SILVER CIRCLES REVIEWS Dec 09


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NEATS
Ace of Hearts Records
1981-1984
The Ace of Hearts Years

22-song CD
I had definitely heard
good things about Neats over the years, but had never gone back to check
out their catalog. This collection of recordings from their years on
the Ace of Hearts label just goes to show how dumb I was for waiting
this long to give them a spin. My immediate reaction is that their urgent
yet melodic post-punk sounds like the lovechild of the Modern Lovers
and Mission of Burma. And if that doesn’t sound good to you, then
I can only assume that you hate awesome rock ’n’ roll. The first
seven songs are from the EP entitled
The
Monkey’s Head in the Corner of the Room
,
and while of each of those songs has a killer groove, it’s the following
ten numbers from the self-titled LP that shine the brightest. It’s
here that the band’s chops truly come into focus. Eric Martin’s
vocals become both more nuanced and more expressive. “Sad” features
a great bass melody from Jerry Channel, and Terry Hanley’s propulsive
drumming kills throughout, particularly on “A.B.D.,” the disc’s
standout track. This compilation is a must-have for anyone coming late
to the Neats’ party. (Kevin Finn)

REVERSE
Curve of the Earth
Monkey Mind
11-song CD
From its opening seconds—ineffable
barbarian yawp amid carefully planned mayhem that somehow manages to
come across as gloriously zany and winningly gratuitous, opening salvo
“Fluorescent” is far more than mere alterna-fodder. And the winning
trend continues on “Victoria,” which is an eerie assemblage of broken
tropes: a melodically memorable vocal line is slurred and crooned over
meat and potatoes drums and strangely telegraphic guitar and surging
and lapping bass. (Equally fine is the careering declamatory over blurting
guitar featured on the outstanding title track.) The liquescent and
chillingly melodic “White Wall” is worthy of, though in no way similar
to, some of the softer excursions of XTC, and the stop-and-start dynamic
of “One Drop” is alternately frantic and ecstatic. If any band has
heeded the admonition to make it new, it’s this one: note how “Come
On” has a classic hooky riff that the band warps through some kind
of hard rock funnel, where it emerges from the other end as some kind
of mirror image folk-murk, then back again it goes through the power
chord mixmaster. Then, before you know it, the whole album is…over.
That’s it. Not all the songs reach the heights, but even the less
than top-flight tracks, like “Blues in D,” and the mostly astonishing
“Slow” are inventively textured and arranged. There is artistry
awfully close to brilliance fit to burst all through this inconsistent,
but, at its best, remarkable album. Highly recommended.
(Francis DiMenno)

THE BRAMBLE
JAM

Move Your
Boots

14-song
CD


The genre of family
music is being redefined by four special individuals: Asa Brebner, Jason
Kern, Jessie Griffiths, and Jay Janney—and they are doing so through
sophistication, merriment, and a dash of humor. As “music for
kids of all ages,” topics include dancing joyfully in a rainstorm,
dealing with the loss of a loved one, and reveling in life’s simple
pleasures—such as making pancakes (or flapjacks) for breakfast.
“Caught in the Morning Sunbeam” evokes tranquility through images
of an unmade bed, a quiet house, and a teapot… a charming, heart-warming
tale, one in which Brebner is the lead vocalist. On the other
hand, the carnival-esque “Marbles” finds him assuming the role of
an inquisitive child, wittily singing: “Meanwhile Mommy’s lost the
car keys, her wallet, glasses, cell-phone… please. Says she’s
lost her marbles too, but I thought those were mine… who knew?”
These lines are well crafted and guaranteed to cause a chuckle no matter
the age group. Griffith’s “Mariposa” is a beautiful Latin-flavored
dedication to her daughter with interplay of the Spanish and English
language, while “Chicken Soccer” is rich with playful imagery about
our animal friends. Listen for appearances by Paul Ahlstrand,
Dinty Child, and the Family Jewels’ own, Steve Sadler. Straight
out of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, this is uniquely the Bramble
Jam. Now get out there and move those boots! (Julia
R. DeStefano)


CHIEF KOOFFREH

Star Top
Songs 3

7-song CD
Chief Kooffreh from
Lawrence, Massachusetts, is a trip. He starts each tune introducing
himself and reminding us of the millions of fans also listening in with
us. He gets a basic Casio rhythm rolling for the beat behind his sing/speak
lyrics on subjects of his concern. The main theme on this CD is equal
rights for Latinos. It’s his choice of words and extremely sparse
production (by Jason Duguay of Project Sound) that give these songs
a whole lotta character. A smile comes on my face when the chief hits
the chorus and a slap back echo enhances his African accent: “we are
Latinos/ We do our business/ We pay our taxes/ We love America.” Note
that four of the seven songs on this CD are different but similar versions
on the Latino subject. He also does a worldwide tribute to Bono of U2
for being great humanitarian and throws in a shaming attack on bad policemen
who are out of control. The CD ends on a harsh note with Chief Kooffreh
insisting that Alley Cat should get out of his house—“hit the road,
pack your things bitch, you are dangerous, lose the number.” I love
his style—but my girlfriend doesn’t. If you like unique character,
give the chief a try. (T Max)


