SILVER CIRCLES REVIEWS Mar 10


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KATE TAYLOR
Fair Time!
12-song CD
Hailing from the legendary musical
family that is the Taylors of Martha’s Vineyard (brothers James, Livingston,
etc.), Kate Taylor, who made a name for herself in the ’70s, has released
this 12-song album that contains all the flavor and spunk of country
and rockabilly (I feel more country than rockabilly actually) and all
the depth of folk. Though the country genre isn’t really one of my
favorites, I can step outside of personal taste to say that Kate’s
CD is a wonderful collection of heartfelt songs. From the Nashville-feeling
and jaunty “Soap Opera Life” to the beautiful and utterly touching
tribute to her late husband in “Red Tail,” Kate superbly shows her
talent for translating various emotions into well-written and arranged
songs. The more I listen to this, the more I appreciate Kate’s spirit
and voice. Other picks: “King of the Pod,” “Sun Did Shine,”
and “Cholene.” (Debbie Catalano)


JAY ALLEN & THE ARCH CRIMINALS

Clamarama Records
Fun is Fun, But You Gotta Be F*%KIN
Kidding Me

11-song CD
I’ll tell ya, I didn’t hear the
punk aspect of this disc as much as I heard the humor. That’s a hard
marketing plan though…to sell your band as “humorous.” The concept
includes: titles about busting my balls, twisting my nuts, bourbon and
a spanking, and drunken slutty barfly women. See what I mean? That’s
funny. These guys rock for sure, but there are a couple vocal duds,
meaning that I started laughing at the singing (hint: track 2). Hey,
it’s all good. And to recuperate from that less-than-stellar track,
I was absolutely happy to discover that the tunes took an upswing after
that fecal-timbre, toilet-based singing presentation. It’s raw energy,
scored with guitar riffery that kept me coming back for more (tracks
4, 9, holy shit). In fact, track 9 (something about inviting some baby)
was repeated so many times that Kooky Kate Loce (read: significant other)
agreed that it did sound good. I never ask for her opinion, which is
why it impresses me when she gives it. A rocking collection that mandates
repeated listening. (Mike Loce)

THE VOGON POETS
The Vogon Poets

3-song CD
Initially, this CD fails to draw me
in, and my attention keeps drifting to the Olympic curling on my television
and its surprisingly high percentage of attractive and/or crazy-looking
women. Watching the Olympics with the sound off proves to be kind of
a surreal experience, but to the Vogon Poets’ credit, it doesn’t
take too long for them to pull me back in. I don’t know much about
them, but their sound makes me think they grew up on a steady diet of
Ace of Hearts records from the early-to-mid-’80s. This is good, relatively
straight-ahead rock, but with just enough jaggedness underneath to keep
things interesting. I’d definitely be keen on hearing a full-length
from these guys. (Kevin Finn)

THE CRUSHING LOW
Bellhaven Records
All Orbits Are Free
6-song CD
Despite the odd production and murky
mix, the Crushing Low’s debut collection of songs represent a mature
extension of the sonic chocobliss™ harvested from bands like Interpol,
U2, and Bloc Party. The song arrangements remind me of late ’80s
Cure with a deliberately dreamy twist. There is not a bad song
on here, and while the guitars and the ambient effects tend to overwhelm
the mix at times, the material presented here is lush and radio-friendly,
carving a cerebral path of Brit pop Chris Martin could only hope to
achieve, if only he had more indie rock cred. Make more music
soon! (Joel Simches)


ALOYSIUS AND FRIENDS
Blessings: Spiritual Songs for
Sibusiso

16-song CD
Sibusiso is an organization “committed
to improving the lives of people infected and affected by the devastating
effects of HIV/AIDS and poverty in South Africa.” Blessings
is an incredibly powerful and moving collection of gospel-based music
and traditional hymns, such as “I’ll Fly Away.” Original
arrangements of the Beatitudes are also presented, but through reggae
and world grooves. As is appropriately inscribed on the disc itself:
“Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up.” – James
4:10. (Julia R. DeStefano)


MINDSET X

As Seen on TV

8-song CD
Man, I don’t know what they put in
the water up there in wild, wooly New Hampshire—judging by Scissorfight,
I’d guess cheap beer and top-shelf whiskey–but with a band like
Mindset X, I have to suspect the addition of chemicals of a more, shall
we say, cerebral nature? I mean, this here is some pretty smart music.
It’s also unique enough that I can’t slap an easy label on it—“prog
metal” is tempting, but it’s incorrect.

