CD Reviews

CDcourtneySwainWEB-COURTNEY SWAIN

Secret Dog Brigade Records

Monstre
           
8 tracks

You never know when that musical thunderbolt is gonna come out of the sky and knock you to the floor! Never heard of this woman (or her formidable avant-rock group, Bent Knee) until a few weeks ago, but – whoosh – I’ve been sucked into her orbit. Also, got lucky to see her perform in the interim… an immediate peek at an extraordinary talent. This is Courtney’s second solo album, following her 2013 debut, Claws of the Beast Inside, and it features minimalist, primal, reflective tunes about passion, pain, and identity with a keen ear and an affinity for the musical vanguard. Many young women sing about these angst issues, but the aural tones with which she shapes her message are imaginative and haunting. Powerful, melodious lead vocals (drenched in exquisite processing) vary from gentle and flexible to sweet and plaintive to snappy and tough, all hovering over dexterous keyboards with electronica swirls that shift between smooth tonal passages and discordant intervals. These emotions and artistic intuition produce one of the finest local efforts I’ve heard in years. Seriously, these are magnificent tunes: “Token,” “Mirage,” “Hold That Thought,” “Grow Up,” or the title track (subtitled “I Assimilate Late”), all left me speechless and hitting the replay button again and again. It’s also hard to convey the flush of energy and uniqueness in her creative lyrics, wound so tightly into her subtle arrangements, without actually listening to this album. I hear some possible influences (Bjork, Kate Bush, Fiona Apple, Joanna Newsom, Barbara Morgenstern, Inga Liljestrom), but what I mostly sense is that Courtney Swain is a artist stepping into her own as a competent musical complement to all of her contemporaries. Totally awesome and strongly recommended!                               (Harry C. Tuniese)

CHANDLER TRAVIS (and Friends)

7 Inches in Heaven                 

10 tracks

Well, this is delightful. Chandler “Incredible Casuals” Travis has been making quirky pop music since the early ’80s, and this latest batch sound just as fresh and weird and fun as ever. Chandler is joined on this loose-limbed 7” compilation by some heady company, including former Stiff Records alum Wreckless Eric and former Shagg(!), Dot Wiggan, who both offer up choice weird-fi jams. Travis himself peppers the proceedings with five “songs,” most of which are 25-30 second bursts of joy. The longest, the minute long side 2 opener (ahem) “Side 2!” is a gooey little power-popper about… well, it’s about the second side of the record. A real mind-twirler of gentle psychedelic pop. At one point I got confused and started eating the cover because I thought it was an ice cream cone.            (Sleazegrinder)

JAMIE SHALER

Scars, Guitars, & Tranquilizers

18 tracks

Mostly acoustic, fingerpicking alt/folk-rock done by one of New England’s most under-rated talents; this is a great release. Jamie Shaler was in Angry Young Bees and Jamie Shaler on Vacation many moons ago, and on this project he writes most of the songs and plays most of the instruments. The obvious exception is his cool punked-up cover of  “Factory Girl,” a Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet-era melody. Jeff Baust and Chris Younken share the duties on bass. This is a very personal album, and his vocal style gives one the impression that Shaler is pouring his heart and soul out to the listener in the both the lyric content and the song’s delivery. Introspective resolutions like “Time Free Sail,” “Silent Call of the Streetlights,” and “Time and Time Again” mix with more guitar-focused, good fingerpicking tunes like “That Sort of Feeling,” “Lothlorian,” “Fly Lady Suite,” and “Rue de la Paix.” I dig the way he picks notes and then strums a chord and then goes right back to fingerpicking. This style is very effective and interesting to listen for. The result is almost TWO CD’s worth of fantastic material on one release. He even gets electric and rocks out on “Never Ran with the Animals” and “Was in the Bentley” – music that could have been done by The Bees back in another time. More great music from Jamie Shaler. Add it to your collection now.                           (A.J. Wachtel)

