CD Reviews

WILLY MASON

So Long Baby Shoes

6 tracks

Willy Mason is a singer-songwiter from Martha’s Vineyard. He plays with a full band sometimes but its just him on this record. I lived on the Vineyard for a while, so I am always weary of acoustic solo stuff from the musical hell that gave us James Taylor and Carly Simon. I am happy to say that Willy Mason destroys that archetype and hopefully creates a new one. The opening lines on the disc are “walking home all burned and broke” and you know you are in for something serious. Willy Mason is a young man with an old soul, delivering murder ballads and delta blues in his own unique voice. This record reminds me of the great Violent Femmes song “Country Death Song” but not as tongue in cheek. If you like the sparse Bruce Springsteen recordings, or any Nick Drake, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen, then you will love this. (Eric Baylies)

THE BILLY CONNORS PROJECT

The Billy Connors Project

4 tracks

This is a great rock ’n’ roll band with a punk attitude you hear in their lecturing vocals, aggressive guitars and power chords, and driving rhythm section. Both blistering and nostalgic, their sound packs a wallop and their message is loud and clear – this music is not for the weak kneed or faint hearted. Like a band from another era these cats just plug in, turn the volume up to ten, and passionately pour their hearts out in bitterness, self-awareness and fatigue. The song titles agree with me: “Stranded,” “Hurry Up Sundown,” “I Don’t Like You,” and “I Know My Place” scream from start to finish. Singer/ songwriter Bill Connors on guitar and vocals and ’70s and ’80s veterans Adam Sherman (Private Lightning/ The Souls) singing lead and fingering the stinging solos, drummer Ray Fernandez (The Atlantics) and Michael J. Quirk (Q from Club Linehan A Go Go) on bass play powerfully and prove they are all on the same page and share the same intensity in their focus.  And they do it right. Produced by Dave Minehan at Woolly Mammoth Sound in Waltham, and mastered by Nick Zampiello at New Alliance East in Cambridge, this release should be in everyone’s collection. Play this music loud!   (A.J. Wachtel)

TWINK

Twink Tones Records

Wide Eyes Wild Ride

16 tracks

The latest release by Twink features instrumentals with a carnival motif, with titles such as the childish “Hijinks,” the pneumatic “Lazy Tag,” the effervescent “Hot Popper,” the somewhat Enoesque “Goldfish Prize,” and the ripples-in-a-pond effect of “Karma Market.” The selections were constructed by Mike Langlie, who limited himself, as usual, to toy instruments (particularly toy piano and xylophone) and electronics. A cynic might describe the whole thing as infantile. At the very least, it is bright and basic and childlike, as well as quite unusual and practically unique music. (Francis DiMenno)

FIRE FOR CAVEMEN

Bogota Blues

4 tracks

Fire For Cavemen is a Charlestown based quartet. They are described in their bio as alt indie rock, but as Faith No More might say, what is this? It’s tough coming up with new descriptions and everyone knows bands love to have their music labeled! While not exactly the Troggs, these cavemen have a primal rock thing going on that reminds me of Killing Joke and Lungfish with a faint touch of Gene Loves Jezebel melodically. I’ll play it safe and call them one of the best post punk bands in New England, but I’ll leave it to you to listen to them and discover for yourself that they are so much more. The member of Fire For Cavemen are shamanistic alchemists, turning rock into pure gold on Bogota Blues. (Eric Baylies)

THE RUNOUTS

Static

1 track

The Runouts are from Boston and play punk rock music. Their style splits the difference between west coast snotty-punk vocals and east coast chug-a-lug riffs. They take the best of the punk scenes from both coasts and combine them into something that’ll please the fans of both styles.

Static is a 1-song teaser single pulled from the material they’ve recorded for their next LP. If this song hints at a slightly different direction for the band, stay tuned for a less snotty, more melodic, tighter version of The Runouts to be coming to your way soon. (George Dow)

KINGDOM OF LOVE

Ghosts

5 tracks

Spare and stately, the opening track “Play It On” tries hard to be wistful and memorable, and succeeds in the former aim. “When You Follow” is a portentous recitative replete with wistful trumpet. For the most part the songs are either insubstantial or vaguely poppy, as on “Karma,” Ms. Ramsay’s garish and supposedly “kozmik” sleeve covers are an ominous portent of what’s in store. (Francis DiMenno)

SPACE HEATER

Test Flight 001

3 tracks

Space Heater is a Providence band with Maiden-X on vocals and Joe Lou on assorted instruments and programming. This is dance music for doctoral candidates from outer space and love songs for robots. The CD says it was recorded and mixed in their spaceship. Their spaceship must have Brian Eno for a captain. This is modern dance music with an arty bent, but way more Grace Jones or Nina Hagen than Lady Gaga. If Lady Gaga really likes David Bowie so much, she should take this band on tour. This is a fantastic moonage daydream. The song “Laniakea” veers from the program a little bit with a Patti Smith like chant. There are not many songs on Test Flight 001 but there is a lot of variety. I can’t wait to hear more. (Eric Baylies)