Yes, there are some twists and turns
and cool changes within each song, and they’re not the jarring kind
that some bands like to throw at the listener to prove their cleverness
and ability to change time-signatures; they’re the kind that just
plain make the songs more interesting. “Metal”? Well, at times.
But at other times it’s more like regular old rock, and sometimes
it’s music that shouldn’t be called names at all. I have seen a
video of these guys doing an acoustic version of Rush’s “Working
Man,” and it’s damn good, and may give you a little insight into
where these guys are coming from.

Opening track “Snake Oil” and the
anger-driven “Drop” are among the highlights here–the first word
that comes to mind is “propulsive.” The rhythm section here is granite-solid,
and the lead guitar work is never wanky (another reason why I hesitate
to use the word “prog”).

I also reviewed the band’s first
disc, Physics, and while I liked it (I still own it, which is
more than I can say for the majority of CDs I get for review), As
Seen on TV
is quite a leap forward. One element that both discs
have in common is that the songs manage to be the stick-in-your-head
kind, even when they’re clever and, um, proggy. (My only bitch is
that the catchiest song on the album, “Sunset Boulevard,” is also
the only song that doesn’t really work for me. But give some extra
points for the fact that the singer doesn’t remind me of anyone else
I’ve heard, and it’s rare that I have to opportunity to say that.
Good stuff, period, suitable for in-car or at-home enjoyment. (Tim Emswiler)

THREE DAY THRESHOLD

4-Song Sampler
4-song CD

This is what I love about Three Day
Threshold. They put out a new record, in four-song sampler increments.
This collection is easily the most rocking I have heard these guys in
years. Three Day Threshold had been at the forefront of the alt-country/rock
thing since the ’90s and show no signs of slowing down. They
have redefined the genre with every one of their releases, and this
EP is no exception. Their sound had gone from raw to slick and sophisticated;
from sensitive to crass; from drunk to crunk! This collection
of four songs is all of these things: songs about prayer, alcohol,
debauchery, and of course, titty bars. Drink some cheap rotgut
and crank the fuck out of this until your ears bleed Jim Beam!
Shake it for me! (Joel Simches)


JUKEBOX 4 FEATURING BIG LOU BRYANT

Plimro Records
Shutters and Boards
10-song CD
This sounds a lot like the music they
use at the end of Mars Attacks! to scare away the Martians, and
I don’t really mean that as an insult. This is classic country from
another era entirely, big on tales of heartache and woe delivered in
a twangy voice. The songs are sparsely arranged and produced, quiet
and laid-back with largely acoustic instrumentation. At times, the consistently
sleepy pace does drag a bit, but those times are relatively rare. Additionally,
give the band credit for sounding almost completely legitimate. Being
this much of a throwback can reek of artifice or desperate nostalgia,
but only on the backwoods “Crawdad Blues” does the band sound like
its playing dress-up. This is a nice change-up from what usually finds
its way into my hands. (Kevin Finn)


THE MEDVEDS

Asinine Records
Boos Coups & Interviews
24-song CD
I guess the Medveds were a punk band
that existed from 1994 to 2000, and this is a compilation of unreleased
recordings from the band’s shows, rehearsals, and rare radio appearances.
They do the kind of punk with a lot of humor like, say, the Angry Samoans,
but for me this CD doesn’t do it. They have lots of funny song titles
like ”Does Anyone Masturbate to Me?” and “Pothead, Give Me Some
Ludes,” but fail to make any chuckles or guffaws emit from the hole
in my face. Part of the problem may be the lo-fi quality of the recording
where the bass seems to almost disappear, but I’m thinking that if
you had some of their regular earlier releases it would be better, and
this is more for old fans of the band. So it’s not as bad as taking
a ride in Zortar’s ice cream truck, but I can’t recommend it either. (Slimedog)

