CD Reviews

349CDs-webWillRaganoWILL-R
All in My Head
12 tracks

A solid roster of esteemed local musicians produces a type of futuristic and atypically psychedelic pop music filtered through some intriguing compression and echo effects, all of which makes for a rewarding listening experience which, in some aspects, resembles an initiation into a previously unheard form of music. Softly melodic forms are abraded; eccentric tunes are lightened with string sections; there is a type of rigorous beauty in these inventive, almost post-human compositions. Taken as a whole, we are propelled into a fantastic world of possibilities, with songs both solidly melodic (“Periscope”) and busily evanescent (“Slow”). The best songs are especially striking: the Bowie-esque “It’s All in Your Head” is a memorable tune; the mutant C&W of “Zoe Rosario” is irresistibly catchy; best of show is the wavering, delicate “If You Don’t Have Eyes.” Recommended.   (Francis DiMenno)

FUN ERA FIFTY
Frozen in Time
4 tracks

Fun Era Fifty may have ceased to play out, but the fruits of their labor are now available—and the pickin’ is good. With Geoff Pango on guitar, Marty White on bass, and Goss on drums, the legendary Mr. Curt (Pastiche/ Urban Caravan/ Mr. Curt Ensemble) leads the group with his singing’, guitarin’, and writin’ all the songs.  These tunes as a whole have a lot of life to them. The vocals are right up front (usually doubled) and the production is crisp and poppin’ like corn kernels on a hot skillet, but not what I’d call slick. It sounds more like the group was having a party in the living room and someone turned on the secretly well-placed microphones. As far as the songs go—we get whipped around with “Tilt A Whirl,” then forced to exercise in “Stay in Shape,” while laughing at “Pussface,” and end up drinkin’ at a crazy party with “Bereft.” Frozen in Time seems like an appropriate title for a release in February 2015.  These hot songs are about to melt some ice. Make new friends by playing this EP at your next gathering.  (T Max)

TAXIDERMISTS
“Angel II”
1 track

I mean, I just got here, but the “II” suggests a musical sequel, like this is the Taxidermists’ version of the Misfits’ “Halloween II,” which, you may remember, was the dirge-y bullshit one in Latin. So my first suggestion would be to seek out “Angel I,” if it exists, because it’s probably better. If not, what the hell, this is a harmless enough bit of out-of-whack bummer pop that sounds like a badly warped Weezer 45. It’s got a bit of a devotional edge, too, like if it was 15 minutes long, it would eventually turn into a raga. But it’s not, it’s a merciful 1:13. Give it a try. It’ll be over before you know it, so why not? P.S. if you play it backward it summons demons. Talk about your bonus tracks!  (Sleazegrinder)

THE DRAX
The Drax
13 tracks

It feels like this record from The Drax (a.k.a Goddamn Draculas) has been a long time coming. “Jenny” feels like it’s been a local hit for years, and “Don’t Be Afraid” could be heard over the P.A. during Red Sox games last summer.  Fortunately, the record was well worth the wait. This is classic rock as played by a bunch of guys who cut their teeth in punk rock bands. The songs have a welcome positivity to them, and they are insanely catchy to the point that the listener may end up unknowingly singing the songs out loud while walking down the street. The strength and boldness of the harmonies make this band unique, with lead singer Duggan being joined by keyboardist Chip and bassist Bice to make a glorious wall of sound that you just don’t often hear in these parts.   (Kevin Finn)

