CD Reviews – May

DukeLevine-webIf you are an artist based in New England and would like your CD reviewed, mail it to:

T Max/ The Noise
28 Goodhue St., #406,

Salem, MA 01970

DUKE LEVINE 

Loud Loud Music Records

The Fade Out 

12 tracks

Seldom have I heard an album of instrumentals which better rewards careful listening. “Neptune,” the languorous, pearlescent opening cut, helps establish the late-night ambiance which pervades much of the album. There’s some quality product here which also transcends mere product; the second song, an instrumental rendition of “Anna” (popularized by the Beatles) which, in tone, reminds me very much of the mood music of the late 1950s and early 1960s which you could hear with very little trouble emanating from any number of sleazy nightclubs and tony lounges catering to an adult clientele. There’s no destroying the beauty of the melody here – the song is allowed to breathe and to grow and display all of its lush and full-bodied melodic qualities. “Twilight Time” is an entrancing, persnickety and wistful country-flavored tune simply too wholesomely beautiful for words. Other highlights include the jazzy sojourn of “Before You Knew,” the touching, tuneful and folksy “Sam Brown Hill,” the calm-inducing and dreamy arabesques of “Maddie’s Song,” the indescribably mood-altering, spell-weaving, lazy lope-a-long “Topaz,” and the monumentally elegiac, C&W meets epic movie soundtrack harmonics of “Slowly Fading Out of Sight.” There is no room here to do more than to mention the concert-hall full of hugely talented musical collaborators Levine has assembled for his sixth long-player; you’ll just have to buy the record and hear (and marvel) for yourself. I can’t recommend The Fade Out highly enough. (Francis DiMenno)

Club Bohemia D-BannerShell

TRINARY SYSTEM

Amplify the Amplifiers

5 tracks

This is the new CD from Larry Dersch, Andrew Willis, and Roger Miller, the coolest guitarist to ever come out of Boston, or just about anywhere. The album starts out with a tribute to Dave Davies, who, it seems, was Roger’s earliest influence. This isn’t obvious as you navigate the stormy seas that are the rest of this record. There is skronk, feedback, flash, psyche, R & B vamps, classical and more. It is also a very rock ’n’ roll record, with choruses and everything. It just rocks a little weirder, and a lot better, than almost anything else you’ve ever heard in your life. Check out Amplify the Amplifiers, then do yourself a favor and find some of the other recordings Roger has done in the past 40 years. You can also catch Trinary System live at the Lizard Lounge on Friday, May 13th for their record release show.  (Eric Baylies)

PRINCESS PROBLEMS

Don’t Touch My Shit

9 tracks

The first track, probably the title cut (no info with this disc) immediately pulled me into a super melodic/harmonic pip hop (my term for pop hip hop). Really cool production of smart multi-layered female vocals with lots of active percussion uncluttered with limited melodic instruments. Simple, clear, fresh, direct, and in your face stuff. There’s a lot of confidence in the delivery on every track – female background loops (1),  male rapper (2), active distorted guitar (3), timpani intro and tremolo guitar  (4), playful curious synth and layered vocals (5), electric piano and wah-wah (6) meow background gals and ripped ’70s horns (7), cool lyrics (8), digital claps (9). Overall Don’t Touch My Shit is an excellent, very listener-friendly product. Marketed correctly Princess Problems could reach a large fan base far beyond Boston.  (T Max)

