SILVER CIRCLES REVIEWS July 10


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LIVINGSTON TAYLOR

Last Alaska Moon


12-song CD

Livingston’s latest is an instantly identifiable gem that is everything a listener would expect from this folk icon. The songwriting is exceptional; he’s a great storyteller and the meanings of all the compositions are understandably crystal clear. The delivery showcases the passion in Livingston’s voice and every sung lyric is personable and believable. The melodies range from folk with an easy, acoustic sound to folk ballads with C&W, bluegrass, and blues with a Southern feel peppered in between. The band arrangements are perfectly suited to project the strengths of his memorable and expressive vocals.
First the folk: “Last Alaska Moon” with its nice slide guitar, the radio-friendly “This Girl Is Mine” with Liv on piano, “Kitty Hawk” and “Everybody’s Just Like Me” are fun tunes, pure and simple. “Never Lose Hope” and “Answer My Prayer” share a simple spirituality that is present throughout the CD. The bluegrass “Henry,” the Southern blues of “I’m Letting The Whiskey Do My Talking,” and the traditional/campfire feeling of “I’m In a Pickle” are the icing on the cake for this thoroughly enjoyable audial endeavor. “Last Alaska Moon” is destined for continuous play in this listener’s house. A perfect summer release. (A.J. Wachtel)
 
COCKED N’ LOADED
Take a Shot
10-song CD
Somebody get me a bottle of bourbon, a bag a junk, and a whore. I’m half- way into track one, “Atomic,” and suddenly, I want to party! Kyle Neeson’s tortured vocal reaches out to me and suddenly I’m hopelessly drawn toward the refrigerator for a High Life. This infectious catalog of rip-roaring’, booze-fueled rock Americana, brings me back to greats like the Rolling Stones, the Cult, and AC/DC. Take a Shot offers enough drinking, fighting, and cheating to put me in the back of a Boston police car. All 10 tracks are loud and proud. There are enough tasty dueling guitar work from Wilki Wilkins and Matt Sullivan to easily satisfy wattage hungry masses. With song titles like “Drinking Party” and “My Fist Yer Face,” I knew exactly what I was going to hear. I’m turning my car deck up to 11 and putting the pedal to the metal! Hey now! I like the Glen Danzig reference at the end of “Sex Fight.” Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get drunk, get laid, and punch someone in the face. (Lance Woodward)
 
WALTER SICKERT & THE ARMY OF BROKEN TOYS
Steam Ship Killers
13-song CD
More than simply phenomenal, the carnivalesque grotesqueries of Walter Sickert et al. are downright inspirational. An example to us all. Not all of the songs are winners, and some seem to be overproduced—layers of echo muffle the vocals in places where restraint might better have served. However, the approach works well on the plangent and exalted “Feathers.” And the monitory and magisterial “No Room” shows that a good song with a timely message trumps any amount of bells and whistles. “Sam Hall” is a rollicking hoot, and of course I am also superstitiously convinced of its high quality because it’s based on an actual historical figure. “Hole in the Boat” is a riotous singalong; “Revenge of the Rats,” a stellar ballad. As for the poignant, elegiac “Heroin Pig,” it’s just plain beautiful any way you look at it, and ought to become a classic of the canon. (Francis DiMenno)
 
T MAX
Dove Records
Why Do We Go to War? A Moral Dilemma
15-song CD
I’m a Nam vet. During a tour as an infantry medic I saw my share of fear, chaos, and killing, and what comes afterward. I had a tough time listening to T Max’s album Why Do We Go to War? though not for reason’s one might expect. It’s clear that much time and effort and love went into its production. However I found the story line and lyrics somewhat stereotypical. The annunciatory “Why Do We Go to War” gave the impression the music that followed might be ideologically driven. That seems the case. Intervals of great musicianship were often diluted by overly theatrical singing and less than stellar lyrics. The individual songs, each describing a part of a soldier’s life in war’s unruly cycle, were simply not convincing to one who has direct experience of it. And perhaps that is the heart of the matter. This well-intentioned album is not borne of down-and-dirty hard-won suffering and even harder-won redemption, but by their imagined twins. No bones and blood or terror-filled eyes or final glances from final faces occur in studio sessions. No sudden ambushes, no slumping bodies, no glissando agonies fill the heated air. No haunting losses, no drinking binges or drug-fueled reveries duel with murderous rage. That’s not possible. And yet successful war protest songs or albums that wed the personal and the political and rise above it have been written and how that is done I do not know. What I do know is this: The numerous voices and their messages in Why Do We Go to War are at a critical distance from the real; in essence they are well-meant but less than compelling and impress as artificial. No doubt there will be an audience for this uneven (for when the music is good it is very good) but well-intentioned album whose words and story are discomforting yet safe and knowable. But for this combat vet there is no genuine voice that has directly or somehow indirectly walked the dark valley of the living nightmare and lived to tell and wisely protest it. (Marc “Doc” Levy – D 1/7 Cav ’70, Vietnam/Cambodia)
 
