CD reviews

CDs355KierKIER BYRNES & FRIENDS

The Best Days of the Summer

7 tracks

The title track of this Americana-suffused summer-themed album is a good-natured loping tune about the mishaps of summer, full of lyrical and musical hooks. “Dud” is a lonesome lovelorn plaint with vocals by Jay Dibiaso: “Ain’t it right, we broke up tonight?/ My heart’s a bursting Milky Way/ Now I’m single, on Independence Day.” The uptempo country lope “M80s and Bottle Rockers,” with Evan Gavry on vocals is an unrepentant ode to the strictly American joys of getting hammered and setting off fireworks. Taken straight, it would be a bit much, but there is an undercurrent of dry wit which keeps it from being a straightforward endorsement of redneck sentiments. “Welcome to the 4th of July” is a deadpan country-rock song featuring a lovely male-female vocal duet with Casey McKinnon. “Corn on the Cob” is a humorously hustling and brazen rockin’ paean to the familiar treat:”I got my magic recipe from a Chickasaw Indian Chief/ He had a bit o’ succotash stuck between his teeth/ Hoggin’ on that cornstick, you get a salty taste,/ Don’t get zealous with yer chewin’ lest it squirt up in your face!” “Casey’s Been Everywhere,” featuring Casey McKinnon, is a frantic travelogue of North American landmarks. On the whole, this humble little release reminds me very much of a band like Green On Red, with a lively attitude and delivery well worth your time. (Francis DiMenno)

Club Bohemia D-BannerShell

JOSH & THE JAMTONES    

Jamhouse Records

Rocksteady           

19 tracks

Okay, let me get my bias out of the way up front: I think of music as an art form and I love it for that reason. I understand that, for many people (most?), music is NOT an art form, it’s an entertainment medium where the only rule is that you enjoy it – I don’t share that view very often. I need to hear creativity and originality. I’m sorry to say I really disliked this CD, even though I could see lots of other people loving it and it being a high-energy live show (the whole group has a lot of skill), but that’s not enough for my tastes. I found it to be wholly cliche ska, cliche rap, cliche “skits” (radio announcements and the like) and cliche in every way. The album title alone, Rocksteady, says it all. As do song titles like “U and I,” “I Love You” (seriously?), “I Heart Ur Face” and so on.  The only glimpse of creativity I found was that the CD loaded with all the numbers scrambled, so the tracks number 4, 9, 12, and so on. That’s a first. More of that, please. (Shauna Erlbaum)

THE KEEPERS

Bourbon Street    

3 tracks

I dunno anything about these dudes, but I like ’em. And I don’t usually say this, but I sorta wish this record was longer. It’s pleasantly slurry drunk-rock, rootsy and loose, with a slight ’60s psych edge and backporch country vibe. The title track has some tasty mandolin and accordion, and even though I usually hate accordions (I mean, who doesn’t?) it works fine here. This is low-anxiety rock ’n’ roll, man. It’s not out to hassle you. So, you know, pour something semi-poisonous in a Mason jar and wile away a sunny afternoon with The Keepers.  (Sleazegrinder)

KYLE MORGAN

Morgan Productions

Starcrossed Losers

10 tracks

With the opening track “We Begin Again” I detect a very strong vibe of early ’70s Kinks, with other British Invasion and ’70s pop influences. Not necessarily a bad thing; in this case, it’s kinda brilliant. “Sorry” is a straightforward churning new wave grinder with a clever lyric conceit; the sheer bravura energy is hard to resist. Then we get “Caricature,” which brings us to banjo-laden music hall territory redolent of “Muswell Hillbillies” and the like; again, with a clever lyric conceit: “She was attacking a caricature.” “And I Wept” begins with “Be My Baby” percussion and devolves into a lovely if somewhat insubstantial wispy ballad. “How They’re Rolling” is a sad lament; a type of music hall blues ballad. “Dealing Twenties” is somewhat akin to the Raspberries’ brand of pop brazenness. “Peculiar Ways” mixes things up with a monumental Queen-like pronunciamento; “Is Anything Different” is a sweet-tempered waltz number. “Will I Ever Know Joy” is a conventional refrain with Gospel overtones. “Out of My Reach” is a pretty little melody but seems somewhat fragmentary. If the album had ten songs as good as the first three, I would be shouting Kyle Morgan’s praises to the rooftops. As it is, it is a commendable effort in pure songcraft.  (Francis DiMenno)

