CD Reviews


Screech Owl Records
The More That We Learn the More We Learn That We’re Wrong
17 tracks

Some bands put so much force and passion into their performances that they transcend the less desirable aspects of the genre they chose to showcase. Case in point: this amalgam of thrash and Americana. Kimbo Rose sings for all the world like a countrified Thalia Zedek and the band is so tuneful and versatile (and odd) that they maybe ought to share a bill with Walter Sickert & His Army of Broken Toys, or possibly even Jack O’Nuts, or Pylon. “Digging Ditches” begins the CD with a bang, and the intensity ebbs and flows throughout, but you seldom get the sense that the proceedings are merely perfunctory. Notable tracks include the frenetic, impressionistic “Stained Glass,” the bluesy, off-kilter “Dotted Line,” and especially the ominously ruff-tuff trashy manifesto, “We’re Better Off.” “I Believe” is a rabblerousing screed taken at inhuman velocity, and then it’s back to Americana with “Poison In”—like “Senses Working Overtime” as stripped down to its essence by those hoodlums in Wire circa “Pink Flag.” “Pile O’ Bones” is full of howling folksy theatricality and thereafter many of the remaining songs are in the same mode—though “Well Well” is worth a smile—it’s just so damned RIGHT—the Wild West corn of the tune, the western movie pastiche of the lyric, and the brevity of the song all combine to make it a well-wrought gem. This is definitely a band to watch, with at least eight great songs—and I’ll bet they’re just getting warmed up.     (Francis DiMenno)


Lowbudget Records
A Half Bubble Off Plumb 
11 tracks

One general sound of the band’s style is breezy and flowing; but there is a lot more going on throughout A Half Bubble Off Plumb than this simple statement implies. Mr. Curt’s sinister and spooky vocals on the traditional opener “Dear Friends,” is downright creepy, and on the next tune, “Out On The Lam,” he goes from baritone to basso-profundo in a measure and you think: “This audial would really benefit with a corresponding and accompanying visual arts presentation too.” Clara Kebabian’s dark vocals on the Boyce Hart cover of the Monkees’ “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” stands right up to Mr. Curt’s and her violins add greatly to the complete communication. Marty White and his big bass is a perfect foundation for this release. I really dig the male/female harmonies. “Ni Yi Yi Yi Yi, I’m Not Your Stepping Stone.” Introspective and interesting! At the end of the CD, “Geronimo” and “Peonies” almost sound like b-sides to Pastiche or even Adventure Set’s out put, and when Mr. Curt goes into the psychedelic tape loopiness of “Cloud At Ease” and “Farewell Ride,” the trip really begins. It’s been a while since I listened to new music under the guises of a few tabs of acid, but these final melodies bring it all back to me in a few quick doses. Fasten your seatbelts. This is very creative. Very cool.      (A.J. Wachtel)


4 tracks

I gotta give it to these guys. They’ve got talent by the boatload—talent which they’re not the least bit afraid to show off on these free-flowing jazz-tinged instrumentals, whether it be with the crisp, methodical drumming, the warm, melodical basslines, the organ, the piano, or of course, the piece de resistance: the dulcet dueling duet between the lead guitars. It’s amazing what just two guys can pull off with enough studio time. The music is in the vein of Explosions in the Sky-style post-rock; a Monet-like approach to music that sound-paints in broad, colorful strokes. In my oh-so-professional opinion, this four-part rock suite is a skillfully impressionistic sonic daydream. In my not-so-professional opinion, however, Royalty smacks of Berklee-kid pretension. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m basically just listening to two guys masturbating with their guitars for 30-plus minutes, which is okay I guess, if you’re into that sort of thing.         (Will Barry)


