CD Reviews

Photo: Lo Wreck

Photo: Lo Wreck

Never Give In!
13 tracks

I think playing this album in my office led to the moment when my new co-workers stopped viewing me as the quiet, mild-mannered accountant.  Apparently, not a lot of hardcore gets played around here.  They should thank me because this record is a blast.  Sure, it’s angry, but it’s a fun, smiley kind of angry.   The strength of this record lies in how the band marries the expected (shout-along choruses, songs about loyalty) with the unexpected (a little acoustic guitar, songs about the dangers of riding a bicycle in Boston).  The band also displays a musicality that isn’t always found in hardcore bands.  The band has a Bad Brains-like flexibility, and singer Troy Schoeller, while in possession of an appropriate growl, also manages to drop in some legit crooning here and there.  This is one of the year’s must-haves.     (Kevin Finn)

Get on the Horse
13 tracks

Love blues, blues rock, and bluegrass music? Love to rock along to that kind of music? I do! You’ll find some of each on this CD, all done with impressive style. There’s not a bad track on it, though there are a few that blew me away. These New Englanders exude an air that smacks of hot and humid authentic-sounding Southern style, lending an appropriate Delta blues feel to their music. This comes through loud and clear on “Whole Lotta Whiskey,” which sets the tone for some hard partying. If that shoe needs to fit, step right up. My favorite, the title cut, “Get on the Horse,” is highly catchy and laden with some amazing guitar work. If you aren’t grooving and singing along, you just might be asleep. This band is tight! “Hot Tickets” is another winner that gets me moving. “Against the Cold” lightens things up with Charlie O’Neal’s brightly played banjo and Craig Rawding’s harp. The bluegrass aura moves even further South in “Home of the Rustling Chain.” Nicely worked, and “Diablo Rock” does just that—rocks like the devil! It all winds down nicely with some smoothly played true blues on “The More I Find Out (The Less I Want to Know).” This CD is an all around winner and destined to be on my summer playlist!   (R.J. Ouellette)

Jasmine Parade
10 tracks

When I saw Jenna Lindbo play live this didn’t come to mind, but the lead-off track on Jasmine Parade, “Angels on the Subway,” sounds like it was written with Dolly Parton in mind to perform it. Jenna is much more folkie than the country pop mega-star, but since I’ve made this connection, I can’t let go of it. And maybe Jenna isn’t as folkie as I though—“Rainey Day Medicine” bops along like a low-key pop song tempting people to get up and coolly groove along to it. She plays Annabelle, her banjo, in “Harbor & My Boat” and has a host of musicians joining in to create a little string-fest. The whole song is simple with a multi-repeated chorus, but you’d never know it because of the joy expressed in the tune. I love the relaxed bounce of “Instrumental Role,” and it’s another tune Ms. Parton should consider—as Jenna’s tells a lovely tale of an old relationship that unexpectedly turns sad, but still manages to make a mark that lasts to this day. Jenna closes the disc with an easy-going positive chant-based tune in “Let There Be Love.”

The positive vibe in Jenna’s music is felt in all she composes. Her melodic songwriting skills enhance that vibe and the results make me smile and breathe easy.  Might as well add listening to this CD to the lists of remedies in “Rainey Day Medicine.” Better than anything a doctor could prescribe.       (T Max)

429 Records
13 tracks

This is a great first CD from a great new band. And even though its members all come from iconic new wave groups: this is a rock ’n’ roll album from start to finish; with lots of power chords and screaming guitars.  And by rock ’n’ roll, I mean that I can hear influences of garage rock, arena rock, pop, metal, traditional rock, and even Americana; but no heavy-synth new wave. And that’s not hard to picture since the occasional keyboardist here is Ian McLagan, from Faces and The Stones. I love how he and Wally Palmar from The Romantics on vocals and harmonica open up “Jealousy”; but I am getting ahead of myself. Song by song: “90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street” is a killer tune and I really like how the mid-song lead goes to Wally on harp and Elliot Easton from The Cars growling guitar doesn’t start to explode until the latter part of the tune and the outro. Very cool. “I Don’t Want Your Love (If You Don’t Want Me)” is a driving anthem by a tight band having a blast. I love how on many of the tracks everyone yells the backing vocals altogether and you can just picture them smiling with pride and pleasure as they sing.

