Peter Johnson

High-N-Dry Records
Yaka Yaka                         
11-song CD
     As much a literary as an exclusively musical recorded work, this concept album chronicles an impressionistic, growling antihero’s personal journey spent unspooling through a madness ignited by John Lennon’s murder. In its Spartan way, this instrumentally-backed spoken word album is a brutal miracle. As an exemplar of outsider music and of art-from-pain, it puts me in mind of Neil Young’s banned-in-Aspen LP Tonight’s The Night, or Lou Reed’s monumental bummer Berlin, or, especially, the “Shatterhouse” section of the late Leo Connellan’s savagely brilliant epic poem “The Clear Blue Lobster Water Country.” Compare Connellan’s “I had to run outa… where th’deep soul heart of me is, rush outa there from frightened people, savage in their frustration, over me in deep depression kickin’ you quick outa th’way more than ever takin’ care a’you…,” with Johnson’s “I want to have time to look for my children/ And see how many of them I can find/ Maybe I shall find them among the dead.” This is the closest thing to a shamanic ceremony for the dead that we’re likely to encounter in these God-starved times. And it’s profoundly unsettling and brilliant.    (Francis DiMenno)

Plymouth Rock Records
A Town Hall Party           
10-song CD
      Straight-up old-time country, and one of the sweetest things of its kind I’ve ever heard (as in heartfelt, not goopy). From what I know or could find out, these are mostly kinda obscure covers (the credits are a little vague, but don’t tell anyone, Okay?). Aside from the killer song choices and gorgeous playing, they are cool enough to feature your grandfather on vocals. This guy’s delivery is so comfy and convincing, you can practically smell the flannel and boot polish, and feel his white stubble scraping your cheeks as he bounces you on his bony lap and spins another tail of surviving you-name-it gone wrong. I realize most of the young’uns don’t care, but it’s their loss. This is something I knew, from the first moments, that I’ll probably listen to forever. Beefs? But of course. One imagines they have barrels of material, so (a) I selfishly or otherwise wish it were longer, and (b) given that, and all the cool stuff here I’d never heard before, I see no reason for anyone to cover “Your Cheatin’ Heart” ever again. As great a song (and this version) is, it tastes like a shortcut they don’t need (even though it’s probably one of their most requested numbers among crowds who might often be so easily pleased). Piddlin’, perhaps, I just know they’ve got lots more worthy aces up those tattered sleeves.   (Joe Coughlin)

4” STUD    
4” Stud                             
12-song CD
      If you like your pop rocky, or your rock poppy, with a cleaned-up-but-almost-alternative feel, sort of like Soul Asylum if they wanted to be The Goo Goo Dolls (indeed, a reversal of reality), well, then, here ya go.  Now, perhaps the comparison is weighted by the fact that singer Damian David sounds a lot like Dave Pirner, with a bit less edge to his voice, but I’ll eat all of my rock cred (all three grams) if these boys don’t have both bands in their collections.  “Can You Hear Me Now?” is one of the best of the bunch, with a neat-o stop/start thing going on in the verses and an energized chorus (that is probably a ton of fun live), not to mention a sizzling guitar solo.  “I’m Getting Out” is another standout track, perhaps because it has less of the radio-friendly vibe that the rest of the tracks have in spades.  That being said, this is all just a little too “safe” for my taste, and smacks of music made to get chicks.  And not the smart ones, either.    (Tim Emswiler)

Red Room Records                                                           
9-song CD
      I saw these guys awhile back and came out pretty impressed, and this disc does nothing to dim that view.  I remember them having a pretty strong country-rock leaning, and while that dirt road feeling is still evident here, the band has let their indie pop influences come out a little more, as I’m definitely hearing a Replacements and maybe even a Gigolo Aunts influence (particularly in some of the higher-range harmonies).  Jesse has an agreeable voice—suitably boyish and worn-in—and the guitar work is a cut above most, particularly the solo on “Killing Time.”  While each of the songs has its merits, the clear standout is the barroom romp of “Almost Home.”  My only complaint would be that the tempos don’t change all that much, but that weakness is largely offset by the variances in the song structures.  This is a nice piece of work.  (Kevin Finn)