6 tracks

Dynasty Electric is led by Westport, MA, singer Jennifer DeVeau aka Jenny Electrik. Is the world ready for dance music with theremins? I sure hope so. This CD has a very modern feel, ready for the radio, yet somehow it maintains a swagger that newer dance music lacks. Jenny has a well deserved confidence that comes only with greatness, like Nancy Sinatra or Diana Ross. If Devo were the backing band for Kesha or David Bowie produced Pink, it would sound like this. All hail the new dynasty in town!
(Eric Baylies)


Signature Sounds Recordings
Heather Maloney
11 tracks

The opening track cops a melody (intentionally or not) from the 13th Floor Elevators, but “Great Imposter” is a strong opening salvo nonetheless. Ms. Maloney displays a casually tossed-off vocal insouciance, which is trickier than it looks—compare and contrast Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Cars,” for instance. “Hey Broken” is a minimalistic chantey—actually, almost a schoolyard chant—and again, her vocals shine. It’s very hard not to like both her and her songs—and likeability counts for a lot. But then she gets a little too cutesy on the show tune-cum-torch song, “Fire For You.” Call me a cynic, but I’ve already hard this shtick on the Mamas and Papas Greatest Hits album, and I didn’t like it too much then, either. Even so, the song is highly appealing, and it seems as though she can’t put a foot wrong, until she does. The introspective “Dirt & Stardust” is kind of a snore, though with a lovely melody all the same. The remainder of this collection is somewhat anodyne, with the exception of the gorgeous folk song, “Turn Youself Around,” and the oddly exotic “Darlene.” Trouble is, a body can only stand but so much pillow-soft and starry-eyed introspection. The first two songs in particular are outstanding, mainly because they seem purposeful, but many of the remaining numbers come across as unfortunately gauzy by comparison. Still, Heather Maloney  is clearly a formidable talent—and certainly a singer/songwriter to watch.     (Francis DiMenno)


Stony Plain Records
Independently Blue
12 tracks

There are a lot of things to really like about this CD.  First, you have two great guitarists (Duke Robillard and Monster Mike Welch) with different styles that play and fit so well together. Second, you have a second-to-none band that kicks ass from beginning to end on this very cool new release. Both Duke and Monster Mike compose compelling screamers that are impressively passionate, and even though you can hear jazz in Duke’s Wes Montgomery chords, bar-room blooze and B.B. King are never left far behind. New Orleans is visited in Red Allen’s 1929 jazzy “Patrol Wagon Blues,” but in tunes like Monster Mike’s instrumental “Stapled To The Chicken’s Back,” Duke’s “Strollin’ With Lowell and B.B.,” and the classic opener, “I Wouldn’t-a Done That,” Bruce Bears’ rollicking honky-tonk piano, Brad Hallen’s knockout upright and electric bass, and Mark Texeira’s solid pounding just jump out of the speakers. I really dig Duke’s rocking Chuck Berry-ish “Laurene” about his lovely wife. It’s also a blast listening to Duke and Monster Mike trade off and play tag on each cut. Their styles are their own and you can really tell the difference in tone between Duke’s hollow body and Mike’s Strat—blazing leads, great energy, and they play together so effortlessly. They are a really good band. Go see them live.   (A.J. Wachtel)


A Life in Transit 
18 tracks

So, I’m a little overwhelmed by the fact that this album has 18 (!!!) tracks. In the age of iTunes and Spotify, I’m not sure I have the musical attention span required to listen to this thing from beginning to end. So, in the interest of time, I will write as I listen. The first track opens promisingly, with a charming banjo intro. So far, so good. I’m pleasantly surprised, for sure—this is a twangy number with female backup vocals that complement Nathan’s voice wonderfully. A quick Google search reveals that this album includes a veritable orchestra of musicians—19 musicians are credited on the album, some of which contributed multiple talents to the effort. The next song is vastly different—sort of like an auto-tuned Vampire Weekend. As I continue listening to this extremely long album, the wide variety continues, but if I had to select an overarching description, it’d be “post-Pavement indie… with twang.” Overall, impressive musicianship and songwriting is exhibited, and I will grudgingly concede that it was worth listening to the entire thing, even if I still think 18 tracks is overkill.    (Emily Diggins)


