CD Reviews


Ace of Hearts
Shake… Outta Control
12 tracks

On the Boston scene as early as 1972, John Felice and The Real Kids need no introduction for long-time local music aficionados;  their proto-punk approach was quite possibly the template for the late ’70s garage punk which seemed to predominate hereabouts, a strain which also helped define bands such as, for example, Lyres and, later, the Turbines. The opening track, “Can’t Shake That Girl,” is a comparatively subdued declamatory, the second song, the super-tuff aggro garage punk of “She Don’t Take It,” sets the tone for much of what is to follow: meat and potatoes garage punk in the mode of the early Kinks and Rolling Stones.  In other words, blues-based rave-ups with endlessly snotty attitude—tracks that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pebbles or Boulders compilation. Not one of ’em is a piece of hack-work; only one—the best track–ends on a fade-out. If (hyperbole alert) you don’t find yourself moving and shaking along and feeling this in your soul, then you’re probably reading the wrong ’zine. Felice’s cover of his long-time pal Jonathan Richman’s song “Fly Into the Mystery” is a welcome change of pace, interpolating a Stonesy “No Expectations” vibe into the proceedings. “Got it Made” explores a poppier, Searchers territory; it also sounds to me like a letter-perfect Kinks song such as “So Mystifyin’” or “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” The Real Kids’ version of The Kinks’ “She’s Got Everything” is worthy to stand beside the original; the juddering bass and drumming are masterful; the solo guitar break (following the first exclamatory “Right!”) is priceless. The only thing missing is Nicky Hopkins’ piano. A new number, “That Girl Ain’t Right,” does credit to the other classic tunes; “All Night Boppin’” is straightforward barrel-house rock, a welcome descent into levity. John Felice saves the very best for last; “Who Needs You” is raga-rock and baroque rock wrapped up into one and induces the same chill as a song such as “Lady Jane” or “Paint It, Black.”  I suppose you could throw out the rest of this record and just listen to this slow burner about forty dozen times, but don’t—you won’t want to miss one drop of the goodness. Still, that middle eight guitar solo is one of the crowning moments of local rock ’n’ roll and I’m glad I was able to hear something that good, howsoever long it took to be unearthed. This is not the Great Lost second Real Kids album, but something pretty close and quite possibly a good deal better. Highly recommended.     (Francis DiMenno)


Fisheye Records
Raztonia Volume One  
10 tracks

Raztonia breaks out with “Shuffle For the Preacher”—a ’50s-style boogie woogie ala Jerry Lee Lewis. Willie Loco Alexander keeps the 88s rolling as Alek and Rikki Razdan, the dynamic son and father sax duo, blow the roof off this bow to Preacher Jack. Track two, “Me and Stravinsky Now,” doesn’t let up on the sheer power of the saxes, and David Doc Vincent pounds out a beat that would please a Zeppelin lover. “Looking For My Latitude (Gloucester Double Crossing)” twists a hambone jive rhythm into a strangely pleasing chord descent of a chorus: “Gloucester Massachusetts/ Holding on to my soul/ Like the red flag at the end of the greasy pole.” “Ouija Board” is a mess of a song that shows how loose Willie can orchestrate a tune and still have it stick. WA closes his eyes to find the chord—no matter what it is, the song comes together. That’s how a Ouija board is played. Willie revisits his Vincent Ferrini period by including “The Gold” and “Life is the Poem,” two of my VF favorites that frequent Willie’s live show. His admiration of poet Vincent Ferrini continues in “Incredible Dancer.” WA wraps it up by going back to his Boom Boom daze in 1978—he yanks “Radio Heart” off the shelf, dusts it off, and pow!—the Razdans have their way with it. Willie Alexander proves once again that he’s an artist unafraid of going in any direction his inspired mind points. Every Willie Alexander fan, young and old, will want a piece of Rastonia.    (T Max)


Black Wolf Records
Chasing Beauty 
14 tracks

These are great songs with nice melodies and harmonies. And all the tunes have a story and a message. Ellis is a modern day Woody Guthrie who has been on the road touring for more than 20 years, doing 200 shows a year; these compositions are his memories and recollections of a long life of music. There is a bit of Cat Stevens here. There is also a bit of Willie Nelson here. And his passionate performances stamp every note with his own brand. “You’ve been living like a rose in a cage,” “This is how trouble touch could kill… one kiss could do me in” and “Every dream that could cross our lips lies just beyond our fingertips” showcase his great writing skills. Throw in his acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, electric guitar, strings, keyboards, horns and lap steel and you have a great sounding CD. Ellis even uses a marxsophone on the title track! My favorites are: “Never Want To Lose You,” “Drive-in Movie,” and the title track, “Chasing Beauty”; all are lush folk ballads that are easy listening with a great sound and feel. Produced by Kristian Bush of Sugarland and Brandon Bush of Train, this music gets you into the right mood, right away.                (A.J. Wachtel)