PATRICK COMAN
Southern Storms
10-song CD
Coman has easily put together one of the strongest local albums of the year. His country-infused rock recalls the mellower side of Neil Young, but only if the songs were sung by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Coman was raised in the South, and his background colors his songs with an outsider’s feeling of urban isolation. Despite this, there is never a lack of warmth. The record doesn’t veer much off its laid-back path, but there is so much variety and richness in the songs’ construction (a touch of pedal steel here, a flourish of strings there, velvet harmonies throughout) that at no point does listener fatigue set in. The only bad thing I can say is that there aren’t any liner notes to allow me to give proper credit for his excellent and tasteful backing band. And I don’t mean “tasteful” as a euphemism for “safe”; they simply know exactly the right part to work into a song, even if it isn’t the showiest. It’s a lesson many could stand to learn, and listening to this excellent record would provide a solid first lesson. (Kevin Finn)
 
THE FREEWAYS
Polk Records
The Freeways
9-song CD
Somewhat vaguely understated production values may be a deliberate but misguided attempt to evoke crude ’60s product. But Karen Zanes, with a vocal style somewhat reminiscent of Signe Anderson, fronts a band specializing in short songs evocative less of ’60s psychedelia than of the nouveau-psychedelia movement of the early 1980s. As such, many of the songs are appealing slices of that mind-manifesting genre. “I’ll Take It,” “Country,” and “End of Summer” are particularly successful in weaving an alluring spell. (Francis DiMenno)

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Treble, Treble (Vol. 1)
10-song CD
A SPACE Gallery project made possible by the Maine Arts Commission, Treble, Treble (Vol. 1) is the first in a series of documentations featuring the underground rock scene of Portland, Maine. As is stated within the disc’s one-sheet, “Maine’s Portland peninsula is the country’s most easterly outpost of independent music. It is separate and insular: an incubator for an unusually high number of music makers per capita.” The disc begins with the hard-hitting garage rock of Metal Feathers’ “Frency” and concludes with the country flavor of An Evening With’s “Last of the Great Smokers.” As “brothers and sisters of the future past and present,” Planets Around the Sun put forth the cosmic, hippie-esque “Five Horses” and similarly, Honey Clouds’ “Clutter” is breezy and charming, a radio-friendly pop confection. Huak’s “Stats & Demographics” is abstract and in the realm of experimental punk, which is fitting, seeing as how the band’s influences read: “collective musical creation, Thai food, putting massive boxes into luxury sedans, and other variants on the clown car.” What the disc succeeds in doing is offering a slice of the music scene. An interactive CD compilation accompanied by a full-color photo album, the entire package is a testament to the ongoing perseverance of an active, talented, and ever-evolving music community. (Julia R. DeStefano)
 
MING TORO
Bucket Republic
Ming Toro
7-song CD
Damn it, I enjoy Ming Toro. These cats from Providence sound a bit like mid ’90s Dischord, which I happen to love, thank you very much. But this ain’t some retro goodtime throwback rock ’n’ roll—this is vital, catchy stuff that makes me want to throw trash at people from a car I’m not driving. Daredevil vocals, paint-peeling B-52’s-in-hell guitar, spastic horny-nerd-from-hell keyboards, drums that make me bust serious whiteboy moves that no one must ever see, and a bass sound that burrows into my noggin like a brain-eating woodland creature, especially on the tracks “Le Masquerade” and “Sexmaze.” “The Germ” is the pop hit here—infectious New Wave-meets-Fugazi fun. Come to Boston sometime. (Tony Mellor)
 