Block Island
3 tracks

“Rolling Rock Bottle” is some agreeable folksy beatnik style hokum in the vein of Michael Hurley, and “Washington Is Coming” is a readymade dusty antique folk facsimile reminiscent of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span . It’s the stellar title track that’s impossible to ignore. Okay, so uninformed ’70s jazz haters will sneer that it’s a Stéphane Grappelli knockoff, a folk-jazz fusion that’s the worst of both words. But who cares what those idiots think? Anyway, they’re wrong. If you love both traditional fiddle music and well-wrought jazz, regardless of its provenance, you will find the musicianship here to be well-nigh impeccable, and this instrumental offering—based on one simple but maddeningly catchy riff—to be sublime, as it coruscates into a near-raga in the course of its permutations. “Block Island” is an outstanding and memorable piece of music.      (Francis DiMenno)


Wish Them Well
7 tracks

Warm vocals, lush and ethereal production, intelligent lyrics… what more could one ask for? To begin with, consistently cohesive arrangements. “Wish Them Well” explodes with the infectious “Bells and Whistles” but jerkily switches gears to an awkwardly groove-laden “Rhombus Cat.” “Ghost in the House” is the next strongest contender, however the dirge-like verses of “Numbers” clash with rich, promising choruses only to be fatally wounded by a strikingly out of place bridge. Clocking in at over six minutes, the solid verses and melodic choruses of “Irukandje Woman” give the listener hope, but a long, self-indulgent bridge and awkward electric guitar accents and solos leaves one feeling unfulfilled. “Wish Them Well” makes one wonder if Animals and Shapes are struggling with an identity crisis, marring a potentially great collection of tunes.    (Marc Friedman)


Second Story Records
Bird Mancini Lounge
12 tracks

This collection certainly lives up to its billing as lounge music, albeit with a Brazilian twist. Think of Bossa Nova, which was briefly a mid-’60s fad, though this samba/jazz fusion had been around in one form or another since at least the early 1950s. The music here is clever and sometimes complex—check out the intricacies of the opening track, “If You Wanna Get to Know Me.” There is much to like on this CD: “The Listener” is a late ’60s style bluesy slow burner akin to Traffic or even Steppenwolf. “Bridge 51” is an introspective minor key pop song with a message. The band tries out some Bossa Nova-tinged funk on “You Don’t Know What I’m Saying.” “Midway Dream Café” is a jazzy number, and “Jet Setting in Morocco” serves up some Bossa Nova make-out tuneage, while  “Patagonia” is a South American folk guitar showcase and “Northridge” is a bluesy torch number with added touches of exotica. “Running to You” sounds a bit like a summit meeting between Vanilla Fudge and Santana, only with some watery guitar sounds to vie with mysterioso organ for our attention—my beef is that the damn thing fades out just when it starts to get interesting. Leaving us wanting more is a good way to go out, I suppose. My only criticism of the project as a whole is that it comes across as somewhat lukewarm—neither one thing or another—nothing that grabs you by the lapels—but then again, it is lounge music, and pretty respectable genre work at that, so I suppose any criticism along those lines is rendered somewhat moot.    (Francis DiMenno)


15 tracks

I love not knowing what kind of music I’m really gonna dig next.  That’s one of the joys of aging… uh… updating.  How about this, electronic ambient worthy of the Soundscapes Music Choice TV Channel, with baritone guitar twang sprinkled in?  FANTASTIC.  Heartbeat soundtrack, ethereal sonic washes, mindscapes over some weird planet, pick your own NASA-esque image.  I don’t get high anymore (yes, the paranoia) but the fact that a straight mind can like iiNub as much as a baked one says something.  Right? Or something.  The song titles have a science/math based framework, which definitely sends the impression that you’re listening to something important.  The men at work here are Sean Carroll and Luis Fraire, who’ve been making music for over 20 years together.  You can’t fake that kind of chemistry with audio… it just IS, and it’s good, very good.     (Mike Loce)