THE GROWNUP NOISE

Stewing

12 tracks

The first two songs, “Eating Our Own” and “Bratty Bones,” are the cuts initially being pushed by the band, but there are a lot of other melodies here that are just as good. It’s minimalist folk/ pop music done really well. By minimalist, I don’t mean sparse and silent, although many of the songs start with just vocals and build to a climax, there is a lot more going on as the measures progress. I refer to the feeling that all of the vocals are specific words of warning told from the pain of experience. The power is in the brevity, and it greatly adds to the credibility of the message. “Eating Our Own” and the last cut “Lovestruck, We’re Alive” are both hummable and have a slow, simmering anxiety leading to a brooding disparity, that both establish and showcase the mood of this presentation. Sort of like R.E.M. with  cello and an accordion, the arrangements of each composition are different and very interesting. All of a sudden, in the middle of a line, the band does a four note riff together and you are carried away along with it. Listen for this in “Food Trucks,” “Leaving Home,” “Pepper And Shame,” “The Storm I Love,” and “Play The Room.” Paul Janson (vocals/guitar) wrote all the music, with Adam Sankowski on bass, Todd Marston playing keys/accordion, Aine Fujioka on drums, and Rachel Arnold on cello (check out the great opening of “What I’m Told”). The Grownup Noise has a very different indie/ Americana/innovative pop sound. Even Morphine’s Dana Colley adds his impressive baritone sax to these recordings. Check it out!    (A.J. Wachtel)

THE UNDER

The Under    

5 tracks

On the one hand, Jesus fucking Christ, this is a prog-metal record. On the other hand, maybe you like prog-metal. In that case, you’re probably gonna wanna listen to this and stroke your neckbeard until the cows come home because my guess is, it’s top-notch for this kinda thing. To me, it just sounds like a Soundgarden record that keeps skipping. I’m not sure I wanna deal with Soundgarden on their best day at this point, so broken Soundgarden just does not fill the gaping hole in my heart. Sorry The Under, I’m sure you deserve better than me but I also deserve better than chug-chug-chug-howl-chug for twenty minutes, so let’s just call it even.   (Sleazegrinder)

ERIC HOURDE

The Album

11-tracks

Every time I see a punk rock-looking guy with an acoustic guitar I hope for the best, and think of Billy Bragg and Joe Strummer. Eric Hourde starts off strong in this vein with two killer full-band tracks of straight-ahead pub punk – “Artist’s Punk Rock Song,” and “This Time.”

Thereafter, things fall off dramatically. Eric picks up the acoustic guitar and breaks into the awful “Me and Your Mom.” With its chorus of, “I fucked your mom, I fucked your mommy,” sung to a single mother’s young kid – the track is nausea inducing.

Oddly, the rest of the album has a weird Christian rock vibe – which in my book is worse than the nausea inducing “Me and Your Mom.” Flutes are interspersed amongst the songs with backing female vocals sung by some kind of wood nymph. The whole package is strangely disconcerting.   (George Dow)

PICNIC LUNCH

So Unavailable   

9 tracks

Picnic Lunch is a trio made up of James Picardi on drums, Michael Ribeiro on guitar/ vocals, and Devin Brynes on bass/ vocals. The CD is an awesome mix of dissonant melody, jagged rhythm and catchy, repeated choruses. The track “Bob Seger’s Ghost” might be more aptly titled “Thurston Moore’s Ghost” to get the spirit of what the band is up to, though neither one are particularly dead at this moment. Picnic Lunch is made up of New Bedfordite bands MR, Horse Rotorvator, and former Brooklyn noise mongers, the Modern Day Urban Barbarians, so label it an all star, no wave, southcoast sound explosion, super elastic bubble plastic crimewave, no core free for all – but with structure. I’m loving it! (Eric Baylies)

