CD Reviews



Land of Dreams                       

10 tracks

“Land of Dreams” (the song) starts with a borrowed riff from The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”—and the connection fits along with the theme of the subject being a willing prisoner in her dreams. She may be willing but maybe knows it’s not someplace you can survive. Julie Dougherty harmonizes beautifully with herself, and her backing crew of Jack O’Soro (drums), Jim Scoppa (electric guitar), and Woody Woodward (bass) lay down the easy-rock, blues, and country grooves with pro precision. “You Have No Choice” is a wonderful ode to all the artists that are consistently driven by their muse. Guest Dave Brown adds his dobro skills to the country feel of “Back at My Front Door” and the song leaves me wondering if the one who is missed  was frequenting the back door instead. The depth of Julie’s well-crafted songs becomes apparent—after you think you’re just listening to some pleasing tunes: “China Blue” is a serious women’s rights ballad disguised as a lovely melodic song decorated with a soft-touch guitar solo. “That’s Just Wrong” is a plea to correct our political conditions and the blight we’re leaving for future generations to deal with. Julie dives seriously into the blues on “I’m Getting Out” before she bids goodbye with guests Taylor and Jake Armerding (on mandolin and fiddle respectively) adding harmonies on the chorus of “Heaven’s Gate.” The complicated task of singing about friends that have left this plane is all taken in stride by Julie and company. My God, this woman is talented.      (T Max)


Sool Recordings

Sex Contest                               

10 tracks

Old-time fans of Boston rock might like to know Stephen Fredette contributes and sings on an absolutely classic track, a bit of twisted Americana (my favorite kind), the memorable “Everything,” with which the album essentially ends. “Go” is the like imaginary punk-rockabilly followup to “Don’t Look Back” by The Remains; “They Don’t Know” is a strangely lovely Pebbles-ready amalgam of frivolous LA ’60s rock with an incongruous sock-o-delic guitar break. The chaotically sluggish and grandiosely muddled version of Charlie Chesterman’s “Graveyard of Love” is followed up by the sprightly “Coward’s Lament,” with delightfully countrified vocals by songwriter Emily Jackson. A couple of gratuitously silly tracks are followed up by the grand and strenuously goofy country stomper “Orion’s All Right.” What a collection!                            (Francis DiMenno)


Kitchen, Love…                        

12 tracks

Ya gotcher fiddle, ya gotcher banjo, ya gotcher lines like “You got beans. I got corn. Let’s go make some succotash ’til the morn.” This is a dandy homespun album, but don’t let the word “homespun” fool you.  Putnam has assembled a dozen original songs played and sung by himself and some impeccably wonderful musician friends from Maine.

He has a quiet, mellow voice that reminds me of John Sebastian. “Looking Up” ventures into a piano/trumpet jazzy place. I love the line “(I’ll) let my beard grow around my smile” from the song, “Emily Dickinson.” My favorite cut on the CD is “Cast Iron Pan,” which just happens to have a hilarious music video on his website. In short, he playfully sings to his woman: “Nothin’ turns you on like my cast iron pan,” and “I keep my skillet good and greasy, I keep my stove hot as hell, if you just keep on lovin’ me like you do so well.” This is a likable and fun CD, and will definitely entice listeners to come see Putnam Smith in concert. His love of the the land and big heart really comes through, and the tunes are full of food and love imagery, which is for real. On his website is the message: “My garlic is now planted and I’m off on my first long tour of the season!” I can’t wait to see him live. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


Miniatures Vol. 1        

9 tracks

What began as a way to pass the time on the train has become the eighth album from Twink, the toy piano band of Mike Langlie. Made entirely using the Yellofier iPhone app and sounds from Twink’s own toy box, this album is a trippy, electronica theme park soundtrack. I’m very impressed with what this app can do, and the results speak for themselves. “Spinning Fish” takes me back to my days playing Mega Man until my eyes stopped working, with a crazy musical mix that sounds like it was grown right in the Nintendo garden. “Cake Weather” has some kickass percussion, from drum beats to what sounds like wind chimes. Just about every sound you can think of can be found courtesy of this musical mad scientist. It all comes together well, though, and what may seem like a mish-mash at first reveals itself to have plenty of form and function. “Whackamole” makes me think of an audio experiment in progress, as Twink tries one effect after another to see how it comes together. The answer? Very, very well.       (Max Bowen)


Frontiers Records

Love, Life & Hope

11 tracks

There is something for everyone on this great CD that mixes the classic and much loved Boston sound with the current evolution of Tom Scholz’s audial imagination. There are the trademark guitars, beautiful harmonies, and perfectly engineered sound (the same amps, instruments, and analog equipment from the early days is used ). But there are many differences too: Scholz plays almost all of the instrumental tracks himself, and the lead vocals are done by stellar singers Brad Delp, Tommy DeCarlo, Kimberly Dahme, and David Victor. After more than thirty years of teaching other people his songs, Tom sings lead for the first time in his band on “Love Got Away.”

