CD Reviews

 

CopperphoneDislayBannerNeighborhoodsWebTHE NEIGHBORHOODS
The Last Rat: Live at the Rat ’92 (2-CD collection)
31 tracks
The Neighborhoods may not have been the best or brightest Boston band back in the halcyon ’80s, but like many of their all-but-forgotten contemporaries—the Outlets, Dogmatics, Lyres, or anything with John Felice in it back then—they were always a sure bet for a good time, a solid rock ’n’ roll band that wrote good songs, delivered with enthusiasm.  This two-CD set, recorded live at the fabled Rat in October 1992,  captures the raw energy of that era’s lineup, featuring frontman David Minehan, bassist Lee Harrington, and drummer Carl Coletti, on what was supposed to be the Neighborhoods’ final gig.  (The band reunited in 2004 and plays sporadically to this day.)  The setlist spans the entirety of  the ’Hoods career, from their classic power-pop single “Prettiest Girl” (which introduced the then-teenaged trio to the Boston scene back in 1980) through their Who- and Cheap Trick-inspired golden years, and into the heavier, more bombastic songs they recorded for their ill-fated major-label swan song Hoodwinked in 1991. The set ends with three amazing Beantown covers—by La Peste, the Nervous Eaters, and Mission of Burma (!)—that pretty much cement the Neighborhoods’ legacy as a band that helped not just shape, but define, a generation of Boston rock.  (Jim Testa)

PADDY SAUL
The Way the Blood Flows
12 tracks
This is another great slice of finely crafted songwriter pop from Boston, by way of Ireland.  Paddy Saul has assembled a great cross-section of Boston music royalty to flesh out these tunes, including  Jimmy Ryan, Peter Parcek, and Damon Leibert, and even a special cameo from Hothouse Flowers’ very own Liam O Maonlai.  There’s even a horn section and a string section!  The songs are so tightly arranged.  Some are fist-pumping anthems, while others are introspective meditations on love and life. Fans of Michael Scott, Karl Wallinger, Francis Dunnery, Leonard Cohen, and Bruce Cockburn will find this album a delightful bit of alright, expertly engineered by Rafi Sofer and mixed by the very tall Ducky Carlisle. Songwriters of this pedigree are few and far between.  Paddy Saul is the standard by which other local songwriters should be judged.  This is how it’s done, kids.   (Joel Simches)

DAVID GREENBERGER
WITH PAUL CEBAR TOMORROW SOUND
Pel Pel Recordings
They Like Me Around Here
19 tracks
Quote: “You’ve got to do one dumb thing every day so you can laugh at yourself.” Indeed. This CD of monologues-with-music is something of a follow-up to the acclaimed 2009 Greenberger-Cebar project Cherry Picking Apple Blossom Time. As usual, Greenberger’s monologues are drawn from conversations with the elderly; this time, they are mostly natives of Wisconsin. Cebar’s musical accompaniment is often jazzy in a whimsical way, which complements the monologues, as on “Hair.” Even though the exotica and cool jazz that accompanies the monologues is anachronistic in terms of the memories of people born between 1910 and 1940, the fusion of old and new nonetheless seems strikingly apt. One example—“The Chosen One”—the tale of a zookeeper and a sex-starved ape—is accompanied by a funk-jazz riff that accentuates the oddness of the story and provides a setting for it in the familiarly exotic. This melding of the odd and the exotic, the unique and generic, is the hallmark of the artistic mix being offered up here. “Archaic” mentalities clash with a “defunct” modernism and form a synthesis. Jazz styles from the 1950s to the 1970s seem appropriate to these monologues—they lend the enterprise a hipster vibe, to offset the old-fashioned and somewhat rural-flavored stories told by the speakers. Even a tale as mundane as excavating a sewer (“Thank You Reuben”) is rendered spectacular by a strangely driven funk-percussion underpinning; even a monologue as lackadaisical as “Me and My Dad” is given a whimsical dynamism by a soulful call and response provided by Greenberger and vocalist Mac Perkins. Perhaps the most notable track here is the magnificently eerie end-piece “Nine Sheboygan Dreamers,” with its unsettling avant-garde musique-concrete accompaniment. It’s easily as majestic as any documentary score narrated by Ken Burns. Greenberger, as editor of Duplex Planet, has been mining this rich vein for well over 30 years, and here he shows that he is still adept at finding unexpected poetry in everyday things. Philosophers maintain that simple things are often impossibly complex; furthermore, truth, we have been told, also includes the observer. To be sure, the strangely skewed and seemingly naïve wisdom of Greenberger’s respondents grows strange and wild upon closer examination. It is possible that listening to these tracks will make us more, rather than less, inclined to listen to what our own aging relatives have to say.  (Francis DiMenno)

