CD Reviews

Photo: Hans Wendland

Photo: Hans Wendland

Soft Time Traveler 
18 tracks

Billed as a multi-media album, this collection features a variety of song stylings from the ever-innovative and ever versatile Walter Sickert and company. That there is something special and even uncommon about the experience of seeing the band live is undeniable; reviews often focus upon the spectacle of the band, and its carnival-like aspects. These studio recordings are densely textured and full of colorful touches which help the listener prepare for the live experience, but are also intriguing in their own right.  The first three tunes are served up relatively straight.  “Devil’s in the Details 1” is an ominous manifesto; “Survive Songbird 1” is a careering fiddle-slathered declamatory of schizoid intensity, while the instrumental backing of “Baba Yaga 1” partakes more of exotica—as Sickert sing-speaks (in his inimitable fashion) a foreboding tale, you halfway expect the hairy legendary Russian witch’s face to come looming up in front of you. On “Pornival 1” things get weird—a plinky tune is undermined and overwhelmed by an unbearable drum solo. “Soldiers Came 1,” however, is sublime—a heartfelt and enduring string-driven song of loss and regret. This is followed by the almost unbearably pretty “Radioactive Brush 1,” the emotive “Walls,” and the hallucinatory “Dead Cowboys” with its dada-esque lyrics and deadpan despair. Nearly all the songs on this collection—even the frivolous numbers like “Atom Bomb”—are worthy of note. Some are downright brilliant, particularly the heartening off-kilter love song “Droog and Devotchka,” the wrenchingly emotive march “Little Paper Song,” and, possibly the best-of-show, the outstanding, truly epic “28 Seeds.”  Sickert and his co-conspirators seem to follow a sometimes brutal but often surprisingly graceful musical philosophy of what the Russians call Ostranie—the art of making familiar things strange. It is an aesthetic gamble which on this collection pays off in spades about four times out of five—which is a truly high ratio of accomplishment by any standard.                             (Francis DiMenno)


Murray Hill Records
New Lion Terrace
10 tracks

Corin’s last award-winning CD, Songs from the Brill Bedroom, captured my heart with clever lyrics, impressive melodies, charming harmonies, and a whole lot of love wrapped up in the project. Corin is back with New Lion Terrace and it looks like he’s not satisfied with the quality of his previous disc. He’s upped the ante: traveled to London to record at Abbey Road Studios and mixed those tracks with ones recorded at Somerville’s legendary Q Division. The disc starts with a powerful one-two punch—the Jellyfish-like “Jeez Louise,” and a song that could have melted off a Dukes of Stratosphear disc—“Sgt. Sunshine”— both extraordinarily produced. Few artists can reach this height of production and songwriting. The rest of the disc echoes the style that brought Corin so much attention with The Brill Bedroom. I see more awards and rave reviews for this second masterpiece.      (T Max)


13 tracks

George Woods’ folk/funk album, Heartbeat, is a little hard to pin down musically, moving from funk to folk, plus some detours into a few other genres. The result is a collection of music that blends a number of sounds into a style rarely heard and greatly enjoyed.

“Overture/Rewind” starts off with a soft, atmospheric electronica tune before transitioning into the folky sounds of “Shake My Soul.” “Marry Me” brings in the funk with a powerful saxophone blasting away after a casual opening. “Chapter 3—The Moon” blends light lyrics with heavy violin. And I’ve only referenced the first half of the album. Believe me when I say the rest is just as good.

My pick on this album is “You’re the Moon,” a haunting duet with George and Erica Leigh, that’s inlaid with some slow percussion and violin that makes it a challenge not to listen a second time.

George has the even, mellow voice of some of the best folk artists, and a precise guitar skill set to match. While the notion of a musician with a diverse pallet of tunes is nothing new, Heartbeat, brings a little something for everyone. Rather than sound like some melodic shotgun, this collection speaks of an experienced songsmith, one who’s taken his influences and styles and brought them together to produce a variety of music that doesn’t come by every day.    (Max Bowen)


Thrill Jockey Records
9 tracks

Any release from Thalia Zedek is bound to be of note. Her local pedigree stretches back to the late 1970s into the mid-1980s (White Women, Dangerous Birds, Uzi). She is probably most noted for fronting Live Skull and founding the groundbreaking local act Come, with Chris Brokaw from Codeine. Since 2001 she has promoted various solo releases, of which Via, though in certain respects a low-key effort, is among her most notable. This latest release opens with “Walk Away,” a surprisingly sweet and heartfelt elegiac number which is reminiscent of ’70s country rock, but with a punk sensibility which more properly belongs to Patti Smith and those who followed in her (not inconsiderable) wake. In fact, the slow burn of songs like “Winning Hand” and “In This World” are reminiscent of a song like Smith’s own epic statement “Seven Ways of Going.” Zedek’s song “Get Away” seems to hearken back to the dazed, nearly hallucinogenic intensity of her work for Uzi. Most notable is the final track, “Want You to Know,” an intense number which erupts into a savage raga reminiscent of the rampaging intensity of Live Skull. All nine of these songs are significant, making this is an essential release from an artist who has always had something to say, but who, with experience, has become more self-assured and more focused in her undeniable intensity than ever before.           (Francis DiMenno)