The growling guitars of the opening cut, “Heaven On Earth,” set the mood along with David Victor’s great vocals. It sounds so powerful coming out of the speakers that it’s  almost like the band is playing live and in your living room. Brad sings lead and backing vocals on three cuts, two of which are re-mixes of tracks from the band’s last studio album Corporate America; released eleven years ago. “Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love,” “Sail Away,” and “Someone” are killer and it’s cool hearing his great vocals once again.

The sole instrumental, “Last Day of School,” is a prog rock anthem. The title track “Love, Life & Hope” sung by Tommy DeCarlo is tight, and “If You Were In Love,” sung by Kimberly Dahme, perfectly changes gears—a Boston song sung by a female vocalist! The layered guitars and vocals on “Someday” and “The Way You Look Tonight” are as good as it gets.

“I intentionally stayed close to the early Boston sound on some of the songs: on others I let my imagination run wild” Tom says and that about wraps it up. This is a powerful CD with great songs, vocals, and sound; Play this CD LOUD.      (A.J. Wachtel)


In a World…                             

36 tracks

“Pizza La Pasta” is the first sign: Butterscott is back—after 15 years. Is this a good thing? Maybe, if you like comedic cartoony songs by ensembles like the Turtles and the Lovin’ Spoonful, recirculated through the likes of cultural detritus such as Wacky Packages and the Catanooga Cats. 36 tracks of self-indulgently jokey tomfoolery might constitute an embarrassment of riches for even the most ardent aficionado of musical confectionary, yet you can’t help but watch in stupefied admiration as they throw every cheap and meretriciously screwball idea into the eclectic electric mixer and hit PUREE: the best of what emerges is infectious–though purists may denounce these ditties as musical abominations, they should also probably still be smiling as they say it. All manners and modes bump shoulders: Viz: malignantly suspect psychedelicized 12-bar blues (“Foodie Blooz); a depraved cartoon theme song (“Hey Shirley Pufnstuf”); a Beach Boys send-up (“Pourne Iquana”); a goofy, epic-length Bo Diddley rip-off (“Beaphtrayne”); a thuggish Elvis parody (“Mah Baybeh”); an over-the-top saccharine doo-wop theme (“Kandee Panduh”); a depraved self-affirmation (I’m So Me”): an even more depraved ’70s rock anthem (“Holy Rawk & Righteous Roll”): a demented hippie-era drug song (“Mr. Sofft”); a Cars travesty (“Gyrll”); a Billy Joel spoof (“Sister Styrofoam”); and an interminable drum and bass workout (“Shaik Da Ruum”). A little of this sort of thing goes a long way; all the same, I must say that it IS very good indeed to have them back. (Francis DiMenno)



12 tracks

As a reviewer of a certain age, everything seems at least evocative of something already heard. Kingsley Flood are no different, beginning with alpha male Naseem Khuri’s voice: Bob Dylan, rocked up for a new generation.  Now, they call it Americana. The rasp and world-weariness of his instrument lend credence to a batch of damned fine songs that inquire and inspire. Haunting orchestration (“Don’t Change My Mind”) contrasts with the spare acoustic-flavored work of “Sigh a While.” The charging, uptempo  “Down” and “Strongman” show a romping side of the band at full cry. My standout tracks were “Hard Times for the Quiet Kind” (it ain’t easy being a nice person) and “Sun Gonna Let Me Shine,” the latter a thoughtful look at the pains of being a social outcast.

 Wrangly-jangly, moody and foot-stomping musical styles collide joyously in Battles. There’s absolutely nothing not to like here.     (Tim O’Brien)


Boston Does Boston Vols. 1 & 2

26 tracks

Let’s just start things off by pointing out how awesome this idea is.  Gather 26 bands, have them record a song by one of the other bands on the compilation and then donate the proceeds to the Animal Rescue League of Boston?  What’s not to like?  Well, obviously, given the wide range of styles presented here, nobody will find everything pleasing.  For instance, Township’s arena rock approach makes a Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents’ song sound like Foreigner.  That’s never going to work for me, and Gene Dante & the Future Starlets’ take on Miss Fairchild’s “Trainwreck” is shockingly lifeless.

But this is all for a good cause, so let’s focus on the positives instead.  There’s no way you can listen to this and not find one band that you desperately want to hear more of.  For me, that band is Parks, whose male-female take on Corin Ashley’s “Badfinger Bridge” honors Ashley’s keen melodic sense, while also putting their own stamp on it.  In other cases, you learn that a band you like can find ways to breathe life into material you normally wouldn’t be interested, or maybe her Township cover just proves to me that I would gladly listen to Jenny Dee sing anything.  I hear she does a mean phone book.

