CD Reviews

MICHAEL CHORNEY & DOLLAR GENERAL       
Hall of Records
Dispensation of the Ordinary

9 tracks

In this current era of compressed, incessant pulse, it is a genuine pleasure to hear a music so gentle and gracious that it feels like a quiet stream flowing through your body. It takes real talent to craft this style and Michael Chorney & Dollar General have a full till to offer. Last spring I reviewed their CD release show at Club Passim, which turned out to be a bit premature. Now at last, their album is available, but only online (which seems to be the new way of the world—grrrrr) on Michael Chorney’s website.

In short, there is nothing ordinary about this music, as it touches so many aspects of extraordinary style and substance. Is it alternative Americana? Avant-garde chamber folk? Old, weird, and hipless? Yup—all of the above. Michael’s guitar playing is pure filigree and finesse, while his vocals are smoky and relaxed.  Asa Brosius, the pedal steel/Dobroist, is passionate and mercurial in selecting his moods and tones, which are breathtaking. The rhythm section of Rob Morse (bass) and Gaza Carr (drums) move delicately with precision and punch, demanding attention with their fluid motion. A few of the stand-out tracks include “Carry Water,” “Bewildered,” “Wake Me,” and “Guitar,” but make no mistake, it is a complete album of sublime material—dispensation of the superb.               (Harry C. Tuniese)

 

CATBIRDS
Iddy Biddy Records
Catbirds Say Yeah

12 tracks

The first thing I noticed when I picked up this rocking CD is that the first ten songs all clock in at 2:52 in length, signaling a desire to favor leanness over blubber. The songs attack, make their point, and move on with every note, riff and lyric acting in service to the song, not the ego. More bands should take this approach. It’s especially impressive when you know that these guys clearly have the talent to show off, but fortunately, they have the taste to rein themselves in. Almost everything is upbeat, which means that on the rare occasion they slow things down, the impact is all that much greater. The disc ends with an excellent version of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s oft-covered “Leaving Here,” and the band makes it feel fresh and new, which is no small accomplishment.        (Kevin Finn)

 

TIM GEARAN
Deeveeus Records
Riverboat

12 tracks

Riverboat is Gearan’s fifth release in ten years, and right on the opening track, “Get a Gun,” you hear a classic Rolling Stones vibe and the cranky old man vocals and attitude evoke a punchy Randy Newman and the overall effect hits you like a hot blast of carnival air redolent of taffy, cotton candy, and popcorn. For people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like, as Honest Abe once diplomatically averred. Though if we’re going to take this Randy Newman-style Americana comparison still further, this reminds me most of Twelve Songs, Newman’s second album. Same acidic humor and wide range of styles, yet one of my least-favorites. Full disclosure: I easily can see why Gearan is so widely respected by critics and peers, but as a veteran compere of over a hundred blues jams, a good deal of this shtick personally leaves me cold, though the title track is appealing in a madcap way. “Shoulda Gone Home” is an irresistibly spirited romp, and songs like “Knock ’Em Down” and “For Today” lurch toward a peculiar grandeur ala “I Got the Blues” by the Rolling Stones.   (Francis DiMenno)

 

LOLITA BLACK
Fireheart Records
Flesh Blood and Bone

10 tracks

Do you remember rock ’n’ roll radio? How about real vinyl records? Lolita Black certainly does. They have released their new album on 33 with a poster and insert with lyrics and a band picture. This looks like an instant classic before you even drop the needle. What about the songs? I’m glad you asked. Hard rock and metal are well represented here, knocking on the hellish door of thrash, but stopping just short of speed metal. I’m reminded of Venom, Witchfynder General, and Kill ‘em All-era Metallica at times, but Lolita Black performs the almost impossible task in 2012 of creating their own sound and style that may be emulated for years to come. “Tightrope” sounds like the hit song the Plasmatics never quite achieved, but mostly this is way too great for the post-millennium rape rock radio controlled by corporate America. Onstage, guitarist Bob Otis and company slay, but it’s sometimes difficult to make out all the words, depending on the venue, and if lead singer Scarlett is punching you in the face. She weaves some interesting tales from the dark side that could stand on their own as prose or poetry. This is the best metal album of the past 25 years.                          (Eric Baylies)

