in two of the most storied alt-rock bands of the '90s, Uncle Tupelo and, in the wake of its breakup, co-founding Wilco, where he drummed on such era-defining albums as "Being There" and "Summerteeth."

The road out of Hubbard's Twin Cities comfort zone to Nashville was mapped after Hubbard forged a long-distance correspondence with Ryan Ulyate, a producer and engineer who's worked with Tom Petty for most of the last decade.

"He suggested that I try telling more stories in my songs instead of always writing from my perspective," Hubbard says of that approach he now finds a drawback to some of his early "rock-band" writing.

The result: 10 perfectly pitched narratives, ranging from a comedy-of-errors episode from Hubbard's weekend warrior days transformed into the album's melodic winner ("Johnny") to an elegy for both a 22-year-old killed by a drunk driver based on a true-life hometown experience and the death of his own older brother from brain cancer at age 12 ... dovetailed into a single, moving musical moment, conveyed in universal terms. 

His most prized critic, wife Kaetlyn, is serenaded in "She Gives It Everything," again with a narrative that moves from the specific to the universal with a spare ease that brings Hubbard's vocals closer to the fore, as part of Coomer's approach to the sound. 

"I get sent a LOT of stuff," says Coomer. "But I don't think anything I've ever touched has showed the depth Dan has. I knew there was even more depth in the songs if he was ready and willing to try things, and I love to try a lot of things."

No problem, says Hubbard.

After all, "Ken played drums on Wilco's 'Being There' and 'Summerteeth' ... two of my favorite records of all time."

He ended playing drums on "Dan Hubbard," too, and brought in a roster of Nashville heavyweights, from Dave Roe, Johnny Cash's longtime bass player, to Adam Ollendorff, currently guitarist with Kacey Musgrave's band.

"Dan has a beautiful sound, and I'm very proud of the record. I knew the album would it be good ... but would it be GOOD? Let's just say, he rose to the occasion," Coomer says.

"I love his music ... I just love this guy, period."

Hubbard, meanwhile, is ready and willing to ensure a wide public feels the same, via a 2016 tour that will take him farther and wider than he has traveled before, and with that positive sense of believing in the music that won over Coomer.

Around the time he was jamming in the studio with Wilco's drummer and Johnny Cash's bass player, "I just looked up to the sky and said ... 'thank you'. If I died now, I'd die a happy man."

He survived, we're happier to report, with The Boss now behind him and an exciting year just ahead. 

Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraft


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