SILVER CIRCLE REVIEWS: March 2008

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NEPTUNE
Radium/Table of the Elements

Gong Lake

10-song CD
“Forty-pound guitars assembled entirely from scrap metal” (and the like). So sayeth the presskit, and the wary are to be forgiven for thinking that this has got to be too gimmicky to be good. The wary are wrong, though. Well, some of them. This is clearly not for all ears. If you can’t get behind the melodic strains of Einsturzende Neubaten, or perhaps some very, very sedated Ministry, you’ll want to steer well clear. But if you like machine-music with a Neurosis-like tribal pulse, you can actually bang your head to this quite happily. It may require some active listening on the part of the music geeks out there, but I found that just letting it wash over me at freakishly loud volumes worked wonders—and my house is now pest-free. So, Neptune racks up points for originality, usefulness, hipness (in the good sense), sensory stimulation, and just plain iron groove. There’s a lunar eclipse coming in a couple of hours, and I expect this slab to provide the perfect soundtrack, especially if the moon explodes. (Tim Emswiler)

DUKE LEVINE
Loud, Loud Music Records
Beneath The Blue
11-song CD
Recorded live in the studio (pretty hard to believe, given the intricacies), here’s a buncha instro that’s subdued on the surface but whose collective soft-stroke packs as much whap as any number of jackboot-n-tattoo jobs you could think of. There’s a dreamy, bubble bath-like warmth to much of this that’s seldom heard (felt) anymore, and the rest is just plain snazzy. Some might lump it into (non-space age) bachelor-pad camp, but they’d be missing the point entirely. There are some doozie covers, too. Who’da thunk that the theme from The Blob would ever make you wanna tango someone outta their skivvies? The timeless standard “Caravan” starts as a waltz, veers into country and western, and somehow almost ends up as roller-rink cheeez. And I never thought I’d say such a thing, but there’s a take on The Beatles’ “Flying” that nearly makes the original sound like a toss-off (which it may well have been, but not anymore, Bub). Again, one could marvel at the subtleties, but the mastery is quietly overwhelming. It’s a drug all its own, and you only have to buy it once. For me, it’s one of those rare “I can die happy now” records. I’ve never heard anything that felt so much like baking on the beach, and fuckin’ Christmas, at once. No foolin’. (Joe Coughlin)

PREACHER JACK
Cow Island
Pictures From Life’s Other Side
19-song CD
This LP by Preacher Jack, aka “The Boston Boogie-Woogie Piano Man,” collects two sets of piano pieces self-accompanied by vocals—eight tracks of out-takes from a 1982 session yoked to an unreleased 1996 session. There was a time—about 60 years ago—when the boogie-woogie genre was mainstream and its aficionados were not regarded as mere sentimental revivalists. In fact, the dynamism of this trope—the boogie woogie beat—with its percussive bass figures and its melodic line elaborated by a right hand ranging up and down the keyboard—might very well have given early rock a type of energetic uplift that provided its rational and ensured its survival. If nothing else, this LP proves that sometimes hipsters like George Thorogood are just plain spot on when it comes to pointing out and winning wider exposure for forgotten treasures. Preacher Jack’s technique is masterful, and his repertoire ranges from 1930s-era boogie-woogie and stride piano, to astonishing renditions of Mahalia Jackson’s “In the Upper Room” and “Gospel Plow,” to classic numbers from Fats Domino, Elvis, and the Hank Williams songbook. His take on Williams’s aka Luke the Drifter’s “Too Many Parties And Too Many Pals” is an astonishing tour de force, and is alone worth the price of this record. Bonus track: “3000 Barrooms Later.” (Francis DiMenno)

