Chet’s Last Call
The feel-good vibes abound on the latest release from Boston ska veterans Bim Skala Bim. With the blissful bleating of the horn section, the carefree skankin’ of the guitars, the somersaulting basslines, and that plush squeal of organ, this album is buzzing with all their lighthearted Caribbean-esque rabble-rousing and devil-may-care musical shenanigans. But it’s not until the tail-end of the album that things really start to get interesting. “On the Dance Floor” ventures out of their feel-good comfort zone with its sweet ’n’ sour dissonances and darker edge. Definitely a stand-out tune on the record for me. Then there’s “Papa Don’t Put Too Much Pepper,” which turns up the funk with a rollicking performance from the percussionist and drenches itself in grungy guitars. Coupled with the horn section, it adds a New Orleans vibe to their sound. It seems Chet’s Last Call is their first release in thirteen years. Well, it was worth the wait. (Will Barry)
Songs from the Book of David
A novel concept: One songwriter (David Champagne) and twelve different singers. The notable performances include the gospel-flavored “She Got the Call” by the envincingly soulful Jess Tandy; the plaintive mountain music folk stylings of Ry Cavanaugh on the touching “Cup of Woe,” the ecstatic “Lonely Window” rendered nearly angelic by a tasteful acoustic accompaniment and the voice of Amy Correia; the antic Randy Newmanesque rowdiness of “Mr. Dynamite,” as delivered by Sam Bigelow; a restrained blues number, “Shot of Love,” by the inimitable Robin Lane; the wrenchingly elegiac cello-driven ballad “Among the Stars” as rendered by Lara Cortese: all capped by the sprightly folk spiritual “Walking Down the Golden Stair,” sung with country flair by Ramona Silver. At its best, this is a surprisingly strong selection of inimitably American song stylings. Highly recommended. (Francis DiMenno)
DOCTOR GASP & THE EEKS
Lightning Plug Records
Vampire Fish for Two!
Well, I certainly missed the boat not reviewing this Halloween-themed batch of songs before Halloween. It seems kind of odd to be listening to this in mid-November, but fortunately, the good doctor possesses the type of charm that transcends season. I’m at a little bit of a loss as to how to describe the music, but if you like any combination of Tim Burton, Tom Waits, circus music, The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, and traditional horror movie monsters, then this will be right up your alley. You could dismiss this as novelty, but doing so would be admitting that you are someone who abhors fun. The doctor knows his way around a good story, and he narrates with the type of uninhibited weirdness that often comes from cube dwellers who sit at their desk all day doing a boring job, just itching to get a chance to explode that weirdness onto the world. The only drawbacks are that a sense of monster-related overload does seep in by the end, and the cover of “Monster Mash” feels both inevitable and unnecessary. I’ll make sure I give this a proper Halloween listen next year. (Kevin Finn)
King of Another Dimension
“[I’m] writing down fantasies on little post notes/ put ’em in your lunchbox so you might notice ’em,” Nicholas Burgess (Clawjob, Project X, Hex Map) breathes on the sensualistic, “why don’t you want me?” themed “Body Harvest 2,” the second track to King of Another Dimension, his sophomore solo effort. Such a lyric is only fitting to describe the entirety of a record that reads with the unabashed intimacy of a diary set to the backdrop of ’70s glam and ’90s alternative rock—not to mention the self-proclaimed “…pinch of futuristic synth, a 20 oz. cola, and a pint of ice cream,” which is to be blended and enjoyed in “frosted mugs with three bikini babes in a hot tub at dusk.” While the majority—and even mundanity—of Burgess’ lyricism could easily fall into the “over-sharing” category, it is his tongue-in-cheek wordplay that is gold-star worthy. Even still, the most intriguing element of all lies in his ability to vocally sound eerily similar to Marilyn Manson in his High End of Low and Born Villain eras (“Body Harvest 2,” “Ice Cream Truck), and Kurt Cobain (“Thighs,” “My Head’s on Fire”). Though not particularly groundbreaking, King of Another Dimension is, undoubtedly, pure, unadulterated entertainment, and couldn’t we all use more of that? (Julia R. DeStefano)
POOR OLD SHINE
Poor Old Shine
What is one to do when the Avett Brothers become huge international stars and decide to start sounding more like Mumford & Sons than the Avett Brothers? “Go find the next Avett Brothers,” is what I say.
Poor Old Shine’s debut release for Northampton’s Signature Sounds is a classic-in-waiting. Their gritty bluegrass-picking and harmonized vocals are filled with the same DIY ethos of any great punk band. The main difference is that Poor Old Shine’s instruments of choice are banjo, mandolin, and fiddle instead of guitar, bass, and drums. I suppose also that they favor beards, not mohawks.