THE RED TELEPHONE
Raise Giant Frogs Records
Places You Return
12 tracks

Opening track “Come Outside” places the band’s fourth release in the busy-monumental school of indie rockers; it’s a life-affirming, anthemic burst of feel-good sentiment. The title track is a more mid-tempo number with a hooky refrain and a philosophic message. Jangle predominates with the excellent “Under the Northern Sky,” which has a dazed feel and a dreamy undertone. Comparisons to early ’80s paisley underground psyche-rockers are unavoidable but somewhat beside the point; the band is forging a new approach to this material, which also takes modern studio technology in its stride. The overlong “Peculiar Spring,” with its frenetic guitar, puts me in mind of Dinosaur Jr.; the watery-sounding “Brink of Summer” is a mellow declamatory. The outstanding “Gold in California” is an echo-laden and slow-moving folk-rocker with traces of early-’70s free-form guitar rock; it’s an inspiring (and risky) tour de force. “City of Fools” brings us back into anthemic territory with a killer bass-drum hook  and a grandiloquent refrain. “Another Page” is all shimmery textures and ethereal vocal melodies that don’t quite come off due to the limitations of Matt Hutton’s vocal range; but it’s a lovely song all the same. “Snowbound” is another introspective slow-burner with the now-familiar echo effects and urgent, keening guitar lines; strategic pauses give the song a haunting, almost brittle quality. “Days” is spare, plodding, and introspective, with a Harrisonesque guitar line; “Last Night in Amsterdam” ambles along, all haunted vocals and shimmery textures, then abruptly ends; a surprising and harrowing denouement. Though not without its minor flaws, this is a significant release by a highly regarded band; it is splendid of its kind. Highly recommended. (Francis DiMenno)

JARVALAND & THE SHARKBAG
New Amerika
3 tracks

The dizzy brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Jessica Jarva and everything else-r Travis Long. New Amerika is a woozy stumble through a groovy cough syrup weekend, a gloppy first-person narrative about walking around stoned and/or with a potentially fatal fever. It’s like Jessica’s trying to remember her favorite Bob Dylan songs, but she’s wildly hallucinating the whole time. Or like Nico ditched the Velvets and traded them in for the Flaming Lips back when they were writing songs about Jesus doing dope. This might be the most narcotic record I’ve heard in years. I mean, there’s a good chance you’re gonna end up in rehab if you listen to the whole EP in one sitting. Apparently a whole album is on the way. That’s definitely gonna kill a few people.  (Sleazegrinder)

JIM TRICK
Ring Street Records
Further From the Tree
12 tracks

Marblehead, MA, folk singer Jim Trick starts off Further From the Tree sounding in league with Gordon Lightfoot.  “All’s Not Lost” is a thought-provoking song that, in the first verse, speaks of the love you want and the love you get. The second verse is about the lies you tell and the lies you believe, while the third verse reminds you to say what you need to say now, before it’s too late. Jim is somewhere between a preacher and a guru, always using a gentle touch. The production (courtesy of Michael J. Pritzlof) of the songs has a nice easy-going feel with simple instrument surprises of sensitive guitars, strings, piano, and a chorus on the final tune, “Who We Were to Be.” The vocals have a light echo, most of the time unnoticed, and the overall feeling is creamy and comfortable. Every three songs or so Jim recites a story. A nice way to break up the consistent tone and quality of the music. If you’re into cool intelligent folk music—this one is for you.  (T Max)

SQUEEZEBOX STOMPERS
Crystal Cover
Roots and Branches
12 tracks

What we are offered here is an eclectic mix of blues, ballads and authentic New Orleans sounds. “El Dia de los Muertos” has a good deal of the Zydeco spirit I would have liked to have heard pervading all of these compositions. The irresistible “Caribe Zydeco” is a simple call-and-response tune with a sophisticated arrangement. “Crawfish Two-Step” is a delightful, sprightly instrumental that opens out in a most satisfactory fashion with a series of excellent solos. The concluding song, “Zydeco Train,” is another lively piece, a holdover from Ralph Tufo’s days with the Boogaloo Swamis, with an excellent harp solo by Georff Wadsworth and a fiddle solo by Diane Cline. (Francis DiMenno)