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Evolvement Radio
Earth Tone Artists Live in Studio: Vol. 1
21 tracks
Here, Evolvement Radio presents the cream of their musical crop of radio performances. An impressive array of studio-quality acoustic tunes from an impressive array of artists, mostly hailing from New England. The tunes are so good that it’s hard to believe they’re all live takes. Though the comp keeps things stripped down and almost entirely acoustic, it still runs the gamut stylistically from roots rock, to ragtime, reggae, and world music.
Adam Ezra’s lightning-quick finger-style acoustic romp “Katie” stands out immediately with its bouncing tempo, boiled-down vocals, and sharp gusts of harmonica. Air Traffic Controller does so as well with “The One,” their folksy lovelorn ballad spun with yearning fiddles, dulcet banjo pluckings, and the lead singer’s Jeff Mangum-like nasally vocals. But it’s Nemes’ simply titled tune “Blues” that really seizes my attention: A drop-D guitar blues spiked with guttural vocals and replete with downright demonic fiddle interludes that sound like the damn thing is speaking in tongues with its discordant flourishes of oil-slick, string-scraping, hair-raising cacophony.
Local heavyweights like Ryan Montbleu and Will Dailey also make appearances with their acoustic guitars and captivating voices. Melissa Ferrick, too, beguiles with her warbling voice and cutting guitar, while Jesse Dee chicken-picks his way through his raspy ragtime blues number, “Slow Down.” Really, a great collection of NE’s finest doing what they do best. Yet overall, the stylistic variety of this compilation is fleeting and I find the tunes too often fall back on solo performances of gruff-voiced male crooners strumming folk songs on their acoustic guitars over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a potent musical approach with a rich history and each individual performance well-played in its own right. But it’s good only in moderation. (Will Barry)

TOKYO TRAMPS
Rollin’ Rockland Blues Hour
12 tracks
This local band’s members all hail from Japan, but they sound like they were born in Chicago. Guitarist Satoru Nakagawa writes all the songs that go from uptempo R&B to slower traditional blues, and in all the cuts these cats knock me out with their power and talent. Bassist Yukiko Fujii and Satoru share the vocals and this changes the focus of the band on all the cuts. Listen to Satoru sing the opener “Good Morning, Marietta,” “The Ghost of Old Love,” and the Freddie King-influenced romp “I’m a Country Boy.” And check out Yukiko’s cool vocals on “”Papa’s My Number One Fan,” “No Time Woman’s Blues” (with some great slide guitar), and “Empty Pockets.” Junpei Fujita plays great tenor sax all over the place too. This band is red hot and the CD, produced by Drew Townson, just screams at you through the speakers. Turn this up loud. (A.J. Wachtel)

POWDERHOUSE
FOC Records
Through the Air
6 tracks
I don’t ever foresee a time when I don’t appreciate a solidly constructed set of power pop tunes, which means I like this record very much. For the most part, it’s more pop than power, but being children of the ’90s (or so I assume), Powderhouse isn’t afraid to throw some fuzzed-out guitar into the mix.  Teresa Mastrorilli’s voice has a pleasant lilt, which makes me think of the band as a slightly countrified version of Boy Wonder.  The songs are mostly mid-tempo, but they all have life.  While the melodies are all instantly hummable, at no point do they feel derivative or overly familiar.  The six songs serve as a nice appetizer.  I’m ready for the main course. (Kevin Finn)