Their slower, introspective moments are beautifully rendered. “My Baby” floats along on the wings of mandolin plinking and breaks with a gorgeous banjo solo. But Poor Old Shine really show their stuff on their rollicking romps like “It Could Be Worse” and “Bon Vivants.” These foot-stomping, hand-clapping tracks show the modern world how to throw a good old-fashioned barn raising party. (George Dow)
PROFESSOR DOUG BELL & FRIENDS
The Road To Del Rio
This cool collection of cuts is more Memphis than Chicago and more Stax/Volt than Alligator Records. And there are three distinctly different branches of the same musical tree present from start to finish. They are: Southern Americana tinged R&B, a Sunday morning gospel church choir sound and auto-biographical ballads sung with emotional, powerful vocals that include a moody organ and horns. I really dig the twangy guitars on the uptempo “Mississippi Moolight,” and the rock ’n’ roll “Reckless.” The best of the ballads include “Nothing Ventured,” “Trainwreck,” and the title track “Del Rio.” What I really like about the ballads is that they are all done with a campfire feel, not a schmaltzy feel, and without losing any of the passion necessarily required. “Henrietta Marie” and “All The Time In The World,” with the gospel female backing vocals added by Cassandre McKinley and Miss Marie, have a spiritual sound which is perfectly suited for Doug’s soulful voice. All the tunes are composed by Doug and he plays guitar and National steel ,too. Jeremy Carter is also on guitar with Jeff Thompson drumming, Wolf Ginandes on four strings, and Tony Geraci on organ/piano. Matt Hubbard also plays organ along the way. Dimitrius Popodopoulos toots the trumpet and Antonio Bolet adds his coral sitar. Great stuff. Play it loud. (A.J.Wachtel)
Year of the Whale
The newest release from the rocking three-member (plus two alumni) Sinnet features a lush arrangement of pop-infused tunes that are catchy as hell and showcase a very talented group of young musicians. The title track is my pick—the sound is a great musical blend, and the lyrics have some cool literary references. The vocals on this EP are smooth and clean, and the overall high production value tells me this is a group which takes great pride in giving 110 percent to their music. The guitar, bass, drums and keyboard are blended together beautifully—this isn’t just an album, it’s a living thing that’s pulsing, thrashing, and fighting to break free. (Max Bowen)
THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE
There must be some sort of cosmic destiny type of thing going on between The Difference Engine and me because this is the third year in a row I’ve been assigned one of their recordings to review! I almost didn’t want to read what I wrote in 2011 and 2012 to refresh my memory but it was actually cool to see how the band has evolved. I always liked them and they’ve been staying true to their synth-based genre—I’d say dreamy and hypnotic techno with a sometimes harder-edged, post-industrial quality. Before I realized this was my third go-round with the band, I had in my notes that some tracks had an ’80s quality but in a good way (some of the ’80s weren’t so good). While never straying from their signature sound, they present great variety in each track. Some tunes stand out on their own while others possess more of a mood-capturing background soundtrack feel, but overall Strange Aeons does succeed in telling a story as they describe this as a concept album. My favorites: “Diary” and “Innsmouth”—and it doesn’t hurt that many of their musical influences are favorite acts of mine as well. (Debbie Catalano)
Twenty years ago Andy Newman was the Prince of Providence, singing for sludge rock demons Glazed Baby. Andy moved to Boston after Glazed Baby called it quits and formed Whitey. Whitey is more of a heavy blues based rock band than Glazed Baby was, with lots of slowed down Led Zeppelin or Soundgarden type stompers. You can still smell some Jesus Lizard in the mix. The one really up-tempo song on this CD is “Now That Your Man’s Out Of Jail,” which despite the title is a fun little song that reminds me of David Lee Roth era Van Halen. Bostonia was recorded at New Alliance in Cambridge and is ready for college or big time radio. Andy Newman has been gargling glass and chewing razor blades for two decades and appears to only be in his early 30s. Bostonia is the sound of a legendary New England noise rock artist hitting his stride as a songwriter and a performer, with a tight young band backing him up. (Eric Baylies)
Young up and coming MC Nick Cincotta comes forth with a very commercial pop album. I think this album would appeal to a more new school generation of hip hopper, but would fall short to a hip hop purist. After a slow uneventful start track 3 “Love and Happiness” kicks this party into gear a bit. This song is probably the triumph if the album with a kickin’ beat and a true showcase of lyricism. Overall there are some beats I vibe with but some of the lyricism is fluffy. To me this album lacks dimension, which is a common problem in a lot of hip hop these days. However I am interested to see how this young cat evolves because he definitely has potential. (Lara Jardullo)
Destructive Fungus Records
I am old enough and far enough removed from the grindcore/metal scene that sometimes my imagination takes over when listening to a CD like Horrible Earth’s self-titled release. Inevitably I am transported to the mountains of Mordor where, deep in mines beneath, a band of goblins jams throbbing, crunchy metal behind an orc vocalist who growls angrily about dirt and rocks and misery. Occasionally a side-man, who looks suspiciously like a Disney version of a vulture, hops up on the orc’s shoulder and squawks some backing vocals.
