CD Reviews

JOHNNY ANGEL WENDELL

Smut and Politics

5 tracks

Johnny has always been a super songwriter. Starting with his days as a garage punk pioneer in The Blackjacks and The Swinging Erudites to his more recent incarnation as a left coast parent. His social observations, playfulness, biting and opinionated lyrics attached to hook-laden melodies have kept him relevant and, when compared to the mediocre music released today, the heart, soul and conscience of an older but wiser generation. “Size” is a funky acoustic number with twangy guitar where Johnny explains, “size isn’t everything, size is not important,” and “size isn’t everything, that’s what she said.” “Eternal Bliss/ Satan’s Kiss” has a nice whistle hook as an intro and a clever refrain “a blowjob in heaven… 24/7.” Johnny Angel has aged well. He’s as lecturing and patronizing as ever but the vocals aren’t as mean or snarling. Just as passionate, now in a “more willing to just be an observer” way. Johnny Angel Wendell plays and sings everything on these songs with the percussion provided by Brock Avery (New Man). The music was recorded by Justin Burrill and mixed by Paul Kolderie. “Celebrity Death Song” with it’s “what a way to go-go-go” refrain reminds me of Tom Waits leading a hippie sing-a-long. In fact this whole package audibly sorta makes me think these melodies could have been found on a Bob Dylan bootleg tape covering The Swinging E’s or The Blackjacks. The two political songs, “Hunker Down” and “Guillotine (Off With Their Heads)” stand out with the former especially capturing a Blackjacks feel with its punk attitude and “hunker down, hunker down” hook. It’s dripping with arrogance. “Guillotine” has a catchy beat and is sung with the trademark Johnny Angel snarl. Smut and Politics is pretty much what I expected from this talented artist… but better.  (A.J. Wachtel)

ADVENTURE SET

“Favors”/ “Ghost Seller”

2 tracks

The resurrection of Adventure Set has been a slow rebuilding process. The quintet that conquered the local scene 30 plus years ago disappeared for decades, has returned and is now reduced to the talents of lead vocalist Ken Scales and composer/ instrumentalist Mark Pothier. Keeping their footprint real, during the past few years they have released two EPs (Centuries to Go and Gazebo). Their music is a distinct throwback to the ’80s synth-pop bands that inspired them (John Foxx, Ultravox, OMD, ABC, Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Gary Numan, Human League, etc.) – a fertile period of electronica innovation. These two new tracks carry the torch forward, making the past sound totally contemporary. “Favors” begins with superb keyboard delicacy before the EDM beat kicks in with loops, bass, and other sonic effects. “Favors – I won’t ask again/ As useless as a friend/ I’ve labored to hold on to a smile/ Easier from a distance of a mile/ Perfectly clear – all throughout the year/ You would not be here when the verdict came in.” Very minimal, a tad cynical, but smoothed over by Ken’s leisurely vocal approach. The second tune, “Ghost Seller” is still minimal, but far more dynamic and upbeat, dealing with promises ignored – “I lost my soul before it hurt me – I lost my soul/ I told my friends they could desert me/ But they’ve already gone away/ Bought it all from a ghost seller/ Who promised me everything.” More slow-shifting pop coloration centered by a pervasive rhythm. It’s all in the feel – whether that means chopping up a beat, dropping the midrange out, or drowning it in reverb – Mark has that techno mood down perfectly. Something of promise does emerge and from that, another developed song is born. Perhaps by next year, we can expect a full album of this stimulating retro relevancy. Great to have them back!   (Harry C. Tuniese)