MOE POPE & THE RAINS
Let the Right Ones In
19 tracks
When they reminisce about good hip hop this album will be amongst the ranks. Out of the gate there is a sense of euphoric nostalgic transcendence.  As soon as the beats drop, it is apparent that this LP blends many different types of styles and influences from rock , ADM, and ’90s trip hop.
Moe and his cast of characters are droppin’ more knowledge than glitter on the Bean with very conscious and reflective lyrics.  His mixed cast include several Boston musical luminaries, such as Dua Boakye from BAD Rabbits, Reks, and Julia Easterlin.  The first track “Gotham” that features Easterlin is beautious out the gate. “Annie Mulz” is a supersonic gritty party anthem. Track 10 “Pressure” is grimy and raw.  Just about every joint on this album seduces you on the low like a not-so-silent assassin with all its heavenly and heavy beats. This album truly has mass appeal, which I feel will be appreciated by hip-hop heads.   (Lara Jardullo)

ADAM JENSEN
Head on a String
5 tracks
Though painfully brief, once heard, the symphonic swoon of Jensen’s latest release is hard to forget. I doubt even heavy-duty brainwashing could purge his punch-drunk pop hooks from my memory. While this intricately layered chamber-pop might scream Top 40s (and it does), it is smart and serious enough to keep me from utterly hating myself for enjoying it so much. Sure, some of the songs sound like something you’d expect to hear playing against the lily-white background of a commercial for the latest iGadget, but that’s not a bad thing. Not necessarily. Jensen’s lyrics, while heart-on-sleeve, aren’t that schmaltzy doggerel you’ve come to expect from such radio-friendly pop music. Instead, they include a welcome dose of reality and, sometimes, brutal honesty. (Will Barry)

WHISKEE
Last Summer Ever
8 tracks
As the old adage goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” something similar could be said for records: “Don’t judge a disc by its opener” and thankfully so because, in the case of Last Summer Ever, there is a seamless flow into the Jack White-flavored “Stateside” that serves to provide listeners with the coveted “ah-ha!” moment.  It is through unbridled energy and enthusiasm that Whiskee’s prowess becomes evident, while dizzying guitar riffs and mile-a-minute vocals come together to result in a track that could fit comfortably within White’s album Blunderbuss.  As the record progresses, its headfirst dive into the rock, funk, country, and soul genres proves to be an assault on the ears, albeit a welcome one.  Even the nine-minute melancholic meditation on an unfaithful lover, “Wild Animal Passion/Spoonbenders” is eerily comforting, perhaps due to the accessible nature of its subject matter.  The track, despite its misleading title, is the album’s standout—its melody and vocal styling reminiscent of Love Is Hell-era Ryan Adams, particularly his song “Hotel Chelsea Nights.”  It is difficult to imagine the heavy-hitters of Whiskee wearing Adams’ influence on their sleeve, but the welcoming similarities between the two songs speak for themselves.  On the whole, Last Summer Ever’s strength lies in its ability to rock, rock, rock, but to do so both melodically and inventively, something that far, far removes Whiskee from the amateur category.  (Julia R. DeStefano)

RAAG BILLY BOP 
Vivacious Music
Stranger Here Myself 
11 songs
Phil Kaplan, famed for his work with Men & Volts as well as, more recently, with the Hindi/wordbeat band Bangalore, fronts this innovative band. The CD was produced, mixed, and mastered in New Delhi, and features an eclectic mix of guitars, bass and assorted percussive instruments by locally based sidemen. Mention must also be made of Kaplan’s unique fretless eight-string gui’tarode, a hybrid of electric guitar and classical Indian sarode.  Much of this recording is an audacious fusion of Indian and western popular forms. The CD leaps out of the starting gate with the irresistible and electrifying “Mirouch’elli” (also performed by another Kaplan side project, Little Bang). This is succeeded by the equally dynamic and downright hypnotic  “Do No Harm.” The long-form “Hang Glider,” with stellar vocals by Sonam Gaychen Wangdi, is an interesting slowed-down and extenuated raga, matched in intensity by the slow burn that serves as the finale of “The Unknown.” Two notable songs revisit Men & Volts material: the funky “Café Society” and the (not altogether successful) Hindified version of “Healing Hands.” Surprisingly, the CD ends with as American-sounding a track as the most devout nationalist could wish for: “Cause It’s Good” with string bass by Sahil Warsi and rhythmic effects by Nikhil Mawkin. The best of the tracks featured here make for a sensationally novel release. (Francis DiMenno)