Shelley Court Records
The Sound of Yes             
13-song CD
      Jam-full of slyly overblown ’60s and ’70s tropes, this Chucklehead vet’s second solo album is a veritable smorgasbord groaning with songs so uplifting and life-affirming it somehow reminds me of Roz Chast’s cartoon cat standing there in human clothing and saying “Meow?” (The caption: ‘’Too Cute for Comfort.”)  Particularly ingenious are the first five songs, which range from the riff-tastic “Take Me Back,” to the gently lilting Nick Drake-introspective “Rainfall” to the Turtlesque pronunciato “A Pearl,” to the BTO-like “Angel in Hightops,” to “Met a Babe Today,” from deep in the heart of Monkees territory. Then there’s the Abbey-Road-like “Meteor,” a gaudy overblown confection that verges on and eventually trembles over into some sort of nutty greatness, like “Hey Jude” meets Todd Rundgren’s “International Feel.” Equally grandiose and brilliant is the ebullient “(I’m In Love With) Everything You.” Though vocals are mixed way too high on “Simpler Things,” and there’s an abrupt violin middle-eight on “4th of July,” and the pallid vocals on “Grab a Hold” don’t even try to bring da funk, all minor flaws fall before a song like the heartfelt bravura performance of  “Honeysong.” The topper: the accordian-slathered cowpunk number “Love Enough for Three.” Yow! Bravissimo!   (Francis DiMenno)

I’m A Kitty Records
Technicolor Radio             
11-song CD
      The first thing you need to know is that The Steamy Bohemians are melodious, harmonious, and bright comedians who obviously smoke a metric assload of pot. The other thing you need to know is that Technicolor Radio is a novelty record featuring eleven ballsy tracks structured to sound like you’re tuning your radio and only finding good reception for Dr. Demento, Judy Tenuta, some sort of X-rated version of The Magic Garden, and Bette Midler circa Mud Will Be Flung Tonight. There are even bawdy commercials, fuzz and static to complete the radio-listening experience. Purveyors of bouncy, tuneful and raunchy songs sung in sweet, high choirgirl style, the Steamies take you on a hilarious joyride rife with lesbian in-jokes, sex, politics, and chickens. Yes, chickens. It’s an entertaining listen through all eleven tracks. (I could, however, do without the nearly eighteen minutes of outtakes and static at the end; it sounds like a production decision that might have been side-splitting in the studio, but it’s more of a “guess you had to be there” hilarity that detracts from the front half of the record.) All told, it’s a fabulous original CD from a sexy, funny act.      (Lexi Kahn)

Innova Records
No Such Animal   
6-song CD
      This is an Ornette Coleman-like and Miles Davis-minimalist-kool collection of venturesome third stream jazz numbers that features four local avant-guardians, all with sterling pedigrees. The titles often offer clues to the artistic intent. A composition such as "Debut Sea" is notable for its elastic, silence-harboring subtlety and eclectic dynamism—rumbling bass and nimble, cymbal-heavy drumming move the composition along while at the same time circular sax riffs and a subtle cascading guitar line propel it to the finish line.  The percussive and eerie flute and seesawing sax improvisations that swirl about "The Iron Bell" seems to be attuned largely to the tonalities of that instrument; "Luminous/Ominous" features a progressively menacing concourse of pulsing bass and a flute line, frantically juddering like a butterfly with a broken wing, both underscored by sinister maraca, and eventually augmented by plangent sax and wounded guitar. A similar pointedness is evident throughout the remainder of the combo’s other two lengthy jam pieces; these compositions are superbly atmospheric as opposed to merely directionless tour-de-force foo-fo-raw.  (Francis DiMenno)

