SILVER CIRCLE REVIEWS: March 2009

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THE CHICKEN SLACKS
Slaxtrax Records
Can You Dig It?
13-song CD
The Chicken Slacks, appropriately dubbed “Boston’s hardest-working
funk and soul band,” do not disappoint with their latest release.
Having just celebrated the third anniversary of a Thursday night residency
at the Cantab Lounge, the Slacks are renowned for their incomparable
energy. Can You Dig It? captures the essence of their live performance.
The album alternates smoothly between catchy simple structures geared
towards dancing and slower sensual grooves. Music aficionados
will instantly recognize the opener: lead vocalist Diamond D’s harmonious
rendition of Captain Beefheart’s “Too Much Time.” There’s also
a stunning take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Long As I Can
See the Light.” Playful, tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo is
offered in “Going to the Shack” and “I Wanna Take a Shower With
You,” which was penned by drummer Justin “Pops” Berthiaume.
The most defining track of the album is without a doubt “Funky Way.”
Clocking in at over three minutes, this little gem embodies the Slacks’
beloved, signature sound. The Chicken Slacks bring funk to a whole
new level; hell yeah, I dig it. (Julia R. DeStefano)

SARAH RABDAU & SELF-EMPLOYED
ASSASINS
Say It With Scissors Records
Sara RabDAU & Self-Employed Assasins
12-song CD
It is a moral imperative that you add this album to your library. Sarah
RabDAU and Self-Employed Assassins self-titled album is an audiogasm
to be experienced. Joined by a number of friends playing alongside her
as well as drummer Matt Graber, RabDAU’s music blends the tenacious
strength of Sheryl Crow, the frenetic passion of Amanda Palmer, and
the deeply sensuous vocal range of Jewel. The album touches on a number
of genres including the hauntingly hypnotic “Autumn Spills,” the
cabaret-pop story of “Jackie” who took 40 years to get a song on
the radio, and a Viennese waltz-sounding homage in “San Francisco.”
She shows off her rock chops with “Riots and Revolutions” before
sending the listener drifting off with the title track. Throughout
the album RabDAU’s uber-gorgeous voice exudes the fragility of a crystalline
fairy posed precariously on a fault line just before the quake as she
melts the ears singing “my heart’s filled with chocolate so rich
I’ll melt for anything…you’re a craving I myself can satiate,”
in “Queen of the Castle.” (Rick Dumont)

COMMON THRILL
The Great Escape
4-song CD
This is not your father’s Common Thrill. It seems the band has
eschewed its Doors/Kurt Weill-meets-Jeff Buckley roots for the sake
of making a collection of hit singles. With Anthony Resta at the
helm, this EP is much more about production tricks and wizardry than
the band that I have come to know and love. Although this is not
a terribly, horrible thing, I do believe something of what makes this
band so great has gotten a little lost in the translation. Imagine
having heard only U2’s Boy and then jumping right to Achtung
Baby
. While there is certainly a quantum leap in production,
the sound is generic to the point that virtually any band could have
made this record and that saddens me just a little as a fan.
(Joel Simches)

HAVE NOTS
Serf City USA
12-song CD
Now here is something to get excited about, as Have Nots have created
one of the best local punk releases of the last several years. Purposeful
and passionate, righteous yet nuanced and sometimes poetic, these ska-loving
punks are the rightful heirs to Operation Ivy. That’s the easy and
obvious comparison, but it’s also the right one. Songs like “Poisoned
Antidote” and “SBC” are so catchy that I have actually found myself
waking up in the middle of the night singing them, and topical numbers
like the veterans’ plight of “One in Four” touch on familiar topics
with depth and intelligence instead of empty sloganeering. The highest
point is “Used to Be,” a brutally scathing attack on those who have
strayed from their roots, which is propelled by a fist-pumping chorus.
My only quibbles are minor, such as the album being a little frontloaded
and the title track not quite being the anthem it wants to be. This
is the type of album that gets a band headliner status really quickly.
(Kevin Finn)

HIT FACTORY
Party Animal
7 songs online
Hi, this is the bluebird that hops outside Slimedog’s apartment and
from what I’ve seen peering inside, there are things that, birdie
eyes let alone human eyes, should never see. Such depraved debauchery,
unsavory use of food items and unlicensed use of power tools I’ve
never seen! With a title like Party Animal I was expecting maybe
Iggy Pop fronting Motley Crue but instead this is floating, lilting
music that flits through the air like a bird soaring. Maybe a touch
of Stereolab here or a dab of Air there but really this is pretty original
stuff—experimental, trippy, psychedelic in sound but concise in form.
This CD is for those who don’t want to fly with the flock. Those looking
for the traditional hard rock will feel this is for the birds but I
give it two wings up. Tah, tah I’m off for the skies. (Slimedog)