HANDS AND KNEES

Midriff Records
Et tu, Fluffy
11-song CD
Ah, yes, Mrs. Slimedog
here, the most exciting, innovative, knowledgeable, modest writer of
the
Noise. I’m debonair and dashing and write scathing,
riveting reviews. Now, let us point our ears and hearts toward the toxic
of disruption. This CD is full of “jangly pop with some of the catchiest
melodies and foot stomping rhythms.” “Oh, boy,” I say, time for
some Loggins and Messina or Bob Seger! But instead I get some of that
weirdo indie (bellybutton) music.

But
fear not, when this band gets rocking they sound like the Pixies or
X, according to Slimedog who says they are ’80s bands, (I assume they
must be New Romantic bands). It’s a bit hit and miss when the band
slows down but mostly this is rather lovely stuff. I’d much rather
listen to this than Rammstein, that French band those silly boys like
Slimedog and Zortar listen to. (Mrs. Slimedog)


DAVID GREENBERGER & PAUL
CEBAR
Pel Pel Recordings
Cherry Picking
Apple Blossom Time

38-song CD
This spoken word project
features monologues by Greenberger, widely known for his magazine
Duplex Planet,
in which he transcribes interviews with denizens of nursing homes. Paul
Cebar and assorted side-persons provide the musical accompaniment, which
ranges from folk-tinged to bluesy to jazzy to exotica, but is uniformly
fine no matter the idiom. As for the monologues, one is reminded of
Ring Lardner; nearly all are poignant and insightful slices of receding
Americana. Greenberger does not aim for cutesy; nor does he gloss over
the travails of old age, lonely or otherwise. He is the master of the
ordinary, which, when taken far enough, becomes profoundly weird and
beautiful. Greenberger has been doing this sort of fieldwork for around
30 years, and it’s invaluable. What’s more, he’s made it into
an art. Someone should give this guy a MacArthur genius grant, already.
(Francis DiMenno)


UNDO

9.19.99
8-song CD
Ambient, experimental,
and electronic— all terms to describe UNDO, a native of London, England,
residing in West Roxbury. MA. Produced by Woolly Mammoth Studios,
the disc features an approach to guitar that “doesn’t really sound
like a guitar thanks to little pedals and delays.” Furthermore,
intertwining themes are meant for listeners to formulate “mental imagery
to accompany their experience of the music.” These are atmospheric
compositions, perfect for film-scores and media use. Being conducive
to thoughtfulness and emotion, the disc is also appropriate “background”
music. The “masked” man behind the “unguitar” is without
a doubt skilled in his craft. With perseverance and a little luck,
he just may get the break he deserves. (Julia R. DeStefano)


THE BYNARS
Party All
Nite

7-song CD
The album’s title
track and kickoff point reminded me a lot of Weezer. Unfortunately,
it reminded me of post-
Pinkerton Weezer. The song is too overly precious and
too self-conscious in its pop culture references. Fortunately for me,
as well as anyone else who picks up this record, there are six more
songs on here, each of which delivers a dose of pleasurable power pop,
with just enough twists to keep things interesting. Lead singer Matt
Jatkola’s nasally, creaky voice adds some real color, and maybe even
a hint of danger, throughout the proceedings. “I Know You’re Wrong”
features some intriguing interplay between Jatkola’s guitar and Ben
Mettey’s synth, and Kiel Szivos’ bass breaks on “Rhyme Song”
provide a nice diversion from what could have been an overly formulaic
song. The lesson to learn here, kids, is to listen to the whole record
and not make snap judgments after just one song. (Kevin
Finn)


ENDWAY

Running Man
8-song CD
What’s not to love
about a band whose members live to play rock ’n’ roll, and who like
to give away their music for free? With three albums already under
their belt, EndWay is an evolved, melodic synthesis of Maroon 5, Sublime,
and the current incarnation of INXS. Known for the vibrancy of
their live performance, the band’s music has also been featured on
MTV’s
The Real World, Road
Rules
, and The
Hills
, to name a few.
Vocalist Morgan Dorr’s tonality is “dynamic” and “soul-infused,”
comparable to that of Coldplay’s Chris Martin. The opener, “Love
Again,” is intriguing. Electronic elements permeate throughout;
the result is ear pleasing and polished. In the realm of Jason
Mraz, “Coolin’ Out” is optimistic and carefree, while the acoustic
twang of “Wine, Women & Cheese” is a fitting end to a pleasant
(but all-too-short) disc. Indeed, “Love is a friend we all need
in the end.” (Julia R. DeStefano)


