CD Reviews

CD-BobMargolin-webBOB MARGOLIN  

Vizztone Records

My Road

12 tracks

Bob Margolin from Brookline, MA, is one of the best blues guitarists alive today. He has spent seven years in Muddy Waters’ band and appeared in Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, leading to his current status as an icon His latest release, due out January 8, is very different from what one would expect, knowing his past inclinations. Not only does Margolin write most of the songs but his playing moves beyond the basic Chicago blues he is known for. Filling out the trio are Chuck Cotton (drums/ vocals) and Tad Walters (harp/ guitar). Listen for the harp/guitar interplay in the opener “My Whole Life,” Bob’s great guitar tone and licks all over “More And More,” and the stinging six-string intro on “I Shall Prevail.” Margolin sounds like he’s giving guitar lessons on Country blues songs “Goodnight,” “Bye Bye Baby,” and “Ask Me No Questions.”  I really dig his slide guitar playing on “Understanding Heart” and “Devil’s Daughter” where he also plays bass. “Heaven Mississippi” is the final audio icing on the cake.  My Road is a great bunch of songs that show another side of the very talented Bob Margolin. This cat can play!   (A.J. Wachtel)

Club Bohemia D-BannerShell


Big Ben Artworks, Inc.

The Friday Night Consortium

12 tracks

Big Ben Hillman is quite the smooth retro funkster. Think of Kool & the Gang (“Ladies Night”), The Chi-Lites (“Have You Seen Her”) or Eddie Holman (“Hey There Lonely Girl”). Big Ben uses melodic falsetto vocals over funky bass rhythms that swim more than sock you. Love is the major topic of the tracks, fitting the sexy feel of the music. The production is excellent on all levels, keeping the listener in a comfortable, easy-flowing harmonic place. The two singles chosen for the disc are “Friday Night,” which uses a steady electric Wurlitzer piano reminiscent of the afore mentioned “Ladies Night” to set the pace, and on “Beautiful Stranger” Ben slips and slides in a sexy duet with Lidia Herrell. “Sometime After Midnight (Interlude)” feels like a production study morphing thunder into synth washes that give way to a pure trumpet line over simple bass and percussion, finally transforming into a sexy upbeat sax solo. Ben never falters – his compositions and production show signs of a master at work enjoying his craft. I’m just going to think of Big Ben Hillman as the new Barry White on the opposite end of the vocal spectrum.  (T Max)


Leaving Hyannis… 

13 tracks

This is a more than  competent grab bag of mixed styles (blues, Irish Jig, plain old rock) ably assisted by a plethora of stellar guest musicians. To say the whole lives up to the parts, however, would be a far stretch. The mellow ballad “Alden” is emotional and sentimental; instrumental “Darwin’s Uncle” is lovely and evincing; “Frankie Got My Lighter” is a pleasant foray into ska; “Bikini Island” is a not so pleasant vacation fantasia replete with steel pan drums. The album as a whole, for all its varied facets, strikes me as regrettably self-indulgent. (Francis DiMenno)


Old Songs, New Hats

7 tracks

This folk release has great vocal harmonies and a unique mix of genres. You can hear pre-war acoustic blues, old time and jug band influences, a bit of jazz and a smidgen of honky-tonk too. Martin is a well-known country blues artist and with the incredible harmonies of Susanne they create an atmosphere that sounds like they’ve been singing together forever. On every song this genuine feeling in the performance takes the music down a very comfortable and familiar path. Listen to the finger-picking “Mama Lou,” “It Hurts Me,” a beautiful folk ballad, or the more uptempo melodies “You’re the Reason” and “Papa’s on the House Top,” and you’ll hear exactly what I’m talking about. Sort of like Woody Guthrie meets Simon and Garfunkel meets Doc Watson meets Taj Mahal.  When Susanne takes over the lead vocals in “After You’re Gone” and “Mistreated Mama,” she goes from sweet voiced in the former to whisky timbred in the latter. Martin adds banjo and Susanne supplements the sound with mandolin. It’s all about the strong soulful vocals and their solid string strumming. Gotta love it.   (A.J. Wachtel)



