SILVER CIRCLE REVIEWS: April 2009

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WILLIE ALEXANDER
Fisheye
Vincent Ferrini’s Greatest Hits Interpreted by William Spence Alexander
13-song CD
The word “event” has been degraded by cynical manipulators of a
commercial mass culture more concerned with generating ephemeral hype
than crafting anything of lasting value. But there is no other word
that fits this particular collection. Working with a lyrical collaborator
has paradoxically served to give us a new way to appreciate the distinct
charms of Mr. Alexander. Far more than just a beatnik holdout or even
a pub rock survivor, Willie is still producing songs that will just
about break your heart with their odd nonesuch beauty and strangeness.
The first several songs are delightful exercises in Willie’s patented
style: the playful quasi-stride piano of “Unison….” bleeds into
the loopy barrelhouse rebop of “Mistress….” “Americoney
Baloney” sounds for all the world like it was fashioned as a mocking
follow-up to “Psycho Killer.” And fans of “Love Sick Dog” will
find much to like in the somewhat similar “Folk Song.” But things
begin to take a turn for the esoterically strange on the echatologically
witty crypto-chantey “Blind Knowledge,” replete with carnivalesque
organ. And the compositions I come back to again and again are mostly
on the second half of this collection: the philosophical and elegaic
“The Gold,” the whimsical and profound “This House,” the profoundly
odd and transcendental “The Blissedness,” and the bizarrely jazzy
and byzantine “Always Between.” The last track may well be Willie’s
finest song ever, the perfervidly beautiful “On the Nine O.” This
album is a must-have. (Francis DiMenno)

I HAVE EARS
Sarcastic Majestic
10-song CD
Wow, I’m pretty impressed by this band. They sound strikingly similar
to the Strokes, but I suppose there can’t be too much wholesome rock
’n’ roll in the world. My first impression is that some of these
songs have really killer guitar parts. “I Win” is an especially
fun song with a great swinging bass line. “BEO” is another really
catchy track. “You Win” is my favorite, with its infectious chorus
and guitar parts. I’d absolutely go check out this band’s next show
because if their live set is anything like this CD, it’s guaranteed
to be a good time. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but it’s
a great album filled with fun, catchy, guitar-driven rock music—what
more can you ask for? (Emsterly)

DREAMCHILD
Absinthe Soundworks
Sleeping Flowers, Severed, Scream of Slaughter
24-song double CD
Lotta good stuff on Dreamchild’s fourth release, especially the songs
with prominent literary and historical references. “You Fear My Touch,”
based on Homer’s tale of Ulysses’ encounter with Circe, features
Frank Gerace’s choppiest guitar while Cheryl Wanner channels her maximal
witchiness. The vocal line in “Bluebeard’s Wife” sounds like it
comes from the same bizarre medieval tradition as the story. The stacked
and looped voices in “All the Perfumes of Arabia” and “In Bedlam”
point to an entirely novel concept of rock drama. And the studio version
of their setting of “Ave Maria” adds a lovely new organ line.
Nonetheless, this is yet another of the many double CDs that might have
benefited from editing down to one disc. The pacing is frankly uncomfortable,
with too many tunes with the minor second and/or augmented fifth stacked
up in a harmonic holding pattern. The two discs appropriately climax
at their ends, with the mannered brutality (and gargantuan synth guitar
orchestration) of “What Lizzie Took” on the first (disclaimer: this
writer suggested the Lizzie Borden narrative to the band), and the encore-worthy
cover of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” on the second. Still, too few of
the songs unmentioned above have impressed this listener with their
own identities. (Michael Bloom)