JESSE LIAM

So Much More    

6 tracks

An instant mood-lifter! At only six tracks, it’s a great taste of Jesse Liam as both a solo artist (since this is under his name only) and as part of his band, The Jesse Liam Band, which features his musical partner and dad, the highly regarded performer/ producer/ engineer, Grammy-nominated Jack Gauthier (Lakewest Recording). Of course this is a top-notch, professional, radio-ready recording with Jack at the helm and impressive guest musicians, but all the best performers and equipment behind an artist don’t mean a thing if the talent isn’t there and by all means, it’s there. There’s a wonderful blend and balance of Jesse’s youthful energy and Jack’s seasoned musicality; and their harmonies: beautiful! The standouts, to me, are the original singer-songwriter/country-twinged “Love Will Have Your Back” and their jangly, lively folksy version of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – outstanding! I think they’re best when they stay closer to that genre for consistency but the entire recording is a bright, brilliant, enjoyable listen. (Debbie Catalano)

BOYS ROOM

Big Bad Us

4 tracks

I am convinced that there is no wrong way to do ’70s style garage punk. Boys Room prove to be no exception to that rule.

Like the Runaways with a snotty male singer and sprinkled with a dose of GG Allin & the Jabbers, Boys Room continue the long-held traditions of the era when garage rock first began its metamorphosis to punk. Think The Modern Lovers, The Heartbreakers, and their ilk.

Their only nod to more modern punk styles are their heavy bass and deep guitar riffs. With which they turn up the low end of what is a traditionally trebley sound.

Track two, “Cripple Junkie Soldier” is a stark look at a struggling veteran which ends with a smoking Black Sabbath/ Tommy Iommi guitar solo. Third track, “The Pleasure of Life” slows the pace to a riffing dirge, sounding much like the garage-psych of early Alice Cooper Band.

If you like your rock gritty, off the cuff, and straight out of the garage, the EP is for you.   (George Dow)

MEANER PENCIL

Senza Amanti   

12 tracks

Meaner Pencil is just one sad, forlorned gal (Lenna Pierce) on sparse cello and beautiful, elegiac vocals, but her music gains huge power from this elementary format. Normally, I don’t like when all the songs on a record sound the same, but this is the rare example where it works. It’s one of those records where you wish it would never end. The lonely mood is quite addictive. Almost haunting, and always bittersweet, her pristine vocals loosely remind me of Amanda Palmer’s more somber work, however, Meaner Pencil doesn’t appear influenced by Amanda at all. There’s something about the vocal phrasing that’s very unique (it could maybe remind me of a castrati boy singing alone in a church after having his heart broken!) – it’s simply gorgeous. I often can’t figure out the lyrics, but they sound as interesting as the titles (like “The Ballad In Which I Attempt To Murder Andrew Jackson” or “Lingering Love Song For a Long Lost Drunk”). She used to play at the Whitehaus collective and nowadays she splits her time between Boston and NYC, busking a lot. So if you get a chance to see her, and like this kind of music, with large gaps of dramatic silence and ambience, don’t delay.   (Shauna Erlbaum)

CROOKED MIRROR

Living Things

11 tracks

The music here is indie/ psychedelic/ rock and it’s split into ballads and up tempo pop rockers. Vocalist/ guitarist Brian Doherty wrote all the tunes and sings solidly .The band: hard pounder Alan Hendry, bassist Victor Narro, and keyboardist Ryan Tomb play very well together and their instrumentation jumps out of the speakers courtesy of engineer/ producer David Minehan and his Wooly Mammoth Sound studio. My two favorite cuts are “Good Morning,” with it’s punchy rhythm and psychedelic keys, and “Howling,” a tight radio friendly hard rocker. “Sleep” is the ballad on this release I like best because of it’s psychedelic pop feel. I really enjoy how the organ and piano add an almost haunting spacey feel to the sound on “Honest Mistake,” “Old Friend,” and “Memory.” Cool stuff from a hot band. (A.J. Wachtel)