7 tracks

Boston’s Four Point Restraints start Mercy casually, setting the mood of an acoustic performance at a local café in their first song, “What’s Another Year?”—then the bass picks it up. The album generally has a rockabilly feel with a folk twist, though the bagpipes and “hey-ho!” in the sixth track, “Dead Reckoning” sound post-punk with a western undertone. This song gets my feet moving, until it slows down before the third chorus and the sound of weeping pirates add a haunting visual. Mercy includes several catchy songs that showcase two-beat ’40 jazz with a modern feel. Four Point Restraints are pros at mixing jazz and country-blues, as each song begins and ends with completely different sounds. The lyrics are poetically crafted to tell a story in the tracks: “Let the Ship Sink” and “The Flowers of Evil.” “Let the Ship Sink” mocks the cries of a sea captain with a sorry fate. It is borderline hilarious, especially when Evan Gadowski sings: “They’ll laugh and tell stories of gone-by days/ When I’m six feet under rotting away” in such a snarky tone. The last line of the chorus “The Flowers of Evil” tells a somber tale of the disappointments of life, yet the sorrow is masked by the upbeat melody. Mercy is an ambitious EP for this unsigned band that has already set itself apart in the music universe. Their fans will no doubt be cranking the volume to these snappy songs.                    (Ashley Magown)


Letters From The Lost 
9 tracks

Most of this Vermont artist’s music consists of folk/ballads done with Jay’s expressive, strong, and powerful vocals, and nice finger picking. He writes all the songs and in a genre where its hard to stand out, Jay Nash makes it look and sound so easy. I really dig “Twist My Arm,” “Sailor,” and “Blame It All on the Wind,” but all the cuts showcase his great voice and playing. He is the good storytelling balladeer in “The Art Thief,” and comparisons to Lyle Lovett, Bruce Springsteen and Ray LaMontagne are pretty obvious, with his rugged and soulful vocals making his blend of Americana/alternative/folk/rock resonate with all ears. Nash is a true heritage artist; check him out.      (A.J. Wachtel)


Oh So Sour
10 tracks

If you’re looking for someone to reinvent the wheel, then Yates is not your fellow.  If you’re looking for someone to build you a sturdy, reliable wheel like the ones that have served you well for years, then he’s your man.  Yates and company deliver a mostly winning blend of rootsy pop that lives comfortably somewhere between the Jayhawks and Gigolo Aunts.  For the most part, they don’t stray from the path; when they do, it’s with mixed results.  The bouncy bass of “Teeth or Pedal” and the soul of “Loaded” work very well, but the fuzz rock of “Honeycomb”?  Not so much.  All in all, listening to this record is a more than pleasant enough way to spend half an hour.                 (Kevin Finn)


Blue Dutchess/Shining Stone Records
Right Here Right Now         
11 tracks

This music is more Memphis than Chicago and right off you can tell that Sunny is a natural singer, just by the way her voice glides around the songs’ melodies before reaching her desired notes. It’s as much fun listening to her reach the song’s notes as it is enjoyable listening to her emote. The Stax/Volt feel is best felt on the kicking opener, “Oh Yes I Will!” and “Warned,” where I can also hear a bit of Bonnie Raitt. Her strong and passionate vocals are best showcased in “Love Me Right,” by Boston artist Madeleine Hall, the title Americana Blues track, “Right Here Right Now,” Duke Robillard’s “Roll Me, Daddy,” and my favorite, “Cook In Your Kitchen” with Bruce Bear’s incredible honky-tonk piano leading the way. Backed by Duke’s band, with Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Texeira on drums, I really dig the way these incredible musicians tightly provide the instrumentation without taking the focus off of Sunny’s great voice. Sugar Ray Norcia on harp and a horn section consisting of Mike Tucker on tenor, Doug James and Billy Novick on baritone, and Doug Woolverton on trumpet are the aural icing on this cake. On Roomful of Blues vet Al Basile’s cool “I Might Just Change My Mind,” you can imagine this tune being done by a big horn band with Sunny’s vocals bringing it to an even cooler level. Great stuff!   (A.J. Wachtel)