PASTICHE
LowBudget Records
Arc
13-song CD
Considering the “yes-we-can” attitude of Pastiche, Arc is a burst
of creative energy, improvisational at times. As ’70s and early
’80s veterans of the scene, this recording marks the band’s first
since their split in 1983. As purely adult pop rock, each of these
tracks could fit easily into mainstream radio. “My Father/His
Son,” “You’re On My Side” and “Wrong Road Home” combine
appealing arrangements with simple, straightforward lyrics that are
easily relatable to listeners. “Appetito” and “Say &
Do” are just a few of the many instrumentals, in which the band exhibits
a dynamic, theatrical approach. The Doctor X remixes of “Wrong
Road Home” and “…The Ocean… The Sky” weren’t particularly
to my liking, as I found them overdone. As “bonus” tracks,
they were too adventurous for my taste—the electronic elements being
overwhelming. On the whole, Arc is a solid, entertaining effort.
One wonders if Pastiche is now here to stay. (Julia R. DeStefano)

ERIC BETTENCOURT
Shadow Shine Records
Fine Old World
13-song CD
Ever notice how the more dramatic the publicity blurbs are, the less
is happening on the record? For instance, from one of his sites: “[Bettencourt]
has a voracious appetite for quality lyrics, rhythm, and melody which
leads him to cite influences ranging from icons of rock like the Beatles,
Led Zeppelin… and Bob Dylan…
Fortunately for his ever-increasing fan base, Eric is able to isolate
the most endearing qualities of musicians he respects and fuse them
seamlessly into his own unique sound. Tantamount to his writing is the
creation of a new auditory experience through song. Eric’s strength
is his passion for creating music that deeply touches the listener while
at the same time sustaining a sense of reassuring familiarity.” So
I guess, in fewer words, it sounds like a buncha stuff while not sounding
like a buncha stuff (none of which, of course, sounds like those mentioned
above), pretty standard practice in this racket. The lone true bright
spot is track five, which boasts a genuine summer-of-love feel. Turns
out it’s a Ray LaMontagne cover. To his credit, “the ever-driven”
(also from site) Bettencourt plays almost everything on here, and does
so handsomely. To his detriment, though, the rest of this thing sounds
like he just wants to be Ray LaMontagne (Eric, note correct spelling,
thanks.). (Joe Coughlin)

JASON CRIGLER
The Music of Jason Crigler
13-song CD
This album offers an excellent selection of different musicians accompanied
by Jason Crigler. “My Alien Friend” featuring Cynthia Hopkins is
fantastic—what a great voice. In “Commonwealth Row,” the music
doesn’t quite do Noe Venable’s vocals justice. I feel the same about
“We Fell Down.” “Mr. Important Person” with Kenny White is hauntingly
bittersweet with its choral backing. “The Books on the Shelf,” the
only track in which Crigler sings and plays, is probably the best track
on the album—its excellent guitarwork coupled with a gripping chorus
makes me find it hard to believe that this guy hasn’t surpassed local
musician status yet. There are some truly excellent singers and musicians
featured here. Some of the musical accompaniments remind me of elevator
music, but overall, I’m more than pleasantly surprised with this album.
(Emsterly)

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Decorative
Sky So Grey (A Boston Dark Music Compilation)
14-song CD

If you were unable to tell by the title
and album art, Sky So Grey is well, melancholic. As a Boston Dark
Music Compilation, the album spotlights a loose-affiliation of musicians.
From solo artists to bands, acoustic to synthesizer-driven—all are
within the realm of 1999-2008. The opener, Amber Spyglass’s
“Harmonic Tale,” blends dreary psychedelia with ghostly folk elements.
As the disc progresses, heavy, industrialized rock is seen throughout
Seven Sunless Days’ “Last Breath,” while stringed instruments
accompany the Milling Gowns’ “Fist Wings Following.” Walter
Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys haunt with their acoustically
adventurous “Viktagraph” and Dreamchild’s “Ave Maria” is positively
nightmarish. If the goal of Decorative Records was to release
a demented, horrific collection of songs, then they have met it.
Although the compilation was not to my taste, it is certainly indicative
of the Boston scene’s vast, ever-growing talent. (Julia
R. DeStefano)