THE VERSA CONTRAST
Proclamations of an Insomniac: Volume 1
3 tracks
It was a dark and stormy night… That’s how this EP would start if it were a book, with its turgid bouts of overdriven guitars and drum-rolling bombast, with its dramatic shifts to quieter stretches of waterboarded guitar lines and echo-heavy vocals. Dark and stormy indeed. The vocalist has clearly taken a couple pages from the Thom Yorke playbook with his soaring melodic arcs, strains of cat-like meowing falsetto, and the oft-muddled lyrics. One too many pages, if you ask me. A talented group of musicians, methinks. One that is still searching for a sound to call their own. They’re well on their way, that’s for sure and I, for one, am eagerly anticipating Volume 2. (Will Barry)

CORO ALLEGRO
Navona Records
In Paradisum
15 tracks (2 songs)
“Requiem” and “The Voice of the Tenth Muse,” both composed by Patricia Van Ness, are the two choral works admirably rendered by the 60-plus members of Coro Allegro in their second commercial release. Taken as a whole, “Requiem” is a work of stature and dignity, soothing and subtle, and yet dynamic and affirming within the traditions of the traditional classical mass. The final track, “In Paradisum,” is notably transcendent. My impression is of a well-oiled machine offering a petition to gain the glancing notice of the Supreme Being. No one can say whether the object is attained, but it is hardly for want of trying. The libretto of “The Voice of the Tenth Muse” is an adaptation of the Greek poetess Sappho—appropriate for an LGBT Chorus—and is an uplifting work featuring ruminative and sedate cadences swelling into crescendos to the pagan gods; none can say whether they, either, have deigned to notice, but, if so, then surely these long-neglected deities are also well-pleased. “Now She Stands Among Lydian Women,” in particular, is majestic. (Francis DiMenno)

BLUE JAMES BAND
Give Me the Love or Give Me the Fight
10 tracks
It is through Give Me the Love or Give Me the Fight, the third offering from Blue James Band, that the carefree, combined energy of California’s Beachwood Sparks, Smile, and even Robert Randolph & the Family Band is immediately apparent.  Positive vibes ooze from the record and bright, cheerful moments are in abundance throughout.  There is noticeable diversity and depth to each composition, something that only serves to add to the band’s credibility.  Take, for instance, the record’s opener, “Not Ready For You.”  What begins as a straight-up rock tune takes a sudden turn into the reggae realm just as soon as the vocals kick in, and yet the combination of the two genres mesh together perfectly.  The end result is a song with a rather friendly tone, even with the chorus of: “I’m not ready for you.”  However, even the Phish-esque groove of “Who Are You,” the feel-good “Setting Sun,” and the quiet to loud transitions throughout the closer, “Eyes in the Dark,” still leave this reviewer feeling as if she has heard something similar before.  That is not to say that Give Me the Love or Give Me the Fight is not enjoyable on the whole or indicative of creativity, because it is.  It has just been done before and therefore, does not sound particularly new. (Julia R. DeStefano)

