CD Reviews – April

RubyRoseFox-webRUBY ROSE FOX

Domestic

12 tracks

Every now and then, something  utterly unique comes  your way. Seldom, these days, but if you’re lucky, sometimes. Such is the case with Ruby Rose Fox, and her latest release, Domestic. Until this gem unexpectedly came my way, I had not heard of this remarkable  singer. I’m so excited over this album and am listening to it for the third time as I write this. I am frankly, nothing short of astonished by her talent.  This woman’s voice caught me completely off guard, made my jaw drop, and completely blew me away!  A beautiful voice, at times androgynous, at times undeniably feminine. Rich… smooth… earthy… resinous…  smoky… POWERFUL!  Wow..she is blessed with unfathomable talent..

It’s a difficult task to write about something that leaves you speechless. Attempting  comparisons for the sake of reference, is pretty much pointless here, as I’ve not heard anyone else quite like her. When all is sung and done, it would seem that it could quite possibly be that it is the talent of others’, who will one day be compared to HERS’. ( Yes, she is really that gifted). Her voice is larger than life, and all her own. How one person can possess this much talent is beyond me.

Categorizing her music’s genre is also equally tricky business. Does she sing pop, rock, indie, blues? Who knows?  And what’s more, who really cares? All I know for certain, is that she has easily earned her place beside any big musical name that you can think of. And I do mean, “BIG.”

As for my favorite tracks on Domestic, this is again, a very tough call. Extra awesome tracks – chosen just because they really showcase her insanely great voice range, were “Freedom Fighters,” “Rock Bottom,”  “O’Roy,” “Miss America,” “Entertainer,” and “Requiem for Danny Thunder.” In truth, I loved every track on this album. Not a single bad one in this veritable pot of gold. With a voice this big, it’s simply a given that there is a hugely talented band backing her, and they definitely fit that bill. Each musician, priceless, with respect to talent and deliverance. I can not review this without again, using the word, “POWERFUL!”

Yes, I have also used the word, “big,” a lot here, but I really do feel that the word is synonymous with Ruby Rose Fox. Mind… officially… blown. I highly recommend finding her music and checking it out, but if you don’t, just mark my words, it is only a matter of time before it finds YOU. I’m at a loss as to what more to add. Really, I am more than happy to simply shut up and LISTEN. And the listening… well, it doesn’t get much better than this.      (R.J. Ouellette)

Club Bohemia D-BannerShell

MARK NOMAD  

Blue Star Records

9  

9 tracks

Opener “Shrine” is good standard early-70s blues-rock; “It’s Time” is a tough, inexorable slow-burner with a gritty acoustic ambiance and scorching harp. “Give Your Love 2 Me” is a mid-tempo mood-piece about romantic obsession. The rest ranges from the contemplative and lovely acoustic guitar piece (“Dadgad”) to a chooglin’, horn-slathered confection (“What’s a Man to Do”) to the Dust-My-Broom style cover (“Look Over Yonder’s Wall”). Bringing up the rear: the impressively elevated acoustic guitar theatrics of “My Clouds Have Denim Linings” – akin to a Zep number like “Tangerine” – as well as the frantic “Valley of Tears” and the alternatingly bluesy and ominous “We Gotta Live Together.” Solid. (Francis DiMenno)