Cellphone Records
Color of Danger                
10-song CD
      I’m pinching myself here, because I can’t believe that there isn’t one dud in my stack of CDs to review this month. Leisure Scream’s The Color of Danger is a cerebral mix of smartly written songs, and the proven ability to pull them off.  I’d be remiss not to mention the unavoidable comparison to The Grateful Dead and their ilk. While mellow and slow going, there is nothing lazy happening here. It’s all working, and working hard. I’m not completely unaware that I have a certain weakness for gals with names that rhyme, so if it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am.  Nancy Lancy (keyboard, percussion) provides backup vocal perfection to John Daly’s heartfelt and authentic delivery.  When she (Nancy Lancy) takes the limelight in “Tree,” she takes a song that could be MOST annoying and actually makes it work. Yes, it does go Tree. Tree. Tree. But I can live with that. I’m smitten, and expect to listen to this one even when I don’t have to.     (Paisley Simone)

Cuneiform Records
Extreme Spirituals          
12-song CD
      Right off, you definitely don’t own anything that sounds like this, but I can’t decide if that’s a good thing here yet. The few things I own by these guys (some straight band, some special-guest projects like this) are all fairly brilliant and deeply appreciated over the last 20 plus (!!) years, but I can’t help but wonder what different vocalists would’ve accomplished on some (Okay, several) tracks. All songs are credited to “traditional,” and there are 12 pages of notes “explaining” the music, many from the singer, who I guess is a big deal in the Negro spirituals (his words) field, and that’s all fine, but on top of some fascinating music is his mostly one-trick delivery, with everything pretty much bellowed at one insistent volume. There’s SO much intricate instrumental subtlety going on—sorry, but I found it distracting. And yeah, some of the bed tracks themselves are kinda reaching for what were originally very basic compositions (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” etc.). A big litmus test for me has always been, when would this sound best? It’s been a couple weeks, and while I sorta dig it when it’s on, I still can’t answer that (unlike their other stuff). But if unconventional-for-its-own-sake is enough for you, you’ll probably wet yourself.   (Joe Coughlin)

No Beginning, No End    
10-song CD
      Devotees of Maddy Prior and Fairport Convention will find Ms. O’Rourke’s lovely and strategically deployed contralto an integral addition to this versatile, largely folk-oriented collection of melodic ballads, which are instrumentally toughened by electric guitar and sweetened by fiddle and acoustic guitar. There is a wistful, almost sentimental, quality to her voice which lends to even her most subtle tunes a timeless appeal, and which enhances immeasurably remarkable songs like “Sepia Tones,” “Tangerine,” “Why Do I,” and (the comparatively gritty) “Stir Crazy.”  In a folk music marketplace glutted with sound-alikes and wannabes, this hauntingly original and remarkably assured CD debut is a keeper.          (Francis DiMenno)

Blood Vessels
Teenage Heart Records
Blood Vessels                   
10-song CD
      Greetings, Zortar here.  When I first set my audio receptors to take in these transmitted sound units, an ominous dread of heavy metal slithered up my spinal column.  No doubt as heavy metal is punished by death on my planet.  My body fluids flowed freely from all my orifices.  It was not a pretty sight.
      Erase that from your memory banks.  Take this more as heavy rock that succeeds more often than not.  Imagine Sabbath jamming with The Dead Boys and Black Flag and you might have some idea of a band that’s hard to pin down.
      I’d team these boys up with Radio Knives, if I could, as both bands bring the rock to a very desirable place.  But such is not my task.  Mine is riding a white transportation module in local neighborhoods dispensing milk-derived substances to new humans, a thankless job in the heart of winter.    (Slimedog)

Yard Sale                          
12-song CD       
      I stopped expecting monthly miracles from mag submissions some time ago. With 10,000 meaningless sub-genres and 40,000 ill-intentioned schlubs thinking they’re all equally adept at any given one in this town alone, something perfectly solid in every way (if not exactly fuckin’ unbelievable) is more than we really have a right to expect these days. This is an excellent example of just that. As they’ll tell ya themselves, Replacements and Wilco (I hear Soul Asylum as well, the ones of theirs that didn’t suck, anyway), but I try to avoid that comparison crap, believe it or not. Let’s just say that the melodies, lyrics, solos, production, and arrangements never once sound thoughtlessly shat out. You get the feeling they actually discuss this stuff instead of assuming it’s great just because it’s them like, oh, pretty much 97 percent of everyone else, y’know? When something usually ain’t your bag (and this usually ain’t mine) still grabs, and holds, well, that’s kinda the point, isn’t it? Some will find it stellar, and no reason they shouldn’t. I find it very fuckin’ good, which is an extremely pleasant surprise when you hear as much dreck as I do. And I bet they’re a blast live. (Now fix the dang website, thank you.)   (Joe Coughlin)