THE JAYBIRDS
Rose Petals
9-song CD
I’m about to say
something I don’t say often in my reviews for the
Noise: I really actually like this band! They play
mellow, bittersweet folk rock. I can’t even pick a favorite song because
they’re all (mostly) so good. My only complaint is that a few of the
songs suddenly break into passionate, fast-paced bridges and I think
it sort of kills the laid-back, lamenting vibe of the album. Also, there’s
one song, “My Lady,” that has a different singer, and I find it
kind of disruptive and jarring to the flow of the CD; I don’t really
like the guy’s voice and musically the song is boring, so it’s kind
of a blemish on an otherwise great CD. Overall, though, I’m enthusiastically
a new fan of the Jaybirds. (Emsterly)


CRAIG RANGE

Visualize
11-song CD
Nimble but somewhat
anodyne pop-jazz with man-size dollops of funk. Skillfully burbled out
and certainly adequate for them as hanker for such. Odd, however, that
Mr. Range’s own vocal range so often verges on strained. Furthermore,
even gorgeously pretty vocal melodies like “That’s Life” and “That’s
Enough” seem marred by the curse of over-earnestness—to say nothing
of the message song “Rodney.” And “Don’t Stop” sounds an awful
lot like it wants to horn in on George Benson’s act (not that there’s
anything wrong with that). Also, “Hurry Your Trip” sounds like a
passing strange amalgam of Stevie Wonder and the Grateful Dead, if one
can even dare to imagine such a thing. (Francis DiMenno)


GASLIGHT REVIVAL
Drift
12-song CD
Greetings, Zortar here,
alien from another planet and the original balloon boy. Now, if someone
could just put Slimedog in a balloon up out of the stratosphere that
would be a great accomplishment for your species. I’m once more inhabiting
his slimy, salacious, sacrilegious, scab infested vessel while gearing
up for my winter job of driving an ice cream truck through the safe
and clean streets of Boston.

So
this CD was created by two lads who say they play “in the vein of
Ryan Adams and Wilco,” which means country rock but in a modern way,
maybe alternative country is the current term. They got them some fiddles
and acoustic guitars and perform them as well as a hickleburrow on a
July moon’s creek but it’s just too snoozy for an intergalactic
floozy like me. But if’n y’all like this sorta stuff you might want
to check this out. At their best they recall Cracker, but for me I’ll
be blasting Rammstein through the slushy streets of Boston this winter.
(Slimedog)


ERIC BETTENCOURT

Shadow Shine Records
The Giraffe
Attack Collection

11-song CD
Let me say that I am
fully aware of Mr. Bettencourt’s displeasure with his previous review
and that he had hoped to get a better reviewer than Joe Coughlin the
next time around. Well, as much as I wonder who would want anyone but
the esteemed Mr. Coughlin to review a CD, the task is now mine. In fairness,
I listened to this CD with an open mind. Clearly, a lot of work went
into this. The songs are well-crafted with plenty of hooks. The musicianship
is superior and the arrangements are interesting. The vocals, are, well,
quite lush. Overall, songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Eric Bettencourt’s
sound seems influenced by the late ’60s Beatles, and the Band, of
which the fun “Lost Weekend” is a prime example. I also like the
mariachi-ish trumpet in “Empty Sidewalks.” Although this CD has
a lot in its favor, as a whole it’s so entangled in its own lushly
layered vocals that they overwhelm and choke off all the good parts.
It’s just too much. Less would definitely have been a lot more.
(Robin Umbley)


STEVEN PAUL
PERRY

The Human
Condition

12-song CD
This is a grab bag
of styles mostly ranging from blues-based quasi-Americana to anthemic
mainstream rock. The pretty R&B balladry of “Blue Light” is
touching in spite of its familiar theme of the splendors and miseries
of a performer’s life, and the upbeat “Love Me, Love You” is irresistible
high bombast. However, for the most part, Mr. Perry’s tales of solipsism
and woe, such as are on abundant display throughout, howsoever gorgeously
or ingeniously framed they may be, may have a hard time finding a friend
in the current marketplace. (Francis DiMenno)


FORGETFUL JONES

Sub-Atomic
Philharmonic

12-song CD
Straight from their
one-sheet, Forgetful Jones is a “melodic, heavy rock ’n’ roll
band with one goal in mind: to create quality music.” In a sound
described as “signature,” genres of funk, reggae, and blues are
also blended throughout. Nothing here is particularly innovative
or memorable, but if the band has been privileged to play alongside
rock-greats Alice in Chains… they must be doing something right.
Apparently, radio airplay is also plentiful, as is television exposure.
If they really are, as their MySpace states, a “sound that’s long
overdue,” they will have to prove it. Frankly, I need more convincing
to believe such a bold statement. (Julia R. DeStefano)


THE DAILY PRAVDA

Special edition pre-release
Burning Bible
Diamonds

10-song CD
Slick but rote ’90s-era
potpourri-pop with smidges of Bowie/Queen-style glam and creampuff metal.
But there is little here to truly catch the ear and less to actually
engage the listener. Even the light touches—the Cars-oid synth on
“September” and the ostinado on “So In Love”; the theremin on
“Waiting There for You,” or the Beatles-manque sound of “Dead
House”—come across as ponderous. And what’s with these references
to the Velvet Underground and the Beach Boys already? These talented
folks can do texture—no mean trick. But they would be better served
if they turned their back on musical and lyrical cliches and twee, bombastic
psuedo-profundity like “The Stiffs” and actually stretched for more
lasting and profound tunesmithing, like they seem to be reaching for
on “Holidays on the Run.” (Francis DiMenno)