COUPER BROTHERS
Couper Brothers Records
Memory File
15-song CD
According to one source, Couper Brothers are “best known for their
heavy rock sound, excellent songwriting and accomplished musicianship.”
Memory File
is a solid, quality offering of a collection of tracks
recorded between November 1988 and February 2005. As veterans
of the scene, having performed alongside Jon Butcher and Denny Laine,
and as longtime members of the Cantab Lounge’s Fatback Band, Scott
and Jay Couper mirror classic rock of the ’70s and ’80s. The
crunchy guitar riffs of the album’s opener, “Worst Enemy,” are
reminiscent of Van Halen, namely 1984’s “Panama.”
With a sing-a-long, fist-pounding chorus, it is instantly likeable,
as is “Tequila.” As the album progresses, each song is just
as heavy as the next, if not heavier. Powerful passionate vocals
explore a wide range of themes, including depression, cynicism and of
course, heartbreak. “The World Wakes Up with a Broken Heart”
is easily up to par with rock ballads of decades past. As stated
in their one-sheet, “Memory File is a blistering testament of determination,
perseverance, and downright stubbornness to keep rock ’n’ roll alive!
Enjoy at top volume!” (Julia R. DeStefano)

COMA COMA
Red Tide Records/75 or Less Records
Does Your Remote Control Have A Remote Control?
6-song CD
While there is very little that’s new or unique here, angular indie
rock bands influenced by Fugazi and the Minutemen are always winners,
especially late at night after smoking the last of that swag, looking
for something interesting to pop in the CD drive. There are loads of
interesting musical moments, and for this type of music, the production
is crisp and the energy is immediate and organic. The vocals leave
something to be desired, but are well forgiven, given the genre.
This is not just your typical collegiate fare. Coma Coma plays
really well and writes intelligent songs that could just as easily find
their way into mainstream brains. (Joel Simches)

PETER C. JOHNSON
High-n-Dry
Peter C. Johnson 1978-1981
16-track CD
Short backstory: Singer-songwriter works the artistic treadmill for
the obligatory several years, is handed his lucky break, takes his lucky
break, and breaks it in two. In this case, literally: Many of the tracks
collected here are from two major-label releases (A&M and CBS),
long (and criminally) out of print. There are some misfires ("Kaboom")
and pieces of strictly period appeal (the funky “9:00”), as well
as near-misses (the jazz-pop shoulda-been-a-hit “Georgio's Dilemma”).
But the gems are outstanding: labyrinthine mysterioso soundscapes like
“Sandman”; wondrous symphonic miniatures like “I Can't Paint
for You”; and genial goofs like “Catch a Falling Star.” These
are exemplary works of art, and no wonder: Johnson works with a distinguished
crew of sidemen, including John Payne (of Astral Weeks fame), Nils Lofgren,
Bonnie Raitt, and Andy Pratt (guesting on a brilliantly executed, ice-cold
version of “Pale Blue Eyes”). This is lost music from a lost time,
and the best songs on this magically seductive compilation-cum-reissue
provide a much-needed remedy to fill a historic gap in the canon of
local recorded music. (Francis DiMenno)

ABBIE BARRETT
Abbie Barrett/Beige Bomber Records
Dying Day

10-song CD
At first listen, I considered comparing Abbie Barrett’s solo debut
to that of Sarah RabDAU & Self-Employed Assassins, or even to the
Dresden Dolls. Although she has elements of each of these artists
and more, Barrett best belongs in a category all her own. Still,
I am positive I have heard something like this before. There is
something strangely familiar about her music and yet, this does not
detract from its uniqueness. Barrett is refreshing, a bright light
among others of her genre. This is evident through compelling
vocals, ever-changing chord progressions and spontaneous melodies.
The album’s opener, “Bang” is a venture into a deeper, darker
realm of cabaret. Exquisitely crafted, the track is sensual; setting
the tone for the rest of the disc, which is at times positively upbeat
and at others morose, but never predictable. “Start a Fire”
manages to run the gamut of emotions, as it alternates back and forth
between intimate acoustic to a full band, while “Night Driving”
echoes Kathleen Edwards. All in all, Barrett’s diversity keeps
me guessing… and I like it. (Julia R. DeStefano)

