CD Reviews

Almost Ready Records
Crashes on the Platinum Planet

12 tracks
Big Dipper was one of the A-list bands of the ’80s and early ’90s because of, not in spite of, their seeming frivolity. Admittedly, the band had some heavy competitors, such as the Volcano Suns (from whence they emerged), as well as Dinosaur Jr. (intense; not funny) and the Pixies (intense; funny; not altogether wholesome). But Big Dipper was and is a pure product of  America, and, specifically, of Boston rock—purveyors of savvy, knowing, hooky power pop, sans mania and with brains to spare. “Lord Scrumptious,” the opening salvo, is one of their very best: sumptuous, musically and lyrically brilliant, and luminescently hook-clotted. “Robert Pollard” ups the ante; it ramps up the goofiness of bands such as Barenaked Ladies or They Might Be Giants and shows those whimsical arrivistes how it’s really done. Ethereal harmony vocals and typically hook-laden choruses make this song another classic. The chorus of the somewhat maudlin message song “Princess Warrior” nevertheless features a heartening, almost Christmassy feeling in the harmony vocal. The even more estimable “Hurricane Bill,” quite possibly the best of show, is a more low-key outing, but its sing-songy insouciance nonetheless proceeds at an appropriately brisk and windy pace, and the witty lyrics repay close scrutiny. “Market Scene” slows the pace; it seems more like a postmodern chantey than a fully-realized song. “Happy New Year” is another change of pace—a profoundly lovely, elegiac vocal superimposed over a boss-sounding spaghetti western riff, replete with portentious organ fills. Again, one of their very best.  “Pitbull Cruiser, Blue” is whimsical in a generic pomo new wave style; “Forget the Chef” provides a faint echo of a tune like “She’s Fetching” but lyrically hearkens back to the band’s celebrated story songs such as “Ron Klaus.” “Joke Outfit” is another Goffrier-penned oddity; it feels a bit like Volcano Suns’ “Belly Full of Lead” but eventually bursts into a characteristically efflorescent chorus. “Sarah and Monica” has a gentle and shimmery feel; the deliberately strained vocals of “New Machine” are a bit on the unpleasant side but the song does have an ominously tuff-sounding riff. “Guitar Named Desire” is an “animated sequel” to an earlier instrumental-only track; it’s a surf-music pastiche and largely an exercise in style, though the suggestive lyrics are a welcome addition and the obligatory but minimalistic guitar freak-out near the end is gravy. Overall verdict: What’s missing (besides Steve Michener) is the sense of pulsing urgency which formerly animated the band’s more anthemic offerings. What’s been added is a sense of subtlety and balance which compensates for and even supplants their earlier brashness. This album is patchy, but at its best, utterly glorious. Songs like “Lord Scrumptious,” “Robert Pollard,” “Hurricane Bill,” and “Happy New Year,” as goofy and gorgeous as they are, are so innovative they almost make you forget their acclaimed earlier work. The rest of the songs more than admirably augment Big Dipper’s legacy. This is as spectacular a comeback as anyone could wish for.   (Francis DiMenno)

Paint It Blue

13 tracks
Ragtime guitar starts things off with Fly doing “Jelly Roll” Morton’s “Winding Boy”—convincingly delivered. “Paint it Blue” honors the life of Fly’s muse—his mom. And though it’s just an acoustic guitar, you’d swear a full rock band is driving “You Got to Know What Want to Get What You Need”—Fly’s rugged voice heightens the experience. These sound like studio recording so it’s a little surprising when the live audience comes in clapping at the end of each song. Excellent traditional finger-pickin’ blues is displayed in “Go Down Sunshine”—and again, the vocals sell the song. “Love Light” rolls like “Some Kinda Wonderful.”  On Hank William’s classic “You Win Again,” Fly sounds like a high-energy Ray Charles. Fly’s own slow, bluesy “Make the Blues Go Away” fits naturally surrounded by his heroes’ tunes—”Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” popularized first by Bessie Smith and later Eric Clapton. A touching delivery enfolds the traditional “The Water is Wide.” And Fly goes back to sounding like Ray Charles with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” And now that Fly has convinced us he can seriously tackle the songs that have stood out through generations, he ends the disc with the off-beat and hilarious “Mall Cop.” I give the disc five stars in a four star system.          (T Max)