JON MACEY & STEVE GILLIGAN
Actuality Records
Everything Under The Sun
12-song CD
I have seen Macey and Gilligan perform live several times. I was very impressed by the shimmering quality of their harmonies and how beautifully one’s instrumentation complements the other, with Macey mostly on acoustic guitar and Gilligan mostly on mandocello. Their premier recording does a fine job of capturing the intimate feeling of their shows. Moreover, this recording is a testament to what compatible collaborators they are lyrically, musically, and vocally. This is a democratic partnership as well. In fact, Macey contributes five compositions and Gilligan contributes five. Two contributions are collaborations-the title track/opener, “Everything Under The Sun” and track four, “You Will Know Them.” Both songs would seem at home on Bob Dylan's collections of public domain songs—As Good As I Been To You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993). The hook line of the latter song comes from an even better known work: a teaching by Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. Two of the prettiest songs are Macey's “Pretty Little Lady” and “Someone To Care About You.” Gilligan's “All You Gotta Do” creates a sexy mystique by updating Roy Orbison via Chris Issak. A major highlight of this outstanding endeavor is Macey's symbolist epic, “Emma And The Dance.” (Nancy Neon)

ANARCHY CLUB
A Single Drop of Red

12-song CD
Content: Six remixes, and five new songs from Keith Smith (x-Cobalt 60) and Adam von Buhler (Splashdown). Genre: hard rock electronic (verging on metal-of-the-sort-beloved-by-fourteen-year-olds who-have-just-started-their-first-band); three of the tracks were featured in Guitar Hero One and Two and Guitar Band. Now, who was it that said that the best way to control the people is through their playthings? Doesn’t matter—metal was invented by guys smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it mattered and that’s a formula that will always smell like bucks. I am susceptible: I can feel my own id respond like a 21st-century Frankenstein to the twisted carnality of “Blood Doll,” the jealousy narrative of the inexorably wheezy “No You Don’t,” and the goofy dada-esque repetitions of “Enemy Ace.” I could do without all the vexingly earnest Asian underground cinema references, though I’m sure they serve to further validate the existence of those who delve into such hermetic matters. Verdict: This is junk shined to a hard gloss. I hear tell that even Gollum refers to it as “The Preciousss.” (Francis DiMenno)

CAPTAIN CUTTHROAT

Captain Cutthroat

6-song CD
Have you been missing Mr. Bungle lately? Well then, weep no more, the replacement has arrived. Okay, that’s too cold. But if you can listen to this disc without hearing a deep Patton-esque vibe, then you’re either deaf or you’ve never heard Bungle/Fantomas/etc. (excuse me?). If you haven’t, it’s very clever music that jams about 14 different songs into the space of one, with sometimes jarring or non-existent segues. BUT…the thing here is, while this sure as hell ain’t hum-alongable, the freakin’ musicianship is so goddamn good that you can’t NOT listen. I mean it. Everyone in this band totally rules their instrument of choice, with the drummer and lead guitarist at the top of the heap. It’s all a bit prog, a bit pretentious (that’s redundant), but what the hell, you can’t argue with the chops. This disc may not get a lot of play here after the jaw undrops, but I’ll tell you what—because I worship virtuosity, I’d see these guys play live in a heartbeat. (Tim Emswiler)


JOHN HUGHES

Time
11-song CD
John Hughes first came to my attention last summer when he held the number one spot for many weeks on Neil Young’s Living with War web chart with “Bring ’em On,” a song that sounded like it could have been done by Neil Young himself. Since then, John has released a new CD that includes another war-chart topper in “Soldier On,” a sad tale—complete with strings—of a family losing their son to war. John deals in a solid but gentle rock style in the vein of Tom Petty—even when the drums hit hard and the guitars go into solo mode there’s a cushion that lets each song ease its way through. There’s a rural feel going on here that paints a scene of John’s surroundings—“Panic Mechanic,” “Company Town,” and “Time for the Night” all contribute to the big picture. His easygoing melodies carry the lyrics of his relatively safe environment with the balance of life’s pitfalls in “Taboo,” “Soldier On,” and “Ginned Up.” (T Max)