THE JESSE MINUTE

Red Tide Records
Do or Die
12-song CD
The Jesse Minute is the Reese’s Peanut
Butter Cup of Providence. I am so old, or perhaps I love chocolate so
much, that I can remember ancient commercials for peanut butter cups,
like it was the most amazing discovery known to man. How many failed
experiments had to be test-marketed before peanut butter and chocolate
took off? Pickles and peanut butter? Onion Juice? Pork soda, anyone?
Perhaps mixing pop and punk, as the Jesse Minute do so well, is not
earth-shattering. They risk either alienating everyone, or getting millions
of fans. They are really good at what they do, but there are millions
of bands doing the same thing. Perhaps that's why they titled this album
Do 0r Die
. At times they remind me of Skunk Anansie or Letters to
Cleo, often within the same song. Jen Trynin mined similar territory
in Boston not long ago, and took it all the way to a major label. I
believe this band could too, if those things continue to exist. The
Jesse Minute were voted best garage-punk act in the Providence Phoenix
in 2009. I'm not certain I would put them in that category, but the
Jesse Minute is a very good band with a great singer and a decent collection
of songs on this record. (Eric Baylies)

JUSTIN LEVINSON

Predetermined Fate

11-song CD
I got some audio honesty right after
I dropped the needle on this record. Okay, so that’s creative writer’s
license; it’s not a record, but I’ve always wanted to say that.
Unfortunately, nobody submits RECORDS to the Noise for review (untrue…
ed.). Anyhow, Justin’s album is an extremely pleasant blend of kava,
skullcap, GABA…wait, that’s my holistic relaxation blend…you get
the idea. This countrified, Neil Young-meets-Ben Folds collection of
songs is really well put together. “Country” may be too general
as a descriptive term here, and though there are almost too many Mr.
Young-style harmonica blows here and there, it all works for the greater
good. It’s the telling of a story of ups and downs, why and why-nots,
from the vantage point of a native Vermonter, thrust into the Boston
scene for five years, and then released back to the Great Green North.
It’s a welcome sound and a display of songwriting that should be followed
with the utmost care and craft. (Mike Loce)

THICK SHAKES
Snugglehound Records
Ooh Mommy
8-song CD
This collection of garage rock tunes
could have easily found its way onto the Nuggets collection so many
years ago, but with a modern edge that could only have been recorded
onto a cassette with homemade kitchen utensils. Thick Shakes kinda
sound like Nancy Sinatra on meth, stabbing her dad in the eye with the
spiked heels of those boots that we all thought were just made for walking.
The songs are simple, yet catchy. One has to wonder what kind
of coffee this band drinks and what kind of peroxide they put in their
cereal. This album is Monoman’s wettest dream, without the Farfisa
or the ubiquitous tambourine. If this collection of songs were
more raw, it would still be pulling a plough, albeit through a slab
of wet cement. (Joel Simches)


TALK MODERN

People Noises

10-song CD
Bleak and grand ("Only Catastrophe").
Depressive, angular, and buzzing—with cowbells ("Useless)".
Droning, repetitive, hypnotic ("Thieves"). Sometimes even
dynamic and melodic ("Diplomats"). It's not that I don't like
these songs. I do. A lot. There's an enormous amount of talent here.
But it's just that I don't hear much to engage me. Because so many downbeat
lyrics piled one on top of another ultimately make it difficult for
me to muster much passion for what is, in truth, a remarkable debut,
full of mostly original and often very catchy songs. I suppose that
what I find most troubling is very likely the disconnect I feel when
listening to ’60s and ’70s compositional tropes so ably manipulated
to serve the cause of a mere world-weariness—one which seems less
like an earned stance and more like a mere affectation. Self-evident
contradictions have become an inescapable condition of modern life.
They surround us like a numinous buzzing.

It is as though we must tap our feet
and be engaged and yet at the same time are left feeling clumsy and
uneasy. There's a name for this condition, I suppose. It's called "neurosis."
Far be it from me to insist that everything be as super shiny awesome
as an imbecile's dream of the circus. But relentlessness pessimism also
eventually takes its toll, no less than purblind optimism.
(Francis DiMenno)


BRENDAN HOGAN

Long Night Coming

10-song CD
Released in the fall of 2009, Long
Night Coming
marks the formal debut of Brendan Hogan’s signature
folk and country sound. Having spent ten years in radio as host
and producer at WERS and WGBH, Hogan’s songs are a blend of original
roots, modern folk, and are highly blues-based. Through lush storytelling
and an acoustic twang, listeners are able to easily resonate with Porter
Wagoner’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” and the nostalgic opener,
“Nothing Belongs to Me.” Others, such as “Big Black Car”
are larger than life, toe-tappin’ with an authoritative edge, while
“What’s the Difference?” is a beautiful duet between Hogan and
Danielle Miraglia. A solid effort, Long Night Coming is
poetic and expressive, conjuring images of tranquility–of country
roads and hillsides: “Tie the laces on your shoes; we’ve got some
walking to do.” (Julia R. DeStefano)


BIRDS IN THE WOODS

Some Thing Knew?