Isabelle Records

12 tracks
I’ll freely admit that my inner red flag shoots straight up when I encounter guitar-based instrumental music. It very well might harken back to the guitar teacher I had during my teen years who had a love affair with anything that was high on flash and low on substance. After listening to this record, I kind of wish Tony Savarino had been my guitar teacher. The songs here (some written by Savarino, others by some dudes named McCartney, Lennon, and Davies to name a few) actually come across as songs not just excuses to show off. Savarino clearly has the chops to show off, but he fortunately has the taste to generally refrain from doing so. Also to Savarino’s credit, he makes sure to give his talented backing musicians their day in the sun. The whole crew proves to be very well-rounded, showing they can handle country, rock, surf, and jazz, and despite all these different styles, the album remains cohesive.  (Kevin Finn)

Munster Records
Lyres Lyres

17 tracks
“Anybody got a tambourine?” I must confess that I haven’t listened to a lot of Lyres in the last few years, but then I get to listen to the CD reissue of Lyres second album with fresher ears.  At once I’m taken back to the good old days at Cantone’s (which I’ve actually never been to, but I feel like I have) and back to when Lyres were at their peak. They were doing ’60s garage and soul better than garage and soul bands did in the ’60s and have influenced pretty much everyone reading what I am typing at this very moment, and yes, I am talking right to you!  Who am I kidding here?  Review Lyres second ALBUM?!?  Right. You know it is the biggest piece of awesome that you could ever put inside your eardrum. Everyone should listen to this album, I mean—c’mon… it’s Monoman!  This is quintessential coolness. It is the “Songs In the Key of Life” of garage rock albums!  Woooo!    Buy this NOW! DO IT!  (Joel Simches)

Munster Records
On Fyre  

16 tracks
What could I possibly say in a review of Lyres that my esteemed Noise colleagues of the past and present haven’t already expressed? In fact, review isn’t even the appropriate word for this Munster Records reissue of Lyres’ debut full-length originally released in 1984. It is impossible to critique a classic such as this, so rather than review an iconic album I shall instead inform the young’uns, the newbies, the unfamiliar that Lyres are a definitive part of the Boston garage rock sound. You want to know what garage rock is? It’s this. It’s Lyres. I’m happy this fell into my hands and glad that Munster Records is re-releasing On Fyre as it absolutely stands the test of time (organ and all) and continues to bring joy decade after decade. This reissue features five bonus tracks in addition to the original 11 but those extra five blend right in like they belong there. It’s a cool bonus. I can’t call out specific songs because they all kick out the grooves just right in my book.           (Debbie Catalano)

Oink Records
Lieutenant Salt’s Solitary Brains Organization Orchestra 

12 tracks
David Arvedon’s legendary 1967 cult classic “Till the Stroke of Dawn” is an evanescent work of minor genius; subsequent releases have mostly been attempts to once more capture lightning in a bottle. On this collection, Arvedon is ably assisted (and possibly enabled) by prolific local singer-songwriter Richard Mirsky, highly regarded jazz veteran Ken Field on sax and flute, and a host of others. I wish I could say this is a brilliant parody of Sgt. Pepper.  I’d compare it instead to the Turtles’ “Battle of the Bands”; if you take this release in the same sort of fun-loving spirit, you might not be too disappointed. The aggressively weird  opening track, “Ready to Rock and Roll Slow Alligator” sets the stage for something more along the lines of Syd Barrett and Skip Spence. The second tune is the one truly inspired song on this release: “Sweet Molly Molly.” It’s a crazed rockabilly cross between T. Rex and Roky Erickson’s “Bloody Hammer.” It is deranged and brilliant. And frightening. “I Will Carry On” is a tuneful C&W pastiche; it’s not unlike Beggar’s Banquet-era Stones. The law of diminishing returns sets in with “Georgia Peach,” a standard rockabilly workout with a curiously disengaged vocal performance by Arvedon. “My List…” seems like a muddled, paranoid roster of Arvedon’s obscure grievances; both renditions of “Have a Drink on the Bus” consist of utility-grade rockabilly numbers. “Benji Penji” is a cracked ode with a grandiose orchestral finale. “Best Time” is a fragmentary sing-song with some skillful piano accompaniment by Dave Lieb. “Be a Schmuck” is a self-indulgent bit of goofiness. The final song is essentially a revved-up reprise of the first song. Say what you will about Outsider Art, but aside from “Sweet Molly Molly,” in spite of the above-and-beyond efforts of the admirably talented sidemen, this is more of a sometimes pleasant post-psychedelic curio than anything truly substantial.        (Francis DiMenno)

