CD Reviews


Signature Sound

5 tracks

Oh, this collection is just good beyond words. “You Forget” is lush strings, sincere vocalizations, and full of the longing sadness that can be young love. “Roadside Lily” is full of lovely images—a girl depicts herself as delicate and pointless, and is left behind until the coming of the roadside raven. All five are unique, gorgeously executed tunes. Their cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” invited well-deserved praise from Graham Nash (and the New York Times!) in their press release.  The string arrangement, the harmonies, and Heather’s spot-on lead singing breathes new life into the song for this generation.           (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


A Selfish Call to Arms 
8 tracks

Guns of Brighton might be the band to take on the mantle of Boston’s hometown, punk rock heroes—a tradition started by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in the ’80s and continued by the Dropkick Murphys through the ’90s, and into this millennium. G.o.B plays the working-class punk originated by The Clash and reimagined by the likes of Rancid and Green Day with workman-like skill and a sprinkle of modernity.

For a short, eight-song album, A Selfish Call to Arms flows amazingly well. The “Call to Arms” intro and reprise that bookend the record is a nice touch that ties the whole thing together. The rat-a-tat snare drumming that introduces the closing track, “Umbrella of Hypocrisy,” helps to wind things down on a mournful military note.

G.o.B. take on ska-core as well. “Rude Boy Warning,” pops a Madness-esque rhythm but takes a marked ’50s turn—sounding suspiciously like something from Grease. Maybe an alternate take on “Greased Lightning?”

The cynic in me might sneer at the transparent bid for the hearts of Boston’s punk community that is “Heroes of the Past.” Tugging at union pride and name dropping the Kennedy family might make me gag if it weren’t also so damn endearing. When I was a kid, iron workers and Bruins fans were more likely to kick the shit out of the punkers than join them in the mosh pit. Nearly 30 years after punk broke in Boston, I guess it’s nice to see the day that punk rock can be the soundtrack for the city.

Move over Dropkick Murphys—here come the Guns of Brighton!    (George Dow)


Lowbudget Records
Ambient Hours – Addendum 1
11 tracks

There is the caveat right there in the liner notes: “At its worst, ambient music can be annoying or, I daresay, even stupid. But, at its best, it can relieve stress and bring the listener to a slightly higher plane…”, which means ambient music does not come to you, you must go to it. It’s a way of absorbing everything and nothing beneath an umbrella of atmosphere—something to nod your head to and place it inside. When Mr. Brian Eno, the godfather, applied the term to his musical activities, he switched the emphasis away from making music to focusing instead on the art of listening. This was the other green world.

This collection follows up Doctor X’s three-CD set from 2009, a true masterpiece of creativity and vibrant soundscapes, again featuring his newest software keyboard, Spectrasonics Omnisphere. With this technology in hand, an ability to create something fresh, enticing, evocative and unpredictable is quite easy. This is why he continues to float in this sea of sound. Not to take away from the good Doctor’s personal efforts, a casual listener might hear traces of Eno, Biosphere, Trent Reznor, The Residents, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Fennsez, David Toop, or Alva Noto—all champions of the genre. Every track on this album is a pure sonic collage of the highest order—I played it three times in a row and never succumbed to the void. Space is the place!     (Harry C. Tuniese)


Deja Blues   
10 tracks

This is a classic, guitar-focused, testosterone-driven CD with three of the best local guitarists dueling away on it as icing on the cake. Gary struts his stuff like Stevie Ray on “Boss You Around” and I really dig his nasty, stinging guitar tone. “Boot Hill Blues” has James Montgomery doing a cameo and giving a lesson on bar-room blues. In “Almost Over You,” one of my two favorite cuts here, another Hendrix inspired local icon, Jon Butcher, duels it out with Hoey; and it is GREAT. On my other favorite cut, “She’s Walking,” axeman extraordinaire Johnny A goes head to head with Gary in this steady rolling R&B tune: and again the result is incredible. Check out the slide guitar part that Frank Hannon brings to the table during “Got To Believe”; more Rory Gallagher than Johnny Winter and just as tasty. There are two covers on this CD; “Going Down” which is positively electric, and “Born Under A Bad Sign” the Booker T written classic, with Hoey’s screaming guitar and effects driving the song. Gary Hoey’s creative dexterity is to be admired. THIS CAT SCREAMS! I really dig his music and you will too.  (A.J. Wachtel)