THE LIZ LARSONS
Cosmodemonic Telegraph
Talk Like A Male Artist
13-song CD
Singer, songwriter, vocalist, and guitar player extraordinaire Liz Larson
(not to be confused with the band itself, named THE Liz Larsons) sings
the lyrics “I’m not gonna make it as a superstar to you” during
the opening seconds of Talk Like A Male Artist and I have to
admit, she is correct. However, I can also admit that her purposeful
moaning really does have some legitimate punk moments. With influences
from the Swirlies, Courtney Love, and the ’70s TV show Hee Haw,
the Liz Larsons rock on in the face of the commercial capitalist mainstream
pig. Their signature indy-rock sound takes me back to last call
at T.T. the Bear’s on a Monday night (R.I.P. Jeannie; we’ll miss
you). I can taste bar tequila and smell the sent of unwashed MIT
students. The sound of strumming telecasters, tambourine, and
claps remind me of a genre almost forgotten. The Liz Larsons’
cynicism is relentless during all 13 tracks. Liz’s voice wavers
sarcastically from note to note as the band jangles and marches fearlessly
onward. The Liz Larsons’ new release is a modern soundtrack
for the spun-out masses. (Lance Woodward)

SIX STAR GENERAL
75orLess Records
Spaceship to Planet Cookie
13-song CD
The DNA of this likeable band seems rooted in the American indie rock
detailed in Our Band Could Be Your Life. Strains of Fugazi, Dinosaur
Jr and Mission of Burma can all be heard in this trio’s brand of heavy
rock. As is often the case with those bands, the bass is quite prominent
and the vocals are often treated as just another instrument, buried
deep in the mix, allowing the guitar to create the landscape and carry
the melody. It’s generally when the guitar stands out that things
work the best, such as the Mascis-like explosion of noise in “Drowning
in Garbage.” The album suffers when the lyrics, seemingly an afterthought
in many cases, get pushed to the fore during the quieter moments. Whoever
is penning the words in this band ain’t exactly a Strummer or a Bragg.
Still, there’s an energy and an enthusiasm to these songs that make
Six Star General worthy of some room on your iPod. (Kevin Finn)

MICHAEL OAKLAND
TTM/Outermost
Witness Tree
10-song CD
When I first looked at Michael Oakland’s new CD, Witness Tree,
I thought, does he mean Jehovah’s Witness tree? Even after listening
through the entire CD I feel that the music and lyrics suggest themes
of a spiritual if not religious nature. Track 6, “Witness Tree,”
has some fantastic gospel background vocals as well as some great flute
work. Michael’s own struggled-sounding vocals remind me of,
dare I say, Tom Waits. His soulful crooning awakens my awareness,
softens my eyes and breaths life into my sacrum. Witness Tree
is loaded with expert classical guitar work and island influences. There
is also enough skilled saxophone work to keep even Kenny G. happy.
As far as the title, Witness Tree and the image of a guitar and
a tree forming a cross, I suppose it is possible this collection of
soft-spoken tunes is part of the Christian music movement. Either
way, all ten songs provide a perfect soundtrack as you ride through
the elevators of life. (Lance Woodward)

ADRIEN & THE FINE PRINT
Honey and the Bees
5-song CD
Have you ever been at a gig at an Elk’s hall or someplace like one
and some elderly person comes up to the band and asks, “Don’t you
people know any nice songs?” Sure you have. It
happens to everyone, right? Well, I am convinced that it never
happens to Adrien & the Fine Print because they are a band who only
plays nice songs. Their songs are friendly and unassuming.
They aren’t trying to be fashionable or trendy. They write and
play nice songs that you will be humming in your head for days and tapping
your tap thing to. This collection of five songs is presented
very simply, without any “production.” What you hear is some
nice people playing folksy acoustic-driven music without overdubs or
pretense. This is music for a less hectic pace… music that would
go great with lemonade… and those little frosty cookies.
(Joel Simches)

ERINN BROWN
Don’t Forget About It
11-song CD
Ah, yes, Mrs. Slimedog here, world-renowned serious music critic, displaying
vast musical knowledge and exquisite nails. Now, I hear some of
you think Slimedog really writes these reviews, and I’m just a pigment
of his imagination. Ha, like he has any. Truth is, I write
his so stick that in your pope and stroke it. “Love is A Peace
of the World,” is the first song, not to be confused with Slimedog’s
tune, “Love is A Piece of Ass.” This CD is all R&B, jazzy,
and she sings “sultry” and “fuses folk, blues/rock and funk”
and then I guess it blows up. Slimedog says it does blow, but
I think he is being dirty again or maybe just sultry. Ms. Brown
went to that Japanese college, Berklee School of music, and she does
that Japanese blue music on “Apartment Blues.” This is all very
tasteful, but I have to agree with Slimedog, it’s also very dull.
I guess you’d have to be Japanese to truly appreciate this, not me,
nuh-uh. (Mrs. Slimedog)