9-song CD
      Wow, this woman has one sexy ass voice.  The very sound of her is giving me a tingle jingle in my spriggle wiggle. This talented woman Manaia (yeah, I can’t pronounce it either) a.k.a. Jen Strickland, played and recorded everything. I think there are a couple of vocal cameos but it’s tough to tell. Where do these one-man-band people come from?  I think this one comes from cerebral cyberspace.  There are all kinds of mad stuff going on throughout this effort—layers of guitars, synth sounds, reverse tape effects, and thick sultry vocals abound.  You incense-burning, dope-puffin’ candle freaks are going to love this CD.  She’s a maniac, maniac—I know, and I’m never gonna let her go!  So go out and grab some Nag Champa, put on your patchouli, and light up. However, be prepared, it is really experimental. I’m normally not one to push this kind of music but there are some cool, soulful, cosmic sounds and performances on this CD.  Aaahhhhhhh Foxy!    (Lance Woodward)

8MM FUZZ               
Collective Digital Apocalypse
Youngest Children EP   
6-song CD
    Granted, it’s been a lot of years since I listened to Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths, or The Cure, but various songs by these bands surfaced in my memory as I listened to this, so I’m gonna name-drop ’em.  Frankly, I can think of few local bands that sound less local, and that isn’t a bad thing.  The disc’s strong points are well-constructed songs, polished and atmospheric musicianship, and excellent production values.  Does it work for me?  No.  To trot out the old saw for the thousandth time, this just isn’t my style.  But there is absolutely nothing to bitch about other than a simple matter of musical tastes, so how can I slag it?  The songs vary in dynamics nicely, the synthesizer sound doesn’t sound out of place, and every song has at least one moment that made me think, “Hey, that was pretty cool.”  So, if the aforementioned bands tickle your fancy, or if they ever did, seek this out, you moody kids.     (Tim Emswiler)

Kerouac King Kong         
15-song CD
      A stylist rather than a singer (and you know what that means), Mr. Root jokes about his anonymity in a way that leads one to suspect that he’s not really joking and that his name really ought to be right up there in Pop Valhalla with such goosebump inducers and top-of-the-head-tinglers à la Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, John Prine, Ray Davies et al. Leaping will-e-nill-e across many varieties of stylistic gullies, we are confronted in turn not so much by a dazzling array of sardonic and sentimental versatility as by a multifaceted persona intrinsically rooted and rotted in…Root and inexorably showing us the face of gnashing Root, thrashing Root, deracinated Root, bitter Root, underappreciated Root, unsophisticated Root, erudite Root; in sum, Root as a self-designated “toadstool of the realm.”  Root does have a wry way with a topical song. The instrumentations are impeccable. He is very sharp and very talented. And yet howsoever fine his genre chameleonship, for me, his sour temperament curdles all save the title track and his nimble anti-Bush screed “Fubar.”     (Francis DiMenno)

Dark Architecture            
11-song CD
      Idiomatically speaking, this record is the perfect sandwich.  There’s not much room for improvement.  This is a slick composition that hits every mark.  I practically had to pry it out of the CD player to move on to the next review.  A very rare happenstance here in Review Land. Dark Architecture has  serious soul and plays from beginning to end without a hitch. Hopefully it doesn’t get lost in the recent glut of male singer-songwriter stuff (James Blunt and the like) because it’s got loads of passion and heady, thoughtful verse.  Its optimistic overtones and soothing delivery are only the tip of the iceberg.  It goes deep and takes many twists and turns, but allows the listener not only to come up for air, but to arrive at the surface refreshed.   (Paisley Simone)