CHRIS EVIL & THE TAINTS

75 or Less Records

Blackout

11 tracks

New Bedford’s Chris Evil & the Taints play a variety of hardcore punk that would have fit snuggly among the mid-’80s Taang! Records roster. They would not have been out of place on a bill with The F.U.s, The Freeze, and The Lemonheads.
This reboot is a refreshing change of pace. While the Boston rock underground has been in the midst of a garage/psych revival and the alternative rock scene has been rediscovering the ’90s, this version of straight-ahead punked-up rock has been sadly neglected. Chris Evil & the Taints aim to fill that void.
Though the range on these 11 tracks is fairly narrow, they hit on a whole variety of key touchstones. “Muscle of Love” brings to mind early Angry Samoans with a smidge less snottiness. “Baby Please Come Home” is pulled straight from Social Distortion’s Prison Bound-era catalog, with a dose of Alice Cooper mixed in for good measure.     (George Dow)

MOLLY PINTO MADIGAN

Wildwood Bride                       

12 tracks

The opening guitar part of the first song, “Bloom,” brings me right to Joni Mitchell’s first album, “Song to a Seagull.” Molly has a little girl voice but I love the innocence she puts into this music. There is so much music out today that seems to be ground out of casual relationships, indifferent emotions and ennui. She is singing about love in a sweet way that I don’t hear too often. “Rose and columbine/ if you will be mine/ take me in the briar/ thorn pale with desire, with love.” “Here Comes the Night” has an old English feel, sort of like Pentangle or Fairport Convention. The cover photos (she looks a bit like Laura Nyro) and atmosphere of the music has a fairy-woodland feeling – a young woman who is romantic and knows how to put her feelings to music. “Siren” clips along on the back of a banjo. The collection of songs is delightful and rings with originality. I love the melody of “Twenty-five.”  “On the Hunt” taps into a Celtic vein too. “Swansong” is exquisite. I love what Molly is doing here. She is feminine and soft, poetic and kind, and I applaud her heart. I think the world would be a better place if we heard more music like this.     (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

TELAMOR                          

Olex Music

3                                                  

10 tracks

Tom Hauck has once again put together an almost completely solid collection.  Opening track “Leap of Faith” hearkens back to the long-ago Atlantics track “Pop Shivers,” with a touch of The Stones’“Satanic Majesty’s Request” thrown in. “Loserville” has a similarly herky-jerky feel, with a hooky, telepathic and electrifying guitar line. “Cry Love” strikes me as the missing link between Deep Purple and The Clash, howsoever unlikely that might seem. “Better Day” evokes memories of The Turbines and Lyres, only abetted by the sharp bass work of Tony Goddess. “Hurricane” has another hook-rich bluesy guitar line. This is followed, appropriately, by a soundalike cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” with requisite sneering vocals. “Frankenstein” is an amusing heavy-duty metal rock novelty. “Bang Yer Head” is lyrically adroit, if musically minimalistic. “Everybody’s Gotta Go” is a folksy chantey; a raggedly cheery tune with a fatalistic message and some trippy, Pink Floyd-esque guitar. “Stand Up” is another Turbines-like anthem with epic guitar straight out of ’60s garage rock. Recommended.              (Francis DiMenno)

NEW ENGLAND

“I Know There’s Something Here”

“Conversation 2015”                 

2 tracks

This is the good music one anticipates from New England – the meteoric metal band that reached stardom in the ‘80s, but after a few releases, vanished completely from sight. Until now. More than 20 years later they have released a new song and an unplugged re-make of another; and it sounds like they’ve never left. “I Know There’s Something Here,” a statement on why they’ve regrouped is a metal ballad that vocalist/guitarist John Fannon wrote. Drummer/vocalist Hirsh Gardner, bassist Gary Shea, and keyboard/vocalist Jimmy Waldo add their powerful instrumental support and luscious backing vocals, and the song is easily recognizable and enjoyable. Pounding drums. Loud guitar. Whirling keyboards. Beautiful vocals. Just what one expects from this band. We want more!  There’s a reason why this band is still around – they make great music together. Interestingly, the second song is an acoustic version of “Conversation,” a tune first heard on their sophomore album, Explorer Suite, released in 1980.  35 years later this song still trembles with energy, even at a lower volume.                     (A.J. Wachtel)

HECTOR 3

Explorations With Jeffrey       

5 tracks

Hector 3 has been one of my favorite Providence bands for 15 years, going back to their evolution from Ninja vs. wrestler and then Xerxes. Hypnotic pulsing bass with flanged-out guitars, jazzy drums, and spaceship keyboards with minimal vocals make this a heady stew. This was recorded live at AS220 and is a nearly flawless piece of psychedelic art. They are truly amazing live, so that should come as no surprise. For the uninitiated, get ready to go on a trip. (Eric Baylies)