MARYBETH MAES
Briola Records
Just Like Me… A Musical Adventure
10-song CD
It’s definitely worth listening to something more than once. I expect
some readers to be like, “what?” This is because we seem to be exiting
the age of the album as a “thing” to listen to. The first time I
listened to MaryBeth’s album, I was sick of it already. Does this
make sense? I said, oh great, more I-am-so-strong-female derived, country
and folk flavored, bluesy relationship based stuff that Melissa Ethridge
and others put in the grave 10-15 years ago. That was my first reaction.
I’m sorry if it seems brusque. What I failed to gather upon my first
listen was the intelligent lyrical content, flawless production and
super backing musicians that comprise the whole. MB Maes sounds like
she is right where she wants to be with this disc release, and her voice
quality is certainly lovely enough to grace even the best of commercials.
A winner. (Mike Loce)

ORB MELLON
V-Hold Records
Moan
11-song CD
Bluesy is perhaps the most fitting term for Orb Mellon’s latest, Moan.
Mellon is the “alter ego and roots music moniker” of Mike Malone,
guitarist and founder of the ’90s Dirt Merchants. Throughout
the concept album’s eleven tracks, Malone mirrors American roots artists
in an emotive, explorative progression. The disc starts strong
with its opener, “Baby Blue” and fades out gradually with the instrumental,
meticulously-crafted closer, “Moan.” Songs such as “Burn”
and “Gonna Find It” ring true to Malone’s self-proclaimed “eclectic
house party blues.” On the other hand, “I’ll Never Go,”
“Weigh My Heart” and “The Reaper,” are of a darker, distressed
realm. Though passionate, Malone’s vocals are not quite as gritty
and rough as music of this genre often is. In this respect, the
round-table style of Session Americana comes to mind, as well as that
of Ryan Adams in his Heartbreaker/Gold era. Moan, though not always
to my taste, is heartfelt—an original and appropriate homage.
(Julia R. DeStefano)

APPLE BETTY
Streakin’ Across the Sky
12-song CD
I’ve never reviewed a record based on using just lyrics before (close,
though). I always thought the music should get a mention. But here’s
a case where the music (it’s forced-sounding, loud jangly girl-pop,
for the record) is rendered inconsequential, where the total gist of
all effort and good intentions is vanquished by said lyrics, which are
as meaningful as the plastic ray-guns and go-go boots the band poses
with in the cover art. Don’t believe me? “It’s the stuff that
gives the cheesy dip a bad name… It’s the stuff that gives my dreams
a coffee stain/ Smells an awful lot like whiffy tooth decay” (from
“Marmalade”). “No toilet paper on the roll again/ drip-dry tiptoe
whatever it takes… In some places one would use their hand/ however
I’m not in that land, NO/ how could he do this to me/ just cuz he
stands up to pee/ bad enough the seat was not down/ now I got another
reason to frown… It’s just wrong when you see that tube/ it puts
me in a really really bad mood” (from “The Tube: No Toilet Paper
On the Roll, Part 1.” Gee, I can’t wait for part 2.) “It would
be good for you to do/ all the things Alaskans do/ eat caribou, wear
furry shoes/ inside an igloo” (from “Alaska”). Enough, already.
If this makes you wanna hear the music (or worse yet, if you’re already
a fan and actually walk around singing this stuff, at ANY age), then
it’s time for an intervention. (Joe Coughlin)

THE UNDER
Mercurial
8-song CD
Sure, I could call this thinking man’s metal with doses of prog, and
say it’s spirited and a definite cut above the median and features
lots of sure-foooted guitar work—but, coming from me, determined as
I am not to “appreciate” metal, not so much because its tropes offend
me, but because I’ve heard every single one of them before, that’s
not saying much. It’s the vocal style that leaves me cold. The hyped
up drama and strenuousness that the genre flouts as a badge simply strikes
me as patently absurd. So let’s just say the first four tracks and
the last two tracks impress me as good of their kind but nothing truly
revolutionary. The best track, “Anaximander,” is the fifth, an instrumental—and
what does that tell you? (Though it is quite dynamic and genuinely stirring.)
There’s also some really snappy bass work on track six, “The Denialist,”
and the vocalist starts in with the drama and this time it all actually
sounds quite inspirational. We see the makings of a nuanced apprach
here, and what a difference it makes. (Francis DiMenno)