THE WEISSTRONAUTS

Sool Recordings

Flat Bottom Cold Greaser 

12 tracks

This is a veritable garden of delights. I mean, who woulda thunk 50 years ago that musical tropes firmly established back during that long-ago era coulda still been viable today? How? Ask Pete Weiss (who wrote most of these choiceys) and the Weisstronauts, for they are the ones who done it, yet again, after six CDs (and four EPs, no less). The opening title track is a loping, almost dopey-sounding twang-a-thon with some sweet guitar picking and suitably kludgy percussion–then it banks into a kool, Booker T. & the MGs style middle eight; pauses, seemingly for breath, then shuffles its way to the finish line. This is followed by my fave, “BABACAB,” a “Hot Rod Lincoln” style rave-up which could resuscitate a flat-lining Sterno bum. It even sports a sock-o-delic, Altered States style bit of whimsy as a spacy interlude. Wow! And the band doesn’t let up: Skeggie Kendall’s “Teenage Wedding” is a revved-up, rip-snorting slab of pure-and-simple RAWK. Things calm down a bit with the melancholic but melodic guitar sound of “As It Stands.” “Kidney Pie” is another interlude, with reliably choogling bass and a George Harrisonesque sort of pealing guitar line seemingly torn smack dab out of Beatles ’65. On “Nervous Ernie,” another good ‘un, a repeated telegraphic guitar riff resolves into a juddering and mildly disorienting series of variations, which eventually blossom into an impossibly fine rockabilly snippet which turns briefly towards psychedelia, then careers back into that aforementioned telegraphic riff. A mini-masterpiece of craft. “Spatial Tick” continues the trend into obliqueness, only this time it launches into (for once I’ll quote from the promo sheet) “space jazz”. Modal as all hell; like a jam session an angry Miles Davis might oversee on a muggy day. in Hell Once they’ve gotten THAT out of their systems, they offer up a loopy novelty funk jam, “New England Boiled Dinner,” where drummer Nathan Logan gets to really strut his stuff. Their take on “The James Bond Theme” is a pretty spectacular spoof – as though the Ventures were goofing around in the garage fresh from seeing a big-screen showing of “Dr. No.” “The Bond Variations” sounds to me like bits and pieces of all kinds of stuff – mostly the Ventures (again) and some unspecifiable Spaghetti Western tomfoolery. Then it resolves into this truly grand coda which sounds like the final notes of some great rock opera which has yet to be written.  (Get on it, boys! The world is waiting!) “Antidisestablishmentatrianism” (not actually the longest English word in any major dictionary – that would be “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilico-volcanoconiosis”) is a sedate little number which Phil May and the Pretty Things might have cooked up back in ’65, but obviously didn’t. “Don’t Get Him Mad” tops off the proceedings with a tuff-sounding riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Nuggets anthology, layered over with some rugged psychedelic guitar, ditto. It’s kind of like “In the Night Time” by the Strangeloves chopped up and mixed in with a little bit of “I Am Waiting” by the Rolling Stones, though that is only a feeble approximation of the all-subsuming mighty noise that is being offered up here. Wow! What a ride! More, Sirs! (Francis DiMenno)

SATCH KERANS

Snake Eyez

12 tracks

Satch’s new release is the perfect collection of music for the open road. Mellow, with some rock elements, this one chills me out right off the bat, with the kind of sound that makes you want to kick back with a cold one. And hell, there are some killer stories shared over these 12 tracks. “Down at the Dock,” has a great tale of a tough life, and is my pick of the lot. Second comes “Settle for the Best,” and this one takes me through some of the tougher relationships I’ve been in, reminding me that you can’t go with someone just because they’re there. “Snake Eyez” has some smooth guitar work, and one of the best examples of his singing voice.

I normally lead to the heavier stuff, but this album has me running through all 12 tracks with an eager ear to see what comes next. (Max Bowen).

FUNERAL CONE

Tuen Me On Dead Man

14 tracks

This is not a Beatles tribute band, in case you were wondering. This is a Boston and Providence based punk band with a big organ, and they are not afraid to use it. These tunes on are mainly short bursts of energy that don’t alternate between parts, they say what they want to say and move on to the next song like old Wire albums. I’m reminded of stuff like Wreckless Eric, Soft Boys, and Ian Dury & the Blockheads but way less British. The song “Soviet Twin” sounds like something off Devo’s Duty Now For The Future album, which is one of my favorites. Turn Me On Dead Man is a magical mystery tour into the punk rock psyche 2017 and I love it. (Eric Baylies)

KEITH A/B

75 or Less Records

Unbridled Optimism  

6 tracks

Innovative textures and instrumentals are matched to quirky vocal melodies to form some intriguing songs by this solo performer; some of which verge on epic, notably the opening track “We’ll Send Our Sympathies,” which is supported by relentless rhythm guitar and a positively eerie horn-like refrain. The tumultuous churning in the back of “Your Mother Needs a Man” fails to completely obliterate the rather sweet, almost poppy vocal melody delivered with a degree of intensity which creates an interesting sensation of dissonance, literal and cognitive. “Capital S” is instrumentally deliberately jarring and angular, with over-miked guitar thrumming layered in back of Keith A/B’s almost sing-songy vocal melody. (Think Patsy Cline’s version of “Tennessee Waltz.”) The end result is an almost nightmarish ambiance, as the vocalist ominously declaims “You will tremble/ You will tremble/ You will tremble like a leaf.” Of the remaining songs, the repetitive “An Hour a Day” seems like a misfire; “Fortune Cookies” is a brazen, poppy rock song but otherwise not particularly innovative; “One Bad Egg” is an anodyne wistful ballad. But the first three songs are strange and wonderful. Recommended. (Francis DiMenno)