 

FALL OF THE TIN CAN EMPIRE
Fall of the Tin Can Empire

12 tracks

A heady draught, this album. It’s got the quirky symphonic dreamscapes of the late Beatles coupled with the lo-fi bedroom aesthetic and extensive multitracking of Elliott Smith, and then, on top of that, some folktronic flair for good measure. With slow-paced tempos and wistful lyrics, this album aches with existential funk, bitter-sweet longing, and the occasional pink cloud of hopeful refrains. The songs, more often than not, blossom from meditative acoustic finger-pickers into jaunty orchestral-layered tunes brimming with whimsical pop hooks and rich vocal harmonies. Strewn among rock ’n’ roll’s standard-issue guitar-bass-drums triumvirate is an impressive array of different instruments, including fine-spun fiddle lines, the nasally bellows of accordion, and a shimmering brass section—not to mention synth, cello, banjo, and piano thrown hither thither into the mix as well, making for an iridescent tonal rainbow. Captivating and intoxicating, this album really hits the spot.    (Will Barry)

 

KANGARALIEN
Basement Tapes Records
Kangaralien 
[The Ice Cream Album]
11 tracks

Nine of these tracks are instrumental guitar duets from the talented Steve Belleville and Eric Clemenzi from West Newbury; two bonus tracks add an additional sideman. At their best, many of the compositions on their third full-length release come across as a kind of new age version of Leo Kottke, which is actually not a slur but high praise. Novelty factor: all the song titles reference ice cream. Okay, so on “Espresso Chip” the tour-de-force touches at the finale seem a bit programmatic and not an organic part of the main body of the song, and at times the proceedings threaten to devolve into background music. But the best of these compositions will reward repeated listens; notably, the revenant chiming of “Vanilla Bean,” the lively “Neapolitan,” the introspective, Fahey-esque “Black Raspberry,” and the resonantly percolating “Rocky Road.”              (Francis DiMenno)

 

THE EVIL STREAKS
Necro-Tune Records
Talk to The Dead

13 tracks

As I gutted the last remaining carcass of dog in my Worcester apartment, I draped the bloody entrails over my helix-infused magickal floor pentagram in the unholiest and darkest manner of the Necromonicon’s teaching. I raised my fingers to my mouth, closing my eyes, tasting the blood and listening to the sound of the Evil Streaks wash over my aural net.  Vile, pure, undead music with sounds of garage band, surf, dark punk and malevolent rockabilly.  The souls creating this sound have been trapped in between hellish levels for eons, continuing to remain and celebrate their torture.  Driven with distorted electric guitar, Farfisa organ, shrieking and angry feral vocals, the haunted ghosts and their legion have once again risen to be listened to. This graveyard surf music is certainly messing around with crap that most people would avoid.  (Mike Loce)

 

TWO VIEW REVIEW

SPOT MARY                
Arlocor Music
Full of Grace 

6 tracks

Veteran rock ’n’ roller Joey Ammo is known for writing good hooks with growling guitars and his latest release is no exception to this rule. All the five songs on Full of Grace have the same formula and his world weary vocals tease and lecture from line to line. Opener “Love Me” best showcases these specific musical attributes while the rest of the songs share a common influence of power pop and alt rock. “Teresa” is a metal ballad, “Bone Dry” sounds like it could be an encore anthem at a huge arena concert. “Glue” sounds like it came off of “Exile On Main Street” and “Bigger,” with it’s psychedelic sound, combine to make a solid and enjoyable listen. For best results, play loud.   (A.J. Wachtel)