THE LEGENDARY RICH GILBERT

Holy Wreckords

Stereo Action Music

13 tracks

We all know who Rich Gilbert is and if we don’t we can look him up, so what do you need me for? Anyway, on this release, he does it all, or virtually all, all by himself, and the results are impressive. “#1 Hit Record” sounds to my jaded ears like the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino Western on speed, and not like a #1 hit record at all! It’s a spectacular piece of mind-melting, careering instrumental goodness all the same. “Castellena’s Last Ride” is another wild and winsome instrumental romp with tons o’ steel guitars and a through-line as inevitable as a mobster’s dirt nap. “Mystic Valley Parkway” is a mysterioso mood piece with shimmery guitars and a jazzy slow-dance vibe. Other highlights include the aggressively rocking rave-up “The Fatal Wedding,” which sounds for all the world as though it should be adorning the soundtrack of an unusually hip monster movie. Plus, there’s “The Parade of Forgotten Beauty,” which, to my ever-more-senescent ears, sounds vaguely like Genesis, what with the grandiose guitar pomp on full display (and dig the backwards percussion!); and the lonesome country-and-western-meets-new age melodic wave of “Black Saturday”; the downright trippy C&W tinged “Sayonara” with its clip-cloppy rhythm; “That’ll Work” with Billy Contreras on fiddle, which reminds me of western swing; more notably, of Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks  grown somehow too big for their britches (sorry, but I call ’em as I see ’em). There’s some nice steel guitar there, Mr. Gilbert. (And where in hell did you get that clangorous guitar solo in the middle eight?) As for the rest, well, there’s “Run Swinger Run”: prog-rock meets monster movie music? “Trouble Makers”: steel guitars vs. industrial synth? “The Holy City”: Shimmery circus music meets brazen showboating rock in a  disorienting Alice-In-Wonderland odyssey of sound? I mean, wow. Overall, Stereo Action Music is a tricky album full of kooky variations on a theme–and very easy to love. Bravissimo. (Francis DiMenno)

SAMANTHA FARRELL

September Sun

11 tracks

Samantha Farrell brings to mind the voices of Anais Mitchell and Nora Jones. She has exceptional powers of creativity. The subject matter, lyrics, musical accompaniment and production is a joy to listen to – I am pulled into each song by the maturity and the atypical writing. You can hear the smile or sorrow in her voice, and the other musicians play with mastery. “Lover’s Prayer” is beautiful – actually it reminds me of something Nina Simone would have sung, and would have probably wished she had written. It starts with a smoky sax and the lines: “I quit drinkin’ because there’s always a reason/ I don’t want to dream ’cause that always brings me to you/ The birds are singing songs of departure… ” This is a sad song. Her voice trails off into an undulating note that becomes the sax. In the song “You Are Gonna Break My Heart” she nails the longing feeling that Sufjan Stevens’ songs often have. “Circles” has snapping fingers, a bass, a piano and a catchy, jazz vocal. I love the jazzy flow of “Song For Somnus” as well. “Long Night Coming” has the line “There’s no such thing as rock bottom/ the darkness knows no depth.” “For Beauty’s Sake” has the line, “beauty for beauty’s sake” which is so simple, but true. “Some Crazy Dream” is a wistful tune played on guitar and violin. She says “Sometimes it’s better not to know what you’re getting into/ oh it is the burden and the joy of golden youth/ run until the sun goes down/ looking for some truth./ But if you knew how hard it would be/ would you ever choose?” I feel privileged to have listened to September Sun – it’s an excellent piece of art with substantive songwriting and sublime execution, full of feeling. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

DANIELLE MIRAGLIA

Glory Junkies

10 tracks

Ms. Miraglia is a very talented woman. Danielle wrote all of the good country blues and country rock songs here and she has an incredible voice. She’s got great rock and roll vocals where she lectures, reminisces and observes in a passionate manner. Listen to “Dead End Street,” “Glory Junkies, and “Famous For Nothing” to get your ya-ya’s out. Or check out the way she sings in the ballads “Pigeons” and “Coffee Stained Thank You Cards.” Her vocal style demands your ears keep listening to her story. Cheryl Arena plays hot harp on a few of the country blues cuts including “Left Hand Turn” and “Tear It Down.” I also like the nice horns on “Warning Fair Warning” and the other country blues tracks “Carmella” and “Heat Of The Win.” Danielle sings and plays guitar, Tom Bianchi plays bass and adds backing vocals, and Ed Scheer is behind the kit. The other musicians are: Laurence Scudder on violin, Bob Enik and Erik White on guitars, Michael Ward Bergman playing the accordion, Jim Larkin on drums, Pat McCann on organ and piano, Scott Aruda on trumpet and Paul Ahlstrand on sax. Matt Borrello adds laughter to one of the cuts too. Glory Junkies is an enjoyable release that should be in everyone’s collection. This woman can sing!  (A.J. Wachtel)