In other instances, a well-executed cover can make you rethink an act you had previously written off.  Having once seen Walter Sicker & the Army of Broken Toys, I had come away with the impression that they weren’t for me.  Their awesome take on Black Thai’s “The Ladder” maintains the song’s heaviness but sounds like how Tom Waits would play heavy metal.  Maybe these guys and gals are for me after all.

Sometimes, the songs just sound good even if I can’t fit them into the too-neat categories I mentioned above.  These other highlights include The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library’s fittingly theatrical version of Dante’s “A Madness to his Method,” Sidewalk Driver performing “Straitjacket” by The Luxury in their typical gonzo fashion and The Luxury’s trippy take on Ted Billings’ “Infinity Minor.”

Bring on volumes 3 & 4!          (Kevin Finn)


Slip Away                                    

6 tracks

Fast-paced, catchy, and brimming with rambunctiousness, Slip Away, The Appreciation Post’s latest release roars through the realms of power-pop redolence and pop-punk rowdiness, familiar territory for this band and one they travel with great ease. The fuzz-boxed choruses, high-singing guitar leads, hum of feedback, and chant-a-long refrains definitely harken back to Weezer’s formative years, as their bio promises. This makes me nostalgic for the halcyon days of the ’90s where the crystal cola flowed freely and the wild Tomagatchis roamed the land. However, the synthesizer filigree that whorls its way through the driving chainsaw guitars, melodic basslines, and sleek vocal harmonies helps to give their sound a more modern flare. I think it’s their lyrics, though, with their healthy dose of cynicism and self-deprecating humor that really do it for me. It’s got me looking forward to what else this band has in-store for the future. Hopefully, I will have finally gotten the anthemic hooks of Slip Away out of my head in time for their next release.          (Will Barry)  


Sool Recordings

Present a Problem                    

5 tracks

The final track, “Go On,” is an oddly gratifying and strangely lovely New-Agey goof, but Pete Weiss and company are obviously very much steeped in ’60s pop schlock, and here it shows. For instance, on the merry, sunshiney whistle-driven LA-hippie opener “The Door Blows Open,” or on the ominous “Predatory Lending” that sounds for all the world like a joke that Ray Davies thought better of. “Tobaccy” is a country music good with hickified blues and rap lyrics; a throwaway, yet appealing all the same.   “Good Friend Tomato” is the outstanding track—yet another one of those fey late-’60s psychedelic readymades ala The Small Faces, and yet a really good tune in its own right—definitely the pick o’ the litter.                 (Francis DiMenno)



10 tracks

Recipe for a superior CD: start with a charming songstress, blend hints of Amy Winehouse and Sara McLachlan-esque vocal stylings, add just a smidge of KT Tunstall, mix in a pile of well-crafted songs, and season with outstanding production.

 With Unbound, Marina Evans has a highly-listenable compilation, moving easily from the sultry urgency of “Not Blind” to the sweetly assured “Stand on Two Feet,” to the rocking “Lady America” with absolute ease. “California” owns the sweet wistfulness characteristic of John Hiatt at his best, and her cover of Fastball’s “The Way” gives the tune a lovingly lighter treatment. “Unbound,” the album closer and title track simply soars.

As good as the vocal performances and the songs themselves are, this collection benefits further from great overall sonic strength (with Marina Evans credited as producer) provided by a host of talented musicians and buoyed by first-rate recording and mixing. With a camera-friendly look and a reputed winning stage presence, Marina Evans seems destined for a sure shot at the big time.     (Tim O’Brien)



7 tracks

“We open on our hero,” vocalist and guitarist Phil Wisdom sings in the first line of “Goodnight Goodbye,”—“frozen in his tracks/ sweating through his jacket.” It is a fitting opener to Attractions, Butterknife’s third effort with a thematic focus on the anti-hero set to the backdrop of anthemic, hard and fast ’90s garage rock ’n’ roll.  Wisdom continues on, further painting the picture of a simple individual who is merely trying to navigate the world: “I’ve never been more terrified/ It doesn’t matter now/ I’m ready to feel alive.”  It is contemplative yet rollicking all the same, evidence of the band’s strength in maintaining instrumental cohesion.  One wonders if Weezer is a primary influence, with several tracks slipping into that familiar realm.  On “Muscle Memory”and the unsurpassed “Winter Coat,” Wisdom’s emotive vocals evoke Rivers Cuomo amid the quintessential landscape of a love story gone wrong: “…I’m chasing some romantic fix in my idiot head/ …then you shut me away/ a winter coat you shed the very day spring arrived again.” A considerably slower conclusion to Attractions, “Winter Coat” is undoubtedly the best track—even down to its eerie, instrumental fade-out—while serving as a testament to Butterknife’s versatility and subsequent longevity.    (Julia R. DeStefano)