JIM EAGAN

Never Too Late

14 tracks

I must admit that I have a reluctance to old-timey acoustic music. Classic folk, bluegrass, country tunes just doesn’t shake my tree. It’s a style of music I don’t seek out to embrace except when I “step inside that house” (to quote Guy Clark), content to be comforted and soothed by the material at some quiet coffeehouse. These “life is rich, don’t exploit it,” “we all got da blues,” “knocking on heaven’s door” songs may ring true in the hands of an elder performer, but when that person is releasing his debut album, it ruefully brings a smile to my face. Thus, we have here a sexagenarian from western Massachusetts, who attended a music camp hosted by Jorma Kaukonen (yes indeed, the great guitarist from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna!) and had one of his tunes chosen to be the un-ironic title track of Jorma’s latest album, Ain’t In No Hurry. That’s striking pay dirt on a first adventure. And it’s a great song, full of insight and patient emotion, delivered in a calm voice and strong guitar playing. Although his few originals are standout tracks, Jim has chosen to fill the album with covers by the likes of Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and John Prine that reflect his heritage. With his daughter Nomi on guitar and vocals, Rob Okun on harmonica, the pacing stays a bit unvarying but sincere. It’s never too late, given a bit more energy, that this is the start of a special late-life career.   (Harry C. Tuniese)

CARDBOARD OX

Cardboard Ox

6 tracks

Tracie Potochnik and Steve Allain calling themselves Cardboard Ox, deliver that harmony-driven acoustic sound that stretches back to Richard and Mimi Farina, and Ian and Sylvia. The songs range from a story of the sorrowful life of The Fisherman, to remembrances, and love in the modern world. It is not easy for singer-songwriting duos because there are so many of them. The herald of success is when they do such a good job that they make it look easy. This EP has the delicate touch of pleasing harmonies built upon a lovely scaffolding of guitar, banjo and mandolin.    (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

WAY OUT

Way Out EP

4 tracks

The group Way Out are from Providence. Bassist Nicholas Sadler played guitar in the screamy noise core superstars Daughters. So what does this band sound like? I’m glad you asked, but can you please step away from my ice cream? Thank you. This short teaser of an album has catchy but dissonant tunes that recall bands that these folks were probably too young to see the first time around, like Adam and the Ants, Wire, The Comsat Angels, or Boston-centric acts like Lou Miami and the Kozmetix, Gluons, and Rash of Stabbings. The first song “Arrival” is a great harbinger of things to come for an exciting new band with a young twist on a sort of older sound. This album was recorded by Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, so it sounds like solid gold floating in the diamond sea. I’m very excited to see this band live, so please don’t break up or go to prison. (Eric Baylies)

THE TEXAS GOVERNOR

“Sunset Highways”

1 track

The simple tune of “Sunset Highways” brings to mind the house concerts that I’ve been to – a quiet night, a small group of friends, and the band, playing a mellow acoustic tune that keeps my attention and sets my mind at ease. As the name implies, the song tells of the journeys that its creators have taken, the sights seen (UFOs and lightning strikes) and the hard lessons learned along the way. Case in point, the line, “If you love someone, you got to let them go.” It’s a great song with an even better story to tell.   (Max Bowen)

SAND RECKONER

Haunter

9 tracks

I’ve always felt that Sand Reckoner is the musical equivalent of the southwest desert lands. It seems completely appropriate then, that after going silent for two years, like a rattlesnake coming out of hibernation, they shed their old skin and come back as something slightly different — a step up the evolutionary ladder.

On title track, “Haunter,” they sound like the Sand Reckoner of old. Lots of grimy slide guitar and echo-filled, monotone vocals. It stands almost as a statement to the listener, “We may have evolved but we can still deliver the heavy stoner-rock sound with the best of them.”

The evolution I referred to earlier hits headlong on the epic, nine-minute “Priest.” The pace is slowed down to crawl — reminiscent of some of Earth’s finest instrumentals, while the underlying ballad is crooned in the style of Leonard Cohen. The song rolls through a series of cycles ranging from acoustic balladry to ultra-heavy bombast. In my humble opinion “Priest” is the crown jewel of Haunter and the perfect illustration of what this band is capable of.