Fred Cat Recordings
Right in the Eye 

11 tracks
While by no means a total retreading of the ground Kevin Stevenson stomped on while in the Shods, The Unholy III’s brand of punchy, piss-and-vinegar rock will appeal to fans of that much-missed band and rightly so, as this record contains far more hits than misses. While punk-influenced, the music touches on pretty much the entire history of rebellious rock and roll. Echoes of soul, rockabilly and even a slightly sedated Motörhead all bubble to the surface. Stevenson’s snarly voice is one of Boston’s most recognizable and charismatic, equally playful and threatening. The only real drawback to this record is that the songs, particularly with regard to the lyrics, sometimes fall on the wrong side of the line that divides straightforward and overly simple. Nitpicking aside, this recording will find lots of loving homes.               (Kevin Finn)

Zoo Traffic

14 tracks
With vintage sounds and contem-porary presentation, Yankee Power’s musical mash-up, Zoo Traffic, is both impressive and intriguing. Stylistically, they’re all over the place, tackling everything from early Elvis-style rockabilly to the jangly harmony-heavy sounds of the British Invasion to jaunty jazz-tinged dream-pop, and even going as far as fiddle-driven folk-rock. I’d go as far to say they’re Bowie-esque with their quirky array of genres, instrumentation, and timbres. “I’m unoriginal, ingenious as can be,” their singer intones on the fourth track, “Fuzzy Minisery.” How right he is. Ingeniously unoriginal, this band cops sounds from every era of rock ’n’ roll, shoves it in a blender, and spews it out in a dazzling conglomeration of rock. Originality is overrated, especially when the music’s this good.      (Will Barry)

The Grindstone 

11 tracks
This CD has a sense of urgency in the very personal vocals that are the focus of all the songs written by Ford for her band. “February Sun” is a perfect example of this. The CD is also full of energy that can be felt in both the vocal and instrumental performances. Check out the uptempo “Bag of Bones’ and “Kite Runner”; two of my favorites. I like the violin on cuts like “Good Morning” and the female lead and backing harmonies in songs like “Ember Autumn” and  “Warning Sign.” Some of the songs are introspective and others are powerful melodies that are both reggae- inspired, like the cool opener “Loved You Madly,” and Americana-influenced “Fairweather.” There’s a lot of talent here. Cool music. Check it out.          (A.J. Wachtel)

All My Lovely Goners            

13 tracks
An eerie melancholia envelops the entirely of Winterpills’ fifth release, a three-year-in-the-making indie pop record full of shimmering ruminations on love and loss, and steeped in exquisite harmonies ala Fleetwood Mac, Belle & Sebastian, the Jayhawks, and Beachwood Sparks, to name a few.  Fans of the interchange of male and female vocals over warm, lush melodies that evoke warmth and tranquility will undoubtedly find much to love among Winterpills’ latest.  Even down to the stunningly beautiful album artwork, All My Lovely Goners is, on the whole, nostalgic—with both song titles and lyrics that succeed in conveying a burning sense of longing.  One listen to “Rogue Highway,” with its breathtaking falsetto, and the theme becomes clear – that is, if it hadn’t already: “I left them all on the rogue highway.”  Not only is it one of the catchier tunes, it serves as a prime example of Winterpills’ constant effort to expand their sound by venturing into previously unexplored territories, which include: power-pop guitar chords, distortion, the pulsating beat of the drums, and even strategically-placed hand claps.  Although beautiful in the musical sense, “Pretty Girls” is severely lacking in its lyrics: “Pretty girls just make me sad/ Pretty girls just make me cry,” while “January Rain” is comparable to Elliott Smith but, ultimately, is without direction. Listeners are advised to approach All My Lovely Goners as a whole, listening to each song in succession.  Admiration of Winterpills’ is rooted in their shimmering sound and expressive storytelling prowess.    (Julia R. DeStefano)