DAVE COFFIN
The King is Dead
11-song CD
Coffin’s press release compares him to Dave Matthews and John Mayer, but he’s not really that bad. And in terms of famous mellow singers who royally suck, he reminds me more of Jack Johnson. If you’re looking for some soft rock to play in the background while you’re reorganizing your file cabinets, you could do a lot worse than this, but if you’re doing something exciting like drinking a root beer float, don’t expect your attention to be pulled away from that foamy goodness. Coffin obviously has garnered a certain modicum of respect, as he gets both Al Kooper and Duke Levine to lend their talents. Levine’s gritty play provides the album with some of its better moments. More of him and less of saxophonist Ryan Zoidis, whose two appearances veer too close to smooth jazz for comfort, would have made this a more interesting recording. (Kevin Finn)
 
BUTTERKNIFE
Onetworeadygo
10-song CD
Though the band occasionally seems to mistake portentousness for grandeur (see “Don’t Say a Thing” and “Hey Turnstile”), and high energy for songcraft (see “Unwound,” and “Waiting in the Wings”), all the same, their hard-edged rock-pop stylings succeed more often than not, and excel on three numbers: the dreamy “Over Chicago,” the staccato but hook-laden “I Will Spiral,” and, especially the brilliantly clamorous, radio-ready “Laser.” A very promising debut from a band to watch. (Francis DiMenno)
 
HONDO
Hondo Presents Space Songs
10-song CD
Greetings, Zortar here. Alien from another planet inhabiting the bloated and wasted body of the appropriately named Slimedog. What a hideous beast, indeed.
I believe I’ve been assigned this Space Songs CD because I am a space being, though the music on my planet sounds nothing like this. I would describe our music as a cross between what you know as an electric can opener and Abba. Anyways, these humans play spacey, psychedelic progressive rock. The best thing about them is their sense of humor. They have names like Cyclops and Foam, and describe their style as Uriah Heep on crack. Which I believe is a perfect metaphor for Slimedog’s lifestyle, now that I think of it. I hear touches of Deep Purple, Hawkwind, Foghat, and even Ozzy in the vocals when they’re rocking. But when they occasionally slow it down, Hondo sounds unfortunately like Supertramp. This disc definitely sounds like it was recorded in 1973 but that’s not necessarily a drawback if you like that era of music. But I must respectively decline their offer for a ride in their spaceship. (Slimedog)
 
ZAC TAYLOR
Salesman
8-song CD
What can I say about Zac’s album? To be honest, I could not stand the sound of his voice on the first song. Gravelly, whiny and pitch-corrected in all the wrong ways… up to track three this disc was a tough sell. Barring that initial reaction, I let the disc sleep in my car for a night, rather than force the listening. I needed some distance after the initial blunt sales pitch. Turns out a day later, things had changed, at track four. The horn arrangements were friendly to my ear, and the jazzy groove had good lift to it. I started rationalizing how the salesman was actually pitching something of some quality. A banjo love song promoted the selling, followed by some tunes based around the fact that the main character (salesman) was in fact, just a regular guy who had problems. Some musical statements approaching an anthemic, confessive quality wrap it up. Rock opera or concept album? Not really, but there’s a story here. (Mike Loce)
 
GUILLERMO SEXO
Vivid Nights
10-song CD
Slicing straight down the middle of a Shins/-Strokes sandwich, the sexy Guillermo Sexo easily satisfied my urge for slick-indie-garage-pop soda—to wash down my Shins/Strokes sandwich. Not to pigeon hole these fine lads, commitment to artistic freedom: Vivid Nights took me on a magic carpet ride to galactic ecstasy. From the chaotic alterna-Brit sounds of the opening track “Solo Aches” to the ’70s, flower-power styling of “Crossbow,” I’m simply delighted. As I run to my closet to fetch my smoking jacket, geek glasses, and a martini, I can’t help but be impressed by Mr. Sexo’s skilled drum work and their fearless swerve into tripped-out fantasy excellence. Short but sweet is track 10, “Apparitions.” And sure enough, “Its” sounds like it has been written by monks on PCP. I feel like I’m on drugs myself now and I’m pretty sure I haven’t taken anything since lunch time. Hell, at my next rage/orgy, I’m putting Vivid Nights in the CD player, dropping acid, and shagging every girl in the room baby! (Lance Woodward)
 