written by George D. Simpson and Brian Maes                               

31 tracks

Rock operas are back on the charts—at least the charts that the musicians follow to get through a song together. This opera is packaged up nicely with a booklet containing all the lyrics running around photos of the colorful characters in a show that shoves rock star Billy Shake into the den of Dr. Spark (Satan). The big boss of the icy inferno isn’t interested in Billy’s soul. He wants Billy to partner with him in a rock show that will quake the gates of hell and all its fallen angels.  Billy plays along for a while and is tempted when he looks back on his past—he tries to figure out what is left for him today. Will Billy be lured into the blue flames of hell for eternity? Will Mr. Shake get it on with the devil’s receptionist, Princess Shrill, and turn it into a manage et quatre with the Demonettes, or will he choose God, his country, and his friends? I won’t give away the ending, but I will tell you that it does leave you feeling uplifted.

I gave several listens to 31 tracks of tunes in the vein of Pink Floyd while following along to the lyrics of a devilish plot. Maybe my desire for a variety of memorable melodies wasn’t met, but the musicianship and production is above par. The Demonettes alone could probably sell out a ton of shows, and the finalé really did live up to all it should be emotionally. I look  forward to The Devil And Billy Shake being performed live on Broadway, Mass. Ave. or maybe Boston’s Theatre District. Bravo to George D. Simpson and Brian Maes for successfully creating a new rock opera for the world to hear.                 (T Max)


Escape Music Records

Sea of Black                              

12 tracks

This is as heavy metal as it gets-anguished, preaching, and in-charge masculine vocals. Razor sharp and screaming guitars and a rhythm section that has every intention of crippling you, this music screams of BIG hair. No pansy with a crew cut is gonna be involved with this endeavor. Louis St. August is a pitch perfect professional with one of the best set of lungs on the planet. Gene D’Iria on electric and acoustic guitars is as hard core as they come. I would imagine he chews tenpenny nails during sound check. Michael Palumbo on bass and Joey Vee Vadala on drums keep it all together with their hard pounding and low notes. If clamorous cadences and power chords are what set you on fire, then MASS is the band for you. “Justify” is a real head-banger. The title song, “Sea of Black,” is an extreme ear-bleeder, and even the ballads “More Than A Friend,” “Till We Meet Again,” and the instrumental  “Captain Jack” are ominous. This is rowdy music for people of all ages and all temperaments.      (A.J. Wachtel)



7 tracks

There’s no denying the prog-rock prowess of Calvinball’s debut release—not with its seamless meter changes and temperamental rhythmic shifts bobbing and weaving through each tune, nor with its dreamy chord sequences that go far beyond the confines of the “three chords and the truth” paradigm. Of course, there’s also the orchestral array of zany guitar sounds, as well, that’s also part of the prog-rock pantheon—from the sharp sting of harmonics to the buzz of feedback, from whammy-heavy chord-punches to the megalomaniacal lead guitar virtuosity. Yet, with the plucky basslines and lush guitar foliage that shades most of the album in pangs of wistful concord, I’m reminded more of Jeff Buckley’s Grace than Yes or King Crimson. I think what really stands out about this album is that always, amidst the drop-D deluge of guitar sludge and dizzying meter-mashing pitter-patter, there are moments of striking ascetic serenity that are all the sweeter for their brevity. Like the fragile piano piece that briefly plods along on its lonely way as mellotron strings pine in the background before erupting back into the distortion-heavy musical mayhem. All in all, these are outstanding compositions made all the more impressive for being the sole cogitations of a lone mad man who performed practically all the instruments himself, and probably ’cause he couldn’t find anyone who could keep up.                 (Will Barry)


Separation Anxiety                  

11 tracks

Hope & the Husbands’ Separation Anxiety offers three or four different versions of themselves on this release—each one circling around the punk/hardcore theme. From the Bikini Kill-esque warbling of “California Bruises,” to the New York hardcore stylings of “Smokin’ to the Bone,” and on to the cow-poke punk of “Perco Rat,” the band has no trouble bouncing between one punky genre after another.

Hope & the Husbands is at its best when they come out in the guise of Kathleen Hanna fronting Jerry’s Kids. They may not be breaking new ground with the style, but there is always room in this world for another garage punk band fronted by a strong female singer. How else to inspire the next generation of teenaged girls to shave their heads, pick up an instrument, and rip it up from the stage?