ANIMAL HOSPITAL
Mutable Sound
Good or Plenty, Streets & Avenues
9-song CD
Kevin Micka has apparently found a niche in his tidy one-man array of
loops modulated with effects pedals. And my heart went bwang-shang-a-lang
because I was actually really digging his portentious-slash-foreboding
number "What If They Are Friendly". (Is that a genius title,
OR WHAT?) But—and correct me if I'm wrong—doesn't just a LITTLE
bit of distortion, fuzz, overdrive, reverberation, wah-wah, flanging,
phaser, pitch shifting, et al., go a LONG way? If I were some kind of
fucking Philistine, I'd say that making the very sound of such modulations
the rationale behind, rather than the seasoning of, admittedly repetitive
instrumentals (howsoever melodic) is rather like a week's worth of dining
on three meals a day of hot mustard and relish, with a single lacklustre
crouton on the side. But I'm no dummy, no siree: I was born before 1973
and remember well the impact of good ole Fripp 'n' Eno, only I beg to
know, in all ernestness: where does THIS go from THERE? Umm… not nearly
far enough. For God's sake, please—make it new. (Francis DiMenno)

SONIC DISORDER
Sonic Disorder
10-song CD
If you’re into that cheesy nu-metal they play on WBCN, you’d probably
like this band. They’re an amalgamation of every other radio metal
band. I actually had to Google the lyrics to make sure this wasn’t
a cover album because everything sounded so familiar. Maybe I shouldn’t
dislike a band just because I can’t stand the particular style of
music they’ve chosen to play, but it just sounds exactly like Shinedown
or Godsmack or Staind—you know, the kind of music all my girlfriends’
lame ex-boyfriends listen to. I normally try to appreciate a band for
what they are and not let biases about certain genres get in the way,
but I just can’t do it here. Sure, they play pretty well for a band
within their genre (despite being incredibly typical and unoriginal),
but I really can’t get past the genre to appreciate this band. (Emsterly)

GENE DANTE & THE FUTURE STARLETS
Omnirox Entertainment
The Romantic Bass
11-track CD
OH GOD. Right from the get-go I'm hearing pompous pooping bass and petulently
emotive vocals and lowbrow-trying-to-act-pretentious lyrics. What gives?
There's a place, I suppose, in this crowded carnival called the world
for an ersatz Rock Opera fronted by a Bowie-manque, but in just the
same way that Colonel Sanders once rather grudgingly admitted that there's
a place for the KFC extra-crispy. Call me a hater, but good God, man,
I already OWN copies of “Stay,” and “God Save the Queen,” and
“Roxanne,” and “China Girl,” and “Killer Queen” and “Sweet
Jane.” And, like, what was entertaining when another artist did it
first becomes like warmed-over Grauman's Chinese on the second go-round.
In a word, kind of… gruesome. You say it's high concept, but I say
it's pastiche—and I say to hell with it. And, er, this rather begs
the question, but riddle me this: What does one do for an encore—when
practically the entire act is a reprise? (Francis DiMenno)

THE HONORS
Ghosts EP
7-song CD
It’s pretty clear that the Honors want very much to be Coldplay when
they grow up. While Coldplay has sold over 50 million albums and
have songs that will be played in Oxfam PSA’s for the rest of time,
I will have forgotten all about the Honors by the time I hit eject.
It’s not that I don’t like this EP. In fact, I really do.
It forever saddens my soul that a band with so much talent and musical
potential of their own can never just be their own thing. It is
bands like this that might get their 15 minutes but then can’t sell
their back catalog at Goodwill. I would love nothing more than to be
able to hear this band and go “Wow, check out that song by the Honors!”
The problem is that they haven’t written one of those yet, at least
not on this EP. (Joel Simches)

WINTERPILLS
Signature Sounds
Central Chambers
12-song CD
Winterpills, an acoustic guitar driven quintet, slam a melancholy dose
of delight into this rich sounding release. Within the first few
minutes of this fine recording I find myself digging through my things
looking for something to compliment the fields of strawberries crooning
out of my speakers. Philip Price, formerly of ’90s pop
act the Maggies, and Flora Reed’s voices go together like peanut butter
and jelly. There are enough creepy melodic nuances infused into
these songs to make Simon & Ganfunkel proud. “Gentleman
Farmer,” track six, incorporates influences from such greats as Radionhead,
the Beatles, and Pink Floyd. Central Chambers is chock
full of orchestral arrangements and witty lyrics. I really like
the liberal use of piano and distorted drum tracks. The ’70s style
track fade-outs are a nice touch too. Track 9, “Wire,” could
easily be played at a wake. The moody vocals eerily glide into
my ears raising my cerebral awareness. Needless to say, Central
Chambers
is an enjoyable walk through the darkness peering into
the light. (Lance Woodward)