Horrorhead Records
Elevator to Mars
8 tracks

From their first release, Thinner has always been about more than simply meat-and-potatoes power pop. The opening and title track is about as trim and fat-free a nouveaux-psychedelic manifesto as we’re likely to hear nearly five decades after that genre first flourished. “Black Forest Walking” is some more matter-of-fact quotidien metallic ominousness—a vital, spongiform declamation. I hear a bit of Bowie and a bit of Marc Bolan, but such name-checking only gives us a vague idea of their overall sound, which also combines the dark hookiness of Big Dipper, as on “Black Lacquer Girl,” with the ornate proto-punk ethos of The New York Dolls or post-punk stylings of The Stranglers. Thinner rolls their merry way through the Pixies-like “Rebound,” the ironically anthemic “Slackers and Laggers,” and the darkly joyous, unlikely love song “Postado.” Even a lesser song like “Save Me” has a lovely vocal hook in the refrain and a dynamic middle-eight. “Mr. Aviator” is a refreshingly wild Hollies-like romp with a great, maddeningly hooky chorus. This is a classic collection from a band at the height of their prowess.       (Francis DiMenno)


Devoured in the Dark
11 tracks

What’s interesting about Four Legged Faithful is that while they don’t claim to be a bluegrass band, their primary instruments of banjo and mandolin certainly inject big aural doses of that old-timey Americana sound. But there’s no point in arguing pigeonholes; none other than giant Louis Armstrong reminded us that there’s only two kinds of music: good and bad.

Hailing from Haverhill, MA, the Four Legged Faithful produce good music. Very good, in fact. The CD cover points out that the band spent nine months recording the album. Most of the cuts on Devoured… feature instrumental dynamics that swing between laconic half-time minor-keyed passages and speedy fast-picked breakdowns. On top of this, the foursome layers in crystalline two, three, and four part harmonies that would do Crosby, Stills, and Nash proud.

And if you were looking for just a bit more quirk, the band has no drummer. All hands take their turns on tambourine, snare box, or other percussive device. But this listener didn’t miss hearing any true drums; with masterful, crisp playing across the board, that’s all the Faithful need to keep the beat clean and sharp.    (Tim O’Brien)


Embers & Ashes
5 tracks

This 27 year old, Northampton, Mass. artist plays Americana/folk music with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty influences; and similar predispositions from Ray Lamontagne and Amos Lee as well. The opening cut, “Broke, Not Broken,” is the hit, with it’s poppy radio-friendly sound. Jamie on vocals and acoustic guitar, Joshua Meltzer on bass and backing vocals, Quinn on drums, and Cisco De Luna on lap steel, are tight and uplifting. When Joshua moves to piano and Rhees Williams brings his upright bass in on “Still A Dream,” this finger-picking uptempo folk ballad really showcases Jamie’s great vocals and superb songwriting skills. “Bonfire” has Heather Maloney on nice backing vocals, “Prince of Pain,” is more foot-tapping than yee-hah, and the closing cut, “Changes,” all written by Kent, are enjoyable and easy listening but not too introspective to be silencing. In other words, I can hear this cat playing to large crowds at coffee houses and in small clubs alike. Good stuff.     (A.J. Wachtel)


Laughable Records
Boston Strangler
6 tracks

It is risky for a Boston band to name themselves after a beloved sports franchise, but at least they can go to Savers or the Salvation Army and get cheap band merchandise to sell at shows. New England Patriots have been one of the kings of the Boston underground scene for some time now and I think its time they started getting more recognition. This album recalls Joy Division, Six Finger Satellite, Sacharine Trust, Devo, and The Dillinger Escape Plan more than Brady, Wilfork, and Gronkowski, which might actually be a pretty good band name, too. This is a very Boston-y sounding disc. For those of you old enough to remember them, it sounds like the Boston Bruins theme song from 30 years ago with the opening of Channel 56’s Creature Double Feature (by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) and the intro to Dana Hersey’s The Movie Loft on Channel 38. Forgive me if I sound flippant, but this is Boston Strong.        (Eric Baylies)


The Rotary Records
Three Thirty Four
7 tracks

Thirty seconds into track one and it’s already painfully clear that Circadian Rhythm Kings are shaping some of the most exciting, exhilarating, and daunting jazz I’ve ever heard. What stands out most is the dazzling cacophony of wind instruments that weave their way through the record: The dulcet croon of clarinet, the spit-fire fury of trumpet and sax, the airy trills of the flute, and the booming braggadocio of the bari, all resounding en masse. Of course, I don’t want to sell the rhythm section short. It’s the warm fluid smears of upright bass and stream-of-conscious percussion work that allow the compositions to free-flow their way from nebulous piano-filled fogs to Latin-tinged poly-rhythmic grooves and back again with such subliminal ease. Sure, those clarinet lines may sound as smooth as nocturnal emissions and the surreal contour of the compositions may flow like you thought only dreams could, but don’t let their name fool ya—this isn’t the type of jazz that will put you to sleep.      (Will Barry)


