CD Reviews

Photo: Paul Blowfish Lovell

Photo: Paul Blowfish Lovell


Limborations Records

the sky goes clear   

9 tracks

Little of the intensity of earlier ensembles such as Limbo Race or Dr. Black’s Combo is diminished on this recent outing–there is still the heartfelt emotion and earnestness which has always marked the best songs of Randy Black. The best of show is the underproduced but undeniably catchy hiccoughing toe-tapper “Can’t Get Over.” Other highlights include the jangly confessional “Monkey”; the oddball country ballad, ready-made “Green Dress”; the grandly monumental duet with Linda Viens, “Imposter”; and the irresistible forward momentum of “Days Gone Blue” with excellent drum and bass accompaniment by Larry Dersch and Matt Gruenberg. At its best, this collection evokes Springsteen, the Replacements, and Yo La Tengo, and would probably have a great appeal to folks who are into those artists.  (Francis DiMenno)


Free as Thieves

11 tracks

With this very solid effort, Sarah Rabdau manages to pull off the harder-than-it-looks trick of making music that is catchy yet weird, arty yet accessible.  These keyboard-driven songs sound like how someone from the 1980s would envision the not-too-distant future.  Songs like “Summer of Love” are full of hooks and sound like they could be on the radio, if it weren’t for the underlying menace bubbling beneath the surface.  It’s Rabdau’s warm, clear voice that first grabs the listener’s attention, but it’s the sharp rhythmic sense of the Self-Employed Assassins that keeps the momentum going.  There are a few instances in which the music is either a little too theatrical or goes down a little too easily, but fans of Kate Bush, Fiona Apple, and the like will find this record hard to resist.  (Kevin Finn)


“We Are All Whores”

single track

The Romantic Lead Sampler             

8 tracks

These cats were finalists in the 2009 Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble, and their song “We Are All Whores,” produced by John Eye from One of Us, is the first of a series of six singles to be released every other month through 2014. It has strong, passionate vocals that I like right off the bat. This is metal arena rock done well. The Romantic Lead is an eight song sampler that really showcases Dante’s versatile and strong voice. He’s mellow in the opener, “A Madness to His Method” before rocking in  “The Love Letter is Dead” and “Like a Satellite.”  But most of this music is ballads in various tempos—all with loud guitars and great vocals, such as “The Starlet Hits the Wall,” with its Talking Heads powerchord guitar opening, “Brian, My Darling” with its nice organ part, “OK Sunshine,” “Photosynthetic,” and the closer, “To a God Unknown.”  Play this music loud!    (A.J. Wachtel)


Solid Gold Electric Chestnut Dispenser

20 tracks

This odds and ends collection from the late beloved roots rocker will certainly do nothing to tarnish his legacy.  Chesterman was an amiable frontman and one with a keen, distinguished sense of melody. The songs are generally mid-tempo numbers that mix in elements of country, rockabilly, power pop, and straight-ahead rock.  They are comfortable songs, and I mean that as a compliment.  They feel very homey, and only occasionally does the lack of variation in tempo make things seem staid.  Chesterman hardly has Freddie Mercury’s range as a singer, but his voice is expressive and inviting.  The final song, a revved-up little nugget called “I Hate Everything” brings things to a rousing close, although the joy that Chesterman brings to the proceedings makes you realize that he can’t possibly mean it. (Kevin Finn)


Through a Stained Glass Eye

13 tracks

“The circus is in town and I’m just another clown,” the underrated Scott Damgaard sings on “Just Another Clown,” the third track off of his fourth full-length studio album.  With his self-proclaimed objective of turning out “rock ’n’ roll with heart and soul,” Through a Stained Glass Eye finds the thirty-year music veteran exploring a wealth of genres.  The result is something fresh and chock-full of rock, pop, soul, funk, country and blues—commendable in its own right, albeit slightly disjointed.  Damgaard’s strength lies in his ability to craft songs that evoke the Brit-rock of The Beatles (“She’s Letting Go”) and the psychedelia of Jerry Garcia/The Grateful Dead and The Chris Robinson Brotherhood (“Galaxies Away”).  Even the tongue-in-cheek “Prince 4 a Day,” in which Damgaard imagines what it might be like to spend a day in the rocker’s shoes, is driven by a heavy bass and drum groove—fitting when you consider the tracks that came before.  Disconnect occurs when, on the latter-half of the record, Damgaard delves into the country realm.  What began as a powerpop/rock effort suddenly turns Nashville, and cohesion is lost.  No longer does the record feel like a unit but instead, a hodgepodge of songs displaying Damgaard’s creative capabilities.  Fortunately, Through a Stained Glass Eye’s strengths outnumber its weaknesses, making for an overall entertaining piece of music.  (Julia R. DeStefano)