8 tracks

Boston’s Idiot Genes bio says that they recorded this album at their practice spot. Where do they practice, Madison Square Garden? This record pretty much jumps out of the speakers at you. Hey, I’m having my lunch, get back in those speakers and get out of my cereal. Wait, is this song about smoking blunts? Maybe you can stay in my cereal awhile. Anyhoo, this is some good stuff right here. Most of the punk inspired songs seem to be about partying. Sample chorus – “smoke weed everyday, I don’t care what you say.” Bravo Idiot Genes, you have lit up my day. (Eric Baylies)


Spaz Productions

Another World

12 tracks

“One Too Many Times” has an epic feel, but seems more clamorous than coherent, though its woozy middle eight is spectacularly lovely. “Beginning” is another epic production with drums beating like Godzilla on the march, and emotion-drenched vocals by Kate O’Connor. “Forever” has hit potential, what with its swoony guitar hook, and, again,that epic, monumental feel. The mysterioso mood established by “Like Yesterday” is a welcome break from all these stridently epic proceedings, though the grand climax it has been building toward consists of somewhat mundane rocking out. The daring cover of “What’s Going On” is insufficiently emotive – as though covered by Seals & Croft – and falls somewhat flat. “Unusual” is a gentle liquescent ballad. Things get monumentally poppy with the Springsteen-like “Emotion.” “Celebration” has a lovely melody and a reverential feel; the excellent album-closer “Another World” is a gentle, uplifting love song. Dave Szczepaniak is bassist for Little Big Wheel and Lyres and his pedigree is creditable; his album, alas, betrays, along with the gems, a good deal of mostly unsubtle songcraft. (Francis DiMenno)


Low Lily

6 tracks

I confess that when I read the cover and liner of this CD, I thought, ”folk music. yawn.” but upon hearing the first notes ring out, I knew that this was something special. Low Lily is a trio consisting of Liz Simmons on vocals and guitar, Lissa Schneckenburger on vocals and an impressively worked fiddle, and Flynn Cohen on vocals, guitar, and a nice, soulful mandolin. All remarkably well done, each compliments the other perfectly, like well polished gems.

Liz has a beautiful voice, sweet and angelic, perfect for the blue grass, celtic tinged folk on this disc. The instrumental work is awesome, completely in sync, and played so as to create a seemingly effortless musical symbiosis. Just when I felt I didn’t want to hear another folk song, Low Lily made me listen… and what’s more, it was my pleasure!  (R.J. Ouellette)


One Summer/ One Winter

5 tracks/ 5 tracks (two CDs)

This is a very good and very clever release. Actually, it’s TWO releases that are different sides of the same coin. This folk/rock music sounds like Gordon Lightfoot meets Tom Paxton meets Arlo Guthrie. One Summer is played with a full group, where the Sean McKenna CD is the acoustic guitarist/vocalist performing solo. Sean’s backing group provides a solid easy listening sound. Dylan Sullivan is on bass/vocals, Peter Danilchuk plays the keys, and Curtis Hartshorn hits the drums (the latter two are from The Bridgebuilders). The music on the two releases is from the same salad with a little different dressing. Standout cuts from One Summer (with the band) include “Saltwater Taffy” with nice vocals and good finger picking guitar work, “My Word” with the spacey intro and cool harmonies, and the two mellow rockers “Move On” and “Your Heritage.”  My favorites from One Winter (the solo release) are the Dylan-ish “In the Air,” the uptempo “Miles & Miles” with its curse-word lyrics, the poignant “Katrina” with the nice finger picking/ strumming, and the ballads “All Affirming” and “Another Day.”  Nice music from the Northshore and an interesting way to show the sum of the parts is greater than the whole in the music world.   (A.J. Wachtel)