You can check out Separation Anxiety on the band’s Bandcamp site. Like what you hear? You’re just in time to check them out at O’Brien’s Pub in Alston on 3/1/14.      (George Dow)


Man of Stone                            

10 tracks

My heart is torn open by the beauty of the young male energy which surges from these compositions and performances. It’s hard to believe that this group is comprised of only two voices, and a guitar and a cello. There is the temptation to compare them to Simon and Garfunkel and there is some of that, but Tall Heights have the stamp of their own passion-imbedded sound. The blending of their voices is intuitive and rich, and the addition of cello with guitar gives the music a bass-throated under current, and they’re voices are so good, too.  Not every performer that comes along actually sings well, and both of these guys have a wonderful range. The melodies are lovely, and rise up from the depths like geysers. Tim Harrington and Paul Wright were born gifted but have worked to create this unique body of work. Songs such as “Flash Boom” have a really odd, discordant musical bridge that discloses a knowledge of classical music. The song “Field of Snow” reminds me of something Andrew Bird might write. I’m looking forward to listening to this many times—every time I listen, I hear something new.   (Kimmy Sophia Brown)



10 tracks

Singer/songwriter Mark Cutler is in Rhode Island’s Men of Great Courage and in this side project, he is more coffeehouse then nightclub. This side of Cutler is more folk and more introspective, but the passion still prevails in every song. “Circle to a Square,” a slow Americana ballad, “I’ll Play for You,” “Soul Flame,” and the title tune, “Dreamland” with a nice harp, are all very personal confessions of a very talented artist to his audience; and his gentle voice is well suited for this intimacy. There is even some banjo on this Americana flavored CD. Mark Cutler delivers some nice acoustic ballads. This is a good listen.   (A.J. Wachtel)

DAN BAKER       

75 Or Less Records   

Pistol In My Pocket                 

10 tracks

Got misery? Dan Baker does, in spades. His latest CD speaks of lost love, mournfulness, and general-type unhappiness. I mean, when an album contains tracks titled “She’s Not Gonna Call” and “Threw Me Down a Well” you’re kind of clued in early this is not going to be a compilation of cheerful, danceable ditties, and this isn’t.

Recorded live in the vast, echoing space of an empty Masonic temple, Baker and band have at it, down, dirty… and good.  The arrangements are lean and spare, with sometimes-skeletal acoustic guitar carrying the load alone. For others, his band adds the right shades of angst. Dan’s voice yowls and growls in a manner that echoes early Neil Young, but like Neil’s, it’s a voice that delivers pain perfectly.     (Tim O’Brien)

DICEY RILEY                        

Battles Zone Productions

Rows of Pints and Walking Dead 

12 tracks

I will admit to encountering this album with a bit of trepidation as I am currently a little burned out on all things Irish and Boston pride, both of which are in abundance on this collection of Celtic-tinged rock.  There are definitely some moments that justify my feelings, particularly the drivel of “Stand Up for Boston,” which gives shout outs to pretty much every townie stereotype.  Sports, booze, tough guys, blue collars… it pretty much checks all the boxes.  But for every moment when the record wears me down, there’s one when it wins me over.  There is an undeniable charm to story-telling frontman John McLaughlin; he ultimately brought me over to his side with a reference to Shane MacGowan that, despite being an obvious touch point, ended up being quite clever.   Fiddle player Katherine First is the group’s strongest weapon, giving the band an authenticity that others treading similar ground seem to lack.  A less cynical man than me would probably really love this.     (Kevin Finn)


Death to False Hope Records/Drink or Die Records

No Judgment                     

3 tracks

Trophy Lungs take a page out of the early history of pop punk. Not quite as hard or melodic as Pennywise and not as silly/schmaltzy as Blink-18. Trophy Lungs carve out a nice niche between those poles—keeping an accessible yet fairly hard edge.

As with any three-song 7”, there’s not a lot to sink your teeth into. Just enough of a tease to convince you that you want to hear more. The opening bass line of “Dad’s Away on Business” is like vintage Green Day and immediately makes me wish that Green Day hadn’t turned into the Rolling Stones of punk. “Bone Dry” screams for New England but sounds like California snot-nosed punk while “Left of Center” leans towards radio-friendly rock with a punky edge.  (George Dow)


Solid State Sun     

10 tracks

Angie Shyr, with bassist, Jeremy Moses Curtis, and drummer, Benny Grotto, has created a sunny, buoyant pop album. Shyr is a classically trained musician who wrote the songs, played strings and piano and sings lead on all the songs.

“Ride the High Tide” has a very catchy melody that could be used in a television or film score. “What Happens” is a techno song about the universe, sung in a syncopated beat. There’s a little guitar distortion and playful lyrics such as, “Hey curvy earth!” and “What happened to the handstand that landed Big Sur?” “Bach is My Boyfriend” not only has a great title but features violins, viola, and cello interspersing classical and pop music elements. It reminds me of the work of Wendy Carlos. “Flowchart” is a bouncy theme that could be a big hit with the Muppets or some other kind of children’s television. It suggests the numerous joyous possibilities in life. “Hold You” says, “Hold you in the light, hold you, hold you….” This is a very pretty theme, reassuring and kind, with a beautiful violin over piano. It was written for her friend, Mary Lea Simpson, who passed away in a tragic accident. The album is dedicated to her as well.