I apologize for that interlude. Sometimes I can’t help myself.
With song titles like “Bloated Carcass,” “Worldwide Famine,” and “They’re All Dead” you should not come to Horrible Earth looking for a hippie love-fest. You get exactly what you would expect: pounding, warp-speed metal meant to be played as loud as humanly possible augmented with larynx-lacerating vocals that contemplate all things dour.
The fact that this 9-track CD plays itself out in less than 15 minutes means that you can probably bear the venom and vitriol a couple of times over before you are incited to slice your wrists from the sheer gloominess. (George Dow)
TWO VIEW REVIEW
BROTHER & CO.
Josh and his brother, guitarist John Pritchard—the former the frontman for Ruin/Renewal—present here what is by no means a lo-fi project, but one which has certain affinities with that genre: uncomplicated but highly rhythmic guitar and percussion lines, a refreshing lack of vocal melodramatics, and an overall atmosphere which one might call “ambient buzz.” Many of the songs evoke artists such as Dire Straits and REM—particularly the low-key vocals affect that is flattened and one might almost say dampened, but all to serve a greater artistic purpose: to create a low-key melodic backdrop to the thrumming ballads, chanteys and singalongs which predominate this disc at the expense of brazen rawk ’n’ roll. The layered atmospherics are particularly ambitious on the gorgeous “Retinue.” (Francis DiMenno)
BROTHER & CO.
What stands out most about this album, what makes it so unique and moving is the timbre of the singer’s voice. Hands down. It’s a deep, yet wispy voice that despite its smokiness is still waterlogged with feeling. Honestly, I could probably just leave it at that and call it a night, but I won’t. The music itself certainly falls within the realm of folk, at least at its core. The impassioned narratives, the modal flavors, and the constant backbone of acoustic strumming are a testament to this. But this isn’t your great-grandpappy’s folk. Brother & Co.’s brand of folk carries with it a touch of the ambient and the psychedelic: the dreamy vocal overlays, subtle echo-laden overdubs, hypnotic drum grooves, and warm mantric thrums of bass. Then, of course, there’s the pop-heavy staccato jangles of the electric guitar that ricochet through this dense, narcotic mix of heady folk. If my lucid dreams had a soundtrack, this would probably be it. (Will Barry)
Wax on Felt Records
How to Run Away
Sivertson’s music exhibits the kind of bland pleasantness that would make her the type of neighbor you’d trust to bring in your mail, but also the kind that you might not want to get stuck talking to for too long at the neighborhood 4th of July party. After ten minutes or so, you would find yourself chugging your drink so that you’d have an excuse to step away to get another one. The music is rooted in folk with hints of jazz and rock. At times, things get kind of weird, but not weird enough to please the weirdos or normal enough to please the squares. That’s not to say that the music is completely without value. Sivertson has a pliant voice, and her band is steady. I just wish she would stray off the beaten path. If she did, her music would probably stick with me a little more. (Kevin Finn)
Get Off Your Ass, Get Off Your Knees
Opposition Rising follow up their fantastic 2012 debut with a 5-song blast of classic hardcore—Get Off Your Ass, Get Off Your Knees.
“Guilty” and “No Way Out” pick up where Aftermathmatics left off—mashing NYC-style, tough-guy hardcore with classic Boston punk.
You could be forgiven for thinking that “I’m an Infidel” is a closed-minded, anti-Muslim screed with a chorus that rants, “Just because I think your religion sucks, I’m an infidel!” My lack of patience with this attitude is tempered by the fact that I imagine this gang of card-carrying atheists probably has the same bitch with any religion they focus their ire on.