BETHEL STEELE
Trespass Music
Of Love and Whiskey
10 songs
This is Steele’s second full-length release, following 2009’s very promising self-produced debut Come Home. Delicate and evanescent, the opening song, “Base,” leaves such a light footprint it seems about ready to float away from us. However, the outstanding “Beautiful Boy” reveals a surprising and gratifying low-key country lilt from this introspective and talented performer. “Whiskey” is perhaps the best of the more up-tempo numbers, enlivened by the skilled guitar work of Rich Feridun. Steele’s sidemen, particularly Greg Greenway on keyboards, Jeff St. Pierre on bass, and co-producer Jagoda on percussion, play to her not inconsiderable strengths, providing subtle, never intrusive accompaniment. Steele is not about fanfaronades but, rather, her sedate and lovely voice is quietly and quite effectively both evocative and emotive, full of rue and tenderness both, ineluctably charming, and heard to greatest effect on the outstanding track, album-closer “Blue Skies.” I have long championed the work of Ms. Steele; here, I believe, she has surpassed even her already stellar previous efforts. (Francis DiMenno)

BY THE STONE
By the Stone EP
4 tracks
Maybe the most interesting thing about being a music fan, listener, and reviewer is how labels of music change.  R&B from 1960 is not R&B from 1995, and so on.  This music is labeled progressive. It’s not the same sound I know as that term.  To me, this is metal.  The name of the band denotes the Pink Floyd lyric from the Animals album. This really doesn’t have anything to do with a Floyd sound. Perhaps a newer, late 20th century metal version of long composition and execution.  Oh yeah, progressive metal.  The tones are dark, heavy, moody, and invite the listener onto a stratum of reality that may not feel comfortable for everyone.  This is BIG music. Takes many engines to turn it around in the harbor of the mind.  (Mike Loce)

INTERNATIONAL STRING TRIO
Movie Night
12 tracks
This trio could not come from more diverse corners of the planet or from a more diverse range of influence, but when you put together Japanese bassist Ippei Ichimaru, English violinist Ben Powell, and Russian guitarist Slava Tolstoy (who you may have seen in a dark corner in the back of Daddy’s Junky Music teaching kids how to play “Sweet Home Alabama”), and lock them in a room at your local Blockbuster (yeah, I know Blockbuster is gone, but work with me here), eventually they will make an album of some of your favorite movie magic moments. The choice of movies is pretty much what you would find on the “best sellers” endcap at a video store (See? I told you I was going somewhere with the analogy), if they still existed.  These musical musings are far from pedestrian.  They are playful and charming renditions of some classics from some of the greatest films of the last several decades.  They lose points by covering a Dropkick Murphys tune. You know which one. That one that gets played all the time.  Skip that one and you’ll have a good time. (Joel Simches)

MARINA EVANS
Dogtown
4 tracks
The Tuscan Sessions
3 tracks
The Dogtown EP features Ms. Evans’ lively and evocative vocal stylings, well-suited to a variety of genres—ingratiating pop (the well-nigh irresistible “Walk With Me”), lackadaisical balladry (“Not Gonna Wait”) and flat-out rock ’n’ roll (“Dogtown,” the EP’s raucous, anthemic best-of show.)  On the Tuscan Sessions EP,  Americana comes to the forefront, and Ms. Evans proves similarly adept with folksy balladry (particularly on the swellingly lovely “Blue Yonder”) and bluesy torch songs (“A Little Man”).   (Francis DiMenno)

VERTICAL TWIN
75orless Records
Electrosonicmotherphonic
10 tracks
Providence band Vertical Twin return on this stellar effort. Recorded by guitarist and singer Joe Traynor, this CD has a major label feel. Vertical Twin have the urgency of Dinosaur Jr. with the pro feel of Urge Overkill or the Jam, with a couple of heavy Robin Trower breakdowns thrown in for great measure. I knew Vertical Twin were great live, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard the vocals clearly before. So that’s what the hell he’s talking about! It took a long time to hear their studio release but the wait was well worth it. This band has something for everyone from ’70s hard rock to the best of the grunge era. Extra points for the black and white album cover by Ryan Tesser that doubles as a coloring book. The CD even comes with a box of crayons. Nice package, big guy! Um, can I take that back? The box of crayons, that is. (Eric Baylies)