LOVE &
OPIUM


Glassline Records


Love &
Opium


11-song CD


These guys make me
think of a heavier, not-anywhere-near as good version of Alice in Chains.
In other words, if WAAF turned back its clocks about ten years, these
guys would have fit right in. The disc abounds with muscular riffs,
heavy on the palm-muting and light on the originality. The band is tight
and technically proficient, but sadly uninspiring. Songs like the title
track aim for the groin, while paying little attention to the brain.
The album’s best moments are its heaviest, when you could at least
see Love & Opium providing a decent soundtrack for lifting weights
or perhaps wrestling a bear. At its worst, most notably the power ballad
“Temporary Misery,” with its constant declaration of “I’d take
a bullet for you,” I’m just thankful for the skip button.
(Kevin Finn)

 



BEN COOLEY-HALL


Caunounicus Records


Owning Up
To A Life


11-song CD


Greetings, Slimedog
here, inhabiting the rotting, rancid, retching, robotic vessel known
as Zortar from a planet many galaxies away from Chelsea. This
planetary exchange program is strictly for the birds. So Ben mentions
Son Volt and Gram Parsons in the promo package but I’m hearing cutesy
piano and trumpet on the first track that screams pop with a capital
“P” to me. Eventually we get to hear a little influence of Americana
along the way but mostly it’s mellow, dreamy, fluffy pop with nary
a touch of rock along the way. I kept nodding out while listening to
this and I had only had three black Russians along with the vicodin
so surely something is amiss. Granted my disposition may be a bit disagreeable
considering whose company I’m keeping but when I want to hear mellow
pop I’ll stick with Rammstein. (Slimedog)

 


SPEAKERMUTE
The Weight

10-song CD
I’ll concede right off, “A+”
for effort here. Impeccably composed, arranged, performed and produced.
Airtight, soaring, shit like that. And not easily pigeonholed, so I
can’t just say “for what it is, it’s exceptionally ambitious”
(which I hate saying anyway), but it is. So, what is it? Polished, adult
rock, unfortunately celebrating Junior High-level diary babble. OY,
those fuckin’ lyrics. That rare thing where, if they had a fraction
of a half-baked atom of an actual message to impart, I’d scream its
greatness from mountaintops. ENDLESS winning musical ideas, nuance up
the patootie, frittered away on wanna-be sensitive themes of lovelorn
angst, sung with such conviction as to render itself impotent. Which
isn’t to say they’re full of shit. I think they mean it, and that’s
what makes this so difficult. These songs would be a lot more interesting
if they were about, say, mayonnaise. Seriously. “Sadie Hawkins Dance,”
for example, sounds instantly familiar and belongs on the radio NOW.
Just don’t listen TOO closely, or you’ll get really upset.
(Joe Coughlin)



THE ACRO-BRATS


Susspool Records


Hey Medusa


5-song CD


This is nothing less
than hard-hitting classic ’70s punk rock at its best. The Acro-Brats
rock hard, hit hard, and do so with a style that can most aptly be described
as lean and mean. These songs cut to the chase and waste no time getting
to the point, which is to rock with wild abandon. If you like
the Ramones, the Runaways, the Downbeat 5, the Plimsouls, and the Neighborhoods,
you’ll want this EP for your collection and you’ll want to play
it loud and often. The production on this is tight and poppy without
sounding overly slick or commercial. The songs are catchy and
concise. This album couldn’t make three chords more interesting
or exciting or fun. Make more music soon! (Joel Simches)


LANDED

Corleone Records
Liver and
Lungs

6-song CD
Formed over twelve
years ago, Landed has returned to form, bringing their noise/rock/techno/electronic/art
full circle with this latest collection of politically charged social
commentary. Their message is a mirror to a society that has become
obsessed with drugs, government corruption, and fear of a global meltdown.
There is as much ear candy as there is message, which makes this album
as much a piece of art as it is an exercise in its illustration of a
failed culture. Favorite tracks include “Blow Your Burger” and “Osama
Oxycontin.” Fans of Out of Band Experience, the Residents, Captain
Beefheart, and Happy the Clown will love this album. The use of
chemicals is strongly encouraged. I listened to this on Lemon
Pledge and I still can’t find my underwear. (Joel Simches)


CALIFORNIA
SMILE

Limbus Infantus Records
Roof Came
Off House

6-song CDThis is the second
album from the Providence-based California Smile. I have heard millions
of instrumental albums from New England in my life. A small percentage
have gone beyond showing off their instrumental prowess and written
great albums, like the National Blue and Cancer Conspiracy. What is
the magic formula? Mission of Burma once sang of “the virtues of restraint.”
I think California Smile got the message. They can knock you over with
heaviness, odd time signatures, virtuosity, and endless guest musicians,
and, at times, they do. They also know when to back off and let the
piano play alone again, naturally. This CD is a little bit ELP, Van
Der Graaf Generator, Gong, Guru Guru, and Mogwai. It’s a solid effort
that explodes across the New England sky. (Eric Baylies)