Another new influence apparent on Haunter is the retro garage rock revival sound of bands like The Back Keys. That influence is most apparent on “Designer” and “Honest Man” which thin out the traditional Sand Reckoner sound in favor of crunchy, trebly guitars and tin-can vocals. It’s an exciting new direction for the band as they meld new influences into their already fantastic sound.   (George Dow)

TIN FLOWERS

Sound Museum

6 tracks

Boston’s Tin Flowers picked the perfect band name for their sound. They are at times, shiny, pretty, and rough. The guitars can be tinny sounding at times but totally in a good way. They lean on the catchier side of Joy Division in a lo fi manner. I’ve heard a lot of ’80s sounding revival bands lately. I’ll take that any day over what passed for pop music 35 years ago, or for that matter, what masquerades as pop today. If Wire were played in the discos, these guys would be rich instead of awesome. The song “Eveline” strays from the Manchester sound a bit for some long psychedelic sound effects at the outro. This is a great new band, and I dare say one of the best things to come out of Boston ever. (Eric Baylies)

CAROLYN WALKER

Incarnadine

10 tracks

I had to look up the word Incarnadine which means “a pinkish red color.” Carolyn thanks the Woman Songwriting Collective for their support through the creation of this CD. Mark Erelli, creator of the landmark “Milltowns” album in honor of Bill Morrissey, appears here in a supportive role. My personal favorite is “Wanted.” Its got that Beth Orton mysterious feeling of “She Cries Your Name,” especially when she sings out “Don’t you want to be wanted?/ We all want to be wanted/ I just want to be wanted/ I just want to be happy in my own skin/ Be loved the way I am/ not have to change a thing/ Don’t tell me that you overlook my imperfections/ no/ So everything I show I wonder what you see in me.” The album has a lot of unusual instrumentation, especially the violin on “Words Words Words.” “I Don’t Know You Any More” is a sad, bare-bones tune. “Bitter/ Sweet” is a box-step Everly Brothers-ish lament. “You are loved” is sweetly sung as a lullaby. This whole CD is a mosaic of love. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

JULIE RHODES

Bound to Meet the Devil

11 tracks

What a voice! Country blues, gospel tinged and funky is what this Somerville, MA, artist sings and how she does it. Julie is sultry. She is spiritual. She has a passionate voice with attitude. She reminds me at different times of Susan Tedeschi, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Irma Thomas and Janis Joplin. My favorite cuts on the CD are the opener “In Your Garden,” the Son House cover “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” and the spiritual songs “Faith” and “See The Sun.” The passion in her voice is absolute. Contributions from Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham on his Wurlitzer, Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) on violin and Greg Leisz (Paul Westerberg, Dave Alvin, Lucinda Williams) on lap and pedal steel add  some sparkle to the mix on “Hey Stranger,” “Holes,” “Collector Man,” “End of the Line” and “Skyscraper Blues.” Recorded at Dirt Floor Studios in Chester, Conn. and FAME Studios in  Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and mixed by Grammy Award-winner Sheldon Gomberg there is not a bad cut on this release. This woman has soul and what a voice!  (A.J. Wachtel)

SEAN JONCAS

Chocorua 

9 tracks
Sean Joncas’ debut album, Chocorua, came in a non-descript cardboard CD case with a laser-printed inset. Chocorua proves, yet again, that an album should not be judged on its packaging alone. Contained within was what is easily one of the best new album I’ve heard this year.

Each song begins with a folky, acoustic base, on top of which Joncas layers (and layers and layers) electric instrumentation. What’s most striking is that the songs hold their own in either form. The acoustic base of the songs are beautiful on their own. The electric overdubs don’t clutter the songs. Instead, they take them to a new place; bring them to another level altogether.

Joncas’ voice sounds not a thing like Neil Young, nor does his music sound anything like Crazy Horse but, at the end of the day, Neil Young and Crazy Horse are the only other artists I know that can so seamlessly take an acoustic folk song and turn it into a blistering rock song.   (George Dow)

