Thursday, March 28, 2013

Red Line Scene Feature: Tom Bianchi

Tom Bianchi is a nice guy. Tom Bianchi is a talented guy. And Tom Bianchi is an incredibly busy guy. You may have seen him cracking jokes between performers at the Lizard on Monday, conducting the freight train that is Baker Thomas Band on Toad’s tiny stage, or wearing one of the other 1,000 hats he wears around town. Tom may very well be the epitome of the music on the Red Line (on this side of the river, and only the good kinds of music, of course). Toad, Lizard, The Burren, playing on the platform at a T stop…the list goes on and on of where you could catch him in many forms on any given night of the week. One things for damn sure, we are lucky to have him as a performing musician and advocate for local arts in this town. It’s this very reason, and of course, among many others, that I chose him as my first spotlight artist for the Red Line Roots music blog…


1)      What projects are you currently working on?

TB: I've been working on too much lately.  I just finished up chunk of time that was insane.  I laid down bass on Chris Trapper's new record, I did sound and played bass for "Fiddler's Of Inishbofin," an Irish music/comedy that ran 4 nights at The Burren.  Add on to that all the rehearsals for both of those gigs, my 4 regular nights a week, a couple of extra gigs on the side and for 10 [days] during that stretch I had my kids for winter break.  Honestly… I'm exhausted!

Musically the most fun I have every week is with Baker Thomas Band.  As much fun as I have with the open mic, songwriter series, studio sessions… blah blah blah…. if someone was to give me a giant chunk of money and say, "go make the music you want to make,"  I'd go full force with Baker T.  I've got a great group of musicians who bring the songs to life and trust me to lead them forward into battle… "battle" of course meaning making music.  I couldn't ask for anything more.  It's a blast.

2)      Why do we have the best music scene? (if you don’t think we do, what do you love about the scene here in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville)

TB: The best?  Maybe.  New York is pretty big, and even with just limited experience I'd have to say that Austin lives up to its name of "live music capital of the world," but yes, Boston may be the best.  Surely keeps me busier than I can handle.  We have great venues, small to big.  That's a big part of it.  There's such a history of rock and roll here, and with new venues being opened what seems like every day, I see that history repeating itself.  Brighton Music Hall is still a baby of a club and it's got some serious wings under it.  The Sinclair just opened up in Harvard Square, Paradise is standing strong… those are the big ones, but underneath all of those lies one of the best local scenes out there.  We've got great venues, and some amazing people run them.  I've been lucky enough to work with The Burren for more than 10 years now.  They host my Sunday night series in their back room, as well as irish and americana series 7 days a week in their front room.  The owners Tommy and Louise simply love music and are committed to presenting it.  I'm at Lizard Lounge on Mondays and Toad on Thursdays, two of the best venues in town.   Again, the owners are committed to these venues for the love of the community.  There are so many great small venues that are booking smart and thriving.  Atwoods, Sally O's, Precinct, Bull McCabe's… the list is much longer than that.

There's also a community here like I've never seen.  In the folk scene it's songwriter groups, song swaps, open mics… in the rock scene it's bands and co-bills coming together to make great shows.  I won't say it's the best simply because I don't travel enough to compare… but it's gotta be close.

3)      Favorite OR least favorite/most embarrassing moment on stage from your career?

TB: Well… There was this one time in Arkansas (how's that for an opening line?  Got your attention?) at the Ozark Music festival…  I finished my set and announced proudly, "Thank you!  Now stay tuned for Lori McKenna up next!"  Lori McKenna being a red-haired singer/songwriter from Massachusetts.  Of course… the artist who was "actually" up next was Patty Larkin, another red-haired singer/songwriter who got her start in Massachusetts.  Duh.  I don't know if Patty even heard me, …and I didn't even realize I said it.  Everyone told me afterwards.  I was mortified.  They're both awesome so I guess it's not the worst comparison, but yeah… I said that live on stage.  Talk as much as I do and eventually you're gunna say something stupid I guess.

4)      If you could collaborate with anyone from the area (general New England) who would it be?