CEMETERY SUPERFLY

Green Banshee Music
Ghost In
The Radio

6-song CD
The follow-up to their
full length,
No Commercial
Potential,
seems to have a
lot of commercial potential after all. This latest snippet into
band’s fifteen-year catalog brings a new energy, a new drummer, and
a decidedly straight-ahead rock approach to the mix. Picture Metallica’s
“Black Album” combined with Alice In Chain’s
Dirt and Pink Floyd’s Momentary
Lack of Reason
put into a pop
blender and served with a silly straw and it will sound a lot like this.
While not as quirky and undefined as their earlier releases, the band
still likes to play with your head, the most interesting part of this
being the three-part concept piece, “World Without End.” It would
be a fun ride to explore a concept album with this band, but sadly we
don’t quite get one here. This EP leaves me wanting more, which
is not necessarily a bad thing in this case. (Joel Simches)


AWAIT RESCUE

Hold the
Ground Sampler

3-song CDThis music wishes it
could be as heavy and anthemic as bands like Incubus, Mars Volta, and
Mastadon, but winds up being a pale, suburban carbon copy of the above
without capturing the raw energy that makes these bands so blatantly
inimitable. That is not to say the music isn’t tight, well played,
or intricate. It is. It is also quite listenable as such,
but I am left wanting to hear some original edge, or some inexorable
energy that would make me care about this music enough to listen to
more than these three songs. This band needs to stop trying so
hard to emulate and just do what they feel. The third song comes close
to giving us that, but by then it is too little and too late.
I have already pressed eject. (Joel Simches)



AEON SOLARIS/AEON VESPERTINE


Stellar Evolutions


Equinox [Autumnal]


6-song CD


Whether this band is
two bands in one or a single band with some kind of personality disorder
is not as important as what the music is trying to accomplish.
The opening track is a tragically lackluster cover of a great Beatles
song, “I’m Only Sleeping,” recorded to protest the new Rock Band
video game. The point of the cover is that people should be more
involved in making music instead of playing games. Forgetting
the fact that it has opened a new ear and eye to the legacy of that
band for a second, the point would have been better made if the cover
had been done well instead of tossed off. The rest of this CD
is musically adventurous, and artistically intriguing, replete with
raw dynamics, trippy imagery, and a decidedly arty stylistic approach.
This album is Syd Barrett in Converse sneakers and ripped jeans, shopping
for loose tobacco at Trader Joe’s, but instead buying an overpriced
pint of soy ice cream. If this band had skipped the first track
and wrote in some other keys, it would be a DIY masterpiece.
(Joel Simches)


FAR ABOVE THE
GROUND


Where’s The Love
Records


The Washington
Street EP


6-song CD


Just what we need:
another band from Marshfield that listens to a whole lot of Social Distortion
fighting for acceptance and credibility. The best thing about
this poorly produced, lo-fi extravaganza is that there are only six
songs and it does eventually end. While there are moments of excitement
contained within, the band eases into this uncomfortable habit of reusing
the same chord changes, settling into the same tempos and burying the
vocals. The redeeming factor in the vocals being buried under
the guitars is it hides fact that the singer has little to nothing to
really say, albeit in a tough gravelly voice that we’ve already heard
way too many times. I’m sure they really pack ’em in at the
VFW, but I’ll bet those veterans probably wish they hadn’t come
home. (Joel Simches)

AND NOW FOR SOME LOCAL HOLIDAY RECORDS,
NEW AND OLD

THREE DAY THRESHOLD & SUMMER VILLIANS
Christmas & Holidays Songs volume 1
12-song online
Christmas
greetings, Zortar here, alien from another planet inhabiting the
worthless tick infested body of Slimedog once again. We also have a
Christmas celebration on my planet, but ours is a materialistic
celebration designed for wholesale stores to make enough money so they
can stay open at our mosques (we call them malls) the rest of the year.

So this is a collection of original country Christmas songs spearheaded
by well known local country/rock band Three Day Threshold and though
I’ll stick with Charles Brown when I want my Christmas music, this is
an amusing, irreverent take on the genre.
My favorite songs on this on-line CD are “Let’s Get Cozy,’ an update of
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” where a kind gentleman is unsuccessful in
offering his body warmth to a lady and “A Very Whisky New Year,” about
what the holidays mean for most of us, namely a time to overindulge.
Cheers! (Slimedog) 