The mood lightens palpably with the final two tracks, “Get Off Your Ass” and “Opposition Dub.” “Get Off Your Ass’” amped up, super speed ska is a welcome counter-point to the relentless hardcore of the first three tracks—taking the intensity down musically while maintain dead-serious lyrical delivery. “Opposition Dub” is a dub reggae reworking of Aftermathmatics’ “The Rich Are Killing the Poor.” No fancy studio trickery here though—just a half-speed skanky version that is certain to become a signature live tune. (George Dow)
75 Or Less Records
He Took A Dive
Listening to a track off this album is like drinking a whiskey sour. It’s got bite, it’s got bitterness, and just a touch of sweetness. Plus, if you listen to enough of ’em and you’ll find youreslf knocked flat on your ass. The raw country crooning of their singer is part powerhouse, part smokehouse and so gruff it makes me wonder if he gargles every night with gasoline. That voice of his has no qualms holding its own against the onslaught of bass, drums, and distorted rock guitar twang. A little bit country and a lot a bit rock ’n’ roll, Northern Lands while heady enough to distance themselves from the stale-beer sounds of most bar bands, is still loud enough to put the fear of god in ya… and probably wake the neighbors, too. (Will Barry)
This is mostly lo-fi yobbo punk of the type popularized by The Crass, early Gang of Four, and countless others. Over the course of 13 songs the sonic palette varies slightly (as on the softer passages of songs like “Turf War,” “Complex,” and “Great Society”), but mostly the speed settings seem to be limited to grind and hyper. Best of show: the tuff-sounding PiL-like weirdo anthemic instrumental “Dismantler.” (Francis DiMenno)
This is heavy pop with an attitude: arena rock like INXS but more guitar focused. Ex-Harlequin guitarist and bassists Matt Gilbert and Reno Daly join pounder Bubba McBride and they sure make a lot of noise for a three piece. “By the Light of the Moon,” “Jelly Fish Sea,” and “A Tribute to Mr. Butch” are all penned by Gilbert and their Mott the Hoople cover “Sucker” is a great rendition of this hard rocking song. Loud guitars, passionate vocals, and a rock solid rhythm section is the name of the game here. The slower tempo song about Mr. Butch has tender lyrics with a blazing band accompaniment that would have made the King of Kenmore Square proud. Good stuff. Check it out. (A.J. Wachtel)
The Caffeine Disk EP
Some primo heavy metal grunge from 1993 remixed and remastered and almost enough to make you nostalgic for that long-ago era of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Full of hemorrhagic vocal strenuousness and cascading metalloid energy, it is certainly, if nothing else, a strident wake-up call with a powerfully anthemic punch. Vocals are mostly generic snarl—though forceful and thoroughly evincing and key to propelling this—literal—blast from the past. Best of show: the irresistible careering impact of opening salvo “Crazy Horse.” (Francis DiMenno)
Darkly melodic, brooding, and catchy, Night Mayor’s debut release—a trio of chunky guitar-driven nocturnes—showcases their special brand of power-pop that I’d call psyche-pop. Powerful and psychological, it’s like bubble-gum pop that has gone off its meds and off the deep end. The guitars are heavy and yet, at the same time, swooningly resonant with jazz-touched voicings. Always with just enough bite to them. The rhythm section is deep-toned, plodding, and trance-inducing. It’s the perfect backdrop for the blue-fire of the female vocals as they careen and carom, like a nightingale singing in the moonlight. Trust me, these lullabies aren’t for the faint of heart. (Will Barry)
THE CANNIBAL RAMBLERS
This interesting Rhode Island duo has two things about their sound I notice and dig right away: Composer/guitarist Mark Milloff and drummer/vocalist Kyle Anderson have a very full sound for just a duo and their R&B ballads are perfectly performed with gruff raspy vocals, stinging guitar tones, and busy drumming. From the opener, “Do the Slaw,” through great tunes “A Warm Breeze Blows,” “Hospital,” “Drank Too Much,” and my favorites “If Things Could Kill Me,” “Bad Dog,” and the closer “Dead to Roll,” the guitar work is creative, screaming cool; the vocals are always growling, energetic, and very listenable. Some of the tunes, like “Goin Home” and “Trouble,” build up power like a steamroller as they progress—and I dig that characteristic of their music. R&B/bluesy ballads with guitar tones and tricks that work well. Check it out. I like it. (A.J.Wachtel)
THE MARTHA’S VINEYARD FERRIES
This batch of low-fi indie rock songs sound like they capsized on the ferry ride out to the Vineyard. There’s a murky underwater sound that permeates these songs, and I can’t tell if it’s an affect brought on by design, a budget limitation or just general apathy. The songs themselves have me leaning toward apathy. In fact, I feel as though just a few sentences into my review, I’ve already put in more effort than the band did making the record. There’s a detached arrogance to this band that makes me feel as though they don’t feel like the audience is worth investing in. Given that Chris Brokaw and Bob Weston were involved, this is extremely disappointing. When they aim for humor on “She’s a Fucking Angel (from Fucking Heaven),” they don’t come off nearly as clever as they hope. I’ve certainly heard much, much, much worse records than this one, but a lot of those at least aimed for greatness and failed. I’ll take a spectacular failure over a passive shrug anytime. (Kevin Finn)
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