TODO BIEN
Here We Go
11 tracks

This band sounds like it would be a big hit at the Life is Good Festival. How you feel about that sentence will likely determine how you feel about this new release from Todo Bien. The band plays a brand of easy-to-swallow folk-reggae that is suitable for the urban hippie. While the songs are melodic and the players are skilled, this somehow never leads to songs that are particularly memorable or interesting. They too often settle into a mid-tempo lull that saps the listener’s attention and makes him or her want to play something with a little more bite. (Kevin Finn)

ASHLEY JORDAN
Nothing in Doubt
12 tracks

First of all, I’m one guy. Pop Country is the dominant musical preoccupation for grown-ups in the US these days. 50,000 Jason Aldean fans can’t be wrong, right? But I just don’t get how it’s even considered “country” in any traditional sense. It doesn’t even sound like Glenn Campbell or Kenny Rogers, never mind Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings. Am I crazy? All this bullshit just sounds like Bon Jovi in cowboy boots. It’s music for people who are gonna die young because Walmart won’t pay for their health insurance. I don’t get it. So anyway, Ashley Jordan. Boston might as well have its own pop-country queen, and she certainly fits the bill. Young, beautiful, with the honeyed voice of an East Coast angel. She’s got a song about the marathon bombing (“New England Tears”) that is either eye-rolling or deeply moving, depending on your tolerance level for such things, an opening stomper about boozin’ and carousin’ (“Drink Some Whiskey”), and many, many bittersweet love ballads. She’s a solid guitar player and the songs are as good as anything currently playing on “The Bull.” If you lean toward this kind of music, it’s a winner. If you lean toward Tammy Wynette, hardcore alcoholism, bitter divorce battles, or chain-smoking, go back to 1972 where you belong. I’ll meet you there.   (Sleazegrinder)

EVERPRESENT
Artistic Soul Productions
Introspekt
10 tracks

This is a drum and keyboard combo augmented by the twinned vocals of composer Matthew Cahoon and vocalist Cat Waltzer. It’s a keyboard-heavy trance-dance ensemble, which might be classified as Euro-synth. The vocalists are quite skilled; the melodies are gorgeous; the beats are infectious. It’s much more pop than rock and features some serious and sometimes strenuous sci-fi and New Age aspects; think of Dead Can Dance without the worldbeat elements and you’d come pretty close. Best of show: the eerie “Echoes.” (Francis DiMenno)

NONPAREILS
Album of Worlds Champions
11 tracks

These dudes compare themselves to the Replacements and Husker Du in their cheat sheet, which is just fucking crazy. I mean, I’m no Lester Bangs either, fellas, so let’s just pace ourselves a little. This actually has more of a Dinosaur Jr wobble to me, and the rootsy, early 90’s alt-rock bliss they’re reaching for sounds more like pop-punk than anything else. But all that’s fine. Weezer and the Descendants are good too, right? Lotsa hooks popping left and right, especially on “It Doesn’t Matter Anyway,” which is sort of a bummed-out “Buddy Holly” (the Weezer song, not the dude). The real gamer-changer, though, is “High Crimes” a really lovely ’60s pop jangler. It’s real good. It’s not fucking Pleased to Meet Me, but you can see skinny dudes really rocking out to this record. Produced by Marc Valois of The Blinders, currently the third-best band in town, so that’s something. He does a good job. Likes doing stereo pans with the guitars. That’s always fun. Would blow your mind if they still made albums in Quadrophonic sound.  (Sleazegrinder)

BLACK AND GREY
Don’t You Worry
5 tracks

This release, a single plus four demos, has a casual, almost thrown-off feel that you wouldn’t expect from a band featuring a couple of the guys behind Woolly Mammoth Studios (David Minehan and Dave Westner).  The single/title track is too relaxed and too tasteful, and in general, the laconic vocals are a drag.  Musically, though, there are some interesting things happening, particularly on the instrumental “Insaneacide,” which features a bass line that repeats with slight variations followed by similar action from the guitars.  The result is hypnotic. More of that would have gone a long way.   (Kevin Finn)

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