GOZU


Gozu

7-song CD
First off, this CD is for fans of Soundgarden and Queens of the Stone Age. I, being a fan of that type of sound, thoroughly enjoy this record. It begins with what sounds like a whispered prayer called “Okuda” performed by Emi Okuda. Then it slams into a song called “Meth Cowboy” with driving stoner rock riffs and soulful vocals from Marc Gaffney. From there, they light into “Northside” which features an awesome hi-hat intro from ex-Wargasm skins thrasher Barry Spillberg. “Northside” is my favorite track on the record—sick breakdowns during the choruses and infectious riffs on the verses. “Truth Weighs a Ton” has a real QOTSA vibe to it and “Rise Up” shows that these guys are not afraid of the wah-wah pedal. On “Traci Lords,” Emi Okuda returns with a haunting chant during the almost Helmet sounding bridge. The last song is a dirgey instrumental titled “Barry Time.” If you spend a good deal of time taking bong hits and singing Steppenwolf in your room, then this is the record for you. (Duncan Wilder Johnson)


STEEL ASSASSIN

Sentinel Steele Music

War Of The Eight Saints

11-song CD
Steel Assassin is a metal band that harkens back to the good old days of metal. High howling vocals, thrashy guitar work, song themes, and imagery from medieval Europe are the hallmarks here. There is some AMAZING guitar work on this album. Kudos to Mike Mooney and Kevin Curran for their dueling, harmonized guitar solos! Drummer Greg Michalowski and bassist Phil Grasso hold down a tight rhythm section even during the sonic onslaught that these guys bring forth. Hell, there’s even a bass solo in the first track! War Of The Eight Saints starts with a bang, and the second track, “Curse Of The Black Prince,” is the highlight of the album. Lead vocalist John Falzone has an amazing vocal range and sings with passion on every song. The production on this CD is top notch—great drum sounds! I’m not surprised that Steel Assassin has shared the stage with Metallica. If you’re into Iron Maiden, Helloween, Judas Priest, and other similar bands, then you will love these guys. (Todd Harris)

DAVE SMITH
Rebel-Country
8-song CD
Just to be a pain in the ass, I’m listing this the way it arrived (demo-type thing, no notes), although various sites list a longer band name and different title (these things are important when you’re selling yourselves, guys). One site says they’re “Country Western Speed Punk,” and that about nails it. Trains, blood, whiskey, ghosts, regret, runaways, crime, hard luck, loneliness, that kinda thang. Mostly hopped-up, would-be twang, but considerably scruffier than a lotta this stuff usually comes. And it works, although I’d say as much via sincerity as end results. No ground broken here, and I don’t imagine that was the idea, but I also don’t get the vibe that it was all plotted, like so many genre-specific bands reek of, and that counts for something. (Granted, so do lotsa other things, but give ’em some time, unless you’re already a snob about such.) If I hadda grouse, which I guess I do, it’s that they rely on some pretty same-y tempos a lot here, but it sounds like they’ll eventually do a lot more. It’s the ones who mean it that stick around, and this sounds like they mean it. (Joe Coughlin)

THE GOBSHITES
Good Cop/Bad Cop Records
When the Shite Hits the Fans
16-song CD
I’m probably not the only one in Boston who is a little Oi-rished out right now, which keeps me from fully endorsing this album, but it still has a lot going for it. This re-release is predominantly made of Celtic pub-rock versions of punk songs, with some like Sham 69’s “Hurry Up Harry” and Black Flag’s “6 Pack” being perfect matches. In addition, the band deserves a few bonus points for its sense of humor in covering a song off Dee Dee Ramone’s ill-fated rap album. That said, some of the song choices like Darkbuster’s “Irish” and GG Allin’s “Drink Fight Fuck” just seem too obvious, and there’s definitely a point on here when you will wish there were a few more non-drinking songs. But there’s definitely a lot of fun to be had here, and the playing is solid all-around, particularly Betty Widerski’s fiddle, which brings a little class to these gutter proceedings. (Kevin Finn)

MILES FROM LAND
Simple Signals
10-song CD
Miles from Land sounds like a cross between Minus the Bear, Cursive, and Bright Eyes, with some Death Cab thrown in for good measure. In other words, they’re an Allston hipster’s wet dream. Every track is solid; there isn’t one bad song here, but there aren’t really any great songs either. That said, I really do like what I’m hearing. My only complaint is that some of the songs fall a bit flat because they’re so mellow and slightly repetitive, but that’s just my personal taste. So while Miles from Land may not be the most original band out there, I would definitely recommend this album to fans of indie rock. (Emsterly)