COVERED IN BEES
Entertainment Experiment
24 Hour Alarm
32-song CD
Greetings, Slimedog here, inhabiting that metallic, moronic, malicious
machine known as Zortar. Ha! How do you like a screwdriver in the eye?
Covered In Bees are a Portland, Maine punk band who believe “more
is more” hence thirty two songs plunk down on this platter. Actually,
a few skits and live tracks are sprinkled like fine paprika amongst
the tunes. And what fine tunes are found here. Well, not fine but fun
as in punk/ hardcore ditties with lots of stops and lots of humor which
a lack of sometimes kills other bands of this type. “In-ska-operable
Tumor,” is pretty funny, “AC (Lightning Bolt)” is a good take
on AC/DC and “Futon Stop Car,” is really a pop tune and a personal
favorite. These bees might be buzzing a bit far from Boston but I’m
guessing they’d be a fun band to check out live. (Slimedog)

MIKE HALLAL
Pi Records
Live at Lizard Lounge
8-song CD
I’ve never, ever used the term “gutbucket” for describing a blues
band, but there’s always a first time. I thank Mike Hallal and his
band of gutbucket blues players for recording this live show at the
Lizard Lounge. This is one disc I keep throwing in and enjoying, it
cleans out the mental carburetor (do you kids know what a carburetor
does?) The right elements of blues and funky sensibilities keep it real
in the no longer smoky resonant chamber of the Lizard. Not a hell of
a lot in terms of description you haven’t heard before, stylistically
you all know this classic blues and funk jam stuff, but like a good
burger, you just enjoy it and let it satisfy. (Am I hungry?) There’s
an interesting tribute to Neil Young with a cover of “Cortez the Killer”
rounding out the mix. Nothing new, but then again, nothing old. It’s
always good. (Mike Loce)

KILL ANDRADE
Kill Andrade
8-song CD
Greetings, Zortar here, alien from another planet inhabiting the slimy,
scaly, smelly body of he you call Slimedog. I’m here in New Orleans
for the Mardi Gras, the celebration of males giving females beads in
order to view their offspring milk dispensers. Well, these humans here
are doing music they qualify as punk, perhaps because of the high energy
and aggressive vocals, but I think they fall more in the thrash metal
category. So while I appreciate the speed and the able drumming I thinking
this is more like Excedrin headache number 103. It’s just put ingredients
in blender, loud guitar, screaming vocals, fast drums, mix and pour
and all I have is sore eardrums and disengaged eye sockets (thanks,
Slimedog). This CD is relentless, I give them that, but eventually it
turns into a complete blur, where I like to pause and smell the lovely
posies and not Slimedog’s decaying, tumorous hide. (Slimedog)

THE RAMPAGE TRIO
Sound Gadget
10-song CD
The jury’s still out on whether this band is serious or just trying
to be ironic. The lyrics to the first track, “Chocolate Cake” should
be a good illustration of what I mean: “I don’t want a coffee or
vanilla shake/ I want a piece of your chocolate cake/ Stuck in the middle
of a big earthquake/ I need a piece of your chocolate cake.” Now imagine
these lyrics coupled with seriously silly guitar lines and overly emphatic
vocals, and you’ll understand what I mean. Despite the slightly inane
lyrics, there are some impressive guitar solos here, as well as some
really good banjo and organ playing. This type of half-serious blues/rockabilly
music doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ve gotta admit they’ve got some
talent. (Emsterly)