Ormal Nye Records
Race to the Bottom
10 tracks

The deeply introspective work-protest-history song “Bay View Massacre” establishes Maine folk singer and multiple award-winner Paddy Mills as a chronicler-songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. The title track displays a wry side to his hard-luck tales, which is enormously appealing, due in no small part to the level-headed vocals, his pleasant tenor, and his outstanding backing band. In addition to the progressive agenda of some of the lyrics, the musicianship is also redolent of the traditions embodied in the great American folk music songbook. He also has a great sense of humor: If you favor folk novelty acts you’ll greatly enjoy an upbeat number like “Fox in the Barnyard”—you could play it side by side with the likes of Pure Prairie League and James Taylor and no one would blink. The same goes for the jazzy “Another Day Another Sand Dollar.” Paddy Mills also has a knack for a love song, as evidenced on the clever, world-weary, and heartfelt “Settle Up.” Mills is a world-class talent who ought to be more widely known—in a crowded field, he rises to near the top with his hard-won wisdom yoked to a thoroughly simpatico style of presentation. He strikes me as the kind of folk performer people want to sing along to—and possibly even emulate.        (Francis DiMenno)


The Willie Dixon Tribute
13 tracks

Whether you know it or not, Willie Dixon has been a big part of your musical upbringing; either directly or indirectly. If you listened to bands like The Jeff Beck Group, The Rolling Stones, early Led Zep, Muddy, and Howlin’ Wolf; they all covered his songs. And now scene vet Johnny Barnes gets an all-star cast to back him up for his own stellar tribute: including David Maxwell on piano, Sax Gordon on saxophone, James Montgomery on harp, Joe Pet from The Joe Perry Project pounding, and even Jon Butcher playing the sizzling lead on “Hootchie Cootchie Man.” Barnes has a lot of fun recording this music; and it shows.

The opening recording, “I Am the Blues” starts off with a blazing guitar intro that sets the tone for the rest of the CD. Growling guitar and raspy vocals surrounded by the best internationally known blues piano, harp, and sax artists around. A great formula that results in a great listen. My favorite cuts are the hard edged “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and the romping “I’m Ready.” The bar-room blues feel of “Back Door Man,” “You Shook Me,” and “Let Me Love You, Baby” really knocks me out too. Saving the best for last, “Little Red Rooster” is a great slide version that the master himself would be proud of. Play this CD LOUD.   (A.J. Wachtel)


The Fabulous Mustangs      
6 tracks

If you like the honey-dripping style of rock-a-billy/country music, played with rockin’ robin  precision, then you’ll enjoy this EP. The cusp of ’50s/’60s music is captured here in every cut. The insistent bass lines, the see-sawing fiddle, the undulating golden tones of the steel guitar, including worthy covers of tunes by the Everly Brothers and Patsy Cline. The cherry on top is “Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle,” bringing to mind Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.” This band knows their stuff and could definitely help you and your posse dance the night away.      (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


7 tracks

Folk/Americana artist Brian Carroll’s newest release has a haunting melody to it. It’s a presence that sits down beside you and starts sharing stories.

I love how the instrumentation varies in intensity from a few quiet plucks of the guitar, bass, and mandolin to a fenzied flurry of sounds. Brian’s got a great natural talent that shifts around, crafted into a form that evolves with the tone of the song.

Brian’s voice needs a mention here, because as good as he is on the string instruments [for the record, he’s really damn good], his vocals are second to none. They’re mellow, easy-going, and raw, untempered and unrestrained. Kudos goes to Mark Whitaker for his contributions with the banjo on “Grandfather Clock” and “Again and Again.”