BODY ENGLISH

Stories of the Earth

8 tracks

Bludgeon me with prose. That verse from “Prose and Poetry” really says it all when it comes to just what to expect to hear on this album. Jazz, rock, blues, pop, funk and even pinches of country has been mixed together perfectly in Clinton Degan’s special cauldron of creativity with his new musical mates and their first offering. There never really has been a proper adjective worthy of being pinned to Degan’s mercurial compositions. So it goes with this new incarnation and exultation from his soul. Degan and his mates explore the farthest reaches of musical styles all perfectly blended within each song and throughout the album. From the winding cinematic “The Humour in the Heart of the Old Grey Mountain” is one of Degan’s finest compositions I’ve heard. The passive descriptive beauty of the story, Degan’s vocals take you on a journey directly into that mountain’s heart and leave you with a soul warming smile. In “I Don’t Wanna be a Housewife (For Someone Else’s Family)” Degan pokes in his unique and madcapped fashion. This album is one of those unique tomes of musical storytelling that stands up to the continuous loop during a road trip and even after five repeated plays there were still new elements of auditory sensations being revealed. Bottom line, if you love creative music that blends all kinds of styles and sounds, then Body English is your band. (Rick Dumont)

HOT DIRT

areyouayoungman.

5 tracks

Holyoke’s Hot Dirt have lots of stops and starts but keep the train chugging along. This album is at once completely modern sounding and a bit classic rock. The songs are so different from each other that I had to double check that I was not listening to a compilation record. Album opener “Taco Spell” reminds me of Miles Davis’ classic “Bitches Brew.” The song “Nineteen” goes in more directions than Stevie Wonder on a bumper car track. There are traces of US Maple, Blind Idiot God, Ten Years After, and Canned Heat. This is not an album, it is an adventure! (Eric Baylies)

DANIEL OUELLETTE & THE SHOBIJIN

Meanie Jeannie Records

Tokusatsu!

10 tracks

Just one track into this CD and echoes of a fusion/strange brew, flavored with elements of Bauhaus (if there was such a thing as a playful version of Bauhaus in an alternate universe), nods to The B-52s, and very strong essence of David Bowie, jump out and slap you soundly in the ears. Beyond those comparisons, these tracks strike me as quite… different. Very trippy, simultaneously moody and  playfully campy, covered in extra dark goth chocolate, possibly laced with hallucinogenic compounds. Perhaps some funky Japanese mushrooms? Um, yes, like that. I think? This is most definitely a conceptual/ experimental venture. One which I would categorize as new wave/ techno/ industrial/ pop. Yes, I really did just use those words together to describe this music. It’s the only way I can think of to sum up its style properly.

The title of the CD, Tokusatsu, is a word used for sci fi action films, particularly those that are heavily laden with special effects. And by the way, remember the old Japanese movie, Mothra? Such a fun flick.  The word Shobijinreferred to the two fairy-like women who were connected with Mothra. The definition of Shobijin roughly translates to “little beauties.” But, enough with the trivia. On with the review.

Daniel Ouellette, (no relation to yours truly, by the way) with his broodingly deep voice, is linguistically eclectic, as in addition to English, he performs some of these songs in French and Spanish. On these particular tunes, I am at something of a loss as to what, exactly, is being sung about, but it doesn’t really seem to matter, since the essence of these songs comes through loud and clear. Once you have listened to this CD a few times, you get the sense that it’s really all about the adventure after all. Dark? Yes, but while having fun with it.