SPOT MARY 
Arlocor Music
Full of Grace

6 tracks

Joey Ammo hasn’t lost his knack for composing rocking toe-tappers; the anthemic “Glue” is a potential hit if there ever was one; “Bigger” queasily evokes that ’60s classic “Stepping Stone,” and even the unlisted bonus track, “Jesus Is My Landlord” is a compelling fragment. But muffled and overly spare production values give these potentially glistening garage-psyche numbers an almost strangulated vibe, which is a pity, particularly on the otherwise compellingly foreboding opening track “Love Me,” a hypnotically compelling song by an artist who, in a better world, would be much more widely known and appreciated. (Francis DiMenno)

 

WESTERN EDUCATION
Western Education
4 tracks

Listening to this four-piece from Lowell, it’s truly hard for me to not be in a good mood. It’s just really upbeat and energetic, and you can hear the excitement in the voices of the band as they put their skills to the test. A+ gentlemen, A-plus. With a solid dose of rock courtesy of Georgio Broufas on guitar and Will Hunt on the bass, plus some eclectic keywork from Greg Alexandropoulos, and backed by the light and precise drum skills of Mark Ragusa, this quartet gives a positive and impassioned performance across four songs. “Festival” is my top pick of the four. From the simple keyboard intro, the band hits the ground running, with Alexandropoulos’s potent vocal abilities ringing strong and constant. I get a hint of pop-punk in this mix, and the quick tempo and intense blend of sounds tell me this band can bring a lot to the table.            (Max Bowen)

 

THE TRUEZOOS
Untitled Self Released EP

5 tracks

Five tracks are more than enough to gauge this band’s sound: Funk-fused groove-heavy jams with a distinctive ’90s vibe. The vocals have that Sublime-type streamlined vocal style. The drummer, who would usually be the unflinching heart and driving force of a band like this, isn’t. It’s their rock-solid bassist with his sometimes-funky sometimes-melodic basslines that carries this EP, guiding ebb and flow of the tracks, while the guitar, with its raucous shades of dirty and clean tones layering each track, wails on high. Don’t get me wrong, the powerhouse drums are well-played, but are still outshined by the raucous leads of the guitar and the call-and-response between it and the bass. Oh, and clever album title, fellas. I almost didn’t catch it.              (Will Barry)

 

BILL GOFFRIER & KARLEE DEAN
“She’s Running Late”
1 track

A country-tinged oddity by the ex-Big Dipper vet, who is accompanied by Ms. Dean. Its repetitive structure seems more akin to new age than yee-haw, but the melody is lovely and although the vocal mix creates the rather odd feeling that the room is full of helium, the tune is rather akin to early Hollies and the overall effect is gratifyingly similar to that produced by a duo such as Richard and Linda Thompson.       (Francis DiMenno)

 

PAUL TAIT with ED DALEY
Paul Tait Music
PTEP8

6 tracks

I’m feeling a certain sound description here on the first tune.  How about Mick Jagger meets Country Joe MacDonald, with Ray Manzarek on piano, and they go jam it up in a men’s room at a Savannah truck stop? That’s a good beginning.  Really, not all the songs have this vibe.  A mix of progressive, funky raw tracks and piano ballads, the energy of undeniable songwriting collaboration is at the forefront here.  According to the bio, “This album marks the first time in 18 years Paul has worked with Ed Daley,” and I wonder why they waited so long.  The political differences?  The social circles? The bad blood? Why 18 years?  That’s an average of one song every three years.  One would think if they had waited 30 years before getting back together, they’d have enough for a full album.  Keep on keeping on, gentlemen.                     (Mike Loce)

 

ASK THE DEAD            
Signal to Noise
5 tracks

When former Prayers for Atheists guitarist and vocalist Alan Hague emailed me the debut EP from his new band, Ask the Dead, he described it as more melodic, post-hardcore than his former gig. I agree. After a few listens I compare it to something like moving from Gorilla Biscuits’ Start Today to CIV’s Set Your Goals (Alan’s vocals always remind me of “Civ” Civarelli)—still hardcore, but more accessible. In more contemporary terms, think of Titus Andronicus’s The Monitor.  Signal to Noise is a natural progression of Alan and a promising start for a new band with a bright future.    (George Dow)