Kerri Powers    

10 songs

The tone is set on the intoxicating blues refrain “Tallulah Send a Car for Me.” Ms. Powers has a powerful country-blues voice with an inimitable timbre, and her compositions display both a groundedness and a refreshing lack of pretension. The brilliant “Old Shirt” is a pedal-steel augmented ballad of remembrance and regret, which is lovely and evocative. The excellent “Train in the Night” is an ineffably sad lament featuring a lilting vocal catch by Ms. Powers that will break your heart. “Buttercup” varies the sound—it is a mean old hoodoo blues; “Ghost” has a similar mysterious hoodoo ambiance, and Ms. Powers does remarkably expressive things with her voice. The halting, ominous “A Little Light” varies the pace with a tolling guitar sound and dreamy pedal steel accompaniment. Judging on the basis of the best of these songs, Ms. Powers is a major talent.  This debut is a keeper. (Francis DiMenno)


Evil Gal Records

Live at Scullers – Fortune Cookie

11 tracks

I was at this show and reviewed it for The Noise a few months back and now I am thrilled to hear it in my living room. Michelle has a passionate, emotional, and big voice; and her set on this live CD is a mixture of Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, Abbey Lincoln, Etta James, and even a bit of early Ray Charles. Her jump blues/swing sound is unique on the scene and her band, including Zac Casher on drums, bassist Sven Larson, guitarist Mike Mele, Shinichi Otsu on piano, and Scott Shetler on reeds is just plain incredible. Listen to them play Dinah’s “Relax Max,” “Stranger on the Earth,” and “New New Blowtop Blues.” Hear the horn in “Fat Daddy.” Listen to the great piano in my favorite cut on the disc “Hallelujah, I Love Him So,” a very early Ray Charles cover. Listen to how the vocals and the horn play with each other on the title cut “Fortune Cookie,” a song written by the two provocateurs themselves, Willson and Shetler. A lot of the songs have short intros by Willson as she explains their importance to her to the packed house. Check out “Racehorse,” as the band plays a few measures of western TV shows’ theme songs, including Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Great stuff.    (A.J. Wachtel)


Look Back Step Forward

10 tracks

There’s no denying this guy Caplan has talent with his enviable guitar chops and wide-ranging compositional skills, running the gamut from true-blue jazz tunes to exotically-tinged arabesques and tender guitar finger-pickers. No denying he has an ear for talent as well with this fatally capable cavalcade of classically and jazzically-trained supporting musicians. Nor is there any denying the—for better or worse—indelible Berklee kid brand that marks this album: the luxoriously-timed track lengths, the Satriani school of guitar pedagogy, and the kitchen-sink approach to instrumentation. There are moments of real ingenuity here, like the head-rush of a tune “Within the Clouds,” which starts out as a nebulous guitar-lined rubato that, with its drum-thunder crescendos, builds into a bass-thumping Beatles-esque maharishi freak-out that then rockets into the stratosphere and beyond. Then again, there are muzak-al moments as well where I need a sharp pinch to remind myself that no, I’m not stuck in an elevator and no, I haven’t been put on hold. (Will Barry)


The Lemonade EP

4 tracks

One of my friends once accused me of hating fun, yet I really love Petty Morals.  Seeing as how Petty Morals’ dance-pop-punk cocktail is, undoubtedly, a blast, I am now confident that I do indeed love fun and can credit this band for disproving a harmful rumor about me.  Enough about me, though. The four songs on The Lemonade EP are a pleasant mixture of tart and sweet and are pretty much guaranteed to make you move.  While it is probably impossible to capture the frenetic energy of the band’s live shows, this recording comes very close.  “Radio Action” reappears in a glossier form than the version on The Cotton Candy Demo, and it’s still their best song.  But “Keep It Down” is a close second as it overflows with the type of sexy metaphors that would make Prince blush if Prince were actually a real human being and not some sort of magical elf.  (Kevin Finn)