SHANNA UNDERWOOD & WANDERLOST

Wandering

10 tracks

Shanna Underwood has a well-developed set of pipes with an inimitable vocal timbre,and the highly textured songs of her album-cum-travelogue are a wondrous amalgam of folk and rock, along with country and blues. On the stupendous opening track and best-of-show, “Dry Water,” she is ably accompanied by Devon Colella on the cello. On “Distance,” we have a slow but not ponderous gospel-inflected number, well-augmented by Todd Hutchinson’s keyboards. “Wandering” is a percussion-driven country folk piece with the vocals mixed a bit too low – a mood piece more than a hook-laden confection – with a great harmonica solo by Joe Bloom. “Looking to Find” is an introspective and moody love song with a subdued vocal which becomes a wild and sad plaint accompanied by the uptempo stylings of the strings and percussion. “Midnight on the Sun” is a cello-laden art song, almost a dirge; a lament for lost love. “Elvis Presley Blues,” by Gillian Welch, is a highly atmospheric song with intentional undertones of the classic 1927 number  “Gonna Die with My Hammer in My Hand” by the Wiliamson Brothers and Curry. Underwood’s vocal trick bag is put to particularly good use on this number. “65 Home” is a country-inflected ballad with some fine mandolin by Greg Bjork and pedal steel by Tom Hutchinson. “Lose It All” is a crack countrified barn-burner with fine stand-up bass work by Adam Barber and some excellent mandolin accompaniment by Zach Ovington. “Lightening” is a lonesome lament with swelling cello and elegiac guitars. The final track, “Stone to Hold,” is a smoldering Chicago blues style number taken at a funereal pace.  Longer on atmosphere and musicianship than many similar releases,  overall, this is an idiosyncratic collection of finely wrought and well-thought-out numbers. Fans of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks would appreciate this.  (Francis DiMenno)

HEAVY AMERICA

Heavy America     

6 tracks

Heavy America is not as cool as their name, but they’re at least as cool as most of the goofy millenial bullshit going on in this town, so whatever. In fact, they are so uncool they’re almost hip. This is basically just heavy rock, man. My guess is they like Alice In Chains a lot, but it’s not grunge, it’s just dudes in the garage wishing they were in an arena and doing their best to sound like it. There’s a couple points when they get pleasantly weird: “Daddy” has a guitar solo that basically sounds like a jet engine grinding gears for two minutes, and “Under Glass” is a psychedelic synth-pop song caught in a time tunnel. Otherwise it’s just riffs and high hopes. I’m alright with this now, but if they’re gonna keep the name I’m gonna need them to grow their hair long and discover the Stooges already.  (Sleazegrinder)

THE GAMMA GOOCHIES

Never Learned To Dance!!!

13 tracks

Perfect, I get a Maine-based band to review just when I’ve been in a Maine state of mind. But my summer Maine vibe really doesn’t have any other connection to The Gamma Goochies – only that I am reminded that the city of Portland, Maine still has a vibrant, rockin’ music scene. I want to know more about these guys but info seems a bit scarce so I can only share what I hear on Never Learned To Dance!!!.  It’s full-on punk/ garage/ blues rock…the recording isn’t polished or full-sounding and somehow that just wouldn’t sound right if it were – so a live-club-feeling, raw, garage, rock ‘n’ roll as it should be. They take lyric liberties with some classics and though, I can’t say exactly what they all are I do know they do a raucously cool version of an already-cool tune, The Rascals’ “Come On Up” and a Gamma Goochies style mash-up of Neil Young’s “Farmer John” and The McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy.” The band also pays homage to one of my favorites, Otis Redding, as they do two of his, “Security” and “Love Man” – sans the horns but it’s a Gamma Goochies take on a truly great performer. Between these altered versions of classics and their own original compositions, I know, no doubt this band rocks any room they play clear into the late, dark, beer-drenched hours. (Debbie Catalano)

URANIUM DAUGHTERS

Pierri Records

When Pigs Fly

4 tracks

Unique sound. Unique songs. Former members of Twig, Drumming on Glass, and Fuzzy get together to form a supergroup of sorts. “Lucky 7” is a nice little ditty, full of a playful nursery-rhyme affect. “The Day My Buddha Fell Off the Shelf” sounds like an epic song struggling to find a tune amid a mound of squark  and atmosphere. The best of show is “Sunshine Underwater” – a rave-up with a brazenly memorable guitar solo. Poor production values diminish this outing. I would like them to go back into a better-appointed studio and record more of their intriguing concepts.  (Francis DiMenno)