GIOIA
Flawless
8-track CD
Ladies, do you miss the Backstreet Boys and wish Justin Timberlake was back with ’N Sync? Did you buy the solo album from the guy in 98 Degrees who was married to Jessica Simpson? Well, Gioia’s like the Backstreet Uncle, and he’s here to take you back to the glory days! The slick, electronic, dance-pop with light, white R&B overtones fills me with nightmare visions of the Liberty Tree Mall in the late ’90s…
I had to double-check the date this gem was produced—incredibly, it’s from 2010, and not 1999. Gioia’s music is 11-12 years too late for the boy-band invasion, and judging by his photos, he was probably 10 years too old even back then!
Holy hell, I can feel my masculinity slip away the more I listen. The things I suffer for you Noise readers. Hey Gioia, maybe you can be the Svengali for the next teen-pop movement and make a shit-ton of money, and who will be laughing then? Probably me.
Thrill and swoon to Gioia – Live! clip on Youtube. (Tony Mellor)
 
LESSER KNOWNS
Get Famous
10-song CD
Ah, yes, Mrs. Slimedog here, the rootin’ tootin’ best rock writer this side west of the Rockies and the most knowledgeable one to shoe! I’m a classy, sassy, firecrackin’ hot tamale, yippee!
This CD has lots of weird titles like “Drinking Schlitz With Jesus,” “Frank Black Says,” and “We Killed Michael Jackson.” But what I think is really weird is my kitty Seymour was in my backyard and the blue jays were bugging him and one swooped down and poked him on his bum! He jumped onto the wire link fence and his tail was wagging back and forth, back and forth.
What I mean to say, oh, Slimedog says he likes this band and it’s a mix of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth influences but they have their own original take. Me, I’m just worried about my kitty’s bum. I have him dressed in his blue sailor suit today.
So I recommend that everyone buy as many Andre Bocelli CDs as you can possibly hold in your arms at one time. He’s really great and he can’t see things! Wish you all could see little Seymour, he’s so cute! (Mrs. Slimedog)
 
MY SILENT BRAVERY
Are You Prepared?
12-song CD
Personally, my silent bravery was the bravery I displayed enduring this saccharine, syrupy, Autotune-infested waste of a jewelcase. Give me a flipping Bronze Star Medal.
Okay, I’m way too harsh on this album—I bet a lot of chicks will dig this. It’s sweet, inspirational, romantic—sunny electronics framing an earnestly strummed acoustic guitar. It’s not devoid of tunefulness and harmony, but I listen to it and I imagine the dead guy from Sublime reanimated through Protools, hooked on Autotune and Prozac speedballs instead of heroin fronting Savage Garden or something. It’s an unsavory combination of things that have been wrong with pop and quote-unquote-alternative in the last 15 years.
The worst moment is on the track “Shadow”—besides the trite lyrics like “If at first you don’t succeed/ Try, try, try, try again” (triteness is all over this album), on the third verse there’s a synth that sounds like those obnoxious screeching cicadas you hear all the time in the summer. I hope these guys and Gioia hook up and do the “Up-Yours-Tony-Mellor Tour.” (Tony Mellor)
 
THE DAKOTA
District 5 Records
Chopped in Half
21-song CD
When I put this CD into my good stereo, it refused to play it. It turns out that my trusted friend was attempting to do me a favor. I just wish my cheap stereo had been more discerning. The Dakota plays a mix of thrash and hardcore, and they favor brevity, as the average song on here barely clocks in at over a minute. Still, each one manages the seemingly impossible feat of feeling longer than your typical Phish song. Before hearing this record, I had always thought John Cage’s “4’33”” was a load of arty crap, but given the unshakeable headache I received each time I listened to Chopped in Half, I’m starting to think that maybe Cage had something going on after all. (Kevin Finn)
 
STROKER AND FRIENDS
Polka Dog Music
Sexual Intellectual
16-song CD
What do you say about a guy who assembles 45 of his heaviest friends and records 16 songs in a see-sawing vocal style we can only charitably describe as un-nuancical? You probably said “vanity project”; it wasn’t me. Sure, the guy is versatile and the sidemen are stellar, but the Jackson Browne knock-off is the only tune I’d care to hear more than once. And I curse the day I was subjected to the rap, reggae, and country numbers. (Francis DiMenno)
 
LIQUID CHEER
Here, There and Beyond Control
10-song CD
Liquid Cheer is the brainchild of Groveland, MA, Sean Bonnell who is an avid songwriter having composed over 200 songs. He is an accomplished musician whether on guitar, vocals, bass… oops, sorry I must of dozed off there. His songwriting varies from straight-up rock to folk, old-school R&B, and modern Indie rock. After connecting with childhood… oh, sorry again. The two began recording at Ray’s studio, brings a wide range of influences into the mix… recognized as one of the area’s best skilled drummers, addictive element to the band’s live performance. This review is mostly taken from the promo information for this CD. I almost fell asleep while reading it, and definitely fell asleep while listening to these Indie folk/rock tunes. I could describe the CD better if I was able to stay conscious while listening to it. I cannot recommend this CD except for a substitute for a glass of hot milk, anesthesia, sleeping pills, or counting sheep. Sweet dreams. (Slimedog)
 