Please Say Yes  

11 songs

This is a deceptive album. At first, you think that it’s going to be soft rock by the numbers, filled with the requisite production effects (ably supplied by Ed Valauskas): melodic fillups, breathy vocalizing, hook-filled repeated phrasings, pleasing affect, jolly jelly-crammed vocal Easter eggs, life-affirming lyrics, patented sentimentality, double-tracked vocals, solid-right-down-to-the-ground drumming, shouty declamatory sentiments, progressive bass loping–and all this on the first two songs! It is with the third song that you suspect that there is more here than meets the ear. “Only Lovin’ You” is kind of like U2 filtered through the early drum and bass experiments of XTC, with a little OMD thrown in. Multitracked dueling instrumental lines and huge slabs of echo make this one an interesting oddball experiment. “Last Man Standing” is a simple rave-up with a horn section; “Cold Wind Blow” is an introspective ballad in the mode of the early Bee Gees; “Movie Screen” is a bit of Bowie-esque theatre-rock; “Stay on the Line” is early ’80s McCartney-esque pop. “Pied Piper” is a conventional flat-out boogie with a psychedelic acid-pop fillup, which is refreshingly bizarre. The memorable “Please Say Yes” is best of show; an incipient classic; brilliantly anthemic, irresistibly catchy, heartening pure pop – one of the best songs I’ve heard in months. Say what you will, but at least this ensemble is trying something novel–to apply production values to goose seemingly ordinary genre workups into something which sounds extraordinary. Surprisingly, they are successful more often than not. Final verdict: three parts brilliant and one part sheer fudge. But even the fudge is interesting. (Francis DiMenno)


Squid Ink Records

Making the Grade   

8 tracks

The Ungraded’s latest effort runs the gamut from garage rock to punk to memorable pop hooks, so there’s something to please most music lovers’ palettes. “Join Together” is a catchy opener that highlights frontman Dean Calamari’s energetic and somewhat growly vocals and has one my favorite lyrics of the CD: “When you’re coming down and you hit the ground, then you realize you can fly.” “Kid Sid” is a retro-punk/’80s mashup more along the harder lines of much of the rest of this CD. Then there are songs such as “Say You Want It,” which contains fairly complex music and is one of their softest, most melodic songs with good backing vocals. Their next song, “Watcha Gonna Do,” dives right back to their roots of harder-edged rock. The album smartly closes with “Train Song,” their most thoughtful song, both musically and lyrically. This song strikes the perfect balance between gritty, down and dirty rock with hints of mellow melodic sounds. This was a good choice to end their CD because it sums up the band’s versatility, which I believe will continue to evolve. I’d give this a B-plus with expectations that their next effort will be an A.  (Valerie Kahn-Dorato)

“Paul Revere”/”Angel of the Underground”  

45 rpm vinyl 

Ten year veterans of the Boston underground, My Own Worst Enemy, serve up a schizophrenic single that showcases  polar sides of the two guitars/drums/no bass/no last names  trio’s impressive range.  “Paul Revere” creates a perfect (if unlikely) fusion of Mission of Burma and Jonathan Richman, with Steve’s declamatory vocal and AJ’s martial beat celebrating the midnight ride of you-know-who, only this time the guy’s looking for an ice cold beer as he whizzes by familiar Boston landmarks (what, no Stop ‘n’ Shop?).  MOWE frequently draws comparison to the Replacements, but this track suggests their true lineage belongs at least in part  to ’80s indie-wiseacres like Boston’s own Big Dipper.  The flipside reverently salutes Beantown busker Mary Lou Lord with a pretty alt-Americana ballad sung by Sue, whose sweet, mellifluous, slightly husky voice could land her a career in Nashville any time she tires of Boston winters.  (Jim Testa)