East Grand Record Co.
11 tracks

Continental is the type of band that appeals to rebellious folk who have seen their share of hardships, yet retain a sense of optimism.  Led by the singular Rick Barton (known mostly for being an original member of Dropkick Murphys as well as Boston’s classic punks The Outlets) and his son Stephen, Continental mixes parts of rock, country, punk, and folk into a cohesive whole that comes across as modern day troubadour music.  The music has the perspective of a grown up, but without losing that youthful fire.  In that way, it reminds me of John Doe’s post-X work, or to put a local spin on it, Death & Taxes.  While the media and fan focus tends to narrow itself to the Bartons, lead guitarist Dave DePrest deserves a lot of credit for how great these songs sound.  He’s that rare cat who has the talent to show off, but the taste to tailor his playing to the song.                       (Kevin Finn)


8 tracks

Fiesta Melon is Lowell’s hidden treasure. It’s not often that a CD grabs you from the first track and holds your attention until the last as Frenetics does. Best described as quirky, engaging, and melodic, the honest and personal lyrics are seasoned with well thought out harmonies, inventive arrangements, and succinct, tasty, powerful, and thoroughly appropriate guitar solos that display a craftsmanship rarely seen. 

To describe the band’s sound would almost be a disservice, however, the listener will find Talking Heads/Pixies inventiveness, Panic! At the Disco melodicism, dashes of Motörhead style ’70s hard rock/punk, and nods to classic ’80s garage bands (“Upper Lip Bite Test”) that will please Bostonians who were active during that era.

Fiesta Melon is a refreshing treat that will leave you wanting more. Hopefully, they will keep bearing such succulent fruit.   (Marc Friedman)


75 Or Less Records
Shifty Eye   
4 tracks

“In the Light” begins and continues with a brontosaurus sized riff—it’s heavy sludge metal which seems minimally produced—along the lines of a four-track demo. This lends to it a lo-fi charm which a more polished production might otherwise lack. “YDHTG” is a minimalistic “You Don’t Have to Go” lament; “Hot and Sour” has a mildly Hendrix-like feel;  the best of show, the Sabbath-like “Echo,” gives us a drum-driven dirge underlined by, yes, echo, and a buzzing guitar line. This is bare-bones heavy metal; most of it sounds like vintage early 1970s. Students of HM from Blue Cheer on forward might want to give this a listen.             (Francis DiMenno)


13 tracks

The Howlin’ Brothers, at first, sound exactly like you’d expect them to based on their name—they play wholesome, twangy, gritty, lo-fi Americana. There’s a whole lot going on here, so when it comes to actually being able to write a review, there is a lot to digest. Banjos, mandolins, piano, fiddles, and harmonicas can all be heard in addition to guitar, bass, and drums. The fiddle solos in particular really remind me of Old Crow Medicine Show, but The Howlin’ Brothers have a more emphatic sound and more assertive vocals. Also, there is a lot of variation from song to song; classic rock elements are prevalent in some songs while others proffer a distinct country sound. It’s the type of music I can picture myself swaying to at a bar with a whiskey on the rocks. It’s not my usual cup of tea, but I think it’s worth giving this album a shot especially if you like Americana or alt-country.                 (Emily Diggins)


Tomorrow the World
12 tracks

Punk rock operas seem to be all the rage these days, and while the notion of them is definitely anathema to many folks, the idea makes sense.  Punk has always had a story-telling aspect to it.  In this case, the story takes Surette’s real-life punk rock youth and turns it into a superhero fable.  Surette, with help from local luminaries such as Johnny Blazes, Valerie Forgione, and Marnie Hall, does a nice job of getting into the teenage boy mindset of girls, comic books, depression, and rock ’n’ roll.  For mostly better and sometimes worse, this is a very adolescent undertaking, and true to the teenagers I know, it does have a flair for the melodramatic.  I like the album best when it gets the weirdest, most notably on “If You Can’t Trust Me,” which sounds like circus music played by a second wave British ska band.   It doesn’t always work, but it’s an interesting undertaking.            (Kevin Finn)


