Sugar Mama, Pemberton’s first studio album—produced by hero-turned-friend and Los Lobos sax player Steve Berlin and featuring such guests as legendary Portland bluesman Curtis Salgado—jackknifes playfully from the dirty funk of “Let’s Play House” to the giddy rock of the title track and the experimentation of the metal-like “Juice Box.”
Classic rock, jazz, psychedelia and everything in between collide and fuse around the notion of discovery that jumps with ease from the composer to the listener in a hyper-caffeinated cocktail of bar music done right. The album features 11 cohesive tracks that speak equally to Pemberton’s multigenre mastery and his ability as a clever lyricist to convey fun while digging deep.
The complexity of Sugar Mama is epitomized by “Bubble,” a song about parallel existences that Pemberton cites as indicative of his mindset. “This little bubble is just so much fun/ There could be no other bubble, baby, quite like this one,” he sings Seussically over a Latin-surf signature. Later in the song, though, things turn deceptively dark with the refrain, “Without you, I’d probably be dead.”
“Whenever shit hits the fan, there’s this other new bubble where everything’s fine,” Pemberton says. “[But] in this other bubble, I’m dead or I have gnarly brain damage. But in this other bubble, I’m perfectly fine. I’ve got a beautiful girl and a nice house, and Steve Berlin plays on my record.”
“It seems almost too good to be true…”