Angie Shyr has a kind and loving heart which shines through in these compositions. If you’re feeling a little blue and you want to listen to something upbeat and joyful I recommend this CD. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


Small Stone/Mad Oak Records


4 tracks

Mellow Bravo is the kind of band you have to notice. The opening riff of “Feel Like Dancin’” from their EP Ripper is something that most energy drink companies dream of bottling. The band’s ’70s hard rock sound is not only propelled by a dual guitar attack, but manages to combine the catchy Phil Lynott songwriting and guitar shredding of Gary Moore-era Thin Lizzy. With vocals reminiscent of Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan and Jon Lord style organ flourishes added to the mix, the band almost miraculously produces classic party-time/boy-wants-girl tunes that sound fresh and new, not dated or derivative. Each track surges with a power and urgency that leaves you wanting more. So, if you long for the days of the peace-sign patched, bell bottom blue jeans then Mellow Bravo will is the perfect retro-recipe. (Marc Friedman)



12 tracks

A lot of your favorite indie tunes start with a charming little guitar bit, then the drums kick in, then the bass, and… away we go, right?

 Downtime is like listening to the first four or eight seconds of those kind of ditties, then cloning the signature riff forty or eighty times and somewhat randomly adding a contrapuntal layer or three. The Jesus Clause is guitarist Trevor Hook accompanying himself with a drum machine and looper, and nothing else. Some call this idiom “math rock” but I longed for many of his excellent musical ideas to expand into full-on song concepts with vocals, choruses and a bridge. And that’s because I really liked them.

 However, Hook seems highly content to keep his ideas minimalist. And it’s terribly hard to knock what he’s created here. Many of the notions do work very nicely in an uber-repetitive, trance fashion. As pure background, I can dig it. But I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of terrific music might be borne of a collaboration with a passionate lyricist/vocalist.   (Tim O’Brien)


Americanmuse Records

In This Present Form   

12 tracks

A tasteful guitar-driven bluesy foray from 2011. McAuliffe has a strong and evocative voice and his choice of material, though heavy with 12-bar blues and pleasant ballads, is unobjectionable. There are some nice touches here: “Head in the Clouds” features some jazzy piano; “Jack! Jack!” is a touching Dylanesque tribute to Kerouac; the reverential “On the Other Side” is emotive and evincing. Best of show: the touching “Once Upon a Time” and the Gospel-tinged “Tear Down Every Wall.” (Francis DiMenno)


Haunted Heart    

15 tracks

It is an honor to hear an album of this caliber. Susan Cattaneo conveys exceptional qualities here. In fact, I get the sense that the musicians who collaborated with her feel that way too. She is a life observer and a life feeler – there’s almost a paranormal quality to her insights into the stories she tells – a brokenhearted farmer; a twin sister murdered by her sister; broken marriage, women wronged by their men, a burning barn, a revival meeting, survivors of love, survivors of life, dance halls and cowboys. The melodies are somewhere between country and pop – both audiences would like her. She’s got the power and the glory but the sensitivity and gentleness too. If I had to choose someone that she reminds me of, I’d have to say Eva Cassidy.

In “Worth the Whiskey” she says, “Take a sip for every time you lied and kissed me.” This is the song of a woman scorned and you can feel the scorching on his sorry ass.

“Revival” tells of an evangelist who’s got “the heat in his hands.” She’s not saying if she’s a believer, but she watches it all with an honest heart. Kenny White carries us along with his minor key piano, the whole band channels the spirit.

“Lies Between Lovers” has the musical hook which could attract mindless listening, but her writing nails the sad reality –  “crooked scars are gonna fade,” and “little ones between us taking cover.”

“Memory of the Light” is a heartbreaking song about being “a casualty of the casual way you look at me/it’s like you never knew me/at all/ you know you used to be/the sun, the moon and the stars to me/ now all I see is a vacant sky/when I look into your eyes/I see the memory of the light/” This song tells about the irony of the deepest intimacy that turns cold. I haven’t heard a woman turn her heart inside out like this since Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

“Haunted Heart” is a Patsy Cline/Patti Page waltz, with a roller skating organ and brushes on the drums. Her voice is dreamy and creamy, like a pretty woman in a taffeta gown and long white gloves – romantic and elegant.

