VAPORS OF MORPHINE
A New Low
A New Low is a unique and very interesting release and I like it for a couple of reasons. As expected, it is a continuation of the original quirky, sparse, spacey Mark Sandman/Morphine jazzy sound that falls somewhere between Sun Ra and Miles Davis. New member Jeremy Lyons sings and plays a two-string slide bass, guitar and other obscure string instruments, Dana Colley is on electric baritone saxophone and reeds, and Jerome Deupree does the drumming. They cover three of their own decades-old songs from Morphine’s original incarnation. Check out “Sheila,” “The Other Side,” and “Souvenir.” In their own current versions Vapors of Morphine makes it a point of trying to play things their own way versus just covering the songs as Morphine did them. And it works. The listener gets the feeling that sometimes these renditions change from performance to performance, and that was one of the great characteristics of seeing Morphine play live decades ago. Very cool. The looseness and creativity is still front and center as the band continues to evolve. What I really dig is when all the musicians jam and it almost sounds like they’re playing to different compositions. Sorta like listening to Cream recorded live in the ’60s where sometimes it sounds like each member has his own agenda. Then all of a sudden, the music comes together and you admire the brilliance and the virtuosity and shake your head in appreciation. Listen to the jazz/ pop/ trance and time signature changes in “Wind Up Radio.” “Renouveau/ Daman N’Diaye,” “Red Apple Juice,” and “Rowdy Blues” to hear what I am talking about. They even do two Brian Eno/ Roxy Music tunes “Baby’s on Fire” and “Sombre Reptiles” and both melodies are even more ambient and electronic sounding than the originals. Very cool. Even the bonus track, “Interstellar Overdrive,” is an instrumental reminiscent of Pink Floyd with it’s studio effects and overall vibe. Weird and disturbing in a good way. Pounder Jerome Deupree says, “I didn’t really know we were playing it at the time. Jeremy just threw the riff into a jam.” And it works. Droning, ominous and jazzy, you will like this music more each time you play it. Isn’t that just the way it was when you first heard Morphine? (A.J. Wachtel)
DAVID GREENBERGER, KEITH SPRING, AND DINTY CHILD
with KEIICHI HASHIMOTO
Take Me Where I Don’t Know Where I Am
There are many highlights on this wonderful postmodern all-star omnium-gatherum, which I personally think is Greenberger’s best yet – at least, in terms of overall flow. In case you haven’t heard of Greenberger, he is the long-time editor of the Duplex Planet ‘zine, which features a collection of the sayings and observations of nursing home denizens. He has spent well over the last two decades releasing spoken word recordings based on Duplex Planet and backed by an eclectic array of musicians. In this instance, the emphasis is on jazz. “Three Spaniels” is an abstract narrative monologue backed by some spiffy modern jazz. As always, Greenberger does some heavy lifting in condensing his Duplex Planet narrative into an entertaining romp: a poetic declamation with an eerie resonance, and full of musical Easter eggs. “Griddle With the Flapjacks” is a soliloquy backed with a wistful orchestral component. “No Foolin'” is a 60s pop confection replete with horns and soothing keyboards. This is followed by the meditative “Good Night of Rest,” and the nightmarish “Digging Into Embarrassment.” On “Spank Time” we return to the realm of spiffy beatnik jazz, replete with Keith Spring’s walking bass and Keiichi Hashimoto’s jaunty trumpet. “This Weather” also has a heartbreakingly beautiful horn solo. Useful tip: During “The Fires of Halloween” is when you can meet your future wife. Another useful tip: It’s the beard that makes him “Santy Claus.” And yet another: Soap Operas are little more than “Women fighting and jumping out of windows,” according to George Quinn in the song “What’s Going On.” On both “My Hope” and “She Taught Me How to Dance” we are confronted with a deep well of sadness which is also somehow elevating. “Shake Hands With Mr. Louis” is another example of narrative jauntiness backed by walking bass and jazzy trumpet. It is curious to consider the highlights of a life as explicated here: School, work, the military, marriage, children, senescence. The musical backgrounds are in all cases appropriate. And fine. Another triumph for Greenberger and Co. Highly recommended. (Francis DiMenno)
Dave Bailin’s Last Call, is an acoustic Live studio recording. I’m going to call this album acoustic rock laced with a pretty even balance of western/folk and blues. The first track, Willy DeVille’s “Can’t Do Without It,” caught me by surprise, as I am a long time fan of Deville, and references to him seem rare. I have to say that Dave Bailin did justice to this song. The rest of the tracks are authored by Bailin with the exception of “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” by Robert Earl Keen. There is an air of weathered rustiness to this CD. The tracks dig rather deep and without a decided appreciation for the genre, you might find this to be something of a downer.