This collection of seven tracks was recorded, mixed, mastered, and produced in just one month at Brian’s home for the RPM Challenge—there are some old songs which were never released and others that are brand new. The challenge included a limit of 10 songs or 35 minutes, and though Brian said he didn’t quite meet the mark, in my book this album is a success.   (Max Bowen)


Nobody’s Favorite Records
Hard Times & Woes
10 tracks

Folk-rock and country-rock fans who gravitate to the like of Gram Parsons and his successors will likely work up a great deal of enthusiasm for these wistful and impeccably performed numbers.   From the title track opener we are promised a romp though the vast fields of pure Americana; nor are we disappointed. Outstanding tunes include the soothing down-home threnody “It Won’t Be Written On My Grave”; the countrified declamatory “Every Time I Step Down”; the lovely harmony vocals on the traditional arrangements of “Farther Along” and “Hard Times”; and the reverential harmonizing of “Last Tree Standing.” Best of show: the deep country piano and string-band arrangement of the inimitably touching “Line in the Sand.” I can imagine this duo, and their outstanding collection of songs, would be quite a treat to experience in a live setting. (Francis DiMenno)


A Place Beyond The Sun
1 track

I know Perry Persoff. I play softball with him. I know that he’s a DJ on the radio (WUMB) and does voiceover work. One day he shared with me what he calls an “essay.”  I loved it—it taught me new things about space exploration in a way that I found fun and easy to learn. After listening, I realized this wasn’t very different than a spoken word CD. Perry created it with words, music, and sound effects—and the production is no less amazing than what goes in to a hit song.

A Place Beyond The Sun starts out with Perry admiring the trim job he did on his mustache. Without his contacts in, he thinks the sink looks perfeectly clean, but after the lenses go in, his reality changes. Apply that perception to the difference we see in space since NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990.  It sent back so much new information to review that what was once considered science fiction, started looking like science fact. In 2009 the Kepler space telescope went even further to seek out other planets that could possibly be habitable. It’s reality copying art—if we choose to call Star Trek art. That telescope discovered a planet orbiting a red dwarf star over 20 light years away that could possibly be habitable. Perry’s essay is like an entertaining radio show that used to be popular back before TV. Maybe we can make a full circle and embrace this type of essay as entertainment. I’ve already hopped on to this idea.     (T Max)


Pepsi Queen                        
5 tracks

Wrenching strained arpeggios from the reverb-stung guitar while the primal drums plod along, Pixels deliver a cache of catchy garage rock tunes that demand your attention. Their heroin-chic lyrics are sung with an anxious vocal delivery that jumps back and forth from dead-pan chanting to voice-cracking falsetto, their pop hooks have serrated edges coated with rust. Sonically, this EP is so lo-fi it’s practically no fi, but don’t let the basement-aesthetic of the recording stop you. Embrace it. In fact, let it embrace you. Learn to love it, the same way you would a Jesus & Mary Chain or Pixies record. You’ll be the better for it.    (Will Barry)

SENIOR DISCOUNT                                                                                This Is Not the End
12 tracks

The self-styled space jam “Smile” and the track “Never Saw Forever” are smart, loco, epic punk, but much of this collection brings a mare’s nest of stylings to the mix, such as the slashingly heart-rending ballad “I Don’t Know Why (You Lied),” the rousingly inspirational “Afterlife,” the poignantly melodic “Light On,” the reggae-goof cover version of “Three Little Birds,” as well as the martial mutant power pop of the title track. This is a pleasant assemblage of unassuming, even earnest, songcraft.       (Francis DiMenno)


Perils of Basement Culture
5 tracks

Meracula is the new group led by Andrew Lowrey of the band Fort and one of my all time favorite house venues, the Secret House of Pancakes. Andrew is not straying too far from his rock and ska roots here, but he is perfecting his craft as a songwriter and performer. Some of this is like Bad Religion with horns. Some of the tunes are heavier, others more danceable. The song “My Uncle Tells Me How Good Music Was In 1988” shows they also have a sense of humor. Great job, Meracula. Pancakes for everybody!  (Eric Baylies)


16 tracks

Although it may be ironic for me to say, Mari Black ISN’T fiddling around, it is completely truthful. Many of the tunes are traditional, but a lot of the cuts are more like sets; where the first part of the melody is a slow Scottish reel that goes into a quicker Irish jig and finally ends with an original jazzy influenced coda. It’s very interesting and you don’t have to wear a kilt to dig the creativity and effort that went into this release. In very simple terms, this music can be generally placed in two categories: ballads and dance tunes; with much of it similar to a soundtrack of a Charlie Chaplin silent film. And I mean this in the best of possible ways: this music from start to finish is very well done. From Mari’s lush fiddle sound accompanied with a large assortment of instruments including a cello, accordion, and “low whistle.” The songs on this all-instrumental CD that best illustrate what I am talking about are: “Exhale” with the swing of a jig combined with part of an original tune, “Hallucinations” a take on Bud Powell’s Bebop tune with some real cool jazz fiddle, “To Paula” a waltz written by Louis Schryer, and the last cut, “A Letter From the Next Room” a slower, quieter original with a nice jazzy piano part and always the sweet full tones of her fiddle. Very good. Very different.               (A.J. Wachtel)