Wiener Records

Subtle Luxuries

10 tracks

Boston’s Midriffs are psyche punk band with a lot of surf and a little bit of skate influence. This is a great sounding record. I’m not sure if “the nest” is a big studio or a practice spot, but the results are terrific. I feel like a spy movie is about to break out at a Mudhoney concert, and then Galaxie 500 bumrush the stage. These luxuries are not so subtle, but in your face, sucker! (Eric Baylies)


The Santa Versus Godzilla Project: 12 Songs of Christmas

19 tracks

My name may appear on track six but I won’t let that get in the way of an honest review for a project designed to raise money for the Greater Boston Food Bank.

If Johnny Cash and Ray Davies (The Kinks) had ever been locked up in Santa’s workshop I’m sure they would have ended up with something similar to this collection of Christmas songs. Mandy Byrnes opens the proceedings with her friendly, star-quality voice cuddling up next to hubby Kier Byrnes (the juggernaut of Three Day Threshold) on the classic duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It’s a great way to set the bar for 3DT’s many “Friends”–more commonly known as Boston music notables.  You’ve got Max Heinegg going Frank Sinatra on “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas,” Lyle Brewer chicken pickin’ on “To Mrs. Clause From Santa,” Evan Garvy visiting Mardi Gras on “Santa’s at the Second Line,” and Anita Suhanin and Kevin Rose rocking the nobility in “We Three Kings.” The title track has an arrangement that sounds like it could have been included in The Kink’s Preservation rock opera. “New Elf in the Family” drives like a Bruce Springsteen rocker and is a personal message from Kier and Mandy who now have two young fun kids. You get this and more on the first 12 tracks. The next seven tracks are pure bonus with guest appearances by members of Comanchero, The Whiskey Boys, Joe Pleiman of Summer Villians, and Devin Byrnes wrapping this present up with an artistic reading of “The Night Before Christmas” with a hypnotic bass and drum repetitive backing with spacy sound effects and clips from It’s a Wonderful Life.

I saved my favorite for last – track 8 “Dominic the Donkey” features Jay DiBiasso and has a playful sick polka feel with a big crowd of wild voices having a wonderful time with “hee-haws” and a catchy chorus of many “la la las.” It leaves me with a big smile after every listen. What more can you ask for? Go on Three Day Threshold’s Bandcamp site to make a deposit in the Greater Boston Food Bank and be rewarded with a collection of songs that will trim your Christmases for many years to come.  (T Max)



10 tracks

75orless Records

Outlaw In Peru claim to hail from Providence, but they could just as well come from outer space. There are a few biker rock kind of songs that cruise along in a cool way. What I’m really digging here are trippy Steppenwolf or Hawkwind sounding gems, the really long songs that let the psyche guitar rip. Outlaw In Peru worked with one of my favorite lyricists Mike Mountain on much of this record and its cool to hear his words in a different soundscape and a different voice. Let your brain be the venue and check this album out with headphones and whatever it is you take to relax. Enjoy the trip! (Eric Baylies)


The Howl

12 tracks

Don’t you just love the irony and humor in Wolfman the artist naming his release The Howl?  I do. And I also love the music. His growling guitar consists of superb tone, a lot of notes, and screaming leads. Bob has an expressive voice on these soulful blues and r&b numbers. His impressive band includes keyboardist Bruce Bears and drummer Mark Texeira (both of Duke Robillard and Bruce Bears Trio), Toni Lynn Washington and Sandy Martin on backing vocals, bassist Malcolm Stuckey, drummer Joey Scrima, and sax player Amadee Casterell. Two instrumentals that really showcase Wolfman’s blistering chops are the title cut “The Howl” and the killer cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” where the group turns this soulful classic into a bar-room blues blast. Wolfman should open and close his live sets with these two great performances. “Folks on the Hill” shows off a nice funky blues guitar intro that is more Memphis than Chicago influenced. And on the opener “Whispers Louder Than Rain,”  Toni Lynn and Sandy’s beautiful backing vocals really stand out. Three of the instrumental tracks, “Blues For Jasper,” “Sunrise,” and “All Mixed Up,” are recorded live at Club 39 in Sudbury and  showcase the band’s passionate playing. Great stuff. Check it out. (A.J. Wachtel)