Savoy Productions
Out Loud (Live)
13 tracks

An excellent live CD by one of New Hampshire’s greatly original bands.  Trying to describe Truffle is sort of like trying to describe the flavor of vanilla. Not to say the music is vanilla… not even sure if that makes sense to me.  What Truffle IS is a collective of talented musicians, filing themselves under the roots, blues, and groove category but offering so much more.  Truffle’s lineup is Dave Gerard, Ned Chase, David Bailey, and Mike Gendron. This disc is a collection of live performances in 1999; I’d imagine the group has evolved its sound by now, as seems to be the case with a band that means something.  They have a sound that can at times bring me back to the halcyon 1990s, from Hootie to John Popper to swirling acoustic/psychedelic explorations. They’ve toured the states, and the world. By the time you read this, Truffle will have made an appearance at the Granite State Music Festival 2013.   (Mike Loce)


Sand and Gold
10 tracks

There is a type of song—in the folk-Americana genre in particular—to which I am tempted to assign a label as I groan through it. Call it, for want of a more inventive term, False Monumental. Everything about such a song advertises its own significance, and, as you listen to it, you feel as though you are being virtually forced to regard it as Something Important. Sometimes, the False Monumnetal comes about as a result of misguidedly bloated production, but it can also come about because the artist is full of—well, let’s call it The Divine Afflatus. Some of the biggest names in the biz have profitably exploited this gimmick—let’s se—um, “Piano Man,” or maybe even “Born to Run.” I’d hate to accuse Mr. Wylder of harboring any such tendencies. But based upon the evidence before me, I find it difficult to conclude otherwise. The robust country hokum of “VW27,” for instance, strikes a false note with its Creedence-like populist rhetoric. I’m just not feeling anything genuine here. It sounds to me as complacent as drool-like “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson. This is not to say that the musicianship here isn’t outstanding—just that the songs don’t happen to move me in they way they are intended. I feel as though I can see the scaffolding behind their architecture. I can almost see the little man with the big head ranting—however laconically—from behind the curtain. This is not to say that I wouldn’t rather hear this kind of okeydoke than endure the bloated and labored later work of, say, Van Morrison. “Vineyard” is, at least, an interesting experiment in vocal and instrumental melodic interplay, and the tune is gorgeous. But again—there’s that nagging problem of the False Monumental. It mars many of the remaining songs as well. “Feathers” is a self-indulgent New Age dirge, the Dylan cover is sluggish, and “Aman Iman” is a ghastly misstep—the intro is dolorous; the song’s message seems overly earnest; the world-music stylings rather suspect. “Waterslide Academy” is not so much a tune as a series of posturings. “Voice in the Lupines” is an almost risible slab of crunchy Americana, which strives far too hard for an unearned aura of Grave Seriousness. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m just not buying whatever it is he’s selling, and I suppose I should leave it at that.   (Francis DiMenno)


Savoy Productions
That’s Right
11 tracks

As much as I really enjoyed Truffle’s 1999 live CD, Out Loud, this 2005 offering leaves me tired. I’m glad I listed to their discs in chronological order.  What sounded fresh and exciting in 1999 (and was performed live that way), by 2005 sounded dated.  I’m speaking primarily of the “sounds like Blues Traveler” vibe.  But that’s just me.  I get the feeling the band was running off of a formula and just stayed on it… that seems to be a risk with musical longevity. I’m not faulting the playing, execution, quality, and production.  The sound is just…nothing new.  Since I know they’re a great band, and this was what they sounded like in 2005, it being 2013, I’m sure things have changed.  It’s a hard thing… you play music for the love and satisfaction, not for the market viability or popular taste trend.  That being said, I have nothing but respect for these guys and what they do.                          (Mike Loce)