She conjures up Dale Evans and Roy Rogers in their cowboy shirts with fringe and lassos, in the song, “How a Cowboy Says Goodbye.” “Why don’t you sing me a love song and lay your heart to rest?” She gets through this without a yodel but it makes me so lonesome I could cry. How does she do it? Y’all go buy this album, it’s too good to miss. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


Live at Tupelo Music Hall   

11 tracks

Frontwoman Jamie Lynn Hart is an old-school blues belter backed by a stellar band that includes Doug Standley, a powerful and subtle drummer; Louis Ochoa, a lively bass player; James Auburn Tootle, who ably accompanies on keyboard, and the spectacular but restrained Kevin Eldridge on guitar. Having said this, is there anything on this live recording worthy of continued play? Certainly the barn burning Joplin-esque opener “Down” is one such song, along with the smoldering “Not Enough,” the show-stopping covers of Patti Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain” and Chris Smither’s “Love Me Like a Man.” (Francis DiMenno)


I Like Your Caboose                             

9 tracks

Wayne Martin is a folkie in the James Taylor family style. He has a strong voice and writes good songs. He also has a verbal tone with a wide range of emotions that make each song more impacting on the listener. Good stuff. He is a good story teller too. Check out “The Savoury Love Song” to hear a tale. I also dig “Cycles of Love” with the talented Casey Desmond singing harmony. “My Back Window” and “Dancing With The Bride” sound like they are pulled from James Taylor’s catalog and the multi-instrumentalist Taylor Barefoot adds bass, percussion, lap steel, and keyboards to the mix. But I love his voice. A few times he takes a deep breath and bellows out an emotional note; and you check and make sure your seat belt is fastened. Wayne Martin: I like your sound.    (A.J. Wachtel)


Split 7”                                                                  

11 tracks

The A-side belongs to Demoralizer who barrel through seven tracks in well under five minutes. Dueling vocal styles bounce from a squawking screech to something that sounds like it might be the Kraken. With less than five minutes to take it all in the best approach is to simply hold on for dear life and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s all over. After the brief yet intense pummeling I’m left sweating, weary, and partially deaf in one ear.

I had hoped to say that the best thing about Boxcutter Facelift is their name (because I love the name and I thought it would sound snarky). To my surprise I kind of liked Boxcutter Facelift. Their four tracks felt absolutely epic in length after Demoralizer’s A-side. Their crunchy metal style reminded me of a rawer version of early Korn.  (George Dow)


75orLess Records

Mumblin’ Sue    

10 tracks

While the hypnotic intertwining of Callery’s fancy finger-picking lulls you into a meditative state, it’s her petal-soft lilt that really does a number on your heart-strings, plucking them with the same fervor as she does her guitar. The music is stoic yet still yearningly bitter-sweet. The lyrics, poetic and steeped in country wisdom, relate stories of heartache seen through sadder-but-wiser eyes. The power isn’t only in the words themselves, but in they way they’re sung—in a melancholy, reverberating sean-nós style. Something tells me she could be singing in Swahili or Cantonese and anyone with ears would still have some idea of what she was singing about. (Will Barry)



11 tracks

This is the second of Max’s CDs that I’ve reviewed. He is a totally original musician. He is not writing what might be defined as ‘hit’ songs. He has a dancing and sprightly guitar playing style, and his voice calls out like a town crier, announcing stories and images. He’s not a big one for melody, but he sounds as if he’s channeling realizations from the bottom of his heart that he can’t contain. This is not music that you put on in the background and forget about.

“New Beast” is the closest thing to a folk song on the album, which is a duet with a female performer. He says, “If I’ve only been loud, just a word hurling child, I regret it, that is nothing I’m for. But I was a new beast teeming through and I ran and I ran to the war.”

“The Wedding Line” has this poetic line, “All us in the wedding line, cry my father’s mother in her cataract eyes, she said she was a salt water woman and the rain only made her more dry.”

His images pour out like Dylan Thomas or James Joyce, like impressionistic paintings, full of feelings. If pop music is your thing, you probably won’t like Max’s music. If you like to shut your eyes and really listen to the soul of a poet/musician, you’ll probably love him.  (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


The Deep End                                      

15 tracks

Although Christine and her band are based in the southernmost part of New England (New Haven-Wallingford CT) and frequently play around that scene, you are more likely to catch her fronting theSaturday Night Live band in Rockefeller Center for all to see on TV. Her music is contemporary R&B with a southern feel, and this blue-eyed soul beehive queen rips through originals and a few covers on her latest album. I love her duet with Dion DiMucci (Dion & the Belmonts) on the southern soul song “Cry Baby Cry,” and with Detroit’s Marshall Crenshaw on Motown’s “What’s The Matter With You Baby.”  She also does a duet with Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter on her own composition “There Ain’t No Cure.” And I love Link Wray’s “Walkin’ Down the Street Called Love” recorded live and on the air at The Rock WCCC-FM 106.9 in Hartford.