BILL KEOUGH

75 or Less Records

The Slow Get Up                      

11 tracks

Drone-y and kinda minimal post-punk with an almost Krautrocky tidiness to the beat. It’s pretty audacious to open up with a song as repetitive as “I Know Where You’ve Been,” but Keough actually cracks the mold halfway through for a ripping guitar solo and some snotty, corrosive vox. And that’s the trick, here. You think it’s one thing, and then it’s something else entirely. “Self Doubt” has the ’80s indie-roar of Husker Du, “3:32 AM” is pure Pixies, “Back to Punk Rock” has the ragged beat and space-acid guitar of Chrome, etc.  Something new around every corner, anchored by Keough’s mopey, Black Planet sensibility. “Deliver the Goods” is the killer of the bunch, though. It sounds like somebody hit Marc Bolan in the head with a frying pan seconds before T Rex hit the stage but he played the gig anyway, blood dripping through his corkscrew hair. I didn’t expect much, given the cover – it’s a dude’s hand, that’s it – but I got plenty. This dude knows what’s up.   (Sleazegrinder)

CARISSA JOHNSON  

For Now                                   

12 tracks

For Carissa Johnson’s third solo collection, she seems to have ditched the minimalistic production methods of her previous folksy outing and opted for (mostly) straight-up rock ’n’ roll. The radio-ready opening salvo “Ink” is a rockin’ declaration of independence, with sharp lyrics and a completely satisfying hard rock post punk  feel. “I Don’t Know What to Believe in Anymore” continues the trend; it reminds me of Blondie fronting New York Dolls—a dream fusion. The somewhat less frenetic “Say What Your Will” shades into Pretenders territory. “Closed on Sunday” is an uptempo ballad which devolves into a statement of consuming loneliness. The title track has lyric ambitions greater than the rather simplistic modified “Sweet Jane” riff which accompanies them. “Run Riot” puts me in mind of the Go-Gos at a summit meeting with the Sex Pistols, or maybe Bachman-Turner Overdrive. “Sew Me Together” explodes out of the gate with post-punk fervor, but Carissa Johnson’s essentially sweet vocals don’t quite mesh with the Wire-like instrumental, and the squiggly guitar solo sounds like it belongs in another song. “Best of All” gets into more introspective folky territory; not her strong suit. “Redial” is a kind of dusty, ambling ballad full of spooky echo and intermittent flash but seems somewhat unfocussed and operating at cross-purposes with itself. “Dear Disorder” is a stentorian, percussion-driven track which seems more like a vehicle for the lyric recitation than a fully realized conventional song. “Open Your Eyes” has a Buzzcocks feel and Ross Tracy’s drums propel the song with irresistible momentum, though the singing reminds me more of ’60s pop than ’70s punk; again, there’s the singing at cross-purposes to the instrumental which doesn’t quite work. “Nobody’s Phony Here” yet again meshes introspective lyrics with a hyper instrumental. Still, on this collection, Carissa Johnson’s mis-steps are more fun to listen to than many people’s successes, due in large part to her overwhelming enthusiasm in selling her songs. Individual numbers shine brightly on this collection; the overall experience is nothing but enlivening. Recommended.    (Francis DiMenno)

GLADHOUSE

Goldenhouse                              

11 tracks

I’ll give them this much – this is the first time I’ve seen a band cite the Smothers Brothers as an influence in their bio. Realistically it’s more Simon & Garkunkel-y. Pretty harmonies, gently strummed acoustic guitars, lots of yearning. There’s one track, “Believe,” that sounds like the worst Beatles song I’ve ever heard (except for that bullshit “Revolution 9” thing), but otherwise no complaints. It’s coffeehouse music. You like coffee, right? Drink some and listen to this, man. They’re not asking for that much from you. Smothers Brothers were way funnier, though.   (Sleazegrinder)

