Thursday, February 28, 2013

Anna Rae "Peddler's Wares" Album Review

If you have something to say, the best way to do it is simple, clear and crisp. Anna Rae’s debut release “Peddler’s Wares” (launching her into the Boston music scene) does just that. Lyrics that mean something, that are true and personal, but make the listener lean in a bit and relate on a deeper level than a lot of music typically does. The songs aren’t overcomplicated by overproduction, but rather well thought out and each part makes perfect sense. At the same time, I picture that this is exactly what you get when you go see Anna Rae play with a full band...and that is how a record should be. An accurate representation of the artist, which there isn’t nearly enough of these days.

The second that she begins to sing on the first track “Inheritance” I find myself smiling. There is a certain juxtaposition of the innocence of her voice mixed with the candid, mature subject matter of her songs that I still find myself smiling even when she proclaims:
“Would I miss you any less or any more
If I burn your house will I get stuck inside your door”

Each piece from the vocal, to the guitar, mandolin, bass and so on are crystal clear but fuse to create a united, delightful sonic quality. The majority of the record is a fairly relaxed tempo, with the occasional distorted guitar part. I find that I am listening, REALLY listening, to the music and the words and the music makes me feel almost dreamlike, very soothing stuff here. There is a certain gut-wrenching heart ache to the craft of Anna Rae’s songs, but she delivers it in such a way that I just really, really like her and what she has to say.

The record is extremely honest in is lyrical content and the fashion in which it was recorded. She is certainly a songwriter’s songwriter and forces (gently) the audience to pay attention to what she has to say. To sum it all up, this record is just plain pleasant, heartfelt and I really and truly enjoyed listening to it. Bottom line, this is beautiful music. I like you Ms. Anna Rae…and am happy you moved here to Boston!

Ariel & the Undertow (self titled) Album Review

Like an onion, there are many layers to Ariel & the Undertow. Onions can also be sweet, and so isn't the new LP from the band fronted by uke, tenor guitar wielding singer/songwriter Ariel Rubin. The self titled record is filled with rich instrument textures courtesy of a fantastic line up of players, and radio friendly song structures all backed by Ariel Rubin’s powerhouse of a voice.

My first thought when listening to the 11 track album is “holy crap what a voice!” The opening track “kindness from strangers” starts as a jazzy, distant monologue from Ariel Rubin. I picture myself in a dark speakeasy club as Rubin presents a gorgeous vocal that soon launches into a pop rock swell of catchy lyrics, swirling synths, and tasty guitar licks.  On “I Have No Music,” she sings “I have no music in my soul today,”  and I think everyone who is listening begs to disagree with this sentiment (but it still makes a great song!). The song beckons a little kickdrum thumping ala Meg White and later on features a sweet, sweet country guitar twang and ring courtesy of Duke Levine. “Take me Home”’s guitars leave me a little nostalgic for the grunge era of the 90s…and proving that you can’t put Ariel & The Under Tow’s influences and abilities in just one basket. The LP closes out strong with “Waiting Time”…which I think was purposely crafted to be a last track it fits the bill so well.

The album as a whole takes a very pop styled direction, but is very clever in its delivery. You can tell from the lyrical content, excellent musicianship, and quality of songwriting structure that these folks have been around the block and paid their dues as performers and songwriters. I have seen Ariel Rubin do the stripped down, songwriter thing as well and she does it just like she did this record…extremely well. AATUT deliver a nice, neat package of great songs that I am sure you will be hearing a lot of in 2013 (around New England clubs, on the radio, and probably on about 100 TV shows if the networks know what good music that appeals to the masses sounds like!).
The CD release for the record is TONIGHT at The Middle East…I  think tickets are still available at the door, so get there early to catch the show.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jeff Byrd & Dirty Finch - "Jumped that Train" Album review