ZOX
Side One Dummy Records
Line in the Sand
11-song CD
When listening to singer Eli Miller, one can tell that he wrote these songs with his own voice in mind— who could blame him? While this reviewer’s choice of best song for this album is the title track, winning because of its intensity and catchiness, the band does not slack by any means on the other 10 songs. Other strong numbers include “Goodnight,” “Don’t Believe in Love,” and “7th Avenue Prophet.”
The arrangements not only convey the main points of the songs, but also seem to demand multiple listens to ensure that you didn’t miss anything the first few times. Many of Zox’s tricks, like reversed instruments and spoken words, are unexpected, but not unappreciated. What else should one expect from an indie-rock band that includes violin as a main instrument? These little quirky sounds are added to an array of guitar and violin hooks as well as the fantastic rhythm section—which is able to switch up the sound drastically, not just song to song, but often between a verse and chorus, while maintaining a constant flow. (Andrew Leader)

GONDOLIERS
Gondoliers
9-song CD
Everything is going to be okay. Just take a deep breathe and relax. Focus and be calm. There’s very little info that comes with this disk by the Gondoliers. They appear to be an instrumental guitar/bass/drums trio doing grungy, rock tunes that border on experimental or progressive at times but never stray from a nice rockin’ groove. No boring solos or overlong structures on this CD. It does get a little repetitive at times but I for one don’t miss hearing someone yelping over the music. Don’t talk about that, that has nothing to do with this, squirrels have no use for pliers! I must admit I’m a sucker for any instrumental music but I do believe these Italian boat dwellers have a style and adeptness at pulling this off. And I (ahem) know a thing or two about that. (Slimedog)

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Heavy Rotation Records
Dorm Sessions 5
20-song CD
I am beyond happy to report that this Berklee compilation doesn’t sound like one long tribute to Dream Theater. In fact, there’s hardly any extraneous noodling to be heard here, and while there are definitely some misses, like Christopher Barnes’ droning minimalist piano ballads and Honest Thomas’s remedial level Faith No More, there’s also a decent amount to recommend. The disc gets off to a strong start with two of the better bands on here, The Peasantry and Turkuaz. The Peasantry plays the type of brainy indie rock that has made Modest Mouse and Pavement famous, mixed in with a little bit of Read Yellow-style angst. Turkuaz falls under the George Clinton family tree, delivering a beat infectious enough that even I almost started dancing to it. The only real drawback to these two outfits is that they wear their influences just a little too strongly, but that’s something they will each likely grow out of. Annie Lynch and the Beekeepers offer some welcome mid-disc subtlety. With their tasteful country/folk arrangements and attention to lyrical detail, they sound like the most finished product on this surprisingly satisfying collection. (Kevin Finn)

JOHN SPEZIALE
Yum! Good Records
Some Things Have Happened Since Last We Spoke
22 songs (2-CD-set)
The self-mythologizing singer-songwriter sure is nothing new, and these characters have always worked with the materials they found at hand, and it may seem short-sighted to suggest that all the myths are dead; I mean, there’s always something, right? Anyway, is this A-team classic? You know—Dylan, Phil Ochs, anybody on Yazoo Records? Mm-nope. Is it even in the B-league, along with Jesse Winchester, John Prine, and Mike Hurley? Well, not quite, but not for lack of effort. It’s more than just a collection of winsome ditties: Speziale’s particular skill appears to lie in his ability to present a broad variety of sub-genre styles in an intimate fashion: travelogue, blues, solitary rumination, poetic musing. I might like this even better if it didn’t seem so patently enamored of that whole Dylan-and-the-Band dynamic which, for better or worse, has proven the gold standard for well over 40 years. I would have liked to see a bit less earnestness and a bit more humor along the lines of the drunken fantasia “A Man and His Dog.” (Francis DiMenno)