BEN LEVIN

Life and Back 

8 tracks

I am in awe of the prodigious talent and fertile mind of Bent Knee’s composer/ guitarist, Ben Levin. He resembles Frank Zappa, both in appearance, compositional skills, and smart-alec commentary. He has been on the scene for several years with his avant-acts (Ben Levin Group and Bent Knee), with fans slowly acknowledging his hyper-kinetic talent. His new solo disc is rife with twisted guitar tones and inventive lines that gives the music a rave-computer-meltdown feel… utterly infectious and sensational – blending hip-hop beats, virtuoso guitar wizardry, personal confessional moments, lovely airy vocals by Jessica Kion (Bent Knee’s bassist), and an overall stunning aural stimulation. It is almost orchestral, progressing in movements, capturing the essence of many genres and fusing them together in a beautiful abstract that sweeps over you, offering an organic musicality in loop-based funk grooves. This is very mature stuff – music of an amazing guitarist who doesn’t need or want to posture in any sort of macho way. It’s also a great listen that remains fulfilling, interesting, and highly rewarding after repeated plays. Mr. Levin is a true original, an youthful innovator who takes his stylistic approach to fresh heights on this CD.  (I just cannot wait to hear the new Bent Knee album, Say So, due very soon!) Very highly recommended!    (Harry C. Tuniese)

SECRET LOVER

Secret Lover

12 song vinyl album

Worcester’s self described spooky psychedelic pop wizards return with an old fashioned honest to goodness record that is trippy both inside and out. This album seems more like garage rock than a full blown LSD trip like some of their older stuff. Both the band and singer Sally Horowitz bring Blondie to mind here and there. “Keeping The Vultures Well Fed”  from “Vultures Of Love” is one of my favorite lines from any chorus ever. Share the secret. (Eric Baylies)

[NO ARTIST]

[The Gray Album]

10 tracks

Providing a critic with an anonymous album may be a move taken by someone famous, or infamous enough to want the songs to be judged on their own merits. Though in this case, I doubt it. What I hear are a bunch of pretty acoustic folk guitar compositions fronted by a wanna-be Leonard Cohen who sings with a somewhat depressed affect and a decided penchant for expressing his feelings of lonesomeness. “The Months Away” is somewhat more robust and upbeat, and “Sons of Angels” has a Van Morrisonesque feel. “On to Cincinnati” has a nice, bluesy ring; “A Bit of the Old Stuff” has a pleasant, shimmery feel, and “Down the Line” is a monumentally moribund tune. The production throughout sounds deliberately primitive. Not my cup of tea. (Francis DiMenno)

B11

Vitamin for the Soul

9 tracks

B11’s latest is another all-instrumental killer release from Boyan Hristov showcasing his incredible surfabilly Dick Dale inspired guitar work, with Tom Appleman on bass and Mike Levesque manning the sticks. Hristov performs with passion and clarity and his many notes are invariably imaginative, never repetitive and always first rate. Always. Check out the opener “Summertime When I Was A Kid” or the next melody “9 PM.” Rocking. Upbeat. Great chops. Great guitar tone. This cat can play! Listen to “B11 Stroll” with the nice fuzz solo, “Waltz For Teddy” with the cool rhythm delay or my favorite “One for Ry Cooder” with it’s smooth sound and stellar solo. You even have to fasten your seat belt for the slower ballads “Cabaret” and “Sweet Lullaby,” written for his young son. Even the mellow side of Boyan is like an earthquake. Rocking music for people who love to have a strong and steady beat!  (A.J. Wachtel)

DYR FASER

Dyr Faser Volum 1

8 tracks

Dyr Faser started life as a solo project by Eric Boomhower, but now includes Thalia Zadek of Come, E, and Live Skull. Thalia is only featured on one song here, but now plays live in the group. This album has seemingly minimalist guitar parts that melt into each other, and some tricky guitar scales creep into the mix when you least expect it. The ebow will lure your ship to the rocks. Boomhower creates a kind of dreamworld where Robert Fripp and Robert Smith jam over an 808 drum machine. Its like acid rain falling gently on the rusty machines in the outer space rain forest fever dream. You are floating in space but dancing with death. Titles like “Doorway to Nowhere” and “Ways to Levitate” should tip you off as to where this trip is headed. Keep smiling, put the disc on repeat. There is nothing to fear but silence. Don’t sleep on this album, get on your hovercraft and go get it now! (Eric Baylies)