LEXI JAMES

Stop                                              

6 tracks

This 23-year-old New Hampshire resident is also a national spokesperson for PACER-Teens Against Bullying—and she has the voice of an angel. She is a country music singer and songwriter whose style at times reminds me a bit of Taylor Swift, some Carrie Underwood, and a tad Lady Gaga; but she has a better voice, more like Whitney Houston, than any and all of them. Just listen to her great phrasing, powerful and emotional voice, and above all, she’s got passion. Her band Kyler Creek goes from the hard country-rocking “Knockin’ on Your Heart” to ballads “Dreamer,” “Stop,” “Standby,” and “Echo” without missing a beat. My favorite cut is one she wrote called “Out of This Mess” – an uptempo country/pop song that really showcases her sweet voice. All of the tunes are radio-friendly and one better catch her now before her career explodes. In May, she played a gig up at Exeter High School in NH. Next year she’ll be playing arenas. Great music from a young New England artist. Check her out. (A.J. Wachtel)

JESSE TERRY

Stay Here With Me                

11 tracks

First off, Jesse has a beautiful tenor voice with a tonal quality similar to Don McLean or David Gates. His songs have a country/rock sound, a little reminiscent of The Eagles or JD Souther. He writes the kind of music that can charm listeners – the backup band is excellent, the album production is clean and the songs are inspired. I can hear in his voice that he loves to sing, and who wouldn’t love to sing if they had a voice as good as his. It is “feel-good-hunky-young-man-singing-with-a-guitar” music. If you enjoy a warm-hearted young man’s compositions played in earnest and sincerity, you will enjoy this album. He’s not bitter or sardonic or contemptuous or steeped in resentment. How refreshing! A sweet guy with a clean sound. A throwback to the seventies’ singer/songwriters. A very welcome attitude, in my opinion. I think he’s very talented and has a promising future.      (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

SHOR’TY & HIS FOXXX BAND

Solid Gold Records                    

Young Woman Ana Old Man

9 tracks

At 83, Connecticut born Shor’ty (Shor-tay) Billups is the oldest Black active blues legend in New England today. He even drummed for Wilson Pickett for five-plus years! Presently he is a real groove-oriented performer and the music on this release really showcases this aspect of his sound. To put it simply, he makes hard-driving MOOD music that gets you moving and is good listening too. For example, “Soul Serenade” by King Curtis and “The Sky is Crying” by Elmore James get the good feeling going, and self-written instrumentals like “Louie’s Stomp,” “House Party #5 Part 1” and “House Party #5 Part 2” just keep moving the bar higher and higher. This is a band that gets you in good humor and KEEPS YOU THERE. Appearances by local blues guitar legends Chris Stovall Brown and Tokyo Tramps six-stringer Satoru Nakagawa scream out of the speakers adding icing on the cake to this well-produced album. For real Chicago blues listen to Hattie Barrett’s “Shopping for Shoes Blues” and the closer, “Talk About My Baby.” Great music from New England’s senior spokesman of the blues.    (A.J. Wachtel)

ARTHUR NASSON

Philestine Records

The Emperor’s  New Sound

5 tracks

One is tempted to write this off as old-school crypto-Merseybeat out of the playbook of Jeff Lynne, Todd Rundgren, et al.; stuff which only a jaded producer could love. But that sweeping dismissal wouldn’t quite do this EP justice. The title track is a rackety declamation; “Purple Swan” has a jazzy, dissonant refrain with Beatlesque melodic touches; “Tiger By the Claws” is a very slick piece of work which evokes XTC and Paul McCartney, though the refrain does most of the work in putting the song across. More original is the awesome “Multiverse,” with its subtle glockenspiel, bewitching two note hook and gorgeous melody (and a brief piano solo right out of ELO). “Graham’s Gentleman’s Club” is a cascading jazzy piano fragment. This EP is so full of slyly positioned musical references, and so full of skillful manipulations, that nearly anyone could grow to love it in time. I know for sure that I would be glad to see Nasson perform his magic. Recommended.  (Francis DiMenno)

SPACE CAMP

Hedonistic Lifestyles                

5 tracks

Space Camp from Connecticut have a lot going on in this short CD. One song has a string session, yet maintains a very strange quality that runs through the rest of the album. Most of the songs are noisy psychedelic mixtures reminiscent of Saccharine Trust and Nation of Ulysses, with a touch of The Happy Flowers (of “Mom I Gave The Cat Some Acid” fame). The arrangements are fantastic and the singer is mind-blowingly great. Flailing and wailing, this is a pretty epic adventure in sound that I need to see live soon.                  (Eric Baylies)