Winning tracks are “Do You Feel Brave Enough Aunt Louise?,” “If Only Marlene Dietrich Were Here to Have a Cigarette,” and “Melodramatic.” Quite truthfully, this is a CD that I would have to be in the mood for. I don’t really know how often I’ll be taking Tokusatsu! for a spin, but at the right time, it would definitely be a fun ride.   (R.J. Ouellette)

VARIOUS ARTISTS  

Heavy Rotation Records

Dorm Sessions 11  

14 tracks

Seven bands have two songs apiece to show us what they can do. Unlike in past years, this year’s crop is mostly disappointing; full of self-indulgent studio gimmickry and seemingly oblivious to the notion of actually engaging in songcraft. Noe (with an accent over the e) features a songstress with a sweet voice singing over various samples. M + E is a male-female duet with sweet voices singing over various samples; on “Talkabout” they flaunt a bunch of synths seemingly out of mid-period U2. Wessanders is a guy with digitally enhanced vocals singing over a variety of sweet and annoying abrasive samples. Symone (with an accent over the e) features a woman with a sweet voice singing over  a variety of samples. Glow Team might best be described as Musique Concrete. The Trap Music Orchestra takes a bunch of really old samples and adds trumpets, trombones and saxophones, plus vocals. Musically, it’s adventurous in a free jazz mode, as on “Stars.” Honeysuckle is a rootsy, aw-shucks trio who sounds like they somehow snuck in from another anthology. It features a woman with a languorous and bluesy voice singing over some busy-sounding but very skillfully rendered hillbilly music on a song called “Let the Light In.” “Something Worth Having” is a more subdued, folksy number. I’m looking forward from hearing more from this group. As for the others – well, I’m not so sure. (Francis DiMenno)

HONEYSUCKLE

Honeysuckle

10 tracks

This folk/pop trio’s release features good songs, nice finger picking guitar and great vocals. Check out “It’s Getting Late,” “Canary,” “Skin Color,” “Vagabond” and “Waiting For The Sun” to hear what I’m talking about. Singer Holly McGarry, bassist Chris Bloniarz and guitarist Benjamin Burns, from Mattapoisett mainly play ballads and the strong musicianship shines through on all the songs. I really like the harmonies throughout and when Holly and her strong and emotive voice skips octaves in “Board That Plane,” it just sounds great. I also dig “Collect the Dust,” a real radio-friendly song. The production on Honeysuckle is first rate and it’s a real pleasure listening to the music coming out of the speakers. Chris and Benjamin also play in the local band Grey Season. Nice mellow music that won’t put you to sleep. I like this a lot.   (A.J. Wachtel)

RICK RUDE

Mind Cook

5 tracks

I will always take the time to check out a band with a wrestling reference in their name. Dover, New Hamshire’s Rick Rude are a punk band at times, with Guide By Voices and Weezer influences thrown in for good measure. It’s almost Emo in a Rites of Spring kind of way, but never too Emo-y. These folks in Rick Rude wear their wiretap scars on the inside and let us enjoy the fruits of their pain. When the lone wolf female in the band takes over lead vocals, they sound like Kristin Hersh of the Throwing Muses singing for At The Drive In. This is some mighty fine stuff. (Eric Baylies)

QWILL

Simple Truth Records

Phoenix

7 tracks

“Phoenix” sounds to me like Prince with an overlay of mutitracked gimmicks and samples. Haunting and very catchy, but also somewhat insubstantial. “Ghost” is a fully-fledged fusion jazz sample on a seemingly endless loop with soulful lyrics crooned on top. Succeeding tracks such as “Swallowed,” “Never Said,” and “Rage” all seem to follow much the same formulae. Overall, it’s actually kind of tedious. Such seriousness, and to what purpose? To showcase a song fragment? It’s been done before, and better. (Francis DiMenno)