SINGUYA!
Second Stage Records
Bet On Red
16-song CD
Oh, boy. We got guys with nicknames like “Boom Boom,” “The Sex,”
and “Joey Explosive.” (In the notes, they thank someone named “Danimal,”
which shoulda been another giveaway.) We got songs like “Hey” (whose
only lyrics are the words “hey,” and “let’s go!”), “Sunshine
Funk Mama” (which conveys zero sunshine and even less funk), and “Space
Cake (David Geffen Here We Come),” which, remarkably, makes even less
sense than its title. Not vague enough? There’s a photo inside of
four blindfolded guys on their knees, with dumb T-shirt slogans, about
to get whacked by some dude in a ski mask holding a sledgehammer. The
press sheet calls ’em a “Regga-Billy Rock [sic] band” with “saw-toothed
lyrics” (I really musta missed something here), and says they “take
the Talking Heads, Sublime, and the Dead Milkmen’s sounds [and] mixes
them up in a bucket.” (Is that a combination you really wanna hear,
let alone from inside a bucket?) And those aren’t even my biggest
beefs. The real sore thumbs are the relentlessly trebly, grit-free guitar
tone, lotsa listless vocals, and the kinda material where you can hear
exactly where it’s going. I’m willing to reiterate that I’m old
and jaded, but I won’t attribute that alone to the fact that I just
don’t get it. (Joe Coughlin)

JODI GRIFFITH
JLG Records
I Believe
10-song CD
Music that makes you think. These are appealing stories from the thematic
(as well as anthemic) side of life. Know what I mean? Jodi’s sound
is an amalgam of the best of the last couple decades in the sense of
lyrical chord structures, melody and groove. Vocal layers swimming amidst
a rock sensibility permeate these pop/progressive songs. It’s so refreshing
to also hear a female musician and songwriter rock out who REALLY KNOWS
HOW to rock out in this day! That only comes with years and experience
(wait, I’m not saying you’re old Jodi!) What is old anyway? The
older I get the more I think of that. I think on today’s musical scenic
landscape, Jodi arrives as a landscaper, not simply a performer or songwriter.
The title track is strong and absolutely worthy of being the lead song
in say, a new 21st century version of the rock musical. Yes!
(Mike Loce)

ONE BIG MESS
Viva La Mess!
12-song CD
Maybe the title should have been More Songs About Testosterone and Cutting.
It occurs to me that, musically and lyrically, this band seems straight
from the Metal Circus playbook; I’m thinking in particular of “Diane.”
If you like that (I do) you may or may not appreciate this subset of
loud and fast punk-metal (I don’t). No slur on their musicianship
is intended here—I’m sure the full fury of their attack cannot possibly
be captured on a digital medium—but these hearties seem more geared
towards the concrete preferences of the estimable readers of Performer
Magazine. The lyrics and hooky little vocal lines make their point—as
on the irresistably catchy “Miss Timid”—but they’re mostly simplistic
to an extreme. When there’s no subtlety on your full-length debut,
and you traffic in controversy and outrage, you’ve essentially backed
yourself in a corner. What do you do for an encore—exhort the joys
of huffing gasoline fumes from an oily rag? (Francis DiMenno)

WILL DAILEY
CBS Records
Fashion of Distraction
5-song CD
Will Dailey’s unique brand of emotionally resonant, rootsy songwriting
has earned him years of critical acclaim as one of Boston’s rising
singer/songwriters. With this release of the first of his Torrent
series through CBS Records, Dailey is taking his songwriting right to
the people, making EPs available for download as he writes and records
them. This latest batch features some of catchiest and most soulful
songs Dailey has written thus far, with cameos from Boston luminaries
such as Kay Hanley, Elliot Easton, Duke Levine and a special appearance
by Roger McGuinn (yes, that Roger McGuinn!!)I can’t stop listening
to this. Someone pry these headphones from my brain! (Joel
Simches)

CLATTER CLATTER
Too Many Boxes
5-song CD
Clatter Clatter is a five-piece Berklee band that proves that you can
have chops and know when to use them to serve the song. The five
songs here are influenced, not by Dream Theatre or some soulless jazz/funk
fusion wankfest, but by melodic tunesmiths like Ben Folds, Wilco, Elliot
Smith, and the Beatles. Clever hooks, inventive wordplay and tight
harmonies are punctuated by the DIY production ethic of bands like Guided
By Voices, Fugazi and Sloan. I never thought I would put those
influences and Berklee in the same paragraph, but there’s always a
first time. This debut is impressive. (Joel
Simches)