County Line

11 tracks
This one of the most ambitious singer songwriter albums I’ve heard in a while.  While most of this album tends toward country, it rocks more like a good ’70s bar band.  The arrangements are lush and performed by some accomplished players. I was disappointed in the some of the production, which early on lacked the organic warmth I usually associate with this kind of Americana. That aside, this album has a good pacing of bright poppy songs, a couple of good healthy rockers, ballads that will rip your heart out, and some good ole country fun. Riley’s choice of a Beatles cover is inventive and refreshing.  There are parts of this album that really blossom and keep you on the edge of your couch, eagerly waiting the next line and harmony.  The best part of this collection of songs is that they get more sophisticated as you go.  It isn’t until the last song, “Live Again,” that you realize you’ve taken a musical journey and you didn’t even know.                   (Joel Simches)

Dove’s Nest Records
Cougar Bait Blues

12 tracks
A dozen Amherst blues aficionados assemble to record eight originals and four covers. Cynics might complain that their opening track, “Too Big to Cry…” is a bourgeois travesty of the blues. Purists might sneer that songs like “Daisy Dukes” prove the band is insufficiently “authentic,” perhaps because its members aren’t toothless octogenarians who once carried Elmore James’ guitar case. My impression is that this is a stellar live band; a working ensemble largely compelled to resort to broad strokes and antic, crowd-pleasing musical turns in order to create a good-timey atmosphere that will make the customers inclined to drink a lot of beer. Judging from this recording, they aren’t too bad at it. Of the originals, “Bottled Bravery….” is not unlike what you might hear at Mardi Gras, or, at least, at some sort of Mardi Gras night. (Though fading out at the end is strictly from hunger. What is this—1971?) “If You Won’t Do What I Want” is a relentlessly pulsing funk number somewhat akin to Bowie’s “Fame”, though if you’re going to cop a riff you could do far worse. “I Worship the Ground She Walks All Over Me On,” a standard blues shuffle which provides a nifty backdrop for a splendid guitar solo, is also a witty lyric turn. Of the covers, “All Your Fault” is a manful attempt, but comes across as a rhythmically plodding and gratuitously showy guitar spectacle, and I don’t much care for the stilted banter between O’Halloran and Emmalyn Hicks. But “Hold On, I’m Comin’” is actually quite appealing, due largely to the inspired harp solos of Ottomatic Slim, but also because O’Halloran and Hicks take the song at a comfortable tempo; their chemistry on the vocal duets is superb; the guitar solos are spectacular and intricate. (But again with the damned fade-out!)  A note about vocals: at least nine times out of ten frontman O’Halloran makes a hit with his growling but always well-controlled tenor—though he falls just a shade short on “Better Luck Next Time.” I’ve always thought that anyone attempting Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” has likely got rocks in their head; wisely, O’Halloran and Hicks make this into a call-and-response duet a la Charlie Patton’s “O Death” and the song provides a welcome interlude amid all the brassy showmanship. Overall, this collection is a mixed bag; at its best it’s a canny blend of egregious mugging and crack musicianship. I’ve focused on the positive because I’m inclined to recommend this band to folks who like this kind of overblown and less-than-subtle brand of blues tomfoolery. They fulfill the highest aim of cornball entertainment—they work real hard at making people feel real good.  And that has got to count for something.    (Francis DiMenno)

Reasons to Try Again 

11 tracks
With all the CDs I go through, it can be tough to find one that really sticks with me. With a blend of inspirational lyrics, upbeat tunes and an accomplished array of musical talent, Kevin Blaine’s debut album, Reasons to Try Again, easily falls into this category. This 11-song CD offers up some memorable tunes which can speak to the listener and pass on some important messages.
Kevin, originally from California and now a resident of Boston, brings a number of talented musicians together for this album, including his wife Rachel, who plays the clarinet on “Winter” and provides backup vocals on “Change.” I could probably spend a few pages outlining the many others who lend their talents to this CD, but suffice it to say the end result is a finely-woven tapestry of sound that does not disappoint. Kevin’s skills on the guitar, mandolin, and piano are those of a seasoned musician, and his voice conveys his devotion for his work.
The subject matter varies across this album, such as “Back Home,” which talks about the importance of always returning home, because what matters most is always waiting for us there. “Together” is a passionate tale of why people aren’t meant to be alone, and is my personal favorite. Kevin’s music blends the best of the pop/rock genre, and his work is a welcome addition to the city’s local scene.                          (Max Bowen)