THE WEISSTRONAUTS StereOrrific
I’m Dreaming of The Weisstronauts’ Christmas
5-song CD
Pete Weiss rounds up the cowboys (and gals), takes ’em surfin’ in
December, and ends up with this rightly styled circle o’ plastic, just
the right size for a Christmas present. Light a fire and kick back to
the surf-country feel of “Jingle Bells.” If you want to get up for some
swing dancin’, try “Nuthin’ Comin’ Good This Christmas.” But if that
tuckers you out, kick off yer spurs and lie back down in front of the
fire for “Silent Night, ” and make note of what those children want for
Christmas. Remind them what the holiday is really about—“Sweet Baby
Jesus”—a tune with a nice ’60s pop progression (like the Beatles’
“Eight Days A Week”) that breaks down into a rambling vocal jam and
ends with sweet harmonies. We go live into a club for the final holiday
party, where Mel Weiss remembers to put the Santa back in Christmas
(“Santa Baby”). So who is the real baby of Christmas—Jesus or Santa?
And can you really hang 10 if you’ve got cowboy boots on? This disc
won’t help you decide—but when you hear someone yell “surf’s up” in
December, remove yer spurs… and sing along. (T Max)

TOTARO

Spank Dawg
Christmas Carols
12-song CD
This is a Christmas CD. Can it get any worse? Why am I listening to
this? OUCH!!!! MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!! They fucken’ hurt now! I
am starting to feel sick—I feel as if I am slipping away. I was once
normal but now I fade in and out of normalcy and recently things have
gotten worse. I don’t sleep anymore. I have given up on sleeping
because it’s a waste of time and because I just lie there thinking
about the end of the world and how we on a downward spiral. Not taken
over by Zombies but by the very wealthy whose ideals are completely
demented and distorted sort of like these Christmas songs. It was the
Christians who have caused ninety percent of the earth’s catastrophes
and mass murders so I don’t want to sing or listen to any of their
songs. Soon they will take over the planet and make everyone dress like
Ronald Reagan, believe in a false idol and follow a restrictive set of
laws. Good luck to us all. (Leonid)

NRBQ
Clang!
Christmas Wish—Deluxe Edition
19-song CD
As proud owner of the band’s self-titled 1969 Columbia debut, I’m well
aware of how much irreverent fun NRBQ can summon up, and as a big fan
of such, I was all over this release like white on rice. It’s
essentially a CD version of their 1986 Mini-LP
on Rounder, and the tracks from the original album are the strongest:
picture Brian Wilson producing and arranging Randy Newman and you get a
bit of their flavor. This update has ten new live and studio sides
attached. Some are snippets, and other full-blown, um, versions—like,
dig the instrumental take of “Christmas Wish” and the twisted cover of
that good ole Charlie Brown Xmas fave, and the anomic scorching of poor
old Mel Torme’s “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Who will this
record bug? Superannuated grandfolk who expect croony goop to
continually exude from their creaky hi-fis come Yuletide. Headbangers,
goths, and sick babies who instinctively fear anything with whimsical
texture and/or jazzy chops. Gloomy fundamentalists who are convinced
that anything mostly secular is a Mephistophelean passport to hellfire.
Who will it delight? Nearly everybody else in the world, I would hope.
(Francis DiMenno)

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Sonic Trout
Another Christmas Gift For You
21 songs
As someone who hates Christmas, and REALLY hates Christmas music, this
is a perversely enjoyable surprise. Sonic Trout are label-hosts mainly
to Chandler Travis Philharmonic and The Incredible Casuals, but many a
furry friend and oddball offshoot are featured here to stellar effect.
The main reasons it works so well are, A) the songs which DO mention
Christmas are great enough on their own that the context is completely
negligible, whereas B) the unavoidably thematic ones are so charmingly
fucked that you could never, say, play them at the office holiday party
without getting fired (Rikki & Johnny's cordially alien "Sleigh
Ride," among others). In these instances alone, you're getting
significantly toasted entertainment which never condescends, yet which
works beautifully if you ever got the actual seasonal itch for some
reason, and yet AGAIN, would sound great any time o' year regardless.
How many NON-Christmas records can you say all that about? And yet,
aside from some masterful power-pop, there are drippingly surreal jazz
warps, perfectly lovely little choral treatments, waltzes with
accordions, and a number of things no one's ever tried before. My only
beef is the three minutes of silence two-thirds in for no good reason.
Otherwise, a swell thing that'll sound just as good in July, which I
guess makes it a pretty good Christmas present after all. (Joe Coughlin)

THE BLACKSTONE VALLEY SINNERS

Valley Records
The Cold Hard Truth About Christmas
12-song CD
Most Christmas albums are take-it-or-leave it affairs, strictly for
seasonal listening, but this one is an exception. At its best, this
Rich Gilbert-fronted and Pete Weiss produced collection is a
shit-kicking, yodel-happy, steel-guitar slathered romp, with at least
one brand-new certified bonafide Yule-or-anytime classic, “Katie Dang,”
evocative of a cross between the Notorious Byrd Brothers LP and Pure
Prairie League’s “Amie.” And “Song of the Desert” is at least the
spiritual step-son of Hank Williams’ “Kaw-Liga.” Not all of this CD
works as well, but tell me this: is it possible that the western swing
stylings of “Jingle Bell Rock” aren’t to your taste? Could it be that
the well-nigh irresistible 1950s Doris Day ska rendition of “Mary’s Boy
Child” doesn’t tickle your innards? And does the mind roasting rockin’
48-second intro to “Feliz Navidad” leave you cold? Then all I can say
to you, my friend, is this: bah, humbug. (Francis DiMenno)