Actuality Records
Winter Rain 
13 tracks

The opening track is this Dead Can Dance kind of ominous showiness, replete with pennywhistles no less; the remainder is, at its best, a kind of merry boot-knocking Irish folk. Now, I’m not the kind of snob who says “Clancy Brothers or GTFO”; nor am I the sort of vulgarian who froths at the mouth upon hearing the brand of Drunk-Irishman Hard Rock Minstrelsy which is all too popular hereabouts. But what we seem to have here, though earnest and musicianly, seems all too insubstantial on many levels. “All That You Are” is a gladsome folk tune, and pleasant enough; “The Dawn of Bitter Moons,” for all its melodic loveliness, seems both pretentious and slight; a song like “Visions of Time” comes across as a standard-issue chantey; a tune such as “She’s Alright” put me in mind of a Celtic Harry Chapin; “Change” is reverential but still lands with a dreary thud. I don’t fault the musicianship; rather, the lack of compelling material seems to be the problem. The lively “Take Down the Ribbons” provides a welcome change of pace; the piano-driven “The Most Important Rule” ends the CD on an introspective high note. But the album as a whole is a decided mixed bag.     (Francis DiMenno)


The Red and the Grey 
11 tracks

Maintaining the same high quality, but clearly not afraid to try something new, Protean Collective’s new album is an intense, technically sound, and elegant collection of musical styles that come together like the Voltron of the progressive metal genre. Speaking of metal, this album has a bigger dose this time around, but you’ll hear no complaints from me. It’s a welcome addition; it shows that the band won’t just rely on one style to carry them. They evolve and change, as any good artist should.

From the machine-gun percussion opening of “Emerge,” (courtesy of accomplished drummer Matt Zappa) this album launches itself into your ears and latches on tight. The vocal skills of Graham Bacher (vocals, guitar) have always struck me each time I heard a Protean tune. His voice flows among the varied sounds of the other band members and easily finds its place in the album. This is in no way meant to downplay his guitar abilities—they’re tight and polished after years on stage and in the studio. Steph Goyer (guitar/vocals) and Dan Ehramjian (bass) complete the sound.The skillful string work heard in songs like “Exposed” is a delight to my ears.

Protean’s has always struck me as consummate professionals. This album is a perfect example of the hard work that goes into their studio sessions. It also speaks to the symmetry that they’ve developed, a quality which has certainly served them well.     (Max Bowen)


Severn Records
Living Tear To Tear
12 tracks

First the band—then the music. Sugar Ray Norcia, who fronted Roomful of Blues for most of the ’90s, and his band The Bluetones, are celebrating their 35th anniversary with this release; their sixth for Severn Records. Over the years they have backed Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers, Joe Turner, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Walter Horton, Big Mama Thornton, and J.B. Hutto. They are a hard-swinging band led by Ray’s elegant and expressive voice. The members of this storied blues ensemble include Sugar Ray on vocals and harmonica extraordinaire, Monster Mike Welch on guitar, Anthony Geraci on piano and Hammond organ, Mudcat Ward on the low end, and Neil Gouvin on drums. These cats are all veterans of playing with everyone from James Cotton, Johnny Copeland, Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, and Buddy Guy—this is a major-league band. Now the music: I really dig the hard driving-roadhouse “Rat Trap,” the Chicago South Side-sounding “Things Could Be Worse,” the slow Chicago Blues “Misery,” “Short Ribs” which is more Memphis, the Louisiana swamp pop of “Our Story” and the cool cover of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Ninety Nine.” The other cover “Nothing But The Devil,” originally done by Memphis Slim and then by Rory Gallagher is red hot and blue also. Fasten your seat belts folks—this is the real deal.     (A.J. Wachtel)


Young Rust  
6 tracks

A tasty homage to the likes of grunge idols Tool, Alice in Chains, with nods to Pantera and other metal greats. Like most tasty foods, this release provides virtually no nutritional value. Young Rust is a well-produced and arranged serving of familiar ingredients seasoned with common spices (and a nice dash of keyboards with a pinch of interesting time changes). The presentation is flawless and the meal is cooked to perfection, however the dish is not unique enough to warrant a second visit. I would tip 20 percent for service.            (Marc Friedman)


Soldiers of Fortune 
7 tracks

This Methuen based trio really rocks! All the songs are self-composed and showcase great guitar and a rock solid rhythm section—bluesy R&B with a bit of Jimi and ZZ Top thrown in for good measure. “Lied To Me,” “Miss Me,” “Roadkill,” “Gimme No Reason,” “Goodtime,” and “Soldiers of Fortune” are their most radio-friendly tunes—bar-band rock ’n’ roll at its finest. He’s produced by music scene veteran Rick Larrimore and Dan at Dreamland Studios in Chelmsford; play this music LOUD.                     (A.J. Wachtel)


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