RUBY ROSE FOX                                  
Ruby Rose Fox 

5 tracks
I feel like I lack the vocabulary and/or articulation to describe the Ruby Rose Fox sound.  She approaches her songs with a wistful, loping, theatrical presentation.  That’s a good start.   The songs weave and bob through fields of chord shifts and mysterious progressions.  Some are more predictable…slinky rockabilly stories about nefarious characters are certainly entertaining.  The vocals know exactly where they’re going through the song narrations. For a five track disc, you feel as if you’ve gotten quite a robust audio dinner here.  Upon further research, I find Ruby has much experience as a theater actor, and that’s right on… if you’re a fan of musicals, her music pulls you in and paints an amazing scene in your mind.  (Mike Loce)

75 or Less Records
Cobra Slap

7 tracks
I never made the scene at Studio 54, much less Flamingo; my friends will tell you I was actually refused admittance at the Mine Shaft for being too well-dressed; as a matter of fact, while it was actually happening, I found the whole disco experience mostly strident and stupefying. But in later years I’ve been bullied into appreciating acts like ZE Records stalwarts Was (Not Was) , as well as the incomparable Giorgio Moroder, whose influence I detect on the quasi-operatic stentorian stylings of the final track, “Damn You Cinnamon.”  Goofy tracks like “Love Note” and “Heels” are parodically campy in a singularly wince-inducing fashion. Other tracks are mostly innocuous standard issue disco, and minimalist to boot, as on “Bully.” Not overproduced. Texture is sacrificed for clarity. Sometimes this works well, as on the oddly appealing “Deetz”. Fans of Anthony Haden-Guest’s NYC Disco History “The Last Party” will probably greatly appreciate this somewhat whimsical collection of alternatingly itchy and icy disco stylings.           (Francis DiMenno)

Blue Star Records
Torch Tones  

12 tracks
Entering the roadhouse with the needle hitting the groove (laser hitting the binary), I found myself in a bar grind blues world.  A funky track reminiscent of Fabulous Thunderbirds followed.  Mark rips the pantyhose of life a new butthole with these tunes; this really is a good American sound of music.  Bluesy, funky, gritty, but smooth and calculated.  It’s not sloppy and redundant, like so many blues- type bands can be.  You can hear a later period Clapton influence at times, and by “later” I mean ’90s and beyond.  I love the guitar sounds: Mark’s has a veteran command of the tones he likes and needs for each individual song.  A subtle yet essential ingredient for lifting the track out of the typical blues mold.  He surrounds himself with a talented cast of fellow musicians, many of whom I’m sure have a solid network reaching back decades.  Throw this in your juke box… it’ll tickle your ass.    (Mike Loce)

The World Was Supposed to Love Us

11 tracks
It was a good day when I heard this group playing their revved-up, rockin’-roots material. There’s a nice balance and loose interplay between the two vocalists/guitarists, John Bickford and Jerry O’ Hare, and a kick-ass rhythm section, Pete Woodward on drums and Seth Peterson on bass. Songs like “When the Last Echo Dies,” “California,” “South of Omaha,” “Cruel Kind,” or “Clarence White” bristle with energy and enthusiasm, not unlike late-period Byrds, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Brandos, or local heroes, the Lonesome Brothers. I dig it, feel it, and want to hear more.  So now here’s their debut album, which, in essence, just doesn’t hit the same highs for me as their live set. Alas, the vocals don’t seem as strong, and the tunes seem quieter, more introspective. (Haven’t we all seen this before? The push and the pull between the recorded art and the stage splash.) Still, a major positive is the ability to discern their soulful, Americana stories, with their lyrical twists and turns (especially “Northfield” and “Quarter Mile Left”). This is a solid start for a promising group. Perhaps, with a strong producer at the helm, their next project should make the world love them even more.       (Harry C. Tuniese)