I would need to be in a certain frame of mind to listen to this, and not every song worked for me, but the ones that did, I liked very much. These tracks, aside from “Can’t Do Without It,” were “Blueside,” “Out of Touch,” “Halo Hold On,” and “Dreadful Selfish Crime.” That’s nearly half of the “Last Call” CD, so given the degree to which I like these tracks, that’s a win as far as I’m concerned. I thought there were more musicians playing on this, but as it happens, Dave Bailin is the only musician listed in the credits, singing vocals, guitar, and harmonica, but it really does sound so much fuller.
I think that it bears repeating that this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are a fan of music by the likes of Tom Waits, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and others, who are to my ear, some of the influences of this music, then I think you’ll want to give Last Call at least one listen. I’m glad for the chance to have done so. ( R.J. Ouellette )
Naked Ear/Isabelle Records
Wow. This is an ambitious concept album which, in its emphasis on melodicism and variegated instrumental textures is clearly influenced by an entire panoply of ’60s pop. The opening title track is in the Beatles/Pretty Things vein, and “Picasso Eyes” is like classic Kinks with uncharacteristic strings, “What’s the Matter With Me” resembles the quavery, arid Kinks circa “Mirror of Love,” whereas “Just Hold On” is mildly evocative of “Waterloo Sunset.” “Ghost With the Most” reminds me of the brazen excesses of Queen, and “So the Story Goes” is every bit as bouncy as The Small Faces at their most frivolous. “Poisonous Dark” is a novel amalgam of 60s cool and calculated new wave iciness with an irresistable momentum; an album highlight. “Cloudy All Day” follows up with some messy dissonance which breaks the pop-inflected spell of the previous tracks. The loping, arid, “Heading Back to Nowhere” is another anomalous track; a jaunty tune with nihilistic lyrics. “Any Soon” is another outstanding cut, with shimmering vocals and a killer hook. “All I Had” is an ineffably sad tune with swoony vocals and an inspiring message. “For Better or Worse” is a bitter, heartfelt philippic; the same can be said for “Knife to a Gun Fight.” Things become far more furious with the chaotic and nightmarish number “What Kind of Man.” The insanity continues with the Bowie-esque “Garden of Broken Toys” and the whole album judders to a halt with the eerily elegiac “No Such Thing as Tomorrow.” This is an admirably conceived and executed series of songs about a doomed relationship; I would recommend it for its variegation and ingenuity. (Francis DiMenno)
Worcester’s GNaRDS are kind of a punk rock band, in the way that Wire, Gang Of Four, and The Proletariat were punks bands. GNards can be catchy and abrasive at the same time. They recall classic tunes while creating something just a little bit different from anyone else out there. Short, punchy, tight songs that go for the throat from the first note and don’t let go. Is something bugging you? Turn this on and smash it up! (Eric Baylies)
JR MUSIC UNIT
Jr Music Unit
Wow! Jr Music Unit has taken me on quite a tour on this self titled CD. Good band, but if uniformity in music is a requisite for you, then you might need to look and listen elsewhere. On the other hand, this CD sort of comes with its own built in eclectic mix playlist. All nicely played, mind you. Just don’t expect to settle into any one particular groove with this. I don’t really mind this, since my taste tends to be highly eclectic, but style wise, I often feel that when a band does this, it may be implying a lack of commitment to any particular genre. I suppose only the band knows for sure.
I detect elements of Little Feat, Kula Shaker, Garland Jeffreys, The Clash ( if they were sedated), The Pogues, on “K.M.W.I.A (Kiss My White Irish Ass),” various ska/reggae, country and western, and funk influences. So, this should give you an idea of what I am saying with respect to my “eclectic playlist” reference. This concept works well for me as background music, while I am busying myself with other things. Depending on your taste in music, it could make for good road trip sounds too, but obviously, that is highly subjective.