“(I See) No Way Out” is a great song with great guitar and finger-wagging vocals. “Fill an Empty Heart” is a pop ballad with just incredible vocals. “Soul Deep” with Clem Burke from Blondie’s incredible drumming, “Loud and Clear,” and “Perfect World” are a terrific trifecta of a metal/garage mix that really showcase the power behind the power chords. Just listen to the passion in these cuts! “I Found You Again” is an Americana ballad that illustrates how this tight rock ’n’ roll band can switch gears and sound equally authentic moving in an entirely different direction. Pretty impressive. These are new wave veterans now in a rock ’n’ roll band playing country & western. I like it. “Just a Little Too Hard,” “Drop Me Off at Home,” and the closer “Meet Me “Round the Corner” are more guitar-driven rock ’n’ roll cuts that end this hot new release. Check out how low-man Andy Babiuk from The Chesterfield Kings is ever-present keeping it together and always playing just the right notes. The CD is produced by the band and Ramones tech vet Ed Stasium—the sound jumps out of the speakers: and it’s just as enjoyable listening to these ace artists separately as a whole. You can tell the members are having a lot of fun because in every song you hear moments when the music locks together so well and everything is right. This first release sets the bar high. Great songs. Great vocals. Great guitar. Great band. Great production. Great sound. The Empty Hearts are filled with talent and enjoyment. Play this music loud.    (A.J. Wachtel)

Sugar Blood Jinx
13 tracks

This is a new band composed of former members of the inestimable Shods, joined by Eric Waxwood on National steel guitar. The proceedings get off to a rollicking start with “Breakneck Boogie,” a John Lee Hooker-flavored jump tune. This recording is full of fine tunes, though I found many of the arrangements to be somewhat questionable: John Hurt’s “Hop Joint,” with its inimitable guitar hook, is jazzed up to a somewhat immodest degree.  On “4th Street Mess Around” they lay on the hokum pretty thick but the track seems strangely stiff and slightly off-balance, as though the pace is being somewhat forced. The cover of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Screamin’ and Cryin’ Blues” seems rather pale and the vocal performance strikes me as somewhat perfunctory; they have better success with their good-natured rendition of Fuller’s “Gimme Some Pie.” I also have reservations about Waxman’s interpretation of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”; very little of the original’s eldritch scariness is preserved; instead, we are given a rocking rendition that comes across as lacking in charm. But there are some real gems on this recording as well: Waxwood’s “Sugar Blood Shakedown” reminds me of Canned Heat in a playful mood; in its driving rhythmic impetus, Waxwood’s “Hardcore Boogie” is also reminiscent of John Lee Hooker.  Their rendition of “Pony Blues” by Charlie Patton hits all the right notes, with a spirited vocal line and a bass line augmented by a percussive primitivism which in no way surpasses the original but, rather, complements it. Finally, their dynamic treatment of Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo Me Baby” is also a treat—it charges out of the starting gate and doesn’t let up until it induces a chill which tells the fascinated listener that this is, indeed, the real goods.    (Francis DiMenno)

Drive  “Some By Half”
1 track

This was sent to us as one track even though it’s one of the ongoing album, Drive, and I was so tempted to listen to the other tracks as a comparison but resisted it to stay true to the one Bradley Jay submitted (but I’ll listen later!). I’m on my fifth or sixth listen right now of “Some By Half” and each time I feel pulled in deeper to this dark, intriguing techno creation—both lyrically and musically. Along with sultry and addicting beats, Bradley’s repetitive, rhythmic chorus serves as an instrumental accompaniment—listen closely as it’s easy to get sucked in by that chorus and not realize there are some cool lyrics layered beneath. This was the benefit of listening several times and it feels right for this genre—the repetition, the ingraining of the sound, music, words, rhythms into your being. I appreciate and very much dig this.     (Debbie Catalano)

Fake It
10 tracks

The full-length rock album by this North Shore-based band shows a group with skill, experience, and a lot of potential. This was my first time hearing their music, and now, I’m counting these guys as a band to watch. They’ve got a great style that shifts and turns from song to song, showing a diversity of influences that fuse together with great synergy.