CRAVING LUCY
Riker Hill Records
Craving Lucy
11-song CD
This is probably one of the best sounding recordings I’ve heard in quite sometime. Craving Lucy had to have spent a few bucks on this project. As I listen through this self-titled CD, I’m starting to realize just how much influence these guys draw from late ’90s -2000-rock radio. They have me craving a Sevendust sandwich topped with melted Creed. I actually can’t find a song on this baby without a big rock-radio hook. Track three is an acoustic guitar infused song called “Far Away.” It makes me want to blow the dust off my James Lynn Strait (Snot) tribute CD. Hey! Wait just a minute! This CD was produced by none other than Toby Wright OF Sevendust. And it was recorded at Long View Farms. This explains a lot! I hope I’m not painting the picture that this CD is all smoke and mirrors. Craving Lucy’s band members can surely lay it down. Last time I checked, there wasn’t a knob for musicianship on the ole recording console. (Lance Woodward)

VARY LUMAR
Waiting Room
13-song CD
Had this CD came out 10 or 12 years earlier, there wouldn't be anything remarkable to speak of. Today in 2008, there still isn't much to say, but when given the appropriate distance from the clusterfuck that was ’90s alternative rock, it's surprising how fresh Waiting Room feels.
Vary Lumar knows their turf, as is evident unmistakable nods to REM and U2 on album opener “Next Step” or the all too familiar lilting Evan Dando-esque guitar jangle in “Nothing Left.” But Vary Lumar isn't a group of con artists. Instead, they take their love of otherwise homogenized guitar rock and dirty it up just enough to rightfully call it their own. (Ryan Bray)

ERIK RINGSTAD
Reflections
16-song CD
Greetings, Zortar here, alien from another planet unlike my charming associate, Mrs. Slimedog, alien from another country. Today I’m reviewing a New Age record that makes me think “New Age” music has been around too long to be called new anymore. Perhaps we should refer to it as “Old Age” music as the music is more similar to being pushed around in a wheelchair. Erik Ringstad plays all instruments, which are guitars- electric, acoustic, bass and guitar synthesizer and keyboards. He should be commended at how well he plays this and I for not letting my rest activators go on completely while listening to this. Everything is very tastefully and skillfully played with mellow jazz and classical influenced lines throughout. If one wanted to relax, or say, slip into a coma while driving their ice cream truck through the dismal, slush ridden streets of Boston, well, this is the one. (Slimedog)

ALIEN FATHER
Brother and Brother Records
Paste
23-song CD
Maybe it’s just that I’m on a Darkbuster kick, but I would have called this one “23 Songs You Might Want to Hear Selections from Again.” For about the first half of the record, this not-quite-art- rock-not-quite-punk-rock band has my attention, and I find myself thinking it wouldn’t sound out of place on that ’70s punk comp Rhino put out a few years back. I like the low-fi sound, which is alternately trippy and sinister, and I like the way one of the songs will just kind of fizzle to an end before a new one starts with a clean slate. It gives things a nice continuity. On the flip side, it also means that some of the tracks come across as nothing more than unfinished ideas, and the songs get weirder and less rewarding on the second half, which, assuming this career compilation is in chronological order, has me a little worried about the band’s direction. (Kevin Finn)

JUSTIN LEVINSON
Outtake Records

Bury Your Love

7-song CD
Justin Levinson’s press bio reads like a crash course in Namedropping 101. With (not so) subtle comparisons to everyone from Bob Dylan and Elton John to The Beatles, you can almost picture Levinson's heart slipping down his singer/songwriter sleeve. So does Bury Your Love deliver on any of these tired and familiar comparisons? At times, sure, but that's hardly an endorsement for originality. With his twangy guitars, pronounced acoustics, and piano balladry, Levinson dips his feet in enough familiar territory to earn himself the right to hop into the endless pool of dime-a-dozen Ben Folds prototypes. But listening to Bury Your Love, it begs the question of "Is it worth it?" Not bad, but definitely not necessary. (Ryan Bray)