SYMPLI WHITNEY

Ryze of the Phoenix

15 tracks

Sympli has a great voice and she sure is funky; with a bit of the blues and gospel mixed in. “The Best,” “I Can See You And Me” and “Ryze of the Phoenix,” are great dance songs. Cool funky blues tunes include “Echoes” with the nice rap by Michelle Davis, the moody “7 Days A Week” featuring the spoken word of U-Meleni, “I’d Rather Say Good Morning” with Myanna (Girls Night Out) on sax, “I’m Not Crying,” “I Think I Love You,” and “L.U.V. (Love Under Virtued).” Check out “Searching” with choir vocals and hand claps by Ashanti Munir, Leon Beal, Athene Wilson, Nichelle Mungo and Ron Davis, and “Work It Out (12th Note Duet Mix)” for a terrific tinge of gospel too. The band is like an earthquake: Wain Jonze and Lawrence Peters on guitars. Felix Mwangi and Wadz on keys, Jam Sumrell plucking 4 strings, Osi Brathwaite on drums and Jayo Wharton and Elan Trotman on saxes. Jay El, Cha-Cha Epps, and Winfree also add their vocals to the mix. Is Sympli funky or is she bluesy? She’s both and she’s great. I dare you to sit still. Check her out. (A.J. Wachtel)

IONEYE

Hand in Hand with Growth

8 tracks

Ioneye is the solo project of Newport, Rhode Island’s Stephen Lepre. He plays guitar over some drum machines and creates soundscapes like Michael Hedges. It’s not quite new age, it’s more like the mellower Joe Satriani songs on Surfing With the Alien. I was really surprised by this because I’ve seen Ioneye live many times and it’s a different animal. On stage he shreds like few guitarists you have ever seen in your life over fast, thrashing beats. Hand in Hand with Growth is a really beautiful album that could easily make the cover of one the guitar player magazines. Put these songs in a movie. To paraphrase a book I read long ago, this album is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. (Eric Baylies)

THE EVENFALL QUARTET

The Evenfall Quartet

12 tracks

This is a smooth, all-instrumental collection of American songbook classics. Listening to it, one gets the nostalgic feeling of a ’40’s-’50’s small jazz group session. The music here is spontaneous with no overdubs; the cats just go into the studio and play. You can hear the excitement of the moment and not just their going through the motions and following the charts. The personality of the musicians better comes through this way. Brad Hallen (The Duke Robillard Band) on upright bass, Mark Earley on tenor sax, Joe “Sonny” Barbato playing keys and Jerzy “Jurek” Glod pounding recorded this CD in a day. And there’s no guitar on it. You can hear the influences of Gene Ammons, Stanley Turrentine, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Errol Garner, Oscar Pettiford and Lucky Thompson on jazz standards like “Time After Time,”Tony Bennett’s “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” Django’s “After You’re Gone,” the bossa nova “How Insensitive,” “If I Were A Bell,” from Guys and Dolls also done by Myles Davis, and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” I really like the four Sinatra covers: Glenn Miller’s “That Old Black Magic,” “Old Devil Moon” from Finian’s Rainbow, “East of the Sun,” and “Three Little Words.” How cool is this? Very. It’s great how the horn and the piano play tag while the bass and drums drive the band. Great lounge listening for wherever you go.  (A.J. Wachtel)

LOVESICK

Lovesick

7 tracks

Lovesick is a group of three fairly young guys out of Providence. The first few minutes of this album trick you into thinking this is going to be some kind of post rock instrumental album. The vocals kick in on the second song and we now have a totally different, somewhat fluffy animal. The record shifts gears into a kind of familiar, yet perfectly executed trip to the land of grunge. Lovesick have found their own voice very early on, but if you listen carefully you can hear traces of great bands like Nirvana, Laughing Academy, and 6 Star General. Is this the future of Providence? Go see them and find out. (Eric Baylies)