With a varied mix of light rock and punk-laced tracks combined with hard rock goodness, the 10 songs each have a different feel. “Made of Water” has a quick-tempo, slightly punk feel to it, while “Places” has intense power behind it, with a slow, pulsating beat that really gets into your bones. The three vocalists, Adam Jordan, Paul Bowie, and Peter Landry, have great chemistry together, and the result is a clean, clear production that rises with the music, but not drowning it out, or being buried when things get heavy.

Speaking of heavy, tracks like “Why Do You” really stick in my head, as it speaks on the subject of why some people lie to those closest to them, and what the repercussions are. We can all relate, and this shows some quality writing skills from the foursome.

Instrumentally, these guys really kick ass. Guitar and bass take center stage as they shred and riff time and again. Drummer Eric Bowie sets a rhythm that flows, and the others match well with him, demonstrating a collaborative ability that makes for some great music.  (Max Bowen)

Teenage Heart Records
When We Were Kids
13 tracks

This album, as its title suggests, is interested in taking a look at life’s rearview mirror.  Unfortunately, it sounds very much like the work of an older man’s idea of what constitutes rock ’n’ roll.  It sort of rocks and kind of displays hints of danger, but for the most part I’m left unconvinced.  The songs are catchy, and there are certainly some excellent moments like the Milky Way reference and the theremin of “Devil Rat,” but this isn’t enough to outweigh the soft rock horns of “Something Breaks My Heart” or the somewhat creepy vibe of several of the numbers.  Speaking of creepy, as stalker songs go, let’s just say “Stalker” is no “One Way or Another.”  Guest appearances from Gordon Gano and Gary Cherone reflect the high esteem in which Berlin is held.  Unfortunately, Cherone, the favorite singer of my youth, seems to have transformed into Sammy Hagar, and nothing that makes me think of Sammy Hagar is going to stay in heavy rotation.     (Kevin Finn)


Taang! Records
“Scum Guns” b/w “Injun Joe”
2 tracks on 7” vinyl

Last Stand went on to legendary status in the Boston punk scene but it all started here with Taang! Records’ release of the “Scum Guns”/“Injun Joe” split single. Noonday Underground and Last Stand are effectively the same band. The departure of original bassist, Leslie Green prompted the band to change its name from Noonday Underground to Last Stand.

Both tracks are straight out of the British punk scene—melding the styles of Stiff Little Fingers, The Damned and early Wire. Every time I hear “Injun Joe” I instinctively want to slip “Alternative Ulster” onto the record player immediately after. Like the rest of Last Stand’s output, this debut release lives somewhere between punk rock, pub rock, and an early version of what would soon be categorizes as alternative rock.

This two-song treat is a great way to whet the appetite for an amazing Boston band.          (George Dow)

Fly Electric Records
Lost in Rock & Roll
8 tracks

Hot Fire’s debut is a testament to all things rock ’n’ roll. It astutely and unflinchingly displays every ’70s hard rock and ’80s hair metal cliché, banal lyrics included (The title track and album’s namesake “Lost in Rock & Roll” opens with “I’m not tryin’ to take you home tonight/ I got something better in my sight.”).  Even the CD insert proudly displays an obligatory “band in front of a brick wall with one member menacingly fingering a fire alarm” photo. Hot Fire goes beyond paying homage to their early Kiss, Roth-era Van Halen, and Aerosmith influences by blatantly and poorly ripping them off. So, if you are a budding songwriter and want to know what to avoid, check out this release, otherwise, find something more productive to do with 35 minutes of your life.                (Marc Friedman)