 

A WISH FOR FIRE
The Allegory

8 tracks

I like when bands take influences and use them in their music successfully. This disc embraces pop punk, metal, grunge, and good old fashioned rock ’n’ roll to create a fine album. It feels like their biggest influences are ’90s alternative rockers like Dinosaur Jr., the Smashing Pumpkins, and at times, Type O Negative. Every track, even the slowest ones, have a nice hard edge to them. I also appreciate the complexity of the music. After several listens I am still finding new hidden elements blended in. I recommend this.   (Melvin O)

 

BOB KENDALL
Midnight Flower                      

12 tracks

To the New England music aficionado, the name Bob Kendall may strike a few chords within you.  As the founding member of Lifeboat, the Blood Oranges, the Brothers Kendall, and the Labor Pool, Kendall has established quite a name for himself in our good city.  It was nearly a decade ago that Kendall released Enough is Enough, his debut solo record.  To the delight of fans everywhere, the multi-faceted artist has returned with the majestic Midnight Flower – an effort that finds Kendall proudly wearing his influences on his sleeve while putting his own spin on them.  Take the stunner, “Indian Avenue,” a track showcasing the crisp, clean tone of Kendall’s voice while also sounding as if it could fit comfortably within Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ vast catalogue.  In fact, Kendall is vocally similar to Petty, something noticed over the duration of the disc.  Teenage Fan Club, the Velvet Underground, and Ian Hunter also spring to mind.  Particularly beautiful and haunting is the title track, which features the haunting and ethereal background vocals of Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, Belly, the Breeders), while Kendall’s powerful cover of Ultravox’s “My Sex” can best be described as a hypnotic vocal showcase.  It is through Midnight Flower that the two genres of Americana and British invasion come together.  When combined with Kendall’s inimitable voice, the result is positively electric.     (Julia R. DeStefano)

 

JOEY FREEDOM  
Joey Freedom Records
Long Time Comin’ 

6 tracks

This talented performer reminds me of someone from L.A. and his Lovin’ Spoonful-ish music reeks of Mexicana and Americana making it somewhat unique sounding. Hailing from Worcester, Freedom composed all the songs and his blues-based guitar tops this three-piece band that includes Jim Perry on second guitar, bass, keys, and backing vocals, and Dana Bonardi on drums and percussion. The opener, “I Believe In Dreams,” is typical of the music on this CD. It’s an Americana ballad with a twangy guitar opening and its inspirational activist lyrics are sung with optimism and passion. “U Ain’t Nuthin,” “The American Blues,” and “World Gone Mad” remind me most of John Sebastian and Lovin’ Spoonful. I also dig  the power pop title tune “Long Time Comin’,” with it’s nice hook, and the acoustic and folksy blues ballad “Something to Believe.” Good stuff from a suburban artist. Check it out.    (A.J. Wachtel)

 

ANNIE ACTIVATOR
Annie Activator

9 tracks

One might be tempted to compare Annie Activator’s gritty rock ’n’ roll to Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, but the more I listen, the more I think the Donnas are a better touch point, which means this is a perfectly fine, but not extraordinary work. Just don’t think about it too hard, and you’ll enjoy yourself just fine.  Or think about it with your groin instead of your head.  These punk-tinged pop-rock songs have just enough bite and hooks to keep things interesting, and the band is smart enough not to let any touchy-feely ballads get in the way of a good time.  Nobody will be throwing yearly birthday parties for these guys like Nicole Tammaro and Co. do for Jett each year, but if you’re just looking for a good time, there are worse places you can look.                    (Kevin Finn)

 

OMNIVORE
Feeding Tube Records
Omnivore
10 tracks

Omnivore is the one-woman a cappella art-rock project of Cambridge, Mass.-based Glenna Kay Van Nostrand. Using analog telephones, self-styled amplifiers and a loop pedal, Glenna samples her own voice alongside spare loops of both her rotary and push-button phones, crafting them into beautiful, if sometimes difficult pop songs.