Dove Records
Things Money Can’t Buy 
6 tracks

There is a hint of metal. There is a hint of rock ’n’ roll. There is a hint of Americana. Vocalist/ bassist John Cagnina cries a weeper in the opening ballad “Don’t Wanna Be Alone Tonight” but the band gets harder in the title track “Things Money Can’t Buy.”  In “35¢ Magazine” I dig guitarist Johnny Del’s Chuck Berry two string leads. And there’s a hint of surf and Americana in the closer “Cajun Country.” Drummer Peter Goutzos keeps it all together for a cool release from a good, tight band. Check it out.            (A.J.Wachtel


Happy Enchilada Records
Give Me All My Apostrophes Angels
15 tracks

“Tunes” (I use the word advisedly) such as the tolerable “High Horse” and the truly deranged “Saturn’s Rings” (my favorite) are kind of like Green on Red as heard through a ketamine funnel. At its best, this is the kind of well-meaning okeydokey Americana you wouldn’t mind hearing as it blared from a honkeytonk jukebox, if only to witness the consternation on the faces of the shitkickers as they holler in unison, “Whut the hail IS this shit?” Being something of a troublemaker myself, I can’t help feeling a certain sneaking fondness for this trio of outsider musicians. Trouble is, many of the songs—except for “Wedding Bells” and “Alaska”–are sluggish and lumbering; production values are nil; and the tunes aren’t particularly memorable, or even tuneful. Other than that, though, you still have to admire their guts. They’re expending an awful lot of effort, it seems, in marketing a product—a bunch of unfocused songs–that very few people are likely to find appealing, or even listenable.   A song like “Neighbors” sounds for all the world like an outtake from the Holy Modal Rounders circa “Indian War Whoop”—but even more pointless and deranged. I could see this group someday becoming some sort of huge cult act (an oxymoron), but they would have to write a whole bunch of really sharp and clever songs. Apparently, this hasn’t happened yet. This batch of half-hearted throwaways simply isn’t going to cut it.      (Francis DiMenno)


75 or Less Records
Out of the Future and Into the Woods
9 tracks

This is exactly what I imagine getting probed by aliens sounds like.    (Kevin Finn)


If I Don’t Speak a Word…
12 tracks

Listen to the wise words of “Older Now” and you will discover a whole new genre of concept album: Solipsism Rock, in which the writer writes about writing down his writerly feelings—and then he turns around and writes more of the same. I haven’t heard anything this hilariously misguided since the first Leo Sayer album, or maybe the soundtrack to “Welcome to LA.” No—I exaggerate—actually, I’ve heard plenty of examples of this sort of thing, but they were usually either demo cassettes or tunes performed by neophyte singer-songwriters at an open mike I emceed for several long years. This collection is jam-packed with songs, which virtually reek of self-importance. Even a song like “Reasons,” which is supposedly about somebody else, is really about the narrator—as in the musty quip: “Well, that’s enough about me—what do YOU think of me?” Mr. Dulzani’s singing-above his-normal-range on this number evokes the 70s soft-rock combo Bread—only without the rough and ready street cred of that inestimable crew. I will say that I did like the somewhat lovely song “Before Midnight.” But I don’t much care for the rest of it. Falsely portentious tunes  yoked to pretentious lyrics do not equal Art. We are not provided with a lyric sheet, but many of the songs are filled with “I, I, I,” and “me, me, me,” and lyric effusions like: “I’m writing my songs alone after dark.” My advice? Gather up all these copies of your debut and destroy them, Mr. Dulzani. In 2023, your more enlightened future self will thank me. I promise.    (Francis DiMenno)


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