MICHAEL DINALLO

Black Rose Records

Crooked Road Songs

6 tracks

Dinallo was in The Radio Kings and wrote all the songs except for one on this great new release. The music is played by two different sets of musicians. The first features Michael on electric and acoustic guitars with Barrence Whitfield on vocals and Ducky Carlisle on the bass drum. Ducky also mixed the music at his Ice Station Zebra studio in Medford. The other group of musicians is a full band with Tim Gearan on vocals, Kevin Barry (The J. Geils Band/ Peter Wolf & The Midnight Travelers) on guitar, John Packer on four strings and Marty Richards (The J. Geils Band/ Peter Wolf & The Midnight Travelers) pounding. What a backing band. The fact that this first recording of his as a solo artist has two different formats or sides to it can be compared to him having many different roles here as producer, band leader, guitarist and songwriter. He is a man who wears many hats. One thing that I like is that in all the music the sense of loneliness and being lonesome is present and can be best heard on the opening instrumental “Blue Bonnet Lullaby,” the Leadbelly tune “In The Pines,” “Tennessee Blues,” and the closing cut “Waiting For A Better Day.” It’s rural blues done with a sad, scared delivery that even makes the traditional arrangement of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Lonesome Road Blues” done by everyone from The Grateful Dead to Joe Bonamassa, sound new and believable. And Barrence and Tim’s vocals just grab your heart. This is a good album. Give it a listen.  (A.J. Wachtel)

MARK STEPAKOFF

Any Port in a Storm 

11 tracks

“Fires Gotta Burn” is a killer opening track, somewhat reminiscent of the ice-cool stylings of Mark Knopfler. The remaining tracks, nearly all of them equally good, run the gamut from sweetly melancholic (“Memory Museum”; “I Didn’t Come This Far”) to jaunty country hokum (“Excuse Me for Living”; “Rottweilers”) to slice-of-life tomfoolery (the excellent, John Prine-esque “Making Guns”; the gruesome and jolly “The Sausage Factory,” reminiscent of the Holy Modal Rounders) to spare and stark love songs (“Talk About the Weather”; “Bad Memory”). Topping it all off are two decidedly odd songs, the mocking and treacly “They’re Not Making Love Like That Anymore,” and a sweetly swinging duet with Rose Polenzani, “April Fools.” Nearly all of these songs are highly entertaining, written with wit and performed with verve. I would go to see this performer anytime. Highly recommended. (Francis DiMenno)

TEST MEAT

Test Meat

5 tracks

Test Meat is more than a band, they are a pounding, relentless machine full of sound and fury, signifying everything. This heavy Boston trio takes the best of metal, punk, and the feel of bands like Tar, Unsane, and New England legends Glazed Baby. Bassist Aarne Victorino played in Whitey with Andy of Glazed Baby. Guitar player and singer Darryl Shepard has played in Boston rock royalty Milligram, Roadsaw, and Slapshot, among many others. Test Meat and its background is part history lesson and part roadmap for the future of great Boston rock. All hail the new kings. (Eric Baylies)

BAYOU BOY ORCHESTRA

The Legend of A Bayou Boy Volume One

9 tracks

This is a yee-ha album pure and simple and as I listen to it I envision men in cowboy hats singing the songs to a crowd of Stetson’s. Greedy Geezer, who once ran his garage night at The Granite Rail Tavern in Quincy, on guitar and vocals and his son Bayou Boy on banjo have surrounded themselves with a bunch of hillbillies to record this hayride through a moonlit rural road. Satoru Nakagawa (Tokyo Tramps) on guitar, Yukiko Fujii (Tokyo Tramps) on bass and vocals, daughter Lillian Donnelly on keys and vocals, Andrew Whynacht on washboard, Uncle Joey Fingers playing accordion, and Uncle Al Hendry pounding passionately play “God Bless America” along with the other eight Geezer originals and it sounds like it was recorded at a church campfire in Arkansas. Uptempo c & w songs to listen to on this CD: “Swamp Thing” the radio- friendly romp, “”Sorry Ma” with Satoru’s bluesy guitar solo, “Good Mary’s Tavern” the token whistling song and “Bayou Wedding.” Ballads to hear: “She Left Me on The Bayou” country blues with a bit of twang, “Cajun Werewolf” with the nice banjo bit and “Watchman.” Lonesome Lil’s comment on this cool country CD: “Songs for Summer Friday night pizza and beer campfires” and we totally agree. For the rest of the year enjoy this marvelous music inside with a shot and a beer.  (A.J. Wachtel)