From the Shores of Bing Bong Bay
10 tracks

If Weezer and the Killers had a love child, it would be I Have Ears. This is both a boon and a bane. Each well thought out and effectively arranged song is meticulously crafted and wonderfully produced and mixed by Benny Grotto and Joe Saliba. However, the influences will not escape discerning listeners’ notice.

It’s hard to pick a standout track since virtually every tune could be a single. Singer Dana Jee’s lyrical magic, reflective of Elvis Costello’s best days, provides each song with a unique and heartfelt punch. The same goes with mind-blowing guitar-driven bridges and musical segues echoing ’80s icons and innovators Television and the Pixies.

In the end, despite the youthful display of influences, From the Shores of Bing Bong Bay is a rare gem that could be picked up by a major label and released right now. As an added bonus, you can download it on their website and name your own price.
(Marc Friedman)


11 tracks

An eerie familiarity accompanies Old Saw’s debut album, Revelations, swathing it in a timeless and haunting smoky sultriness that serves to evoke the likes of husband and wife duo, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.  Fitting, as a “saw” is defined as a commonly repeated phrase or idea, a conventional wisdom, and it is through such repetition that Nickie and Charlie Farr acknowledge their influences while remaining true to their own musical vision, as especially evidenced by the Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion-flavored opener, “Legacy.”  While there is nothing cliché about the effort, it will, undoubtedly, be a bit too “twangy” for some, but one is encouraged to look beyond the American roots genre and instead, at the intricacy of the tales being weaved in such songs as “Carry On” and “Gethsemane”—heartfelt stories that transport listeners to the woodlands and the fireside, to simpler times that we all yearn for, despite our musical preferences.    (Julia R. DeStefano)


11 tracks

Wooo! Grab me a fan because this recording is smoking hot! I speak oftentimes about grooves but Big Ol’ Dirty Bucket is what grooving is all about. It really seems impossible to listen to this 10-piece band’s music and not dance—your body will just involuntarily move whether it be tapping your feet or full-body jammin’. Fabulous percussion, brash and punctuating horns, stingin’ searin’ guitar, tasty bass, and then of course those vocals—wow, those vocals by Sarah “Lil’ Shrimp” Seminski. Sultry, powerful, incredible—and I’m still just talking about the funk, soul, and R&B aspects of the band. Peppered within the funk here and there are hip-hop stylings led by MC Micah “Big Daddy Disco” Casey. I am thoroughly impressed with the musicianship of this entire band. Big Ol’ Dirty Bucket really is like a delicious gumbo of music—peppered into the funky soul and R&B are a bit of Latin spice, sweet disco, and salty rap. I can only imagine this band leaves their fans at shows sweating with carefree joy! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, funk lives and breathes here in Massachusetts.  (Debbie Catalano)


Hillgrass BlueBilly Records
11 tracks

These cats are a very cool trio. Jay Scheffler on vocals/harp, Jim Chilson on guitar and Chad Rousseau on drums are pure passion whether onstage or on CD. They play quick uptempo  R&B with always interesting guitar hooks that fill the song, growling vocals and tight drumming that keeps it all together and interesting. Just wild. Listen to the opener “Do That Thing.” It’s like getting a glass of water thrown in your face, right? Ever hear a local band so primal in this genre before? Check out “Out In The Rain.” It starts with a quick guitar hook that’s the basis of the song for the moment, then the quick pounding, and then the vocals come in last. Last, but not least. What a sound.  “Shibble” is in the same vein and pretty cool too. I also dig the title tune/more traditional blues “Undertow” and the similar sounding closer, “Someday (Your Pain Is Gonna End). These are top notch musicians taking the blues to another level. Unique and extraordinary. I love it!     (A.J. Wachtel)


Static Motor Recordings
12 tracks

This is the rare one-man bedroom project that feels like a full, live, functioning band. Unlike the majority of these undertakings that hide behind poor production and opaque lyrics, Von Stetten has made music that shouts to be heard, and a lot of it seems to be about witches, which is undeniably awesome. The music is experimental, yet both rocking and melodic, landing somewhere between the more song-oriented Jack Drag records and a less ironic Pavement. While steeped in a ’90s indie aesthetic, you can hear touches of ’60s haziness, ’70s punk, and ’80s Joy Division-esque gloom. Despite all these influences, the result remains cohesive and original.     (Kevin Finn)