9 tracks

Boston’s Harris Hawk is a female fronted heavy rock band that take us about 20 years in the way-back machine. They would have made billions of dollars during the grunge bailout of 1994, but they may have to settle for millions now. Recorded at the amazing Machines With Magnets studio in Pawtucket, this album also has traces of Black Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy or At The Drive In echoing faintly beneath and behind the songs.  This is a good album to blast while you rage against the dying of the light. (Eric Baylies)


Low Budget Records

Music for Installations

13 tracks

I found this CD’s track titles fascinating! For instance, “Amoral Aroma,” “Todd Erases a Red Dot,” “Red Rum, Sir, is Murder.” What exciting experiences did these experimental avant garde “artistes,” Mr. Curt and J.R. Ringdahl have up their proverbial sleeves?! Two beers, and 13 tracks later, I am still trying to “grok,” exactly WHAT, the answer to that question is!

I consider myself open minded, but grasping the self described “noise manipulations” on this CD would likely take an altered state. Imagine, if you will, that you have two very bright children with a LOT of time on their hands, complete access to some high tech synthesized sound equipment, infinite amounts of sugar, and you leave them in the house alone for a few days. I’m guessing that this CD may very well be what you might come home to.

Their goal was to create a “musical stew – an aural canvas, painted with sound.” I can only say that my aural senses  feel as if they’ve been assaulted in the worst possible way, and my nervous system is sadly in complete agreement! May I please have my 56 minutes back? And the peaceful state of mind I was in BEFORE listening? I want to be sedated!       (R.J. Ouellette)


Control Alt Destroy

11 tracks

Portland Maine’s Confusatron cover a lot of ground on this release. They are super fancy musicians with odd time signatures galore. There are touches of metal in the style of Dillinger Escape Plan and Neurosis, but with more avant garde leanings like Fantomas. There are traces of Russian folk songs, new age music, and John Cage sound collages. There are lots of twists and turns on this release, with something new every time you listen. (Eric Baylies)


Me, Myself & I  

12 tracks

It’s taken this great New Hampshire guitarist 25 years to do a solo acoustic release without his band, and it’s well worth the wait. Arthur wrote all the songs except for one and his m.o. is to play a ripping guitar intro to set the mood and the groove of the song and it really works well. Check out “Long Black Road” the traditional blues ballad, “Drownin’ On Dryland,” “Forgotten Youth,” the killer slide guitar, “Waiter There’s A Fly In My Soup,” and the closer “Life.” A great guitar riff sets the groove and then James’ incredible guitar playing takes over. I really dig the rock ’n’ roll chug chug feel of “Blues, Blues, Blues” and “Things Ain’t No Better.” Both are powerful.  Arthur’s good voice is best heard on “Got Me A Woman,” a traditional blues ballad. His acoustic country guitar finger picking is really cool on the opener “292 Nashua Street,” an uptempo instrumental where James has a lot of fun showing off. An interesting cover of the ’60s public domain folk song “Kumbaya” is present where he changes it from a folk ballad to a country blues gem. You can hear the older influences of Son House, Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker along with modern influences of Keb Mo and Eric Bibb. Aurthur James music has been called “Nouveau Retro” and I can’t argue with that. Give it a listen.   (A.J. Wachtel)


Triangular Australe

4 tracks

Boston’s Magic Shoppe take a look back to the summer of love and a peak to the future cosmos. This short psyche nugget rocks quiet and carries a big mushroom. Put this album on repeat and trip the light fantastic. The tambourine is almost the lead instrument, taking you on a sojourn in your mind, but there is much depth to these beautiful and timeless songs.  (Eric Baylies)