TB: Bassists.  Every time I see a bassist who is a peer, or meet a new bassist, at some point in the recording we always say, "We should get together and do an all bass thing."  Everytime.  Matty Giannaros (Ryan Montbleau Band) and I have been casually threatening to do some double bass jamming for ages.  Hell… there are 11 members of the Baker Thomas Band… obviously I'm the only bassist.  I rarely get to jam with bassists.  Good bassists playing together can make some real cool music.  Unfortunately… we all have steady gigs with bands.  We are bassists after all.

5)      3 records that shaped you when you first started playing and 3 records that best represent who you are now/are listening to now?

TB: 3 records from way back when:  I'm going to cheat here.  Arrest me… edit me… do what you must.  I'll justify it!  A "record" today can have 30 songs on it, yes?  I just re-bought The Who's "A Quick One."  The vinyl that I had was 10 songs long.  The itunes crap I just bought had 20!  So…..  Here goes my cheating ass… stop me if you can.

RECORD ONE:  Everything The Police ever did.  (with the one exception of that crappy re-mix of Don't Stand So Close To Me.  That sucked the tiny little coke-balls of the 80's.)
5 studio albums.  I could not possibly differentiate the affect any one of those records had on me.  The raw energy of the early stuff spoke to my teen angst.  The more polished hits of the last record are such great songs with such amazing production.  The Police set new standards for Rock and Roll, traveled the world during a time bands didn't just do that, broke sales records… etc.  They were kings of the world for a brief time.  Their reign was short but it created some amazing music.  Lots of bands influenced me, but The Police are why I picked up an instrument.

RECORD TWO:  The Beatles Red Album and Blue Album.  
Yup, greatest hits records.  Cut me some slack… I was a kid.  They were my introduction to the fab four.  I had obsessed on those albums long before I actually picked up an instrument.  Probably listened to those albums 1000 times before I was 10 years old.  I had just turned 11 when I heard John Lennon was shot dead.  It was a Tuesday morning and John was killed the night before.  My mom let me stay home from school for the hell of it and I was hanging christmas ornaments.  They were playing The Beatles and Lennon stuff all morning on the radio and at first it didn't dawn on me.  Scott Muni was the famous WNEW DJ who had a good relationship with Lennon was on all morning… either that or they were rebroadcasting his announcements from the night before… I don't remember exactly, but I'll never forget learning of the news.  I'm tearing up as I write this.

Honestly?  I think I gave ya all I had to give with one and two.  I don't have a third.  I suppose the third is just about every record my sister had.  Billy Joel's 52nd Street, Queen's The Game, U2's The Unforgettable Fire, The Cars debut album, The Pretenders, Blondie, Joe Jackson…. She didn't have any shitty 80's music… or any shitty music for that matter… only the good stuff.  Thanks Sis!

I'm breakin' the rules again with one answer, everything live, everything in my community.  If I ever spin tunes it's very intentional to the situation.  Party?  Put on a party record.  Cleaning?  Put on up beat stuff.  Chillin'?  Put on chill music.  Simple as that.  I get to hear 24 different acts every Monday night at my open mic.  I catch The Blue Ribbons often at Toad on Tuesdays.  Wednesday nights I go song for song at The Burren with the likes of Ryan Fitzsimmons, Daniel Byrnes, Kara Kulpa, Jake Bush and a ton of other great artists.  Thursday I get to hear my own music through the amazing megaphone of Baker Thomas Band and we often have sit in guests there too.  My wife (Danielle Miraglia) is a pretty consistent guest as well and that is always a good thing.  On any random Friday or Saturday I may get to play the songs of Alan Goodrich and on Sunday I often start my day by going song for song at The Burren with Amy Kucharik and whoever else she may book for the americana table.  Then I close my night by enjoying 2 or more rock solid acts that I've booked for my Sunday songwriter series.  Who has time to listen to records?  I've got my ear to the ground constantly… often 7 nights a week.

6)      Why is creating music important to you?

TB: Because I'm not good at Finance, Law, Medicine, Computer Tech, or rolling burritos for that matter.  (Actually… I am pretty good at rolling burritos, truth be told)
That's actually a good question.  At this point I suppose it's just a huge part of 'what I do,' but why?  Love.  I've always loved it.  Some times I need a reminder.  Thanks for the reminder!

7)      Music you listen to that you otherwise wouldn’t tell your friends about?

TB: I wear it all on my sleeve.  Ask anyone, I really don't shut up about anything.  My friend I'm sure know more about me than they ever asked for.