Head On A String
5 tracks

I’m completely hooked, dare I say, in love with Adam Jensen’s latest release. What an incredible gem! How is it I had never heard of him? It appears he has toured nationally so I need to get on the ball here. Not to sound all music bizzy but, yes, he’s commercial-sounding (Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas even co-wrote a tune with him), accessible to those who love catchy roots-infused singer/songwriter style music but from a pure music-loving standpoint, I simply dig every note of it. Without enough room to extol each song, I’ll just state each one’s a winner. This should be all over the radio. More, please!          (Debbie Catalano)


No God in Massachusetts
11 tracks

Dead Cats Dead Rats is a name that I have heard tossed around Boston for about a year now.  I never got around to checking out their music until I started listening to their latest LP, No God in Massachusetts.  This album is a pretty straightforward rock record: strong, simple, catchy rock songs that typically stay within the 2-4 minute range. Most of the songs are fast, hard hitting, and overall melodic.

Based on this recording, I’d say Dead Cats Dead Rats have a clear 90s rock influence.  According to their Bandcamp page they are a “grunge punk rock” band and I can definitely hear those elements.  I’d say more grunge than punk, but I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.  They may have grunge sensibilities, but they are not grunge in the dirty, sloppy sense, and that goes for both songwriting and production. These are clean recordings, in fact I can hear everything quite clearly.  The guitars are hooky, the drums are pounding, and the vocals are smooth. When I say 90s or grunge, I’m thinking Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, or Alice In Chains.  Like those bands, this group doesn’t shy away from volume or grit, yet they sound rather accessible and dare I say commercial, well perhaps for the ’90s alternative rock scene.  There’s definite pop hooks in radio friendly songs like “What a Surprise,” “You Were Right,” and the title track.  You could also add “Poison Apple” to that list with its nod to the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” in the line, “Hey, little girl I wanna be your poison.”

Honestly, one could go so far as to say all of these songs are mini ’90s rock “hits,” and this is a testament to Dead Cats Dead Rats’ ability to craft songs that sounds like strong FM rock staples.  For my tastes however, I don’t know if this is a sound we should be returning to.  I feel like this music is simply too generic and when I come across new music I want to hear something with a bit more uniqueness and/or innovation.  These songs emulate the aforementioned ’90s grunge/alternative rock in every way possible, which leaves me with a feeling of been there, done that.  Then again, I’m sure one could point to several of the bands I enjoy and make the same argument.  Overall, I found it hard to hate this album and I think a lot of more conventional rock fans will truly appreciate it.             (Chris DeCarlo)


45 or Less Records
10 tracks

Guitar tones resemble Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi minus the dirge-riffs, while vocals bring to mind a whiskey-graveled Paul Stanley from Kiss (the latter being both a compliment and a very good thing). Musically, an intersection of Black Sabbath and Kiss is an apt comparison too. The darker guitar tones sand the gloss off of the radio-friendly rock while the glam rock bombast buoys the hard rock.

With Electrosonicmotherphonic being Vertical Twin’s third release in little more than a year it’s interesting to see the speedy progression they’ve made. Their first two EPs consist of respectable, but fairly generic, bar rock.
Electrosonicmotherphonic ushers in more nuanced styles. Bass runs and guitar solos abound while drums explode to fill out the sound. This much looser outing has an improvisational feel that leaves the promise of good things to come.      (George Dow)


11 tracks

The hardest albums to review are the ones that don’t really make you feel anything. They don’t excite you or repulse you. They just kind of exist. The Bandit Kings have made exactly this type of album. This is not, by any means, to say that this collection of ’60s coffeehouse-tinged country doesn’t have anything going for it. Singers Ann Marie Shimanoski and Renee Dupuis, one nasally and one sweet, complement each other quite well, and the playing is quite tasteful. It’s also commendable that the band plays this style music without trying to frame it through a modern-day indie rock lens. That said, the music is never quite pretty enough to offset its lack of energy, and on the one time the band rocks out a bit (“Cuz I Told Ya”), the result is unconvincing. Ultimately, the music comes across as being too nice, like something you could safely play for your parents while eating dinner.         (Kevin Finn)


Painting Pictures
5 tracks

Is it possible to sense sincerity through someone’s music and singing voice? I think so, as the second I heard Josh Pereira’s gorgeous vocals I felt it. His voice emanates warmth, which shines through a stellar recording sound. Passion would be a word to describe it but I felt like that one word wouldn’t do this artist justice. Style-wise, it’s easy contemporary rock/pop. Josh doesn’t genre-ize it so why should I—I just always feel I should in these reviews in order to attract the right listeners. So to sum up: his graceful guitar-playing that either sweetly jangles in some tunes or steers the more rock grooves in others accompanies a wonderful voice expressing beautiful words.     (Debbie Catalano)