GRACE MORRISON
Grace Morrision and the RSO  
8 tracks
This is a pleasant, mournful, joyous, and defiant acoustic effort performed by five classically trained musicians.  The RSO stands for “really small orchestra.”  With songs in the bluegrass and folk vein, the lyrics tell stories of the British Isles, and legends that make up that rich tradition. It’s music to dwell upon, reflect with and maybe shave your overgrown medieval bush to.  The sounds and production are spot-on, the instrumentation consists of acoustic guitar, piano, accordion, banjo, mandolin, percussion, and harmony vocals, which are really quite good.  Imagine the Starland Vocal Band in one of their better moments… I’d have wished there was more harmonizing in fact.  Varied time signatures bring out the musically trained depth this fellowship has.  All this being said, it’s a great local listen by a talented ensemble who may grab listeners of Mumford & Sons.  (Mike Loce)

THE BROOKLYNS
Swords and Lies
10 tracks
A Boston band called the Brooklyns  (named, we’re told, after the lager, not the borough) clearly has an identity problem, compounded significantly by an unexpected Southern country bent that’s all cozy back porches and lazy Sunday socials, without a hint of Eastern urban grit.  Guitarist Maureen Kavanaugh sings with a breezy gentility that goes down as easy as sweetened iced tea on a summer afternoon, backed by twangy guitars, steady drumming, and velvety harmonies.  When the band’s in full country-pop mode,  like the dreamy “If Anyone Told Me” or “Stay Alive,” you can almost feel the undertow of vintage Fleetwood Mac.  Guitarist Tom Leger counterbalances those AOR tendencies with his gritty lead vocals, which range from the honky-tonkin’ “Hand Me Downs” to the wah-wah fueled country-rocker “War.”  Like Brooklyn’s Laura Stevenson & the Cans, the Brooklyns appropriate traditional down-home Americana tropes without condescension or irony, city kids playing country music that might be just the ticket for a shit-kicking Saturday night. (Jim Testa)

THE PEASANT DRAMATIC 
Lifted From the Smoke
11 tracks
On this debut release, the opening track, “You’re It,” seems to belong to a particular genre—call it naïve-core, though it’s less like the ridiculously overblown John Cougar Mellencamp and more like the sentimentally winsome Dexys Midnight Runners—albeit with vocals so compressed they sound like they are being sung through a taxicab microphone, and with a horn section seemingly on vacation from Mr. Van Morrison’s St. Dominick’s Preview. (However, to be perfectly fair, this sort of starry-eyed pop dates back even further, to the late ’60s Los Angeles sound of Emmitt Rhodes & the Merry-Go-Round, the Turtles, and even the inestimable Harry Nilsson.) On the second track, “Hand of the One,” we get some dizzyingly cascading fuzzy guitar and snazzy keyboard stylings a la Queen—all of this spells nicey-nice jazz-poppy fusion fizz, but, ultimately, its seemingly inexhaustible store of earnestness is annoying, though admittedly displaying a refreshing lack of calculated slickness. However, after the first three songs, singer-songwriter Taylor Bickford succumbs to a fatal lack of taste—thrashing around with fuzzy-minded, haphazard, self-indulgent melodramatics in the place of solid songwriting and a will to communicate with his audience.  “For Joanna and the Kids” is a sappy-but-sincere love letter, but, unfortunately, it also violates a certain implicit contract between the artist and the listener—it’s too baldly personal, and therefore it comes across as merely complacent. “Leaping…” is a piano and sax piece which is emotionally all over the map—mawkish, incoherent, almost impulsively disconnected from anything save atmospherics and clichéd strong feeling—all the worst traits of an artist like Billy Joel. The Dylanesque blues knock-off “Maybe New York” sinks the project further, though it is redeemed in part by a great and truly off-beat full-band coda. “Dear” seems too much like hoary, gasping Springsteen schlock, or even a close kin to an off-putting song like the faux-Byrds farrago “Chestnut Mare.” “Wyoming” is pointlessly bleak and self-important and why, in God’s name, are the vocals double-tracked?  Too many of these songs remind me of how fatal it can be for an artist to forfeit aesthetic distance and launch headlong into heedless self-abandon. However, although the album may be a bit of a muddle, on at least two occasions it’s transcendent and even capable of delivering that good old art shiver, as on the phrasing of the line “the rain hits everything” on the third track, “Juniper,” and, in particular, on the phrasing of the line “hang me in the cradle of your radiating love” on the final song, “Everyone Is (Radiating),” which is genuinely heartfelt and touching because it seems to come from a real place, rather than constituting a mere construct of ill-considered musical tropes and second-hand clichés.  (Francis DiMenno)