Jeff Byrd and Dirty Finch is a Rhode Island based four-piece alt-country outfit from somewhere “around Providence” – merely for the sake of associating the fellas with a city. Depending on the night, the gents wear many hats ranging from “bar rock cover band” to Americana balladeers to folky roots-rock group. The band really does it all, and does it all well. Their latest effort “Jumped that Train” is a surefire indicator of the band’s ability to adapt a variety of musical influences into one conducive and excellent style that doesn’t need a label aside from “great music”.
Unleashing a 12 track mix of country pickin’ shitkickers, roots ballads, and singer/songwriter driven tunes JBDF present an eclectic mix of terrific songs on this record. It’s easy to see that since their first CD, they have honed their craft, focusing on all the elements that make a great song, great. Excellent musicianship and guitar work, fantastic story telling, and all that makes a song stand out in a sea of millions. Possibly the most prevalent example being the on point harmonies throughout the record…
Harmonies are an often attempted, but rarely excelled art when it comes to raw recorded music, but an art that comes as second nature to these boys. Two, three and four part vocal sections ring throughout most of the tracks and makes me think to myself “What the hell? Stop doing this so damn good, dudes”.
Favorite tracks include the funky driving “Ashes, Women and Wine” and chicken-pickin’, country rocker “Whiskey” …seriously, if those tunes don’t get you moving you should check your pulse.  Another standout track is the record’s title track. A somewhat grim tale, that bears a bit of hope in getting away from your troubles and moving down the track in the end to something better. Final thoughts on the record are that it’s a very solid, versatile, and well thought out collection that marks a strong momentum in 2013 for these gentlemen. Hopefully the rest of the year is as great for the guys.
Check them out online…and get out to a show. Seriously, these guys are even better in person!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

North of Nashville "Live at The Rack" album review

Let me start this by saying I think every band should have a live album, EP, recording. That way you (the listener) aren’t duped by overuse of auto-tune, reverb and general tricks of the evil commercial music industry…that being saying, Portland based North of Nashville’s “Live at the Rack” is a homerun on all fronts.

Two guys, some stringed instruments, and a kick drum is all that makes up this rootsy duo, but in listening to the record you would never guess that’s all that is going on. Made up of Jay Basiner (vocals, guitar, harmonica, bass drum,, thats a lot of stuff) and Andrew Martelle (mandolin, fiddle, vocals) the band’s sound is surprisingly huge considering there is only two of these gents pickin’ and kickin’. Driving rhythm guitar, mandolin and fiddle flourishes and naturally warm vocal harmonies flush out this 15 track live recording at what I assume is one of the bands favorite haunts.
In listening to the work, it makes me wish I was there at The Rack that night. You can feel the fun and vigor that was ever present in the room that evening and as a musician myself, I must admit I am a bit jealous that the fellas captured this on tape! A good mix of NoN material and This Way tunes (Jay and Andrew’s previous project) rounded out the night, which at first made me worried as This Way was a bigger outfit, but again, the huge sound these guys are able to create shines through. The music is a fresh take on traditional roots music…foot stomping, hooting & hollering, exuberant sounds…and that is a good thing!
Overall, this is a fun, upbeat and energetic recording that encompasses what these gents do best…beat the crap out of their instruments and play their hearts out to anyone with a willing ear. They just may be the hardest working musicians in the Northeast. Be sure to check it out streaming on the duo’s bandcamp page.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Glenn Yoder and the Western States "Javelina" - review

Former Cassavettes band member, Glenn Yoder’s sophomore solo effort “Javelina” knocks it out of the park.

The music has pop sensibility in the fact that almost anyone would enjoy listening to the songs, but it’s certainly not pop in the current sense of the word. There is a certain familiarity to the sonic qualities that draw a listener into each track, however, the music is undoubtedly an original blend and Yoder’s exciting and unique use of time in his song structure keeps the listener on their toes. His songwriting is on point, filling the 13 track work with catchy hooks and clever lyrics backed by a strong, clean vocal (with a hint of Texas twang).
Often garnering comparisons everywhere from The Jayhawks to Tom Petty, Yoder’s development as a songwriter and musician is in the forefront of the crafting of this project, while still holding strong to his roots. “Javelina” takes a shot at a wide variety of sounds ranging from gritty blues to folky ballads. Stand out tracks include the swampy sing-along “Pretty Little Girl” and yearning, harmony painted “Row”. Listening to those two tracks truly exhibits the dynamic range of this album. You can hear and feel the organic growth of this band as a tight unit and it certainly shows on this record with Josh Kiggans always on point drum efforts, Cilla Bonnie holding down the rhythm on bass, and Jeff Katz’s blistering guitar work.
All in all, this record has something for everyone. A great collective work from one of Boston’s best roots artists.
Head on over to Yoder’s bandcamp page and download the record for a name your own price (but seriously, it’s worth paying for...don't be a dick)…