The Way You Want
6 tracks

“Superknife”: The punk voice of God; stop-start dynamics; ultra-cool vocals not too high in the mix; irresistibly tuff riffage. Followed up by the obligatory poppy number (“Fall”): like Frank Black meets Black Sabbath—Black Slaggeth? Blag Shaggeth?—with a soupcon of the DBs or OMD or Smashing Pumpkins (or maybe even My Bloody Valentine, as they helpfully point out in the press release—thanks, guys!). You also get an obligatory ballad that briefly turns into an epic flaming bonfire of monumentality and then goes back into poky Keane-eyed mopery—don’t get me wrong, though, “Bad Arm” is one of the most distinctive and likable tunes on this disc. “Pie Eater Starfish” is kinda blah and “Girl” sounds like it wants to mix The Kinks with The Buzzcocks—not a bad idea in theory but in practice it falls somewhat short of appealing. Then there’s the show-closer: the sensitive maunderings of “Wonderland,” at first so airy that the song threatens to float away—help! help!—but then it becomes this warped ’60s psychedelic thang with all sorts of acidy effects which is actually pretty wonderful and well worth the wait. I just wish that the drumming sounded less like “Be My Baby” and more like troglodytes pounding rocks in the Mammoth Caverns until they’re interrupted by a lumbering shaman dressed in a bear skin and half-crazed from drinking hallucinogenic reindeer piss. But that’s just me. Let’s be fair. Overall, I’d say that three fine songs out of six is not too shabby.    (Francis DiMenno)

Taang! Records
“Same All Over”
2 tracks on 7” vinyl
b/w “She’s Not Leaving”

Five years before The Mighty Mighty Bosstones introduced ska-core to the entire country, Stranglehold, one of Boston’s most overlooked, early-’80s hardcore bands created the template. Released in 1984, amongst other classic early Taang! Records seven-inches from Gang Green, Last Rights, and Last Stand that same year, Stranglehold’s single stands alone in that it was nearly forgotten to time—until Taang! recently released its First 10 Singles box set.

Compared with the minute-and-a-half blasts of frenzy released that same year by many of their Taang! peers, “Same All Over Again” is an extravagant jam, coming in at nearly five minutes. The rock-steady ska rhythm and slashing guitar give way to dub-beat drums over the course of the song. The vocals sound like a less whiskey-and-cigarettes version of Dickey Barrett (interestingly, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman drew the cover art for this single). In the ’90s Sublime would go on to take “Same All Over Again”’s formula of dubbed out, stoner ska-core on to the masses with songs like “Smoke Two Joints” and “Santaria.”

The b-side, “She’s Not Leaving,” slides markedly toward the British Isles style of punk. Stiff Little Fingers and The Buzzcocks are the touchstones for this track. Fast and snotty rules the day in this song with its sloppy guitars and vocals reminiscent of ’80s D.C. punk, Pete Murray, of Marginal Man.    (George Dow)

Bob Kendall 
11 tracks

It’s a Saturday afternoon; I’m trying to get a head start for once with my Noise reviews, so I slide Bob Kendall’s CD into my computer and I am so unexpectedly taken in by his songs that I have to keep remembering that I’m supposed to be taking notes and writing about it, but instead, I’m just plain happily sinking into each track and thoroughly enjoying the music that’s flowing from my speakers. I want to endlessly rave about this in a more original way than I usually do and while doing complete justice to such a great body of work, but all I can say is this should be on the airwaves (if it isn’t already) so that more people can derive the enjoyment. So what does Bob play exactly, you ask? Okay… he’s a singer/songwriter, who in these 11 tracks beautifully manifests lyrics… meaningful lyrics… into songs that perfectly bring to life his words. Need a genre? Americana, roots, blues, modern/alt rock/pop…. I love how his songs make me feel—they bring out emotions—both the dark and the encouraging songs. Just listen, feel, enjoy. By the way, this recording was produced by the wonderfully talented Paul Kolderie and kudos to the also-talented backing musicians. My picks (though I love them all): “Stay,” “New Day,” “Rage,” “Dazed.”     (Debbie Catalano)