TERRY KITCHEN 

Urban Campfire

The Quiet Places 

12 tracks

Terry Kitchen, author of the autobiographical novel Next Big Thing and formerly of the band Loose Ties, delivers his tenth solo album in 22 years. The best songs on this collection are well worth a listen: “Enjoy It While It Lasts” is a sweet folk song of reminiscence and regret. “Seeds” is a gently elegiac and inspirational song with a soaring vocal melody. Kitchen’s cover of Spirit’s “Nature’s Way” is an earnest and heartbreaking rendition. “Half You Half Me” is a sweet little swing tune. “The Last Laugh” is another sweetly melodic tune with an edge of lyrical tartness. Kitchen’s quietly unspectacular blues song “Jericho” practically epitomizes mellowness but is also a sedately paced, bravura vocal and instrumental performance; special praise is reserved for Sam Dechenne’s restrained trumpet stylings. Kitchen’s tender, mostly autobiographical songs may not be to everyone’s taste, but he has a knack for a melody and a richly mellow vocal style which certain folk music aficionados may find appealing.  (Francis DiMenno)

YOU PEOPLE

Dropouts

10 tracks

You People are a Boston based trio. Let’ s just get this out of the way. The bandcamp bio states that ” their name, meant to marginalize, is repurposed as a badge of honor”. So there’ s that! This is not a one trick pony or a joke band. There are heavy hard rock songs that remind me of Queens Of The Stone Age. The song “Definition Of One” is like a catchy Dead Boys or heavier Urge Overkill song. This band is probably too young to know who any of these bands are, but they remind me of classic Boston punk bands Beanbag, The Blackjacks, and La Peste. “The List” falls apart at the end like an art school freakout. This band has mastered many styles and put out a great record with their own sound. (Eric Baylies)

VELVET BLUE

Lozenge Music

Velvet Blue

6 tracks

This is an LA band, albeit one featuring former members of Boston’s Senor Happy (guitarist and principal songwriter Derek Schanche), The Lemonheads (bassist Josh Lattanzi), and NRBQ (bassist Pete Donnelly), as well as drummer Kelly King. “Seven Stars” kicks off the EP with a Pebbles-style garage punk track with the toughness of a song like Them’s “I Can Only Give You Everything.” “The Sunshine Tried to Stop Me” has a similarly heavy garage punk feel, with a druggy-sounding chorus and refrain and squalling guitars and even a little touch of Allman Brothers style guitar snarl. “Noise Violation” is a crunchy brontosaurus-paced number with strangely keening and almost petulant vocals. “Caught in the Way” is full-fledged psychedelia somewhat akin to early Pink Floyd, replete with drifting guitar and droning bass. “Silent Scream” comes from a more modern place, with its reliably chugging rhythm section and laid-back studio-manipulated vocal style – though the mind-manifesting keyboards are straight out of the orchestral psychedelia of the sixties, and the vocals resolve into a type of yodeling falsetto. The final track, “Another Summer at Large,” co-written by Derek Schanche and Keith Donnelly and with vocals by the latter, is kind of like Elvis Costello overlaid with tons of psychedelic effects, and the song judders along like a slightly dysfunctional machine. A catchy little number, in all its drudging glory. (Translation: I can’t get the damn thing out of my head.) It might even someday be a hit… if only on Martian Radio. But no – I kid. This is a very interesting collection with songs you can listen to over and over again. (Francis DiMenno)

PERIPHERAL SOUNDS

Moon Vox

8 tracks

Peripheral Sounds is a Boston based artist. This album is mainly arty dance music. What the heck is that you ask? Do you remember the Giirgio Moroder produced Donna Summer albums that had married pop music and Krautrock? Well, this exactly like that but totally different! What other mainly instrumental dance album samples George Gershwin and John Cage? Probably none. The track “The News” takes a detour from the dance party to get into more avant garde territory like Coil. This is music for sexy robots, the next Blade Runner sequel, or the soundtrack to the cocaine fueled orgy I’m not invited to. (Eric Baylies)