Real Records
Poem Tones
12 tracks

Walter Noons put a lot of thought, energy, ambition, and feeling into this eclectic mix of a CD. “(And It’s All) Becoming Real” has a breezy ’80s feeling, reminiscent of Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out.” The production is nice and smooth, like cruising on a summer day. “Mademoiselle” is a strummy tune with a ‘20s era aura that should be streaming through a gramophone—and like an earworm, it’s hopelessly catchy. “Bored Street” is a homage to Lou Reed, and as a fan, I was trepidacious. Like some Reed songs, it’s mostly two chords. Noons shares his admiration for Reed, but what’s lacking is the hip cynicism of Reed himself. “That’s No Way To Treat A Pussy” rocks! Noons sings his support of Russia’s girl band, Pussy Riot. It’s hard rocking with fist pumping—gotta play it LOUD—good stuff! “What Do You Believe In” is fast paced and hard, invoking The Jim Carroll Band’s “It’s Too Late.” It got me moving, forgetting what I believe in! The angry rant of “There Was Once A Time” could work for me if I were in one hell of a questionable mood—and that could happen! I was caught off guard by a surprise ambush of the country and western, “Ring In The New.”  It’s ood ol’ cry in your beer music through and through, with more than subtle nods to Roy Orbison, among others.

I’m 50/50 on this. A whirlwind ride, if sounds were sights, I’d have seen much within the realms of Poem Tones. It’s kind of like New England weather, if you don’t like one thing, wait… something different will come along and surprise you.    (R.J. Ouellette)


Bridge Nine Records
A Place Beyond
3 tracks

Boston straight edge hardcore standard bearers, Test of Time dropped a three song teaser, A Place Beyond, in advance of their upcoming full-length, By Design, scheduled for a July release.

Their style sits somewhere between Youth of Today and Uniform Choice. In a strange twist on traditional hardcore, Test of Time forgo the verse-chorus-verse song structure for what is mostly a verse-verse-verse approach. Instead of launching their songs with intros and weaving through mosh-ready breakdowns they simply drop each track at a scorching pace—vocals, guitar, bass and drums all screaming at once, cranked to 11. The pummeling pace continues, straight through, for the next 90 seconds or so when the track abruptly ends. After two seconds of silence the next track kicks in and does it all over again two more times.

It’s an intense formula that works well over the course of three short tracks. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the course of a full-length album.    (George Dow)


Heavy Rotation Records
Dorm Sessions 9
18 tracks

This assemblage of songs by Berklee students includes several promising contenders in its roster, including the Heart-like theatrics of Fate & the Family Band, who also contribute a jazzy ballad; the synth-heavy high soul psychedelia of Ojinda; the piano-heavy synth-saturated theatrics of Dev3; and the Nick Drake-like lush stylings of Night Lights, whose “Make Me Smile” is a highlight, as is the ’70s prog metal of Analog Heart’s “Backlight.”       (Francis DiMenno)


Saturday Night – Live in Concert
18 track DVD

This delightful DVD isn’t as wonderful as it would be to be sitting in front of this fine band live, but you can get the feeling of what it would be like. They really have it all. The kick-off tune, “Carolina Lightning” immerses us in the ol’ timey joys of well-played bluegrass music. Each member of this band is top-notch; Jim Muller on guitar and vocals, Sharon Horovitch on acoustic bass and vocals, Rich Stillman on banjo and vocals and John Roc on mandolin and vocals. The gentlemanly and lady-like look of this group adds to their appeal.

The liner notes say they’ve been together for over thirty years. You can feel how tight and professional and well-seasoned they are. Despite the long time together, they put their all into each track. Jim Muller mentioned he’s from Richmond, VA and I thought, no wonder he’s such a fine bluegrass man. (Our four kids were born in Richmond!) Jim mentioned he and Sharon are married, and the warmth shines in their faces. Sharon just couldn’t be cuter, grinning and bobbing up and down behind all the guys. Jim sings of his love in the sweet song, “I Didn’t Ask.”

Tracks of note are the dizzying, death-defying finger assault of “El Cumbanchero” and the equally lovely instrumental piece, “Crossing the Cumberlands.” John Roc’s mandolin playing is extraordinary, and Rich Stillman’s banjo pickin’ is joyous.

If you know anyone who loves bluegrass and is bedridden, then buy this DVD for them. The rest of y’all need to watch for where they’re appearing next, show up and have a grand ol’ time.          (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

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