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Greetings From Music Lane
4-song CD
This Christmas CD features a variety of artists collaborating on
reinterpretations of Christmas songs. SuperPower covers "White
Christmas" decently as a lo-fi punk number. Jose Ramos with Howard
Teasley presents a bluesy "Merry Xmas, Baby." Apart from a quick and
random insertion of "hey baby come over here" in Spanish and a cheerful
send-off at the end as well, the song isn't of much interest.
Daisycutter, which appears twice with several guests, gives a funny
technopop take of "Santa Claus" (the one where he "comes to town").
Their techno/goth/metal version of "Silent Night" steals the show hands
down. It almost makes me want to go to church. Almost. Now I have to go
listen to Cradle of Filth. Merry Walpurgisnacht! (Z)

BLEU
(with lots of guest stars)
Maid
Bing Bang Holidang
10-song CD
Bleu has put together an entire 10-song Christmas album featuring
reinvented standards along with a handful of original seasonal tunes.
Packed with an impressive cast of Boston-bred celebrity cameos (Dicky
Barrett, Bill Janovitz, Kay Hanley, Jason Kendall, Mary Lou Lord, Jed
Parish, and Ramona Silver, to name a few) and a worthy charity’s cause,
Bleu has managed to produce a record as musically diverse as it is
timely.
Bleu combines a stylistic range reminiscent of Beck with the kitsch of
sugar-voiced crooner Bing Crosby. His studio skill evident in the
record’s varied and individually strong instrument and vocal sounds,
Bleu also proves himself adept in modern dance beats and production.
This is particularly noteworthy in his version of “Jingle Bells” which
features an old Andrews Sisters vocal sample over a house beat.
Also worth mentioning is “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” which features
the majority of the record’s cameo appearances. Bleu has each singer
interpret their “day” over music representing the band’s style and
frequently uses the band name. The song is played as a bluesy rocker
and stretches on too long, but such is its nature. There are a few
lackluster cameos, but simply put, the song separated the singers from
the vocalists. Holistically, it gets an A for effort. Personally, my
choice for the hit on this record is the original “Snow Day.” An
up-tempo pop song in the style of earlier Elvis Costello, it has a big
hook and the added push of a chorus reinforced by a mob of kids
screaming.
Bing Bang Holidang begins and ends with Bleu’s tribute to Bing
Crosby, adding his own cleverly effected vocals over sampled big band
music and electronic beats. Crossing genres throughout the record, Bleu
proves himself an intelligent and well-rounded musician. All proceeds
go to the Boston Institute for Arts Therapy, a local charity that
provides therapy to mentally handicapped kids, abandoned children,
teenage mothers, and others. (Danimal)

PAULA KELLEY & THE MISFIT TOYS

Why Christmas? (the longest day of the year)
3-song CD
Paula Kelley writes some of the slickest pop songs you’ll ever hear. On
this adorable slice of holiday heaven, the honey voiced chanteuse
offers up “Why Christmas (the longest day of the year),” an original
Christmas song as sweet and addictive as candy kisses. This tribute to
holiday insanity is worthy of any Phil Spector jewel as delivered by
any ’60s girl group, and the message is as wonderfully Scrooge-ish as
The Waitresses’ staple, “Christmas Wrapping.” On the chorus, Paula is
joined by The Misfit Toys, a talented mob that includes Aaron Tap, Lisa
McColgan, Corin Ashley, Linda Bean, and Ad Frank. Also check out the
faithful rendition of “Blue Christmas,” and an unlisted bonus track:
the Misfit Toys’ all-humming version of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”
speckled with boozy-sounding flubs and giggles. It ends with Paula
saying “Should we try to get it right or not?” and somebody yelling,
“Shut up, what do you mean!?” Pure fun! (Lexi)

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Gulcher Records
Xmas Snertz – Have a Very Gulcher Christmas
16-song CD
This eclectic Christmas Sampler from Gulcher Records contains four
songs of local interest. Mach Bell (of Thundertrain and Joe Perry
Project fame, and more recently of Mach V) contributes the very
entertaining “C’mon Santa.” Bell earns his surname by beating his
cowbell throughout this track, and also adds some harmonica. But it’s
his voice that really puts this one over the top – a voice that
conjures an image somewhere between the little boy on Santa’s lap and
the lecherous old man trying to get little girls to sit in his lap.
Musically, the song is a one riff rip-off of Van Morrison’s “Gloria,”
and Bell’s lyrical list of Christmas wishes is as much a tribute to
’50s and ’60s pop culture as it is to Christmas. Kenne Highland &
His Vatican Sex Kittens contribute the raunchy “Can I Please Crawl Down
Your Chimney?”, in which we find Mr. Highland doing his finest Iggy Pop
imitation. Stanton Park Records mogul Aram Heller contributes a spine
melting guitar solo, while Carl Biancucc and the rest of the Sex
Kittens provide a gritty but solid foundation. Highland also lends his
vocal chords to The Korps, led by Ken Kaiser, who sings “The Blizzard
of ’78” in a style that makes me think of Jonathan Richman hooking up
with ShaNaNa. Kaiser’s band, X-Ray Tango close out the collection with
a surf-guitar instrumental version of “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”
Not necessarily guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit, this
collection is a lot of fun in any event. (Brian Mosher)