11-song CD
Pleasantly evincing funk-inflected
jazz featuring stellar musicianship, innovative orchestration and genuinely
touching vocal performances, particularly on tracks like "Postcard."
(Francis DiMenno)

JAMES KEYES
Ruminations

15-song CD
Rough-around-the-edges folk? Hmmm…James
Keyes’ is a singer/songwriter, yes; and he would go over well in the
folk scene but maybe more like in a dark, beer-soaked, smoky basement
rock club… yeah… I really dug his style. Call it bluegrass, call
it folk, call it roots, or really do you have to call it anything at
all? How about this: I call “Ruminations,” his first release, purely
excellent. The CD showcases his raw and passionate style fronted by
raspy, affecting vocals that though I hate to compare to other singers
I’d say is a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen. Presented
on a nice warm, well-recorded and produced recording, James’ CD features
a highly talented backing band as well. Is it perfect and pristine?
No–some off-notes, one song that just didn’t fit in style-wise and
sounded out of place (“SSG”), etc., but James Keyes isn’t about
perfection but rather putting his music out there. My picks: “Where
Have You Been,” the super cool instrumentals “Chapter Six” and
“Little Lamb,” and the untitled Track 8. (Debbie Catalano)

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Nice Bass Productions

Lowell and Behold, Volume II

30-song CD
Onslo's bizarre, deliberately tuneless
offering, "Chuck Rak," is just eccentric enough to shine amid
these 30 highly variable genre exercises. The Sin Busters also contribute
a presentable punk travesty, "Generation Locust." Hot Day
at the Zoo's "Boston Blues," recorded live, is an evincing
hoe-down. And The Bella Birds' "Row By Row" is a lovely lament.
(Francis DiMenno)


IT THE VERB

Happy Mediums

7-song CD
A self-proclaimed “band that breaks
all bounds and pushes all musical limitations,” IT the Verb’s
Happy Mediums
is a strange (and I do mean strange) concoction of
audio performance art in the realm of the Mars Volta. Influences
are plentiful and include court jesters, African tribal dancing, Trans
Am(s), and Christmas on Ice…fitting, no? All in good FUN, I
suppose… (Julia R. DeStefano)

THE NOVEL IDEAS
The Sky Is a Field

11-song CD
I love knowing that after 20-plus years
of writing about music that I can still get excited about a band I never
heard of. I am big-time digging the Novel Ideas. In my notes I first
jotted down “rock folk” before I saw in their material that that’s
exactly how they define themselves. This CD is a kaleidoscopic collection
of tunes that contain the essence and heart of folk enhanced by excellent
instrumentation (acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, violin,
trumpet, flute, clarinet, cello, viola, bass, drums, vocals). Though
not every instrument is used in every song, the inclusion seamlessly
fits each song, which truly gives each song a perfect voice of its own.
Cool, modern, fun, deep, colorful, rhythmic, unpretentious…if they
haven’t already been on WERS, their material is right up that alley
(and that happens to be one of my favorite radio stations). Favorites
of mine on this include “Seabird,” “Homesick,” “Julian Carax,”
and “A Breath of Fresh Air,” but honestly there wasn’t one song
on here that I didn’t like. P.S. Terrific drumming! (Debbie
Catalano)

HEY NOW, MORRIS FADER
Hey Now, Morris Fader
4-song CD
This is a great collection of piano-driven,
radio-ready indie pop from Woostah. It’s easy to make comparisons
to Ben Folds, except Ben Folds hasn’t been this catchy or listenable
in at least a decade. The interweaving of vocal harmonies and
melodic hooks evoke memories of the musical salad days of Joe Jackson,
Todd Rundgren, and Jellyfish, filtered through the sensibilities of
Brit Pop favorites like Coldplay, Morrissey, and Muse. The potential
is definitely there for this band to break through the drone of mediocrity,
as long as they can rise above their own influences and find their own
voice. These songs are irresistibly catchy and will stay in your
brain long after the buzz has worn off. Can’t wait to hear more!
(Joel Simches)