11 tracks

Folk artist Katie Trautz from Vermont also is a member of this Americana band that often plays in Boston. Here she plays fiddles, banjo and guitar and does the vocals. Michael Roberts plays guitar and Asa Brosius adds pedal steel on some of the cuts. And whether doing an Americana weeper or country blues this woman’s talents are both impressive and obvious.  A good example of the former is  the opener, “Talking About Death.” Here Katie’s voice is perfectly suited for this weeper: innocent yet knowledgeable, and sweet in a nasty way. “Good Winter” is a good example of the latter: country blues. I also really like the swing jazz horn opening of “Pistol” and the way the song suddenly goes to Americana blues. Very cool. Many of the melodies are simple and more folksy with just vocals and an accompanying finger picking guitar—and these songs are very good also. To hear what I’m talking about check out “Spaces,” “Feels Like Home,” and “The Haunted.” Good and enjoyable music.            (A.J. Wachtel)


8 tracks

The first track on this album is entitled “The Fun Is Done,” which, in case the sound of babies screaming wasn’t enough, pretty much lets you know what you’re in for. These tracks aren’t really songs as much as they are soundscapes that would fit in well in a horror movie or a dark video game like BioShock. In fact, I found myself wondering what the intended purpose of this music was. It’s intelligently put together and effectively spooky, but it doesn’t seem like something you would just sit down and listen to on its own. It also, I learned, isn’t something you want to listen to right before you go to bed, as you will most likely have very creepy dreams about being murdered on the beach at night. (Kevin Finn)


Continental Blue Heaven Records
10 tracks

Nobody screams like Sax Gordon, and this CD is the last word on the subject. He is loud and powerful on his instrument in two ways here: uptempo R&B romps you would expect to hear during a car chase onscreen, and slower blues tempos where he really gets a chance to showcase his huge range of emotions on tenor sax. He writes and sings on most of the songs and even has a cameo by the legendary Matt Guitar Murphy on “The Way It Is” and the traditional “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Listen to Murphy’s guitar tone. Just beautiful. Examples of the quicker sound I really dig are: the title and opening cut “Showtime!,” “Get Into It,” “Big & Hot,” and “I Got It.” Romping and rollicking bar-room music at it’s best. Slower, more trad blues that I like are “Careful What You Wish For”  and “Coolest Cat In Town”; two songs that are lower key but just as raucous. Nobody screams like Sax Gordon. Great stuff. Listen loud.     (A.J. Wachtel)


One of These Records
Cashed Fools 
9 tracks

Cashed Fools play a funky, groovy brand of bar rock. Slopping giant dollops of Fishbone and Living Colour atop jam-based blues rock is a sure way to get a party started—that’s exactly with Cashed Fools debut does. Each of the nine tracks blisters with squawking guitar, heavy bass and deep-pocket drums.

These songs do not come from three guys noodling in the basement. They come from many a late night jam. You can nearly smell the audience and taste the barroom in the tracks. Frankly, this record begs for listeners to hop in the car make their way to the club. It’s like a distillation of the live music experience captured and committed to record—a feat that is incredibly hard to pull off.     (George Dow)

8 tracks

The first track on this album is entitled “The Fun Is Done,” which, in case the sound of babies screaming wasn’t enough, pretty much lets you know what you’re in for. These tracks aren’t really songs as much as they are soundscapes that would fit in well in a horror movie or a dark video game like BioShock. In fact, I found myself wondering what the intended purpose of this music was. It’s intelligently put together and effectively spooky, but it doesn’t seem like something you would just sit down and listen to on its own. It also, I learned, isn’t something you want to listen to right before you go to bed, as you will most likely have very creepy dreams about being murdered on the beach at night. (Kevin Finn)

Proof of Love
9 tracks

Gracie is one of the best blues divas on the local scene today  and this cd allows her to strut her stuff behind her fine band. And the result, mixed and mastered by blues harp legend Rosy Rosenblatt (D.K.’s Full House) is a great example of why our local blues scene is one of the best around. Listen to: “Can’t Getta,” “Take You With Me,” “Even With The Rain,” and “Been All Over” (with Rosy’s great harp) to hear her country-blues sound at it’s best. The sweet and sad twang of “Take You With Me” should be heard on country radio stations everywhere. It’s always cool when blues royalty makes a cameo. Keyboardist extraordinaire Bruce Bears, from Duke Robillard’s band  joins in here too. I also really like when the horns are employed in her music; their brassy additions always are short and sweet and greatly add to the total package. Whether torching an Americana ballad or pouring her heart out in a romp, the nice guitar work of Tom Carroll, the good bass of Geoff Murfitt and solid pounding of Derek Bergman on drums mix well with Gracie’s great vocals for a real treat. Check it out.   (A.J. Wachtel)