THE MYSTERIOUS YUCCA FLATS

Topsy Turvy Tunes

9 tracks

This is an exceptional album of music from a genre that is difficult to fake integrity and passion. Part Americana and part yee- ha, Dan McLellan plays all the instruments and sings all the vocals. He also wrote six of the nine cuts. First the covers, “Flip Flop and Fly” done by Count Basie and also Big Joe Turner, “Black Country Rock” by David Bowie, and “I Know You Rider,” the traditional country blues song done by The Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna and Woody Guthrie. All the melodies follow the same formula: first McLellan puts down a few rousing guitar riffs to set the mood and then he does the unexpected and makes the songs his own and night and day from their original versions. The Bowie track is unrecognizable and the Dead tune is done faithfully and absolutely yee- ha and sounds nothing like their jamming version. His originals all share a melancholy you’d expect from the genre and his knowledgeable and patronizingly passionate vocals are always apt and appropriate for both the message and the style. The opener, “Another Shot Of Sorrow” is a weeper ballad with a nice hook, “Tin Can Band Of Bourbon Street” is strictly straw hat and corn cob pipe, and tunes “”Sad And Blue,” “Bring Your Bucket,” and “Cigar Box Banjo” have a familiar and reassuring twang in the mix. Even the lone instrumental “Tokyo A Go Go” drips with fast, screaming guitar and could be used during a cowboys and indians chase scene in a wild west movie. Great stuff from a great artist. (A.J. Wachtel)

GRACE MORRSION

I’m the Apple

12 tracks

The sound is country-inflected rock circa 1976, and the vocals are sweet and unassuming and, in some cases, sweetly countrified. The best of these songs are clever and well-conceived, such as the strong and winsome opening title track, the ruggedly soaring vocal showpiece “Standing,” the sweetly string-laden, mid-tempo lost-love song “leaving on My Mind,” and the anthemic “Taking Johnny Home.” (Francis DiMenno)

EASTHAMPTON SAVINGS BAND

Kunst Master

12 tracks

Easthampton Savings Band is a whirling dervish of power, volume, melody, and insanity. They cover songs by Gun Club and Cramps on Kunst Master, and you think, “Oh, it’s going to kind of sound like this or that.” When you hear some of the originals you wonder where all of the other interesting influences come from? The Velvet Underground come to mind, but they have definitely worked hard to create their own sound. The song “Mongoose” is like a punk rock Iron Butterfly fronted by a very angry Chrissie Hynde. Deposit some bucks to the doorman and go see this fantastic group. (Eric Baylies)

NOELLE MICARELLI

Field Notes from Another Place

5 tracks

The title track, and “Going Home,” have a certain soft-focus fragility. “On My Way to You” is both spare and joyous. Fans of Fairport Convention and other avatars of the British folk music movement might find much to like here. (Francis DiMenno)

DEPARTMENT OF EVERYTHING

Monster In The Mirror

4 tracks

Department Of Everything probably take their name from the music they play, but I’m not certain. They are a dance punk electronic math rock noise group from Boston, and yes, that is exactly what they sound like. No, they don’t sound like Yes. How many heavy bands employ the euphonium as a lead instrument? Some vocals are sung like Doomsday Student, some are rapped, and some are kind of in between like Mike Mountain’s vocal style. The music fits somewhere between Hella, Guerilla Toss, and Talking Heads. There are lots of twists and turns on Monster in the Mirror but its definitely a road worth taking. (Eric Baylies)

ILANA KATZ KATZ

Subway Stories

Vizztone Records

13 tracks

There’s a lot of good music on this release. Ilana plays the fiddle and this music has it’s roots in the blues, roots and Americana. In other words, Katz is a rural folk Appalachian blues musician. The thing that she excels in and what makes her unique playing stand out that  much more is her ability to play with other instruments: on this album ex- Canned Heat guitarist Barry Levenson who also produced the disc; blues pianist Anthony Geraci  and harp player Sugar Ray Norcia both on loan from their main gigs in Sugar Ray and The Bluetones. She goes from style to style, from influence to influence, as she duels and plays behind these different artists. And this energy and excitement drives the collective to a higher, tighter and more enjoyable level.  Mike Sandberg on drums and backing vocals, and Hank Van Sickle on four strings join the mix and make this a truly all- star band. Listen to “Subway Blues,” “Like A Wino,” “Ice Cream Freezer Blues,” “Poison Days” and the instrumentals “Requiem” and “The Excuse” to hear this inspirational inter- instrument virtuosity. I just dig her creative licks on the brooding opener “Don’t Forget,” her emotional solos on “Riley And Spencer,” and the uptempo coolness of “Road To Nowhere,” and “Don’t Cross That Line.” Jump blues with a real one- horse town feel. Subway Stories is dedicated to The Killer Blues Headstone Project providing headstones for blues musicians lying in unmarked graves. This in itself is almost as righteously right on as the actual music on the CD. Check it out!  (A.J. Wachtel)

RICK DROST

Turning the World

12 tracks

Rick Drost is a talented guitarist, though I find his vocal range limited and his phrasing somewhat monotonous. The more lively numbers on this collection, such as “Got a Little Corner,” “Lucky Lobster Rag,” and “Buffalo” are not what he’s best suited for. The remainder of the songs are mostly low-key laments, some of which, such as the title track, “Juli and Romy,” “Still Point,” and, best-of-show, the stately “Seasons Search” are genuinely moving. (Francis DiMenno)

BROWN LASERS

Four Songs

4 tracks

Boston trio Brown Lasers are a heavy instrumental band. They don’t get as “mathy” as some of the other instrumental bands on the scene, but they certainly have odd arrangements and complex parts. Rather than hit you over the head with endless musical dexterity, they choose to pummel you into submission with riffs that grow like amoeba in a petri dish. Opener “The Probe” could be covered by Tool or Neurosis, or even Banned Books. A good instrumental band can tell a story without words, conveying emotions and experiences the listener can grab onto, and then fill in the sensory blanks. Brown Lasers music is truly grand and epic and wonderful. (Eric Baylies)


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