Omnivore’s 10-track self-titled debut full-length record sounds a bit like Merrill Garbus from tUne yArDs tossing away her ukulele and snare and foregoing any instrumentation but her voice. The slight vocal distortions introduced by singing through a telephone receiver coupled with the alien sounds of a pulse-dial phone and occasional touch-tone keystrokes combine for a haunting sound and chant-y song cycle which is surprisingly engaging.

The only criticism that I can offer is that over the long haul, ten tracks of this genre become somewhat same-y—making me yearn for a tempo change or guitar chord if only to break the droning rhythm.   (George Dow)

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS   
Tribal Mischief Productions
Grooving Forward: Volume 1

15 tracks

The Adam Ezra Group starts things off with a slow power-ballad driven by country crooning and the plush plunkings of an organ, while Christian McNeill follows, picking up the pace with a Counting Crows-style pop number. Then comes Jared Salvatore with the slow R&B groove, “Learned My Lesson,” shining with its impeccably smooth and rhythmic vocals that shift seamlessly between a honeyed tenor and razor-sharp falsetto. The comp then makes a 180-degree shift with the Baker Thomas Band’s polka-tinged honky-tonk, replete with mariachi-horns and exceptional solos from the whole band. Then comes Jimmy Ryan with a mandolin-driven electric blues piece that’s hokey as hell and kid-tune catchy like a Randy Newman number.

Eric Royer really stands out with his fast-paced banjo-trillin’ three-chords-and-the-truth tune, steeped in old-timey style and rapier wit. Afterward, Danielle Miraglia takes things down a notch with the delicate acoustic ballad, “Drive,” carried by her throaty vocal yearning. Tim Gearan continues with a trippy anthemic descending-bass tune framed by his gravelly voice, while Greg Klyma follows, pickin’ on his acoustic geetar and singin’ in an over-the-top country drawl. Particularly moving is Pesky J. Nixon’s somber Americana ballad with its twinges of pedal-steel, fiddle keening, and moving lyrics. Another stand-out is Ryan Fitzsimmons, whose hoarse vocal crooning (conjuring Lou Reed) slow-burns through a minor-key blues vamp, filled with chunky wah-wah’d fiddle and Santana-style lead guitar.

Kingsley Flood’s “Mannequin Man” seems to explode from my speakers with its sweaty drumbeat-driven blues-rock groove and rapid-fire guttural vocal stylings. Then, wrapping up this collection is Brothers McCann’s brisk piano waltz, sugar-coated in falsetto balladry and soulless radio-friendly soul. All in all, a nicely polished, musically strong compilation that, at times, smacks of the Top 40s with plenty of exceptions that break the mold. Plus, the proceeds go to a good cause. Two, actually—SAMFund and the Andea Coller Award. So yeah, can’t go wrong with this one.    (Will Barry)

 

CRIMES IN GRACELAND
Lindgren Blvd

12 tracks

I’m not going to lie—I have really been dreading writing a review on this album. Not because it’s horrendously awful or anything, but just because it’s painfully bland garage rock—not terrible, not great—and it has proven difficult to quantify in words. So bear with me, as I’m having a lot of difficulty describing this album without simply saying “meh” and moving on. First off, the whole album has a very lo-fi sound and a grungy vibe. I’ve listened to the album in its entirety four or five times over and none of the songs stick out. The vaguely annoying vocals and the not-so-vaguely annoying backup vocals (think Cookie Monster) make for an off-putting and grating experience. The songwriting and lyrics aren’t gripping or interesting. The guitars and drums sound okay. The vocals, like I said, are vaguely unpleasant. That’s about all I can really say. Overall, I think the band probably has potential, but I neither loved nor hated this album.   (Emily Diggins)

 

BALL ’N’ CHAIN
Sands of Time
10 tracks

Ball ’n’ Chains’ Sands of Time is one of the best recorded albums I’ve reviewed in a long time. There’s a deep, thick sound with fantastic separation between all of the instruments and the vocals.  Musically this pack of guys from the Boston area have some chops as well, sounding like the bastard child of Bon Jovi, Motley Crüe, and AC/DC—big dumb rock in the best sense.