DO NOT FORSAKE ME OH MY DARLING
The New Number 2
6-song CD
If you’re not a fan of the original Prisoner series starring Patrick McGoohan, you may not get the references on this disc, or the fact that the band name and five of the tracks presented are episode titles from the show. That said, this album is full of angst and tales of alienation, interrogation, and the hopelessness of captivity, while trying desperately to uncover the secret will of the inner psyche. Sophia Cacciola vocally channels Kim Gordon and Patti Smith while defiantly pounding the drums, accompanied by the Motion Sick’s Michael Epstein on bass and devices. While the Leonard Cohen cover of “First We Take Manhattan” seems out of place with the concept of this album, the performance alone is worth checking out, as is this band. (Joel Simches)
 
JASON BENNETT & THE RESISTANCE
“The Patriot”
1-song preview 
This single is a preview track from the upcoming 2:59 to Salvation EP. If you’ve heard Bennett and his crew before, then you already know whether or not you like this song, as it features his familiar mix of impassioned earnest vocals, gritty guitars and machete-sharp social commentary. It’s a formula that works excellently for Bennett, and it’s to his credit that his efforts consistently stand out in a town full of people producing similar work. Hopefully, though, the full EP contains at least a small trek or two off Bennett’s beaten path. (Kevin Finn)
 
NATALIE SMITH
Better in the Summertime
5-song CD
Natalie’s songwriting is as bright, sunny, and cheerful as her face on the cover, which looks like it was designed by the fine folks at the Disney Channel. While I am not a fan of this kind of contrived feel-good, ready packaged formulaic pop, the songs are well written and performed with the kind of energy that you would expect from a Miley Cyrus album or someone who just appeared on American Idol. The disappointing thing is how often Ms. Smith’s clear, melodic voice is drowned out by the arrangement and the production. It would be great to hear these songs with the “production” dialed back and properly mastered. (Joel Simches)
 
A BIT MUCH
You Deserve It
5-song CD
The madcap master of ceremonies, Clinton Degan, leads his mates through what is best described as a brilliantly devised classical, jazz, blues stew. Out in front is Degan’s unique voice. He is at the same time richly soulful and playfully quirky. Lyrically, the stories are twistingly captivating and get better with every listen as the hidden gems reveal themselves between the notes. The nine-plus minute “You’re Blessing Me” digs deep into the blues adding some jazzy licks for flavor. “Starvation Wage” has so many starts and brake stands, to try to describe it would not do justice to this tremendous song. “I Can Rock Nobody Like Nobody’s Been Rocked Before” has a smoking hot swing style sound and interesting take on trying to make a living playing music. I’m adding this to my rotation today. (Rick Dumont)
 
EOLUNE

Canvas EP
6-song CD
The best thing about this EP is the swirling electronic and guitar landscapes. The sounds interlaced throughout this release are truly mind bending. Though the band suggests that you listen to this as loud as possible while speeding down an empty highway (which I do plan on doing), the best way to listen to this is in the dark in an empty room, with only your psyche for company. You’ll thank me and you’ll thank the band. Fans of Deathcab For Cutie will love the emo-esque vocal delivery. Fans of Yo La Tengo will love the atmosphere. I don’t care for the lyrics for the most part, because they fail to convey the mental imagery as profoundly as the musical passages themselves, but I hope future releases by Eolune will play more to the bands’ inestimable strengths. (Joel Simches)
 
DANIEL OUELLETTE & THE SHOBIJIN
But You Know I Have to Be the Vampire!
6-song CD
Ah, finally something that’s not taking itself too seriously, not boring and predictable, that doesn’t sound like it’s made for WXRV’s playlist. As you may guess by the title, But You Know I Have to Be the Vampire! is bizarre, campy, electronic gothy new wave—complete absurdity, yet a perverse pleasure that makes me, a straight man, want to recreate that infamous Buffalo Bill-in-the-mirror scene in Silence of the Lambs. I’m really ashamed to say I like this. The flamboyant drama-drag-queen-huffing-Glade vocals and pretentious use of French, Spanish, and I-think-it’s-Yiddish lyrics actually won me over. Congratulations, Daniel. (Tony Mellor)

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