No doubt, the band is talented. Jeff Reynolds delivering lead vocals, percussion, and keyboard, Tony Simmons on bass, Matt Lucey on guitar, and one impressive fiddle by Kurt Baumer. Everyone does their jobs quite well and it would seem that they can handle any style of music that they try their hand at. Does it all work for me? Not to be evasive, but I think this is definitely going to depend on the mood I am in. Honestly, I am writing it as I hear it. If you dig this level of variety on one CD, by one band, then look no further, because Jr Music Unit has it covered. But really… truth be told, I would prefer to hear them rein their talent in a bit more, and settle into maybe one, two, or even three styles per CD.
But really… truth be told, I would prefer to hear them rein their talent in a bit more, and settle into maybe one, two, or even three styles per CD. You won’t be able to sample just one track of Jr Music Unitand get a clear idea of what their sound is about. You’re going to have to get all in on this one to decide how you feel, and even then, your tastes will need to be diverse. (R.J. Ouellette)
Ballet Tree Jazz Productions
Core Four & More
There’s some serious soft jazz-making going on here. The trio of Michael Lavoie (bass), Miki Matsuki (drums) and Fred Fried (guitar) open the proceedings with the shimmering and contemplative but lively “Overheard Overhead,” in which the tripartite components mesh perfectly. “Tell Me, Tell Me,” featuring the winsome vocals of Michelle Gauvin and the poignant flute of Bruce Abbott, is pleasurably reminiscent of late-60s pop jazz. “Where Notes May Lead” is a meditative improvisatory piece for trio, and it’s followed by the meditative number “No Such Thing,” which is fronted by thoughtfully phrased and evocative vocals. “Amelia” is a lively waltz with a pleasingly halting and meandering dynamic, and “What Are Stars?” is another tune reminiscent of peppy 60’s pop jazz. “Provenance” is a wistful mood piece with unexpected emotional depth and resonance, and “One More” is an aching evocation of lost love. “Optimist in the A.M.” is a jaunty waltz where the crisp percussion and subdued bass follow the cascading guitar lines with seeming effortlessness. “Carillon,” as its title implies, suggests church bells, and, for all its mellowness, is also innovatively melodic. “The Things You Do” is an outlier: it sounds for all the world like a classic torch ballad from the 1940s, and it is ably interpreted by vocalist Michelle Gauvin. Overall, this recording will be a genuine treat for those who enjoy the more melodic and rhythmic forms of modern jazz. (Francis DiMenno)
XR Tabs are from Providence, Rhode Island but sound like they come from outer space. Their Bandcamp states “suit up and make preparations for a space walk… bring reserve oxygen for the way back… the repairs should take you about 20 minutes, as long as you stay focused.” This 26 minute opus is more than a song, more than a feeling, and more than a woman. I’m not sure if it is improv or written out before hand, but this will take you on a trip. This is a soundtrack to the film Stanley Kubrick had nightmares about. The band is a bit more psyche rock live, this is almost like chamber music, torture chamber music, perhaps, but in the best possible way. (Eric Baylies)
Sun Here I Come
Looks like the Boston area has yet another potentially big hit in this band. Analog Heart falls firmly, into the realm of indie/ alt/ rock/ country music. Youthful and fresh, their style should resonate well with multiple generations. This music is a little more mainstream than I typically go for, but still, good is good, and this CD is good. “Sun Here I Come,” is their first full length album, and while it is, as I have already stated, good, I think that it reveals only a glimpse of their full potential. They are doing great, but I feel that they are going to bloom in a really big way. Given what I am hearing, I have faith.
They are a tight band, with Jesse Cohen laying down some nice guitar, bass, piano, and backing vocals, Austin Ferrante on drums, a really nice Hammond organ by Brendan Moore, and Guy Jerry on guitar and additional backing vocals, all led by Liz Bills. Let’s talk about the vocal skills of Liz Bills. This lady has some range! There is a certain rough femininity to her voice – the type personifying strength and daintiness all at once. For example, at times, I hear shades of Lone Justice’s, Maria McKee in some of the songs on “Sun Here I Come.” I really like that.