Silence Of Time

10 tracks
It’s not everyday you see a review for a New Age acoustic songwriter album in the Noise, but these are perilous times. Elaine O’Rourke is a yoga instructor from the North Shore who writes uplifting, spiritual, self-affirming songs to soothe your soul after a hard day, or simply chill out and enjoy being alive to. There is a good roster of musical royalty on here, notably Mike Barry, Tony Goddess, and Dave Mattacks among others.  There are violins, dulcimers, tabla, harmonium, and lush harmonies that take you up through the clouds. This album has an abundance of warmth to it, like hanging back in a pair of feety pajamas, sipping cocoa by the fireplace, with real instruments and real people playing them.  Even if you don’t love uplifting, spiritual, self-affirming songs, this is a lush, sonic album that you can’t help getting lost in.                          (Joel Simches)

3 tracks
Whaaaat is this? Is this a…yup it is… it’s a cassette. I am all at once bemused and befuddled but hey, who am I to say anything—I still have a tape deck! But alas, there is a slip of paper inside with a great note with instructions on how to play a cassette! Also included: a site on Bandcamp to check out the tracks, only I listened to both and the cassette featured “Cassingle” and “Too Lazy To,” while the download featured “The Naked Kiss” as the B-side. However you slice it, they were all cool, though “Cassingle” is my fave. Pure rock delivered with the heart of blues and the grit of garage.  If this is a teaser—it worked. I want more.                                 (Debbie Catalano)

Challenge Me

8 tracks
As I’m listening to this cool collection of reggae, the one thing that really stands out isn’t the musicianship or the quality of the recording itself, though both are top-notch. No, what stands out most to me is the music’s sincerity. These aren’t half-baked tunes written between bong-rips by some brain-dead stoners for other brain-dead stoners to listen to while getting brain-dead stoned. There’s substance here. The metronomic skankin’ of the rhythm guitar balanced against the downbeat lyrical rumblings of the bass make for a solid backdrop for the gruffly tuneful vocals. Woven through this are the crisp guitar leads free-flowing like melodious rivulets. Of course, you can’t overlook the surgical precision of the drummer either, who not only keeps the band anchored but executes impressive fills without once dropping the beat or grandstanding the rest of the band. Yes, Why I Rise is pure chemistry and the vibrantly-mixed Challenge Me is a slow-burning dose of cool that you don’t need to be stoned to enjoy, though it certainly couldn’t hurt.               (Will Barry)

Too Worn to Mend

11 tracks
Having come of age in the Boston music scene during the ’90s when this was a decidedly punk and power pop kind of town, it still amazes me the pure volume of folk/country/Americana albums that find their way into my review pile. While a lot of it is quite good, the prevalence makes it very hard for acts to stick out, and that’s the problem with American Beauties. This record is a collection of pleasant, well-sung, well-played music that ultimately goes in one ear and right out the other. It’s not bad by any means, just completely forgettable. The Beauties’ songs aren’t pretty enough to make you swoon, depressing enough to make you drink, nor rebellious enough for you to want to start a barroom fight. They’re just kind of there. Perhaps they would best be served as background music at Starbucks.                   (Kevin Finn)

Timestamp (Recorded Live Somerville Theatre February 2012)       

13 tracks
Wild stuff. This is a mellow, spacey, introspective and non-verbal CD. It was recorded live and has songs on it and a few “improvs” with an upright and electric bass, alto and baritone saxes, a trumpet, a trombone, a viola, a violin, a cello, and tons of effects, reverb and tape loops. Strange stuff but Brendan Burns is a very good guitarist who has a lot to say in all of the cuts. I can’t tell the difference between the actual penned compositions, which were all written by Burns, and the improvisations which are basically, from what I understand, onstage jams. There are also a lot of interesting tonalities in minor and major keys and time tempo surprises galore which really isn’t too surprising being that Berklee is right around the corner. A lot of tweets and twitters and chirps though out the night too. I can only imagine what kind of audience this music draws. Probably the most disturbing song, in a good way, to my rock ears,  is “Market 8” and I really can’t tell you specifically why this song was any different than any of the others or what made it stand out in my mind, but its worth a listen or two. Smoke a joint and put this CD on and get ready for an interesting ride.         (A.J.Wachtel)