Canary in a Coal Mine 
12 tracks

This great vocalist was born in Lexington and has become very popular in the Midwest and on the Left Coast. These self-written cuts are contemporary folk/pop ballads and more up-tempo melodies with banjos and strings included. What I mean by contemporary is that this music may stylistically be folk, but this is much more than just a warbler and a guitar and a message. Her beautiful voice is passionate and powerful, and this is more than just singing sweetly. Her delivery is quite personal in her inflections and very sentimental in her emphasis, and this comes across well in the big audial picture. Songs I really like are: “Heart Beat Faster” and  the two real radio-friendly cuts “One and Only” and “So Long.” I also like “Whiskey Drawn,” an Americana song well-suited for a lonely night in Nashville. Drummer Brian Viglione from The Dresden Dolls and The Violent Femmes is in her band too. Nice stuff.    (A.J. Wachtel)

Learn to Live
5 tracks

In a town well-known for punk rock, sarcasm, and a less-than-sunny disposition, Masterson’s concoction of sincere and heartfelt soft rock could be a tough sell, which is too bad because this collection of piano-based nuggets is actually quite refreshing.  Masterson has a clear, pristine voice and an intelligent melodic sensibility, which helps him pull off the trick of being mellow without being dull and tasteful without being antiseptic.  The best number is “Twice,” which has a classic country influence that reminds me a bit of John Denver.  I wish Masterson would lay off the falsetto at times, but there is a lot to recommend here.      (Kevin Finn)

Creep Joint Scratch EP
5 tracks

Linda Ronstadt once referred to The Ramones as “hemorrhoid music” so one can hardly imagine what she would have to say about this (though to be fair, she did once assault Elvis Costello for referring to Ray Charles as a “blind old [vulgar racist slur]” so she’s not all bad.) Though she was big friends with David Geffen. Geffen would not have this on his turntable at any time, any more than he would listen to The Pipkins. Show tunes were more his thing. (Stay with me—I am going somewhere with this.) Anyway, just as the worst novelty tunes and even show tunes all seem alike in their vacuous inanity, so punk rock of this sort is beginning to sound like a grab-bag of tropes, and these guys are a case in point, because this political sort of shouty outrage was pretty much shaped by the MC5 and sharpened by The New York Dolls and carried forth by all sorts of local-area punksters. “The Evidence” is not so bad as a headlong declamatory. The rest is standard-grade tuneage by some nice old punks who would probably also punch Elvis Costello. (Told you.)      (Francis DiMenno)

Casa del Soul Records
All of the Above
11 tracks

This is  ex-Mambo Sons sizzling guitarist Guerra’s first solo CD and I really dig it for a number of reasons. First, he has a great band. Early ’70s Mott the Hoople English pianist Morgan Fisher and keyboardist Matt Zeiner, a veteran of performing with Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Dickie Betts & Great Southern, join drummer Mike Kosacek and Tom on all guitars, bass, percussion, and vocals, in a really tight group.

Second, his musical modus operandi on this release is to first set the groove in the melody and then take off with his great guitar; and make no mistake—this is a groove-oriented band and his guitar work isn’t flashy per se but it is always menacing and ever impressive. And third, every cut is just three minutes long; and that’s one hundred and eighty seconds of a barrage of guitars making a great audial statement. All the songs are written by  Hartford’s Guerra, and the CD was recorded in Glastonbury, CT.  Tunes I really enjoy are “Cup of Tea” with its great hook, nice groove, and wistful and lecturing vocals. It also has cool Beatles song titles serving as the chorus. “Indian” with its great groove and heavy opening a la screaming guitars, and the opener “Get Offa My Groove”; with its teasing appeal: this cat can play! He also shows his Americana influences on “Dirty Son,” Here’s Tomorrow,” and the closing ballad “Love Comes to All of Us.”  Good stuff from a great guitarist.        (A.J. Wachtel)