Black Rose Records

Rock This House   

5 tracks

A highly enjoyable and evocative revival of ’40s and ’50s-era honkers and shouters, these electric blues are refreshing and effective updates on the old style proto-and paleo-rock ’n’ roll. Opening jump blues “I’m So Mad” is by far the strongest track, with an inimitable bluesy vocal turn by the talented Gretchen Bostrom. Steve Coveney’s guitar and Dick Laurie’s tenor sax breaks on the cover of Bo Diddley’s “Roadrunner” are particularly apt. “Ready for My Closeup,” featuring persnickety bass work by Jason Adams, slows the frenetic pace. “Big Jack’s Kitchen” is an old-fashioned sax-driven blues shuffle. Their version of “Rock This House” picks up the pace and closes the EP on a lively note. The band and the EP both are aptly named; their music truly does evoke a Delta Mississippi Juke Joint or roadhouse in which the celebrants dance and stomp and rock on until the hours wee. (Francis DiMenno)


The Middle  

12 tracks

James Keyes brings a wealth of styles and instrumentation to this amazing folk album. It’s got a great production quality and the result is an album—Keyes’ third—that I feel really echoes what a live performance would sound like, drawing the listener into the experience. What’s significant is that Keyes’ prior two albums were both sparse acoustic pieces, but this time he brings the full band into the mix. Everything feels natural, passionate, and seasoned. Duncan Arsenault (drums), Jeff Burch (bass), JP Beausoleil (trumpet), Klem Klimek (saxophone), and Josh Kane (trombone) hold pace with the vocalist, crafting a rich environment that is constantly changing, song to song. Along with his skills on the mic, Keyes plays guitar, piano, organ, and harp.

“Little Things” has a big band feel to it, while “Taking My Time” and “Little Bird” are straight-up Americana goodness. Keyes has a commanding voice, resounding throughout this album and right into the ears. Listening to songs like “Roll with the Punches,” I get the image of a club of clapping hands and stomping feet, with Keyes jumping into the crowd to share his music with everyone there. “Mile of Blue” is a mellow, instrumental bridge placed at the mid-point of “The Middle.” I think the title of this album is very appropriate, as the music doesn’t stand firmly in one genre—it spans a range, showcasing an artist that has a lot to say, and innumerable ways to say it. (Max Bowen)

THE JON NELSON BAND                                          

12 tracks

Jon plays Jewish rock music and he plays it very well. I didn’t know what to expect. Was I reviewing a Klezmer band? Not at all. Jon composes all the music and lyrics, but many of his songs are credited: “Text adapted by Psalm 150; text adapted from Liturgy,” and the like.  His melodies are poppy with folk, blues, and even an almost George Harrison Indian influence in the guitar opening  of “L’Dor Vador,” itself a song with a bluesy feel. The opening cut, “Funk 150,” with text “adapted from Psalm 150,” is a funky tune just as the title states. I really dig the pop “Have You Heard?” and the jangly folk/pop of “Wedding Song,” sounding a bit like a Pete Seeger song. One cool tune, “Bo’i Kallah,” an uptempo folk/pop song, is partially sung in Hebrew and the text is “adapted from Shlomo Alkabetz from the 16th century”! Interesting, unexpected, and done very well, making it worth a listen or two, even if you don’t have a clue what a yarmulke is.    (A.J. Wachtel)


God’s Country High

5 tracks

Bombsquad Larry plays the kind of barroom classic rock that will only appeal to listeners who don’t need their music to bring anything particularly new to the table.  If you’re looking for an innovative new sound, then this isn’t the record for you.  If you’re looking for something that would fit in with the better parts of WZLX’s catalog, then look no further.  This is guitar rock at its most straightforward, and when one of those guitarists is Pete Cassani, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The band has a tight, professional sound, fitting for the veteran status of its members, and the music has an infectious energy to it.  The only major misstep is “Get Out of My Way!”, which lyrically might as well be Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55.”  I didn’t realize the world was in the need of more mildly-rebellious driving songs.  I’d prefer to see the band further explore the sound of “It’s You,” which introduces an introspective, western-tinged sound.  (Kevin Finn)


Deface the Machine        

6 tracks

There was a time during the late-’90s when Straw Wings could have ruled the FM airwaves in Boston. You remember, right? Back in the day when bands like Godsmack, Sevendust, and Disturbed were household names, and their brethren headlined national arena tours and giant festivals.