BOB NESOM
Made In Revere
9-song CD
This album opens with an intro in which all the members of the band say “Rev-eeah” with thick Boston accents and then talk about their experiences growing up in Revere. As it turns out, the only requirement for membership in this band is that you had to have grown up in Revere. Apparently, proficiency at one’s musical instrument is not a requirement. I admit this album wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be, but the songs are all forgettable and lackluster. There are several random spoken interludes (chock full of dropped R’s, of course) that are so cheesy you might think they’re parodies… except these guys are being serious. The vocals are sung with a Boston accent almost as bad as Matt Damon’s, and I’m having trouble relating to the intense pride for Revere, but overall, I respect what these guys are doing and hope they continue rockin’ (Emsterly)

DAVID MANSFIELD
Hey Now Records
Drive
12-song CD
This guitar-strumming fellow shares some vocal styling with Courtney Love and actually pulls it off. Musically I’m going to pair him up with Bob Dylan and make a fat Little Feat/Bob Dylan submarine sandwich. Drive opens with an interesting instrumental called “Home.” What follows is 11 more easy-going, chicken picking’, Hammond B3 soaked road songs. He likes plenty of blues mustard and county pickles on his Bob Dylan/Little Feat sandwich as well. His husky voice makes me wish I were sitting on a big ole farmer’s porch on a hot summer day with cold lemonade. His music makes me wish I were on a long drive. Drive! Hey I get it now! This groovy little compilation of memories is supposed to be about driving for your driving! David, stay away those dirty road whores when you’re out collecting influences for your next release. (Lance Woodward)

ANDY MENUDO

Cut’s Itch

12-song CD
Ah, yes, Mrs. Slimedog here, future Rolling Stone scribe or at least Tiger Beat. Well, first I was greatly disappointed that Andy was not a former member of Menudo but a current member of Mittens. Did you know that menudo means “guts of a chicken” in Guatemala? Also, menudo soup is a spicy soup with tripe! It’s true! You think I’m kidding? I like this CD as it is mostly pleasant pop with a twist, ’60s-like at times. Slimedog says it’s “spooky pop like Syd Barrett,” who I guess was a crazy guy who played in Led Zeppelin or something (try Pink Floyd…Ed.). So even though the songs never rock up, I still like them.
I especially like that half of the proceeds of this CD, which is available on iTunes, will go towards No More Deaths, an advocacy group that seeks to end the death of illegal immigrants crossing the border. I came here legally from Guatemala, but was illegal at one time, so my heart goes out to them and anyone that helps them. (Mrs. Slimedog)

AIRBORNE
Tilt Records
Turbulence
9-song CD
The other day I made my monthly run to T. Max's place to pick up some discs to review. I must have been really caught up in our trading of fucked up knee stories, because when I left I realized I had somehow walked away with a CD by a band called Airborne. More to the point, I had somehow convinced myself that hey, this might be good.
Of course I was immediately proven wrong upon reading the words “smooth jazz” on the back of their record. Not to insult any smooth jazz aficionados out there, but for someone like myself who was brought up largely on a junk food musical diet of the Dwarves, Black Flag and, well, all things not smooth jazz, I could already feel my stomach turn as I prepared to pop the disc into my laptop.
Turbulence has enough mindless, middle of the road, easy listening jazz numbers to make John Tesh drool. To be fair, these guys are accomplished musicians, but what drives people to make music this unforgivably lame is beyond me. (Ryan Bray)

SLAMBANGO
Slambango
10-song CD
I hate, hate, hate this band. This album is a classic example of cheesy, poorly-written metal: clichéd riffs, overly dramatic vocals, and flat, boring drum beats. The lyrics are lame (“What happened to the boy next door? / The demons came to haunt his mortal soul”), and even the name “Slambango” is lame. There’s nothing else I can even say here. It’s just plain awful. This style is so overdone, and should have been left back in the ’80s where it belongs. At least real ’80s metal has irony value. (Emsterly)

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You can also discuss local music 24/7 at The Noise Board

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