It’s probably too much to ask of a band of this genre, but the only place Ball ’n’ Chains falls flat is lyrically. No hair metal cliché is too overused to make its way into the mix: “Different strokes for different folks.” “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” “Let it all hang out.” and on and on.

But then again, I suppose we’re probably not looking to cock-rock bands for philosophical insight. When played at a high volume on a sunny day with the windows all rolled down, Sands of Time holds its own alongside classics like Slippery When WetTheater of Pain and Back In Black.    (George Dow)

 

ABBIE BARRETT & THE LAST DATE
The Triples: Volume II

3 tracks

This is one of several 3-song CDs I’ve received lately that has more variation than most of the full-lengths I’ve been hearing. In 11 short minutes, Barrett and band manage to conjure up images of artists as disparate as Johnny Cash, Portishead, and Nicole Atkins. The songs are melodically intelligent, and though they are quite catchy, they’re far from obvious. While Barrett’s expressive voice is the first thing to capture the listener’s attention, it’s the dexterous bass work of Alec Derian that truly stands out. I’d certainly be interested in hearing more from this group.                         (Kevin Finn)

 

PUBLIC BEACH
Verbatim Records
Beachchair Republic 

6 tracks

All the songs are written and performed by Michael Campbell and Tom Oakes Crosby III resulting in cool electronic pop/ska melodies that make good stoner music with interesting hooks and arrangements. I’m pretty sure its a drum machine but all the tunes have good hooks and are intensely sung. “Cool Story” is my favorite, but the psychedelic ska of “Better Ideas,” the uptempo “West,” and the more introspective “Hotel Del Sol” are standouts also. Listen to this, but don’t forget the spliff and Red Stripe beer.                          (A.J. Wachtel)

 

IO                   
Dip It Low                                   

5 tracks

The five tracks that comprise Io’s debut EP, Dip It Low are the are indicators of something very interesting in development—a strange combination of ’80s synth-pop and contemporary dance music. “Lions,” with its guitar/synth combination and bouncy melody, sounds like an updated version of Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran.” Conversely, “Scarr” is a haunting electro track with auto-tune vocals which sits somewhere between the XX and James Blake, both fantastic touchstones for a band exploring the outer regions of post-dubstep. The remaining three tracks tread the line somewhere between those classic and contemporary influences, showing the promise of great things to come.         (George Dow)

 

SKINNY BONES
Little Meat                                 

8 tracks

Similar to Vonnegut’s penultimate A Man Without a Country, Skinny Bones’ latest work, Little Meat, conveys a band without a genre.

The segmented album embarks on a glam rock tangent, sprucing up Suede’s Britpop melancholic vibe with bursts of upbeat and wiry electronica, peppered here and there. Jacob Rosati, Skinny Bones’ frontman, loses touch with his Brett Anderson roots by the third track and taps into a Bob Dylan’s raw-and-gritty parlance. Rosati, therefore, ditches the electronica for commercially viable folk rock that moonlights, nightly, as the poster boy for many beer-advertising campaigns. Miller 64’s hearty sing-a-long comes to mind, compliments to the Miller Brewing Company.

“I Wasn’t There” and “A Sudden Blame” are two of Skinny Bone’s most promising ballads, except they have the Dodos’ “Fools” written all over them.

The potential is ever-present, yet Rosati needs to have a meeting of the minds to define what he wants Skinny Bones to become. Perhaps burnish some of the electronica-gone-astray that overwhelms Rosati’s vocals. But first, what Skinny Bones needs to do is pick a sound and own it.    (Justin Korn)

 

Comments

CD Reviews — 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the friendly review, Kevin, but can’t truly claim the taste and discipline it would require to cut 10 songs in a row that are actually 2 minutes and fifty-two seconds long -unfortunately, just a mis-print!