THE WEEDS
Catskull Records
Roots/Routes EP
6  tracks
Serviceable emo-pop-punk made interesting by sometimes-backing, sometimes-lead female vocals by Justine DeFeo. This simple, novel twist makes what might otherwise be a boring re-hash of a punk rock micro-genre something worthy of multiple listens.
Dissonant instrumental intros to most tracks add another interesting twist, layering in a pleasant ’90s, indie rock feel—a la early Buffalo Tom or Dinosaur Jr.
With each track DeFeo’s vocals move to closer to the foreground while the songs drift further from the standard Blink 182, pop-punk formula. By the time the final track rolls around, the Weeds have transformed themselves into an endearing, edgy indie rock band.    (George Dow)

SUNNY DAY RAINBOWS
10 tracks
Sunny Day Rainbows is the project of the guitarist Adam from Boston’s heavy blues band Whitey. This looks like a children’s album. With catchy choruses like “I ate all the apples” and “squirrels in the bathtub,” I suppose it is meant for kids. If you didn’t look at the liner notes, you may mistake this for a band weened on the Elephant 6 collective or the more upbeat Pink Floyd and Meat Puppets songs. “Riding on a Train” recalls a happier, shinier REM song. Recorded at New Alliance, this CD is ready to be a hit at kid’s parties or keggers. (Eric Baylies)

JAY WILLIE BLUES BAND  
Zoho Roots Records
New York Minute
15 tracks
Man oh man: this Connecticut band just kills me. Blazing Johnny Winter-influenced guitar on all the tracks with great harp by Jason Ricci, great female guest vocals by Marlou Zanduliet, and ripping drums by ex-Winter band veteran Bobby T (Torello). And this CD rocks. My favorite cuts are: Jay Willie’s “Chain Smokin’” with his crippling-crisp slide guitar and Torello’s  “Watch Pocket”; two songs that showcase the group’s best characteristics. Their top notch musicianship and song-writing abilities are the first things about this CD that grab you. The second thing that I love are the many creative notes this guitarist plays song after song. Killer music by a killer New England band. I want to see them live and onstage and may have to go to the “Constitution State” for their next gig. Oh well. Until then, I have this  incredible CD to listen to over and over. Rockin’ blues the way it should be played. Cool stuff.    (A.J. Wachtel)

GUILTY AS SIN 
Future History
9 tracks
An incongruous meshing of Cookie-Monster-vocal death metal, hardcore thrash, and prog-rock-worthy instrumentals. Notable not for the variety of influences but for smashing them against one another without so much as a hint of crossover within any one song.
Song length doubles as genre labels: Less than two minutes equals hardcore thrash,  two to four minutes are Cookie-Monster death metal, and less than seven minute tunes translate to instrumental prog-metal suites comparable to Rush’s wonkiest moments (in the best of ways).
While I’ve never been a fan of Cookie-Monster death metal, the other two faces that Guilt As Sin wear are a pleasure to experience. The short and intense thrash-metal moments are a total treat, while the extended prog-metal jams expose tremendous musical talent.   (George Dow)