STREET BOUND 

Street Bound

12 tracks

This strikes me as standard-issue strutting tuff-guy rock, with what sounds like a Warren Zevon influence. The whole project mostly smells of late-70s rock of the Mink DeVille variety, but with an emphasis on tunefulness which mostly undermines any dynamism, except on “French Tattoo” and “Downfall,” which buzz and crackle. “Oklahoma Night” reminds me a bit of The Only Ones; “Blind Ballet” is more in a heavy metal mode, and “Everything To me” is a stab at Neil Young-style profundity a la “Cortez the Killer.” The vocals are under-nuanced and none of the tunes strike me as either original or even particularly impactful. Not to my taste. (Francis DiMenno)

CRAZY RAYMOND

Plan B

8 tracks

Ray Tabano is a childhood friend of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and was the original second guitarist before Brad Whitford for that band. Here he  gets the Toxic Twin to add his legendary harp playing to one of the cuts on this red hot release. The music is guitar oriented and in that respect it shares some of the same roots as Aerosmith does. The music is a bit metal a tad country blues and a smidgen of organ infused Memphis soul. Ray sings coyly and provocatively. He lectures and cajoles backed by growling guitars all over the place like an audio assault. My favorite cuts are the tongue-in-cheek “Try Being Me” with Steven Tyler adding a wicked harp solo, the rocking compositions “Fire,” “Take Me For A Ride In Your Car,” She Put A Spell On Me,” and the metal ballads “Down 2013,” “I Need Love,” and “Once Upon A Time.” Guitarists Crazy Raymond, Lou Dean Merola, Anthony Cioppa, Luke Havraneck and Artie Dillon pummel the ears with soaring leads and power chords, Crazy Ray on bass, keyboardist Nick Cyvyk, pedal steel player Ron Pauls and drummers Larry “Rock” Rosky and Russell Sage Wilson take no prisoners on this screamer!  (A.J. Wachtel)

DENT

Eyeballs

9 tracks

I have become weary of Berklee School of Music bands that can show off on their instruments but are unable to write songs or get into anything noisy or non shreddy. This has been a big smelly albatross around the neck of the Boston music scene for generations. Most would not know a good song if it hit them on the head, tied them up, ran them over in a garbage truck, and threw them in the Charles River to be eaten by sharks, if you went through the trouble to import fresh water sharks from the amazon. That does seem like a bit of a (Boston) hassle. Just listen to Dent instead.  Dent are one of the few groups to break this cycle, perhaps they graduated without honors. Don’t get me wrong, this band can play the hell out of their instruments, but it’s not just about that. The band is both arty and heavy. They would probably be compared to Tool more if not for the remarkable singer Lane Shi. She can sing pretty and nice or scream it like Nina Hagen, Diamanda Galas or Linda Sharrock. She goes from shrinking violet to shrieking violence in a matter of seconds. There are moody reflections on the human condition, and then you are rocking like a hurricane, so to speak. Dent have already toured China and are ready to take America by storm. Be forewarned, don’t get bent, get Dent. (Eric Baylies)

DELTA GENERATORS

Delta Generators Music 

Hipshakers and Heartbreakers

10 tracks

Well, these guys have done it again. I like this band. A lot. When it comes to Delta Generators, it seems that they are always generating  great music, and it doesn’t stop now. This CD is definitely no exception. Hipshakers and Heartbreakers delivers the same quality that DG fans have come to expect. The heavy hitting, bluesy rock sound placing an emphasis on the down and dirty delta vibe that has become their signature sound, while lightening up at points, making for a nice, well rounded, sense of balance. If that’s what you’re craving, then have no fear, it’s all here.