Long Goodbye
8 tracks

This is not a recording I would normally seek out and that’s why it’s an extra treat for me that Esthema’s Long Goodbye was assigned to me… With their exquisite fusion of Balkan, Near/Middle Eastern with jazz, prog, classical, I feel like their music takes me into faraway, exotic lands. Along with the gorgeous instrumental cultural/world music meldings, each of Esthema’s song evokes emotions through their stunning and intricate arrangements. Though the CD info includes a description of what these eight tracks mean, I wouldn’t have to read it to ascertain what the story is for each—that’s how expressive it is, that’s how you do it—wordlessly conveying the meaning of a song or just bringing out those feelings in the listener. I am in awe of these musicians and their talent and am enraptured by how they’ve composed their songs. The instruments featured in this sextet’s music include the cello, violin, bass, guitar, drums, and percussion, oud, and bouzouki. Standouts: “Three Sides to Every Story, Part II”—love how it seamlessly evolves the genres; beautiful integration of styles; “Fire and Shadow”—cool and alluring; “Reflections From the Past”—wonderful strings and another emotionally evolving song; and the elegant “Long Goodbye.”   (Debbie Catalano)

Hay Hay When the Sun Shines
2 tracks

A skillful selection from a truly talented musician, Saul’s new single flows from the opening note, ramping up with intensity and a heartfelt desire to speak to the listener. His voice is impassioned and smooth, reaching out and drawing you right in. The song seems to tell a story from Saul’s life, emphasized by lines like “I love the people in this town.” The chorus is an invitation to a good time, to enjoy life and all it has to offer.

Included with the single is a recording of a live performance of “This Is the Way (Same Old Box),” and hearing this, I’m adding Saul to my bucket list of artists to see. Eight minutes of an extremely high-energy, rollicking rock tune, and I can only imagine how much fun Saul has with his band. The crowd really gets into the performance, and as things close out, I’m pretty sure I hear someone asking for another song. Cheers to that.          (Max Bowen)

JOHNNY A.      
Aglaophone Records
11 tracks

Johnny A.’s fourth solo release, Driven, is very good and very listenable. There are 11 instrumental tracks on this new CD and each song has a different personality. Sometimes his guitar playing growls and sometimes his strings sound sweet; but it’s always creative and invariably awe-inspiring.  This incredible axeman has played in bands with Bobby Whitlock (Derek & The Dominos), Mingo Lewis (Santana), Doug Clifford (Creedence), and Peter Wolf (The J. Geils Band), and he also won the 2010 Boston Music Award for Blues Player of the Year; but this is the first project where he mixes, produces, records, and plays all the instruments in his home studio.

Without question, cut after cut, one can hear his rock, blues, jazz, and funk influences and all of these powerful, groove-oriented songs showcase his diversity as a player and songwriter. His specific style of expressing many different emotions though various notes and tones, that come from his own Gibson Signature Edition guitar, is very unique and impressive. His superior authenticity comes from how he initially plays a riff or chords that set up for when he introduces his note playing later on. And always the beautiful guitar tones. In many of the songs he starts with a great riff or chord progression, then comes the pounding percussion that sets the mood; and then Johnny and his guitar start to talk, and it’s always a pleasure to listen. The opener, “Ghost,” is such a song: full of audial bravado that screams “I am here; listen to me!” Tunes I really dig are: the psychedelic “Out of Nowhere,” where Johnny also uses an EBow, and the introspective “A Mask You Wear,” which illustrates another of the cool characteristics of this CD; the second part of this original composition just goes up a notch when the melody and the passion really start to gel together. While the opening measures of all the songs are spectacular, as the tune progresses the music gets tighter and more exciting; and this is the way he makes his statements. In other words, the song is like the fire and the passion is in the different ways he ignites the blaze. Also cool is the only cover done, a killer version of The Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody” which is SO good that after hearing it you think the original is merely a Minor League version of Johnny’s own more colorful rendition. I also dig “Backbone Slip” with its nod to Stax/Volt, and the funkiness of the closer “Gone… (Like a Sunset).”

Throughout this CD, Johnny paints a clear and sparkling audial landscape, and his devotion to melody is evident from beginning to end: sometimes he sounds bluesy like B.B. and sometimes he sounds jazzy like Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrell; but his clean and creative playing always sets him apart from every other six-stringer around. Play this music loud.    (A.J. Wachtel)

If your act is based in New England and you’d like your recorded music reviewed, send it to T Max/ The Noise, PO Box 353, Gloucester, MA 01931 or

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