For me, the shiniest gems on this one were, “Whoa,” “Merrimack Jane,” and “Hurry Up Our Love,” in that order. There is other good music to be found here, but in these, I hear a certain something which stand outs somehow, the ones that sort of catch my ear and say, “I am something special – listen to me!” Well, I am going to do just that, and beyond that, I would say that if this first full length CD is any indication of what’s to come from Liz Bills and Analog Heart, there should be much to look forward to in the future. Until then, I will enjoy what is on Sun Here I Come in the here and now. Good listening. I would recommend checking it out. (R.J. Ouellette)
At Salon Z
I’m not sure if Fable Grazer should be called a collective or a band. I’ve seen them play many times and the line up seems as fluid as the music. They are a free jazz rock improv group from Boston. This CD is taken from a set they played last year, and who knows how many of these folks still play in the band. This album captures 40 minutes of electric and electronic bliss with zithers, psyche guitars, jazz drums, outer space keyboards and intergalactic horns. This is a journey to the center of your mind, so take your bitches brew and meet me on the corner. (Eric Baylies)
End of the Highway
New Hampshire based solo artist Slow Coyote (who also fronts a band by the same name) offers up a series of highly unconventional acoustic numbers accompanied by eccentric vocal performances. many tunes start out as straightforward folk but quickly take a turn into a different and a damned strange world, due to the wavering and oddly phrased vocals. Certain of the numbers are lively and discursive in a way somewhat reminiscent of Syd Barrett. “I Don’t Fucking Know Yet” is a spoken word piece with a decidedly twisted emphasis.Occasionally we stray into garage punk, as on “It Ain’t About Me,” or even into Canned Heat territory, as on the scarifying number “On the Road Again.” (Francis DiMenno)
THE LOW ANTHEM
Razor And Tie Records
Providence psyche zen masters The Low Anthem are back with a multi layered masterpiece. My pet Walrus told me this was a concept album but I’m not so certain. What I am sure of is that underneath the extra instrumentation, sound effects, and tape manipulation are a bunch of timeless gems that could be hummed, strummed, and played to any blank generation. There are four people in the band but it sounds like a small army, an army that marches on it’s stomach full of magic mushrooms. There are echoes of “The Shining” soundtrack, Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, The Flaming Lips, and XTC’s alter ego group The Dukes Of Stratosphere in here, bouncing around my cranium. You don’t have to be stoned to like this, but it don’t hurt. (Eric Baylies)
This unconventional 2014 outing by Lisa Manning is in the tradition of the European Art Song, perhaps never more so than on the eerie, downright eldritch sprachgesang “When the Devil’s Got Your Number,” replete with musical saw. These poetic songs, for all of their glum vocalizing and spare melodicism, at their best manage to cast a spell of enchantment, notably on the delicate, sing-songy “My Beautiful Thief,” the near-psalmody of “The Kiss,” the ancient folk melodicism of “Sorrow,” the eccentric cluttered guitar playing of “Won’t You Tell Me a Story” and the sweet recurring motif of “The Games We Play. ” And there is something deeply heartening in the finale, a gorgeous anthem titled “O I Wish We Could Build Us a Nation.” Go to YouTube and drop in Lisa Manning the Singing Poet. (Francis DiMenno)
Atmosphere is exactly what you get on this album, although space atmosphere might be more apt. 2DV is a Boston based shoegaze, experimental, psychedelic group that not only reaches for the stars, but floats above them. Is that possible? Science makes my brain hurt. If this instrumental album added a little bit of singing or chanting, it would sound like the Rolling Stones sole trippy album Their Satanic Majesties Request or the band that inspired the Stones great psyche record, Haphash And The Coloured Coat. Don’t wait on this incredible band, because after all, tomorrow never knows. (Eric Baylies)
Bugjar is a really young looking band out of Boston. They show a wide variety of influences and styles in their songs, from shoegaze to grunge, with a little bit of punk rock and psyche around the edges. I have not seen them live but I am curious to see them. This is really good, solid album from start to finish. Bugjar have some short potential hits, and let other songs breathe a little more. A nice introduction to what I think is a pretty new band. (Eric Baylies)
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