HONEYSUCKLE

Honeysuckle

10 tracks

The self-titled debut album of Boston band, Honeysuckle, is a twisted mix of classic bluegrass and modern sounds.  These Berklee alums started amassing a small following and put out a stellar EP Arrows last year, and the follow up full-length album is a treat for fans old and new.  Lead singer Holly McGarry (guitars, banjo, vocals) writes and sings beautiful and often heart wrenching songs.  Joined by Ben Burns (banjo, guitar, drums) and Chris Bloniarz (mandolin, vocals) this trio creates music that they self describe as progressive folk.  While at first glance their music might appear to have a history in folk and bluegrass music, the music this band produces pushes the boundaries of classic folk.  Tracks like “Board That Plane” feature beautiful vocals and mandolin melodies, with mixed in drums, produced sounds, and effects.  This song about the apparent distancing and broken love features some stellar banjo and mandolin playing, but would never be called a bluegrass song.  Instead of being apologetic about this unexpected sound, Honeysuckle owns their departure from the genre, writing bold and inventive songs of their own.  Bloniarz’s mandolin playing stands out on nearly every track, mixing in ambient and rhythmic sounds, with piercing lead melodies using various effects and even a loop pedal on “Dog Song.”  His style is familiar, but can take an unexpected turn at any moment.  This Boston band has already gotten some major backing, winning grants from The Iguana Music Fund (Club Passim) and support from the Converse Rubber Tracks series.  You can hear their music and catch one of their shows by listening to them on Spotify, iTunes, and bandcamp, or checking out their website: honeysuckleband.com. (Leonard Paul)

JUSTIN PIPER

justonemusic

Avant Funk

12 tracks

This is an interesting CD. Twelve tracks of pure instrumental, guitar dominant songs. All written and arranged by guitarist, Justin Piper, who also plays bass and is accompanied by Tom Garrington on drums. To my ear, it sounds not so much funk as its title implies, but far more progressive like avant jazz. While Mr. Piper is no doubt talented with some insanely skilled fingers speeding smoothly along at a mostly manic pace, I have always had a problem with music based on a frenetic pace and edginess that typically put my nerves on edge.  Unfortunately, this CD has that effect on me.

So, while the slick, cool, well orchestrated songs are smoothly and wonderfully well executed, this music is just never going to work for me personally. No question that it’s executed and produced quite well.

The higher moments for me were the tracks played at a much slower pace, such as “When I’m Alone,” and “Somnambulist,” but to be honest, I still find the essential repetition to be far too strongly present for me to be able to relax and fully embrace even these slower tracks. My opinion is by no means based on Justin Piper’s talent, which is clearly evident, it is merely a matter of the personal uneasiness which this style of music invokes in me. That said, I do feel that some music fans will appreciate these tracks to be an energizing breath of fresh air to be breathed in deeply.   (R.J. Ouellette)

ROLAND PEARSALL 

Turn 1 Records

Sell Your Soul

11 tracks

Ambitiously crafted lyrics and tunesmithing reminiscent of 1980s Kinks. Similarly, the songwriter’s affect comes across as somewhat flattened, and the tunesmithing comes across as a bit more rudimentary than it needs to be, and the novelty effects come across as jarring rather than amusing. The title track is best of show; the wild guitar solo on “Riding On” is another high point; regrettably, I’m not finding much else on Sell Your Soul that’s particularly praiseworthy. (Francis DiMenno)

CIVILITY

Demo

4 tracks

Civility is a young Providence quartet. This demo is a brief glance into the band’s soul. There are bits and pieces that remind me of The Pop Group and a less funky A Certain Ratio, but the Joy Division comparisons will be an albatross around their neck (like Ian Curtis’ rope) if they don’t modify their sound a bit, adding a horn or sitar or something. Still, Joy Division is a great albatross to be associated with. You can dance but you don’t have to smile to these insanely catchy songs. Lighten up guys, we’ll all be dead soon enough! (Eric Baylies)

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If you are an artist based in New England and would like your CD reviewed, mail it to T Max/ The Noise, 28 Goodhue St., #406, Salem, MA 01970

 

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