UKE OF SPACES CORNERS

Corleone Records
Flowers in the Night

8-song CD
Greetings, Zortar here, alien from
another planet inhabiting the abhorrent, adverse, acrid, amorous Airedale-loving
vessel known as Slimedog to those unfortunate enough to know him. So
this lovely CD sets out to make “music to drink tea to, to break up
with a lover to, to make a pass at a lover to, to pet a dog (Oh, Slimedog
would love that), contemplate life, to call a magician, or fall into
a black hole with.” To achieve this they have boring, droney songs
that are somehow trapped between ’60s folk music and new age. Well,
I did all of the above while listening to this and it did not make me
too pleased. In fact it did make me want to take a chainsaw and cut
my speakers and any creatures, plants, or rocks that got in the way.
This CD will not replace the beautiful music of Rammstein that I play
in my ice cream truck through the politely driven streets of Boston
this winter. (Slimedog)


THE ORGAN BEATS

Sleep When We Are Dead

9-song CD
Lightweight dreck? Not so fast. Sure,
there's that faux-monumental grandiosity in evidence right from the
get-go—check out "The Chilly Breeze of May." But sometimes—maybe
more often than we care to admit—a chipper anthem is just what a body
needs, like a Rolaids for the soul. If it's not a masterpiece—and
actually, it kind of is—then at the very least it's a guiltless pleasure.
Both the title track and the final number, "Brand Me a Fool,"
are also mostly engaging slices of what we might call "ecstasy
rock," designed it seems to induce a kind of serotonin high. It's
mostly when the band switches up and tries to go all radical and experimental—as
on "The Movie"—that paradoxically, they seem to fall prey
to the lightweight label. You know, like Heart. Surely you remember
the Wilson sisters. Much ado about nothing: fodder to sting the tear
ducts of morbid 15-year-olds wearing too much makeup. It doesn't really
get much better than that great first song, sad to say. It unfortunately
seems like an awful lot of clamor and rote posturing from where I sit.
On "Happy Birthday," Noelle LeBlanc's voice comes across as
shrill, and the song is about as subtle as cosmetics applied with a
trowel. Even the softer numbers also suffer from a certain overblown
quality—look no further than "Never Gonna Make It Out of Here
Alive," whose title, sadly, pretty much says it all.
(Francis DiMenno)

MILQUETOAST & CO.
Drinking and Smoking Too Much With
Women I Hate

11-song CD
Given a press release that paints Milquetoast
& Co. as an eclectic group of people with a genre-hopping sound,
I went into this with high hopes. Apparently, that was my mistake. Despite
threatening to break out into something a little wild or a little off-center,
this disc, with the exception of the revved-up rockabilly of “Cigarette
Burns,” remains lifeless throughout. When the band does try to get
crazy, such as with the kazoo-and-drums explosion on “Mr. Milquetoast,”
it sounds forced. The group favors the same “low” sound that Morphine
explored so deftly, but singer/guitarist James McAndrew is no Mark Sandman. Where
Sandman always exhibited a worldly cool, McAndrew just sounds dull.
While the music is performed competently throughout, and I would hesitate
to say this record is bad, it is definitely forgettable, which, in some
ways, is a worse sin. (Kevin Finn)


STU, MAC & CLIVE

Silly Hat Records
Dirty World Supreme
10-song CD
Ah, yes, Mrs. Slimedog here. Top reviewer
of the Noise, voted number one in the “female/ Guatamalan”
category once again. Sorry, Emerstly, better luck next time and I wish
people would stop writing in Joe Coughlin for that category! But up
to the business that stands. When I saw the band was named Stu, Mac
& Clive, I thought, how nice; it’s probably three nice boys who
met while working at the local cleaners, or maybe brothers like the
Hanson brothers, and would play a similar delightful style. But from
the start it’s that gloomy guitar that sounds like a chainsaw cutting
through your brain, only difference is the songs aren’t too fast and
the singer is less growly. Now Slimedog says I’m wrong in implying
this is death metal, and that it’s mostly funk beats with aggressive
vocals and guitar—and he doesn’t mind them at all. Still, though,
I don’t know what that means. I think the boys should listen to more
cheerful music like Andre Boccelli and they could go up to the top,
just like me. (Mrs. Slimedog)

 

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