4” STUD
The Time Bomb
3-song CD
Yet another great pop record from 4” Stud. The ability of this
band to turn a clever phrase will never cease to amaze. The songs deal
with subject matters such as addiction, tragedy, and opportunism without
getting on a high horse or moralizing. The musical interplay on
this EP seems to have moved so far ahead of their last release; it’s
hard to imagine how this band will manage to top the tight intensity
of these three songs. With another full- length on the way, hopefully
we’ll find out soon. (Joel Simches)

AUTUMN EYES
Surrender The Fire
5 songs online
Ah, yes, Mrs. Slimedog here, number one reviewer in the Noise, enjoying
Madris Gras here in safe and placid New Orleans, home of Dixieland music
and the origin of American music. New Orleans music was marching bands
at first led by noted musician, Lance Armstrong, who would blow his
trumpet while riding a bicycle at the same time.
Now, fortunately, Autumn Eyes plays Dixieland. Just kidding, actually
it’s that icky industrial death metal music with those scary guitars
and growly vocals. This is nightmare music like when I eat Cheez-Its
right before going to bed. You know it’s real scary with song titles
like, “Greedy Demon Parasites,” “Feast of the Dead” and “Me
and You and a Dog Named Boo.” I have to take my head off to these
guys as it seems they put a lot of effort and it’s very intense. But
I can’t recommend them as they do not sound as good as Paul Revere
& the Raiders. (Mrs. Slimedog)

LIFE ON HOLD
The Element of Surprise
4-song CD
Never has high-energy punk/pop been spunkier. Life On Hold at
their worst kind of sounds like the punk rock Donnie and Marie.
Driving music with great hooks and tight harmonies couldn’t possibly
sound sunnier and cheerier than the four songs on this EP. The
trouble is, with all the high fructose corn syrup dripping on the eardrums,
the songwriting is effervescent and relentlessly memorable. The
cynical musician in me wants to hate this as much as all the mindless
pabulum played on Mix 98.5, and yet the songs still sound fresh and
earnest. Damn you, Life on Hold!! Damn you to hell!
(Joel Simches)

THE LOUPS
Holding Hands with the Crooked Man
6-song CD
This is a band that defies the quantifiable trendy label. While
there are some flashes of hard rock and even metal, the Loups could
easily have been a pre-Pixies Frank Black project, or a pre-insane asylum
Daniel Johnston garage band, or both. Justin Graves uses
Robyn Hitchcock imagery juxtaposed with flashes of T-Rex glam, Syd Barrett
psychedelia, and Hum’s guitar bombast, often within the same song.
This is stoner rock at its most schizophrenic. It’s not possible
to have more fun listening to this record without a doctor’s prescription.
This thing is all over the place in a good way. (Joel Simches)

ELUDING GRAVITY
Eluding Gravity
5-song CD
This is an example of a potentially good band trying hard to impress
with musical ability at the expense of writing songs that play to their
own strengths. The singer has a soaring melodic voice, but fails
at trying to provoke with profanity in the more rocking songs and attempting
to sound “tough.” It’s shock for shock’s sake and very
forced. The band is so adept at overplaying their parts that much
of their melodic ideas get lost in all the chops. The band’s
strengths seem to lie in its sensitive side, as exemplified by their
third song “Stuck.” I hope the band can find a core identity
that will make us believers. (Joel Simches)

HENRY GALE
Other Voices
5-song CD
While evoking clear comparisons to bands like Caspian and Explosions
in the Sky, Henry Gale’s formula of ambient instrumental indie rock
is a soaring blend of tripped out echoey guitars layered onto a solid
foundation of bass and drums. Their overall sound is less of a
haunted brood, but more of an optimistic, and (dare I say) even a happy
playful interplay of musical textures and ideas. The music seems
much more uplifting and hopeful than the typical post-rock shoegaze.
This is quite a refreshing change of pace from the heavier, angst-ridden
bombast of a lot of bands that do this kind of music. Listening
to these five songs made my ears smile today. (Joel
Simches)

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