DETROIT REBELLION
Detroit Rebellion
14-song CD
Wow, this is one of the most annoying albums I’ve ever had to review.
It’s just one guy with a terribly irritating voice, accompanied only
by a twangy acoustic guitar. I think it’s the lyrics that drive me
crazy. I first listened to this album while I was baking cookies and
it came up on iTunes—I couldn’t skip tracks because my hands were
too covered in flour and cookie dough to touch anything, and let me
tell you, it was torture having to listen to this whole album all the
way through. There’s one song where he just keeps repeating, “Well
I was doing my job, taking down the numbers.” Something about it makes
me want to bang my head against the wall. That said, he is a very impressive
guitar player, but the monotonous, half-spoken vocals coupled with pointless
lyrics are really just painful to listen to. (Emsterly)

VON DOOM
75 or Less Records
The Descender
10-song CD
This is one of those albums that really doesn’t leave me with very
much to say. It doesn’t thrill me, and it doesn’t offend me. Von
Doom plays a safe form of classic indie rock that is moderately brawny
and catchy, but never enough so that any of the songs really stick with
you after they are done playing. There are some high points, such as
the peppy “Freedom of Choice,” the twangy “Minerva,” and the
Crazy Horse-ish guitar work in the otherwise tiresome “Hopeless Motherfuckers.”
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those moments and way too many
middling ones, particularly on the maudlin ballad “Red Pens” and
the overly repetitive “Get Away.” (Kevin Finn)

JAKE HILL
Plimro Records
Heave To
10-song CD
Greetings, Zortar here, alien from another planet riding my ice cream
truck through the ice and tundra of the streets of Boston. Oh,
what a joyless task it is inhabiting the debauched, power tool infested
body known to you as Slimedog. This CD has pleasant vocals.
It has pleasant whistling on the first song, pleasant horns on the second.
The acoustic guitar is strummed pleasantly throughout. The third
song has a pleasant country feel to it. The fifth song is about
West Virginia and it sounds like a nice, pleasant place indeed. Why,
oh why, then am I compelled to stick a screwdriver through my eye (or,
Slimedog’s, sorry about that) and run naked through the streets screaming,
“I am Justin Timberlake’s uterus,” while setting small shrubbery
afire? I would recommend this CD highly for those who seek a pleasant
musical experience. For me, I guess I would rather choose to stick a
screwdriver through my real eye than to experience this again. (Slimedog)

EVER UNDER
Ever Under
3 songs online
When I received Ever Under’s album to review, I didn’t find their
CD inside the case, but rather the I’m Your Man soundtrack
by Leonard Cohen. So, that leaves me to discuss the three songs provided
by the band on their MySpace page, and that’s okay, since I’d assume
the band would only put its best selection on the Internet. Unfortunately,
I’m not finding their best to be very impressive. They’ve got plenty
of energy and enthusiasm, but the vocals are weak, the lyrics don’t
stand out, and the choruses are mostly indistinguishable from the rest
of the songs. “On the Door” is the clear frontrunner of the three—it’s
actually pretty catchy and has a decent guitar line and group vocal
thing going on. “Habit” is fun and fast-paced, but not memorable
even after multiple listens. “Fever,” is your average noisy garage
band rock. So, I’m not too upset that I missed out on the band’s
full repertoire, but hey, on the plus side, I really like the Leonard
Cohen CD. (Emsterly)

NATURE/NURTURE
Red Tide Records/75 or Less Records
EP001
4-song CD
The band describes themselves as a bar fight between Shellac, Minus
the Bear, Isis, and At the Drive In “minus all the screaming.”
The problem with this is that screaming, or even spoken lyrics might
have been helpful in rounding out this sonic picture. The four
songs on this disc are like well-constructed sentences without punctuation.
The bed of musical ideas lacks a melodic focal point and perhaps that
is the object of the music. Also distracting is the piercing amount
of high end on this recording. This CD was mixed and mastered
by someone who can’t hear. The result is a very tinny record,
which sadly cheats the listener of the impact I am sure this music would
have in a live setting. As much as I love the musical ideas on
this EP, listening to this makes my eyebrows hurt. (Joel
Simches)

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