Shave Records
7 tracks
As singer, songwriter, keyboardist, and producer SailorSam is Brian Riley’s (also of the band Shave Librarian) project of which he intends to have “an ever-evolving cast of talented session musicians and vocalists…” It took me a bit to figure out how to describe this band/collection. First off, the production and overall sound is top-notch—sharp and full, great sound. Secondly, it’s an at-time hybrid of jazzy modern electronica and ’80s new wave (track 4’s “Mr. Peeper” in particular reminded me of Thomas Dolby). But then you arrive at the next track, “Key Surfano” and it’s a dreamy, hypnotic number—and I’d have to say one of my favorites. I like that it’s different and bold and quirky. Along with Brian Riley’s talents, his backing vocalists on the CD—Tyler Hardy, LeAnne Broas, and Annette Farrington, sax player Yoshino Ishii, and guitarist Anthony Schultz melt the coldness of the tech vibe and balance it out to a nice warmth. This one had seven tracks so it will be cool and interesting to see what SailorSam comes up with next.          (Debbie Catalano)

The Invisible Hours

10 tracks
In the ten tracks that comprise their eponymous debut, Providence, Rhode Island’s, the Invisible Hours deliver a nice mish mash of psychedelic, shoegaze, garage, and simply good old fashioned rock ’n’ roll. I hear influences coming from all sorts of places on the pop landscape. Anything from the shoegazey noise of the Jesus and Mary Chain to the quintessentially British sound of the Kinks and early Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. These are pop songs, but they offer some sophistication as well, without being overly dramatic or pretentious.  I can certainly appreciate their songwriting and overall musicianship, but I would like to see a bit more attitude or aggression in their music; perhaps this is simply my taste buds and not a flaw of the band. With that being said, I think their mellow, psychedelic rock sound is appealing and has the potential to reach a wider audience.    (Chris DeCarlo)


11 tracks
From track to acid-drenched track, It. pulses with manic breakbeats, mid-tempo romps, and somnolent trip-hop grooves. It. oozes with gritty synthesizers and boisterous electronic turbulence. Most of all, It. soars with the vibrancy of Ladd’s soulful female vocals, which fluctuate between sultry crooning, pillow-talk cooing, and a feisty, venomous holler. What really does it for me, though, is her music’s contrasting combination of the artificial and the organic. For one, there’s the cold, calculating sounds of the drum machine and synth. Then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s the warmth and carnal energy of her voice. But, it’s not only this dichotomy that’s so compelling, it’s Ladd’s ability to turn this concept on its head and play with it. “What I Believe,” for example, performs a standard-issue electronica breakbeat, but on buckets, not a drum machine. Then there’s the closing track, “Everything,” where Ladd fashions a backing beat from the recorded sound of footsteps in the snow, which she coats with the whir of synth, blowing like a winter breeze. A pacifist by nature, this gal rages with the machine, not against it, making for a harmonious and stirring symbiosis of sound.    (Will Barry)



I’m Dreaming of The Weisstronauts’ Christmas
5 tracks
Pete Weiss rounds up the cowboys and cowgals, 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)

Sonic Trout
Another Christmas Gift For You
21 tracks
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)

Valley Records
The Cold Hard Truth About Christmas
12 tracks
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)

Spank Dawg
Christmas Carols
12 tracks
This is a Christmas CD. Can it get any worse? Why am I listening to this? OUCH!!!! MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!! They freakin’ 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 tracks
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)

Greetings From Music Lane
4 tracks
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)
Bing Bang Holidang
10 tracks
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)

Why Christmas? (the longest day of the year)
3 tracks
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)

Gulcher Records
Xmas Snertz – Have a Very Gulcher Christmas
16 tracks
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)

Q Division Records
Viva Noel—A Q Division Christmas
15 tracks
Q Division has built itself up as one of Boston’s best record labels and recording studios. Visa NoelA 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. 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)

TaRio Records
“Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” b/w “Merry Christmas, I Fucked Your Snowman”
2 tracks (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)

Volunteer Records
Ho Ho Ho Spice
40 tracks, two disc 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 around 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)

If you’d like your music reviewed, either send a hard copy (nothing liquid, hassardous, or perishable) to the Noise, P.O. Box 353, Gloucester, MA 01931, or  send a link to your digital release with free access and a request for review. We promise an honest review—not necessarily one you’ll like. Payola, sexual favors, or cookies won’t change our minds… but are welcome.


CD Reviews — 2 Comments

    • Georgeanne, If your act is based in New England, send your music to T Max/ The Noise, PO Box 353, Gloucester MA, 01931. I know your son’s band in from NE, but just wanted to let other readers know the information. Happy New Year.