Let’s stroll through this, shall we? The whole CD is a winner, but I am going to touch on the highest of the high points on this one. “Elephant in the Room,” is a full tilt rocker. You can dance to it, or just sit it out and groove on it. You really can’t go wrong. “Two Headed Snake” will make you want to shake, shake, shake. Fast moving, rockabilly, frenetically paced, just beckoning you to move. So, why not?

“Bastard’s Lament” has a fusion thing of a surfer song/ tinged in heavy blues, going on,  ala vintage Yardbirds. It totally works. It works great! “Way Down,” steals the show for me, each musician pulling out all of the stops in a weighty, full on, heavy duty, blues rock assault – like a fierce Sherman Tank rolling at you, over you.  Just raise the white flag, already! You may as well just surrender. I Love it!

 Craig Rawling goes all out on vocals, soulfully gravelly and gritty, and it’s damn near scary what the guy  can make a blues harp do! What their guitar player, Charlie O’Neal can do is nothing less than mind bending! Screaming hot strings, that I can visualize smoke coming off of by the time he’s done with them. Rick O’Neal’s bass with all of its intense depth creates a vibratory “surround sound” ( remember that?) feel to the music, and Jeff Armstong lays down some powerfully primal drum beats, relentlessly pounding like a musical perfect storm. “Tom Waits For No One,” great title, great tune, very much reminiscent of Little Feat and The Grateful Dead, with the tone placing more emphasis on bluegrass than on blues. Nice stuff!

The whole disc just works. And why not? The DGs rock! Yes, I am a major fan. You might think that I am biased, and that could be true… but, it’s not! Listen for yourself.  I know that’s what I am going to do. Again, and again, and again.     (R.J.  Ouellette)

JON KOHEN

Curse the Darkness, or Create a Light

3 tracks

There are few people who write sadder songs than Elliott Smith, and his original versions are nearly impossible to outdo. Having said that, I love Madeleine Peyroux’s version of “Between the Bars.” But with this EP, Jon Kohen is giving her a run for the money with his cover of this Smith composition. Jon’s voice is soft and plaintive, and the string ensemble accompanying him reminds me of the string arrangement in the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” Even though Jon has only given us three songs here, I feel a presence of kindness in them – in “Between the Bars,” as well as his own two compositions, “A Light,” and “Dusk.” There is no nihilism here, and no sappiness. I hear a strong heart conveying a primal longing, and that is worth our sincere attention. I like Curse the Darkness, or Create a Light very much and would like to hear more from Jon. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

GREGG ALLEN’S FRINGE RELIGION

Straight to the Top Records

“The Elevator Girl” b/w “Queen 0f Dirt”

2 tracks

This band was originally from Rhode Island and is now in Boston and I was told they are sorta like Keef meets The New York Dolls. This is a right-on description of this punk rock quartet. The first tune, “The Elevator Girl,” is a short two and a half minute scorcher that I really like. “Queen of Dirt” is a bass driven, sneered lyrics, power chord laden head banger’s delight. Loud, clean and pulsating. Gregg Alan-vocals/guitar wrote the songs, Curt Florczak-great lead guitar/ vocals, Chicago Vin Earnshaw ripping it up on bass, and Chris Michaels on drums combine a great mix of classic arena rock/ power pop/ sleazy glam/ proto punk/ country honk and gut-bucket blues. Don’t believe me? Check out this great rock ’n’ roll band yourselves!  (A.J. Wachtel)

 

Comments

CD Reviews – April — 4 Comments

  1. T Max where are you?
    Don’t have your email OR phone.
    I have a song we should play next time we (bands?) play together. You sing, and fuzz box leads. Interested. Why don’t you ever call me?

    Hope all’s well, Steve

    • Sounds great Steve… I’ll send you a private message to get things rolling.

  2. A friend who lives in Arlington, MA saw the review of my CD in The Noise and sent me the link. Thanks so much for the positive review.
    I’m curious as to how you came across my CD and the info about Jorma covering my song.
    Thanks again
    Jim