Just great stuff. And what a band. Christine also has Big Al Anderson from NRBQ playing on the title cut. And Levon Helm from The Band playing drums on “What’s The Matter With You Baby.” Wow. What a band. She reminds me a bit of Janis Joplin and her music is more Memphis than Chicago. Her voice commands your ears’ attention; and rightly so. Great music from a great singer.   (A.J. Wachtel)

GUILLERMO SEXO            

Midriff Records

Dark Spring                         

11 tracks

It is impossible to sum up Guillermo Sexo’s sound in a simple sound bite. Across the 4-plus minute opening track of their recently released Dark Spring, you will hear pretty much the gamut of all they have to offer, crammed into an amazingly dense track. All Whispers starts like a jangly late-period R.E.M. alterna-pop song, overlaid with vocals that lie somewhere between Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and the Velvet Underground’s Nico. Minutes in it morphs into a Mogwai/Explosions In The Sky worthy noise-fest and finally comes back to Earth as a droning, psychedelic meditation.

And so it goes for 10 more tracks—each more surprising than the next—each covering giant swaths of influence. All held together by an ample rhythm section and keyboardist/singer, Noell Dorsey’s deadpan, airy vocals.

Every song becomes its own miniature suite, but without the jarring tempo changes and instrumental noodling associated with prog-rock suites. Instead, Guillermo Sexo holds tight to the plot—maintaining continuity across the sweeping changes within each song. It’s not surprising then that the 53 minutes of Dark Spring floats by with hardly a thought to where one track ends and the next begins. Their formula is so consistently applied that the entire album maintains the quite, loud, drone cycle, tying each song to the next such that you can float through its entire length without another care in the world.   (George Dow)


Top Secret Ears Only

11 tracks

The Laquidara brothers Bobby, Joe, and Chris are the main talents behind this music. Bobby on vocals and keys, Joe on vocals, guitars, and bass, and Chris listed in the credits on vocals, security, comic relief and the voice of reason. Bobby and Joe wrote all the songs and the string and horn parts are written, arranged and produced by them too. This is good arena rock; loud guitars, strong vocals, and did I say loud guitars? Good pop and hard rock with a heavy metal edge. There’s some good stuff here: acoustic guitar dampening the metal on two metal ballads “No More Lonely Nights” and “In Memory Of.”   “Travel Song” has a cool acoustic/screaming electric guitar mix. Other songs follow a similar formula too: a slower intro builds energetic momentum as the song progresses. This works well for them. I dig the harp on “Ladies of the Night.” “Inside Out” and “Expectations” are real radio-friendly too. Lots to listen to here.    (A.J. Wachtel)



15 tracks

Boyon Hristov though it was a good idea to produce a batch of enigmatic instrumental versions encompassing every genre from Tough-Guy Jazz (Peter Gunn Theme) to persnickety film score (Pink Panther Theme) to pop music evergreen (Isn’t She Lovely) and beyond (“Perfume de Gardenias” is particularly nice.). Mr. Hristov, by no means needlessly modest, has chosen to intersperse these numbers with exotica-tinged originals like “Boyan’s Bolero”; funky instrumentals such as “Waltz in A” and (the actually quite pleasant) “Gospel of Me”. Was this an inspired idea? Perhaps. At the very least it is a workmanlike concept carried through to a satisfactory conclusion. There’s not a bum note to be heard. It’s essentially soothing cocktail music all the way through; nothing earth-shaking and, I suspect, nothing which is intended to be. (Francis DiMenno)


2 tracks

This two song teaser is the preview of the full album scheduled for release in March. Bassist Joe Black is a vet of Balloon (Charlie Farren sings on the CD too) and Ball ‘n Chain and he uses the talents of another long time Boston scene vet Johnny Press on growling guitar. Along with vocalist Jeff Baker and drummer David Pontbriard this band plays arena rock with a hard metal edge. Both tunes, “Armageddon” and “Love Lives on Forever” are metal ballads with the latter having a slower tempo and more passionate vocals. I cant wait to hear more of their power pop. Good stuff.    (A.J. Wachtel)


75 or Less Records

Rural Introspection Study Group   

6 tracks

Will Houlihan’s solo foray is a modest collection of guitar ballads and blues. There’s no gainsaying his personal approach to the material, of which the best of show is the bluesy “Vampyre,” along with the heartfelt “Eden.” (Francis DiMenno)



3 tracks

This band met in college in New Hampshire and have been together for a bit more than two years. Their music reminds me of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and maybe Lita Ford; and I like it. Charlotte has a good voice and the band backs her up well. I also like the harmonies that show up in the  short and very sweet songs. All of their electric folk/pop ballads are written by the musicians and “Addicted To You” may be the hit. A young band that sounds like they have a bright future. Check them out.   (A.J. Wachtel)

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