The Staple                        
13-song CD
      Well, this is a rap CD which has the usual nice looking, clean-cut young men in adorable oversized sportswear, oh, my.  And I read in the liner notes that this is a positive rap duo but the words go by so fast, that I’m just in a tizzy and the strawberry daiquiris aren’t helping either.  I mean, they could be rapping about my illicit affair with President Romney (that’s what he likes me to call him) for all I know.  “Drinking the liquor, killed my will,” Mitt and I know what that’s about, have mercy.
      The music is mellow funk with keyboards, funk guitar, almost like ’70s soul/pop.  The third track features Akrobatik and Mista Sinistra, and though I’m wack, I’ve heard of Akrobatik and this track has a good energy within it.  As the CD goes on, I notice I’m moving my foot across the floor while lowering my shoulder and moving my hand over my leg.  Yo, mad props to Radix for getting this dope dawg dancing.     (Slimedog)

More Songs For Dreamsleepers & The Very Awake                      
10-song CD
      A snappy little debut consisting of some really well-crafted folk indie selections with a groove: it lacks weakness, and that’s just fine with me, since some stuff in this realm can really leave you looking for the coffee. Put together by brothers Ben and Sam Potrykus, and includes drummer Chris Mara, guitarist Matt Sisto and trumpeter Chris Barrett, this band connects, congeals, and conflagrates on many levels. It’s always those two-brother bands that are good, huh? Solid collective band chemistry, refined arrangements, and an almost Ben Foldsian timbre to certain tracks really make this debut CD a worthwhile listen. The only qualm is the packaging, but hey, it’s a debut. You’re allowed to have a hand-scribbled artwork image and a computer-burned CD with nothing on it but a blank white label. Right. Nice music guys.    (Mike Loce)

75 or Less Records           
The Captain Amazing EP + Bonus 
10-song CD                  
      The first time I popped in this album, I was drawn in pretty strongly to their dirty mix of Replacements/Stooges-influenced pop.  Everything is loud and fuzzed out, and the melodies are fairly catchy.  Unfortunately, this is also one of those albums that gets less interesting each time you play it, as it becomes clearer that you’ve pretty much heard all these songs before.  In fact, the only number that really stands out is the faux-metal of “Gods of Thunder and Lightning STRIKE!!”—and that’s only because I’m quite bored with indie bands throwing a half-wink/half-embrace to metal.  That pseudo-irony ship has long since sailed.  Lone Drivers strike me as the type of band you’re glad to see fill an opening slot because you don’t mind seeing them while you secure a good spot on the floor, but by themselves, they’re not going to get you off the couch and out of your nice, warm home.    (Kevin Finn)

Live In Love                     
10-song CD
      I’m a fan Adja’s other stuff (stuff with a band). She has a very beautiful voice at times—mournful and wailing, but also philosophical and tender. But this solo effort just doesn’t do it for me. She accompanies herself on piano and guitar primarily, and my humble opinion is that her ability on those instruments is just not good enough to give her voice the framework it needs to support it. She’s consistently singing sharp, and the ultra-boring piano lines, acoustic guitar ostinatos, and open chord bashes just don’t allow her the harmonic area she needs to showcase her voice. The a cappella track is the best sounding, really. I hear that she’s now in a band [Black Fortress of Opium… ed.] with Joel Simches, Tony Savarino, and Joe Turner, so we have something to look forward to. But kudos for expanding the scope of her music career with an experimental disc like this.    (Mike Loce)

CHOOSE TO FIND          
Choose to Find                   
9-song CD
      The self-titled debut, Choose to Find, digs immediately at the heart and gets straight to the matter at hand.  It speaks without words and reveals itself like a long kept secret, heralded boldly for the first time.  If it loses my attention at all, it is for mere seconds, as I am genuinely curious about what is coming next.  In his own words, frontman and Connecticut native (we won’t hold that against him) Todd Marston describes his material as “greatly influenced by film music” and this theme is most prominent.  I can hear the plot as it builds and twists, and I can almost hear the unnecessary sighs of an overwhelmed first time director.  No need to panic; this power quartet promises an ending as magnificent as its beginning.  A stellar musical rendering, worth a listen or two.  (Paisley Simone)    