SETH ROSENBLOOM

Seth Rosenbloom

5 tracks

Seth is a great guitarist from Waltham who sings and plays with passion. He makes his guitar growl and has a voice to match. His creative solos were mixed loudly – the focus of the songs that were recorded at Wellspring Sound in Acton by engineer Matt Hayes and mixed and mastered by Eric Kilburn. Joining Rosenbloom on bass is Tom Appleman with Ken Clark on organ and Jim Gwin behind the kit. They are a rock solid bar band and the screaming guitar leads and tight backing place them a cut above the rest. Listen to the two originals, “Nailed To The Wall” and “The Way Things Used To Be” to best hear this blues band’s many talents. Even the three classic covers, the opening cut “Wild About You Baby,” “I Don’t Believe,” and “Gambler’s Blues,” originally done by Elmore James, Bobby Bland, and B.B. King, have a lot of licks and are great fun. Rosenbloom plays many vintage guitars to give the music on this self-titled release an old school blues vibe. Rosenbloom can play! Check it out.   (A.J. Wachtel)

THE WEISSTRONAUTS 

Sool Recordings

In Memphis 3.

7 tracks

There are seven ingratiating good-timey instrumentals here, none more so than the opening cut “Southtown,” With its galumphing poke-along country style, “Rompy” is yet another winner. “Theo’s El Camino,” a new instrumental by the talented Charlie Chesterman, will delight long-time fans of Scruffy the Cat with its dynamism and glad-making vibe. The nifty “Ranch House Stomp” might evoke nostalgia for the Western Swing stylings of Bob Wills and Milton Brown. “Jade Cow 2012” is another dynamic surf-rock piece with a shouted refrain which irresistibly evokes that old warhorse “Tequila,” but its modernistic angular pulse, alternating with old-fashioned rockabilly-punk riffing, make it a certified hoot on its own head of steam. Finally, the ensemble tackles “Cissy Strut” by the Meters and all I have to say is that they do a creditable job. Recorded in 2012, but only recently released… and worth the wait. (Francis DiMenno)

BRIDGE OF FLOWERS

Feeding Tube Records

Live/ Demos

9 tracks

Bridge of Flowers are a Greenfield, MA, quartet – sort of Western MA underground supergroup, if that is possible. Shane Bruno, Jonathan Hanson, and Jeff Gallagher have all appeared on some of my favorite noise and psyche albums from New England in the past seven years or so. This strange fruit of an album is like a Dream Syndicate or Psycho Mafia, bringing in various influences to create something powerful, unique, and challenging. This is the next generation Velvet Underground, creating instant, modern classics. All hail Bridge of Flowers, the new gods of college radio. (Eric Baylies)

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Wicked Hawt 3  

16 bands, 16 tracks

“Kicking and Screaming” by The Spike Emerson Society is a smoldering, slow-burn mood piece with heartbeat-pulsing drums, replete with dazed and dreamy middle eight, which resolves itself into a hysterical recapitulation of the ominous title phrase. Other highlights of this anthology include the desperation-suffused power ballad “Angeline” by Los Retros; the bizarre, almost hallucinogenic lo-fi grumblings of Reluctant Mailer and their edgy, doom-suffused song “Brain Damaged Romantic”; the cocktail jazz-cum-Charlie Manson style wailings of The Willows on “Come Down Fast”; and, best of the bunch, the spectacularly explosive bass-driven rock of “All I Do” by the Pheromones. (Francis DiMenno)

STEEP LEANS

Grips On Heat

8 tracks

Steep Leans is a Boston based band led by Jeffrey Grey. This is a great collection of songs that span rock, shoegaze, psych, and more. The song “Rain Delay” sounds like a happier Nick Cave, but don’t worry, not much happier! Imagine a world where Jim Carrol sang for the Lords of The New Church, or maybe a noisier Russ Ballard, with beautiful songs that are rough around the edges. I’m just discovering this incredible band, but I’m ready to put on my Indiana Jones outfit and go crate digging for more. (Eric Baylies)


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CD Reviews — 2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Trotting out Cult Confessions, the CD, at Club Passim - The Gentle Souls' Revolution

  2. Pingback: The Noise reviews Keith A/B’s ‘Unbridled Optimism’ | 75ORLESS RECORDS

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