PLUMERAI
Darushka-4 Records
Mondegreen
10 tracks
“13” opens this release with good ole prog rock straight out of Genesis, mixed with eerie synthesizer and insistent ostinatos, all topped with Eliza Brown’s soulful vocals. On “Trip” the formula is varied, if not by much, by an upbeat pop melody and a truly lovely and beautifully sung vocal rendering. Some standout tracks vary the mix further: the minimalistic torch ballad “Troubled Soul”; the liquescent “Come and Go,” with its spectacular if somewhat overblown crescendo serving as a mock grand finale; the wispy but pleasantly ecstatic “Marco Polo,” and the lilting, languorous “Mortality.” My only caveat—perhaps a minor one—is that I find this sort of low-key quasi-Gothic brand of atmospheric histrionics to be often lovely but also somewhat aesthetically suspect, depending for its emotional effect upon what a cynic might be tempted to conclude are (not wholly justified) melodramatics.  (Francis DiMenno)

RIGEL
Sightseeing at Midnight
9 tracks
Right from the start, it becomes pretty clear that Rigel’s reach exceeds its grasp.  The first track is a pseudo-classical number that comes off as pompous, rather than deep.  It’s a trend that continues throughout, culminating with a quivering trumpet toward the end that elicits a lot of laughter but not much real feeling from the listener.  It would be easier to overlook the heavy-handedness if the music was any good, but it comes across as a combination of 90 percent rehashed Depeche Mode and 10 percent neutered Nine Inch Nails.  And it sounds really, really dated, particularly the synths and the drum machines.  It’s okay to pay homage to an era, but you need to bring something new.  On the plus side, “A Color I’ll Never Be” gives us one of the goofiest song title since Milhouse’s dad on The Simpsons gave us “Can I Borrow a Feeling?” (Kevin Finn)

KEITH KRAMER
Navona Records
Casual Dualism
10 tracks
Keith Kramer’s latest release of orchestral work attempts to explore and celebrate the “dichotomy and relationships between all things,” according to his own extensive liner notes.  This album is divided into three pieces, the first an all-out orchestral journey playing with various somber moods from the string section, punctuated by stabs from the percussion section. The second piece is a little more playful and features some sonic exploration between the reeds, brass, and strings.  The third is a piece for solo soprano saxophone. Stylistically, this album covers ground well traveled by 20th century composers such as Ligeti, Stravinsky, and Sibelius without the emotional intensity.  That is not to say that there is little gravitas in the pieces performed here, though it would have been nice to explore some greater dynamic range.  This seems more stream of consciousness without structure and with little imagination.  I feel safe listening to this when I should feel challenged. Perhaps the dualism expressed here is a little too casual, too familiar.   (Joel Simches)

ZAKLANIE 
Zaklanie 
4 tracks
I will always feel utterly unqualified to review drone artists. The bio for this collaboration between Boston’s Cryostasium and Russian artist Victoria Isa Mengele describes them as “experimental ritual black ambient metal.” Okay. I’ll buy that. Well, maybe not the metal part, though I suppose there are guitars in here somewhere. Maybe. It’s hard to tell. It’s all so hard to digest. Even harder to describe.
Three of the four tracks clock in at over 15 minutes, each running a similar course. Ambient drones flitter in, building to a cacophonous roar of synth and guitar feedback. All the while various tortured grunts and groans reverberate and loop in and out of the mix. Some of the tracks lose their head of steam and peter out quietly, while others end abruptly in the midst of the roar, as though someone came along and knocked the plug out of the wall.   (George Dow)

ERIC FRENCH & MR. HYDE
Old City Blues
8 tracks
Some astute wiseass once coined the term “dad blues,” and boy, does it ever apply here.  This is the type of music that gets played in nondescript suburban townie bars, usually by guys who wear their guitars too high and constantly make constipated faces while their solos meander on well past the point of being interesting.  Occasionally, drunk and out-of-shape middle-aged couples will dance to it while taking a break from stuffing their faces with buffalo wings.  Clearly, this music wasn’t made for me.  Perhaps I should leave it at that, but I have to address the cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”  I seem to remember Bob Dylan once saying upon hearing Jimi Hendrix’s take on “All Along the Watchtower” that the song now belonged to Jimi.  Let’s just say that I don’t think we’ll ever hear Petty saying his song now belongs to Eric French. (Kevin Finn)