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Q Division Records
Viva Noel—A Q Division Christmas
15 holiday songs
Q Division has built itself up as one of Boston’s best record labels and recording studios. A Q Division Christmas,
a holiday collection assembled in 1999, was their first foray into the
world of compilations. On the first track Jen Trynin gracefully tackles
the old chestnut, “The Christmas Song” making it her own with a unique
voice that adds a new edge to the song. With “2000 Miles,” Merrie
Amsterburg accompanies her amazing vocals with mandolins that help
create a dreamy soundscape to a song that was also done by The
Pretenders. You can hear the longing in her voice when she sings, “The
snow is falling down/ It’s colder day by day/ I miss you/ I can hear
people singing/ It must be Christmas time.” By covering the Elvis
staple, “Blue Christmas,” The Gentlemen have big balls but get credit
for not attempting to copy the King’s version. Lead singer, Mike Gent
does a sarcastic deadpan vocal take and even though he’s a bit
plodding, he creates his own unique take on the song. Singer Brian
Stevens (Cavedogs) brings good feelings on “The Christmas Waltz/ Tinsel
(Medley),” with a waltzing melody that recalls a night of spiked eggnog
and embarrassing dance moves. The Sheila Divine offer up a smooth
version of “O Holy Night” that at times is boringly true to the
standard with only a few instances of actually picking up a bit of
steam. Local legend Aimee Mann performs the second version of “The
Christmas Song” on the CD and manages not to create overkill. Ms.
Mann’s version has a nice jazz feel to it. Creating a kooky edge to the
CD, The Gravel Pit playfully cover “Marshmallow World,” a Phil
Spector-era nugget with a great big kick and spin. You’ll want to run
down the street proclaiming the joys of Christmas, oh it is indeed a
wonderful life! The CD closes with The Gravy contributing easily the
strangest addition with “Mele Kalikimaka.” Lead singer Todd Spahr goes
into his alter ego Fatty Pineapple for an eccentric version of “The
Hawaiian Christmas Song.” This would not be out of place on Dr.
Demento’s radio show. On an honorable note, all proceeds from the sale
of the CD are going to the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund. For more
information on the fund go to www.morphine3.com.
With great music and a good cause, it’s another quality release from Q
Division Records and an important holiday addition to your CD
collection. (Simon Cantlon)

THE SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN
TaRio Records
“Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” b/w “Merry Christmas, I Fucked Your Snowman”
2 holiday songs on red 7” vinyl
Since I recorded the songs (“Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” and “Merry Christmas, I
Fucked Your Snowman”) at Straighjacket Sound Studios in Allston, I
probably can’t do an unbiased “real review” of the record without going
on and on about how great the engineer is (ME) and how FUN the band was
to record. It was cut raw, live, and fast. Vocal crooner Ping Pong
overdubbed sleigh bells (that lock-groove loop at the end of the
record) after the guitar, bass, drums were laid down by band members:
Cloherty, Victoria, and Chez Nips. Although most of the bands I
recorded back then were way heavier and weirder, there was just
something about the kooky pop punk of The Showcase Showdown that was
lovable. The record was released in time for Christmas 1995 on 7-inch
45 rpm red vinyl record (TaRio Records). I am mostly a Scrooge, but
whenever I see a snowman, I just grin and hum the chorus… “Merry
Christmas, I fucked your snowman”—but since the actual verse lyrics are
pretty tame, I suggest you add your own x-rated ones. (Bill T Miller)

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Volunteer Records
Ho Ho Ho Spice
40-songs 2 CDs set
Christmas compilations, especially those whose proceeds go to charity,
tend to be spotty, at best: Lots of songs, only a few worth a first
listen. The Del Fuegos track “That Punchbowl Full of Joy,” is fun, but
with the list of bands on this CD consisting of such worth while
notables as the dB’s, Klark Kent, and NRBQ, I’m surprised Volunteer
Records couldn’t find anyone aroud Boston more currently buzzworthy.
But, then again, it is a Christmas compilation for a charitable cause.
Some songs are cool, but most of them are forgettable throwaways. So if
you like hospice care and dig the Del Fuegos, go for it. (Joel Simches)

 

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And everyone else should
update our contact info too. Thanks.


T Max/ the Noise
24 Beverly Drive
Georgetown, MA 01833
978-352-8656
tmaxnoise@aol.com


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