HALO & THE HARLOTS

Halo & the Harlots                   

8 tracks

I dunno, man. In theory, this all works great. Ballsy female singer/bass player, crunchy power-trio inspired by the blooze and (probably) AC/DC, songs about whiskey and sex and trailer-park goons. I even like the name.  But it all sounds really suburban and amateur. I mean, The Runaways were raw too, but you could tell they were hip. I mean, there’s a song on here called “Whiskey Emergency,” and it just doesn’t sound like they’ve ever actually had one. Ever hear, like, “Black Milk” by fingerpicking? Those fuckers have endured some whiskey emergencies. Still, I’m not ready to call it a career with Halo and the gang yet. Somebody drag them through the gutter and give them some Pussy Galore records and we’ll try this again in six months.    (Sleazegrinder)

GAY SHAPES              

Moss Archives

Moss 008                                    

2 tracks

I’ve seen this Worcester-based instrumental band before and they seemed very noisy, almost industrial. This release is more dreamy. This is an experimental electronic album that is probably improvised, but I’m not so sure. There are no drums or drum machines but there are plenty of shape-shifting rhythms, and it is very melodic in its own fashion. This might be elevator music in hell to some, but to me it is pure heaven. I closed my eyes and heard the faint rustle of metal leaves in the electronic wind. There are two 25-minute long songs on this release and they could easily serve as the soundtrack to your dreams as you drift into the arms of the sandman.       (Eric Baylies)

JUNE & THE BEE  

June & The Bee

4 tracks

The group includes Amherst natives Emma June and Eli Ayres, Olivia Holcomb, Sam Stein and Noah Schmitt. “Prison Town” starts out as a loping boogie with laid-back rockabilly elements and resolves into an anguished plaint. “Mama” has a classical new-agey feel, replete with cello, then alternates between ballad and agonizing blues cry. “The Come On” varies between march rhythm and persnickety jazzy guitar. “Oh Baby” is an ominously dark bifurcated song with a rocking beat alternating with dirge and upbeat pop rhythms.  It’s hard for me to know what to make of this EP; it is meticulously arranged, highly original, minimalistic art rock with decided folk influences; it reminds me of early ’70s folk prototypes yet also seems informed by modern influences. It’s kind of like Heart with a Master’s Degree in Musicology.  (Francis DiMenno)

TED  DROZDOWSKI’S  SCISSORMEN

Dolly Sez Woof Records

Love & Life                                 

11 tracks

Ted Drozdowski was a protege of blues icon R.L. Burnside, and he is an inventive and very interesting guitarist. His playing sets the mood in the opening measures of every cut. And it’s a very stark, ominous and lonely mood: with degrees of psychedelia and garage rock that vary from song to song. By that, I mean one can expect to hear big, fat guitar work with all sorts of effects and distortion from beginning to end. In fact, there are as many as seven of his own guitar tracks layered on some of the tunes. And that’s only one of the things that make this release very special. Another object of intrigue is that this was recorded outside in a tent. “Yep. Me in the woods with the engineer, a stack of amps and a guitar, a couple of snakes and a toad,” Ted says, smirking and reminiscing.

This is his band’s sixth release, and all the tunes are written by Drozdowski except for a cool cover of Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” which he turns into a dynamic duet between drums and an electric one-string diddley bow. And it’s killer! He pays tribute to two of his friends and mentors on the album. “Watermelon Kid” is about Watermelon Slim, and “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return)” is a funky, psychedelic song with a cool groove and layers of wild backwards guitars. I really dig “Let’s Go to Memphis” with the legendary Mighty Sam McClain on vocals extraordinaire. It’s easy to get swept up by Mighty Sam’s passionate Stax/Volt singing. For great psychedelic blues check out “Lived to Tell,” “The River,” and “Unwanted Man.” The Scissormen are: Ted, Sean Zywick, and Pete Pulkrabek. Other artists Matt Snow on drums, Marshall Dunn, and Robert E. McClain Jr. on the fat four strings, and Paul Brown on Hammond B-3 also join in on the fun. Great guitar. Soulful vocals. Mighty songs. And a grand band. Look for this CD to be released July 31.   (A.J. Wachtel)

 

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CD Reviews — 2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Bill Keough ‘The Slow Get Up’ review at The Noise | 75ORLESS RECORDS

  2. Hi AJ

    We’re coming oout with more songs..listen to us..press release kits are going out..we are looking for bookings..life is good!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Jeff, Troy and Danny