Well, it appears that with the release of their 6-track EP, Deface the Machine, Straw Wings may try to singlehandedly resurrect the heyday of groove-heavy melodic metal. Given that the genre is no longer choked with a glut of also-rans, and based on sheer quality of their effort, they may just have a shot at waking that sleeping giant.   (George Dow)


The Maestro and The Elephant                               

15 tracks

Lead vocalist Chris Anderson, from Ft. Collins, Colorado, now pitches his tent in Boston. His band’s music has bits of Arcade Fire, Delta Spirit, The Shins, The Nationals, and Wilco in them and I also hear New Wave and ’60s pop. In the opening cut, “Wild Flowers,” his pleading and plaintive vocals make the song special. “Shine a Light” reminds me of Jackson Browne, maybe if he was less Tex-Mex and more introspective. I dig “Matter Of Time,” where the opening and catchy beat pulls you along with it. I also like the harmonies. “Carry On” is an uptempo ballad that is radio friendly and I hear New Wave and its quirky beats throughout “In and Out of Mind” and “Apple in Your Hand.” The title song has a killer piano opening and I really dig the arena rock of “Time Machine” with its synthesizers. This is full of good vocals and nice harmonies and, overall, is a very interesting and enjoyable sound. Check it out.    (A.J. Wachtel)

KURT VON STETTON                       

Static Motor Recordings

Broken, But Not Undone              

12 tracks 

Cross Pavement and Sonic Youth with a dash of Sebadoh and out pops Kurt Von Stetton. Is there an indie-rock mash-up that can top that blender-load of awesomeness? I’m hard pressed to think of one. The biggest question that arises out of Von Stetton’s eighth record in fifteen years is: How did this guy fly under my radar for so long?

Jangly, fuzzed out guitars and subtly distorted vocals abound. Lyrics are drawled in an offhanded slacker mode, which belies the obvious care with which they were composed. Those tracks that aren’t electrified ear candy reveal a homespun feel reminiscent of Beck’s lower-fi recordings.

Dissonant guitar scrawls are always backed by bubblegum melodies that envelop the art-noise in a candy coated pop-prock shell. OnBroken, But Not Undone, Von Stetton distills the very best of an entire mid-’90s, indie-rock movement into a 12-track, pink vinyl record.  (George Dow)


Rootsucker Records

Dreamscapes from Dead Space   

8 tracks

Ichabod has always pushed themselves beyond most bands. Unfortunately, great risks don’t guarantee great results, as illustrated byDreamscapes from Dead Space. This prog-rock/metal outing hits the mark as often as it misses. Riddled with mediocre lyrics, vocals, and arrangements, this release has no distinct voice—literally and metaphorically. Never seeming to move beyond his influences, John Fadden’s vocals would work great for a grunge cover band. Musically, the group borrows heavily from Tool in both tone and composition. The adventurous “Epiphany” is a shining example, including a spoken word section reminiscent of Henry Rollins in Undertow’s “Bottom.” Sadly, unimaginative riffs sprinkle otherwise solid compositions. That being said, one cannot ignore the previously mentioned “Epiphany,” “Baba Yaga,” and “Return of the Hag,” which refreshingly combines a Hendrix-y guitar wah-wah à la “Voodoo Chile” with Jethro Tull-ish flute in a nod to prog-rock’s greatest. “All Your Love,” although not the strongest track, gets an honorable mention for its unexpected backing female vocal tracks. (Marc Friedman)



Party Up In Heaven  

11 tracks

Wildcat is from Western Mass., but from the sound of his new release, he is certainly turbulent everywhere he goes.

First off, he reminds me a bit of Elvin Bishop in the way that he is an excellent guitarist and he is also a showman; his tunes all have a lesson and he enjoys giving it to the audience.  In this sense, he is also more rhythm and blues then just blues, and the nine original songs and two covers here prove to me that these cats must be one helluva bar band. I love the rocking title cut with the cool harp. I like the funky guitar on the final track, “N.Y., I’m Home,” written by NYC songstress and the voice of Mass. company Dunkin’ Donuts (!!!) Cassandra Kubinski. “Probably Dead” is also a favorite of mine, with its funny and casual lyrics, and a great uptempo R&B barroom feel to it.  “Gypsy Deadend Track” has a slower tempo but also has great guitar and a hot harp. After hearing this new release, I just want to see Wildcat O’Halloran and his band live. This is not your father’s blues, for sure. Good stuff!    (A.J. Wachtel)


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