DEAD CITY                
Incas Records
The Dead Sessions featuring: Cheetah Chrome              
16-song CD
     Yeah, man—this is a refreshing BLAST of music energy from a mysterious and all-too-quickly-gone time called FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. Since all the songs were recorded in 1992 (with one from 1993) it seemed a bit odd at first, but hey, it reminds me of how much vital good music was coming out at that time. Hailing from Milford, CT, singer Joe Dias (previously of Lost Generation) decided to do the right thing: form a band with music he wanted to play. Having known Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys) from Lost Gen’s 10th anniversary in 1991, they got it happening. The tunes are short, energetic punk-derived firecrackers, with great balance in the overall sound. Though the “selling points” column on the bio says this is “for fans of classic late ’70s punk,” these days you could also add “and fans of good ’80s metal and early ’90s grunge.” Hey, time goes by.    (Mike Loce)

Demographic Records
Condition of Anonymity  
12-song CD
      These drugged olde men are raw and lack any sonic integrity. Their drum set sounds thin—in fact the whole recording is extremely lo-fi—and sounds like these olde men are really sixteen year-olds experiencing their first encounter with a tape recorder. With that said, these olde men can be quite charming. The first tune, “Long Pauses of Silence” mixes a lo-fi Pink Floyd with Neil Young and I sense a ghost of The Pretty Things. The vamping guitar melody mixes nicely with the vocal harmonies. The bass, um, doesn’t sound like there is a bass—it might be a second guitar holding down the root. No liner notes to work from here—they’re serious about their anonymity, except for the producer, Jeff Sylya, who would have been smart to have left his name off the disc. After the fourth song these men should have skipped right to tracks nine and ten and called it a good six-song EP. But as is, the accompanying tedious filler kills the attempt at this being considered a decent full-length CD.    (T Max)

Fallen Angel Records
Go To The Beach              
20-song CD
      I shoulda known. Never trust fictional (unfunny) press sheets, or song-by-song commentary in the notes. On first (far too casual) listen, I almost lumped ’em with like, Pajama Slave Dancers, who could certainly write and play, but were ultimately a novelty act. The second time (much more intently), I just wanted to puke. They look well into their 30s, but it sounds like what I cranked out on the crapper in junior high. Except mine was funny. They’re prancing in bikinis on the cover, and the first song is “You Dropped The Soap” (liner comment: “I love fags”). Wacky, huh? That may sound hypocritical coming from someone with a decent collection of music by older goofballs singing about genitals and the stuff that comes out of ’em, but anyone can say peepee caca. There’s an ART to transcending retardation into something irresistible (M.O.T.O., The Burning Sensations, Dr. Frog, etc.), whereas this just sounds geared to common fuckheads. How can it really come down to SONGS, you ask? Mainly, don’t make them merely loud, pointless vehicles for yer awful shtick. Example? Put on Darkbuster’s “Some Cunt Sneezed On My Sub.” Never seen a girl not laugh at that. Then play this band’s “Your Cunt Smells Like A Dump.” I’d pay to see the average reaction to this at a show, but then they’d have my money.   (Joe Coughlin)

Winter Records
Hey, Man, Good Set         
16-song CD
      You know how you like the first batch of songs by a band and when new ones start sprouting up you look at them as unwanted guests taking space up in set lists? Well, on this CD, the first full-length by these dim lads, all fear and trepidation is cast aside, scattered to the winds like used prophylactics.  The songs are superb with good, creative production. 
      For those who don’t know, The Dimwits are punk with a hardcore influence.  For those put off by this description, let me state three facts:  (1) These are well-written songs with hooks that would work in any genre. (2) Because of tempo changes within the songs, the fast pace is not overdone. (3) The songs are played by musicians who play as well as others working in more traditional styles, and (4) Nine out of ten dentists say The Dimwits are more fun than nitrous oxide and slightly less painful than a root canal.   (Slimedog)

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