LUX

Fat City    

10 tracks

I don’t like my jazz unless it breaks some rules of the genre, and this CD sounds like LUX is a fantastic party quartet: raucous, fun, inventive, and delicious. They’re definitely a lot more than ordinary jazz or funk. And, amazingly, all the bass and keyboard parts are neither; it’s actually just one guitarist (!), Todd Clancy, playing one of those crazy 8-string guitars with the weird frets, accompanied by a great drummer and two great sax players. One of their sax players, the only gal in the band, also sings on a few tracks, and her voice is incredible, like a more mature Suzanne Vega maybe. (Musicians, listen up: your vocalist makes or breaks a band. This is not an area to trifle with.) Great singers are very rare, but this gal is fantastic. Interesting lyrics… (bands, you can never sing dumb stuff like “wanna whole lotta love” unless you have some special chops)… interesting song titles, like “Larry The Lanechanger”… (bands, would it kill you to come up with titles that aren’t dull?)…  this is the rare CD that makes me want to see the band live. (But this band would shine at a warehouse party, where everyone can get crazy and dance, rather than some uptight venue.)   (Shauna Erlbaum)

GRENADES IN THE ARCHIVES

Dressed Up Like Armageddon    

10 tracks

What’s good is that it’s just loud. I don’t know that it’s anything else in particular. I mean, it’s sorta punk, sorta metally, sorta ’90s indie-noise, but it’s really none of that. It’s just a bunch of belligerent battering on instruments. I felt exactly the same way when I heard the first Squirrel Bait record in 1985. In fact, this is basically a Homestead Records record. You know what I mean? If you like wearing T-shirts and getting headaches and think that Sonic Youth were alright, this is gonna be a real treat. The end. Next please.   (Sleazegrinder)

BRONSON

Overtime   

6 tracks

Bronson’s Overtime EP is a six-song release full of surprises. Opening track, “Back Home,” lumbers along as a nondescript hard rock song until about four-and-a-half minutes in when, out of nowhere, the breakdown kicks in revealing some until then unsuspected instrumental virtuosity. From that point forward the EP is a guitar geek’s dream.

Twin, dueling guitars solo in and out of every track providing a little something for every type of metal fan–a little grunge here, some hair band riffing there, and some incredibly technical solos to round things out.

Vocally there is a little bit of Alice in Chains via Godsmack. Sung a little beyond the vocalists’ range which is at time endearing. But, when push comes to shove, who even hears vocals when the guitar playing is this good.

Check out track 4, the instrumental, “Sweatfest” to get the true impact if Bronson’s technical prowess.

PS – Bronson gets extra props for stuffing a George Michaels trading card into their CD sleeve.   (George Dow)

HOUSTON BERNARD BAND

HB Music

Knockin’ Boots    

17 tracks

In spite of all the declaiming in the vocal track about how “This one’s for the country crowd” – the sorts who like to “settle things outside” – what defines this collection as “country” seems more like an overlay of attitude–this is, essentially, country mild, commodified to the Nth degree. The title track is a bluesy song of praise for country-style dancing. We step into choodlin’ country-rock territory for “Home Is In Your Arms,” and if you like the effusions of The Eagles, et al., you’ll probably favor this. “Ready to Leave” is a fairly straightforward pop ballad about lost love; “Loretta’s Last Shuffle,” the best of show, is a keyboard-rife elegiac which devolves into an excellent bluesy shuffle, like a mutated version of Booker T. & the MGs, which does a premature fade-out. “Shut Up and Kiss Me” is a perfectly catchy recitative. “Yoga Pants” has a goodly amount of nu-country corn in its unorthodox subject matter. “I’d Rather Be Holding You” is a rather thin ballad about the travails of the working stiff. “You’re All I Need (I Don’t Need Much)” is a ’70s rock number with a country inflection. Overall, the musicality is variegated and impeccable, and the collection seems highly representative of contemporary country, for better or worse.  (Francis DiMenno)

DAN WEBB & THE SPIDERS

Perfect Problem    

12 tracks

Fourth album from Webb & his Spiders, half of which was recorded by Steve “In Utero” Albini. Or Steve “Big Black” Albini, if you’re also a million years old. The Spiders essentially sound like a Minneapolis garage-rock band circa 1987, and I’m sure that suits them just fine. Sad songs livened up by gooey hooks and crunchy distorto-guitars and pop-punky whoa-ohs. Not as good as the Spiders From Mars, but better than the Spider Babies. And that’s basically all you need to know to carry on with your life. Go forth and prosper.  (Sleazegrinder)

Comments

CD reviews — 1 Comment

  1. You’re right on! With your review on the New LUX album Fat City it’s awesome! The four musicians are the best. I’ve seen these guys live a few times, the crowd loves them they always want just one more song. You can see them all over Newburyport Mass. NIX Lounge is one place.