8)      Aside from music, do you have any other pastimes? What would you want people to know about you aside from your musical endeavors?

TB: Occasionally on a day off one of my favorite things to do is simply walk the city.  It reminds me of the good times of my street performer days when I used to just kill time waiting for a good spot to play.  Haymarket on Friday and Saturday, cheap raw clams on the 1/2 shell, seeing the jugglers, buskers, random live music at Government Center, running into familiar faces randomly…. I love it.  But honestly, other than that?  Any spare time I have I generally spend with my kids if I have them or talking to them on the phone, …and of course on the random night where neither my wife nor I have a gig, "Date Night" is a big favorite ;-)  …but I suppose that isn't exactly a "need to know" situation. 

9)      Anything else you want to plug or we should know?

TB: Sure!
Mondays - Lizard Lounge Open Mic Challenge!
Wednesdays - Exile On Elm Street!  An americana Jam
Thursdays - BAKER THOMAS BAND  Live at TOAD  -
Sundays - The Burren's Back-room Acoustic Music! -

Is that enough?  :-)

For now, Mr. Bianchi, for now...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jon Nolan "Fresh Cut Grass" single review

Jon Nolan is a man who has seen some things. Lucky for us, he decides to write songs about a lot of those things and put the words to killer melodies, with excellent instrumentation and technique. Self proclaimed as “Americana-pop”, I think I have finally seen the phrase “pop” used in a positive light for me when it comes to music. Prior to this solo run Nolan fronted the roots rock outfit ‘Say ZuZu’ for 10 plus years. The group released 6 records, secured a record deal in Europe on Germany’s Blue Rose Records, and played all over 25 US states and 4 European countries. If thats not impressive enough, the musician is now back to his songwriting roots for a follow up to his debut solo release, 2005’s “When the summer’s lasted long” (also a great album) and has graced us with an early release of a tune called “Fresh Cut Grass”…
I think everyone who grew up in a suburb, anywhere, at any point in time can relate to this song. It’s a hot summer day’s sleepy daydream through times that have been. Riding your bike through the neighborhood, listening to the ball game on the radio, with the ice cream truck bells ringing in the distance. I close my eyes and this song truly does bring me back to those days.
“fresh cut grass, fresh cut grass, always brings me back”
Nolan has a powerful, but lovely voice. Skilled and time tested, with just enough dirt and grit on it to make it have that “something” that all your favorite roots musicians seem to have. He sings with a comfortable poise that displays how much soul this man has in his voice and heart. The simple guitar swimming in a sea of reverb is the perfect complement to the song’s narrative. This song is a testament to the fact that you don’t need 18 parts in a recording to make a great song. A simple echo feel on a guitar part and a great vocal is all that is need to evoke an impressive feeling of emotion and recalling memories of nostalgia. This song isn’t just a track on a record, it’s an experience you have had before and the musician is pulling you back into. This is what a great song is made out of.
In addition to writing great songs, Jon is also a recording engineer with a studio up in Rollingsford, NH called Milltown Recording. Some really great music has come out of the studio so check it out! I cannot wait to hear what else Mr. Nolan has in store with the rest of this project. If this song is any indication, you should expect great stories painted with a beautiful musical tapestry of textures that only add to the mood that Jon is presenting for the audience.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Video Review: The Coloradas "Maxine"

Before you even get into this review, if you haven’t already heard the Coloradas first record (self titled) released back in December 2011…stop here, go download it/buy the CD/call up Roy and Bernie and have them play it for you live over the phone and enjoy the hell out of it. It is an excellent piece of work and will give you a great background on these fellas. Did you do it? Ok, now moving on:
The core of Portland, Maine based The Coloradas is made up of Roy Davis and Bernie Nye. The two swap vocal/songwriting duties and harmonize fantastically while Davis picks it out on his acoustic guitar and Nye twangs us to high heaven with his banjo. Often times joined by friends (nationally renowned bluegrass musicians) the boys harken back to the times where musicians danced artfully around one central condenser mic (a skill that looks much easier than it truly is) or picked out songs on a front porch together. The sense of community, sharing, and making music because the songs are great is evident in what The Coloradas are all about.
The majority of the songs that the gents craft are mellow in their tone and tempo, but for some reason this music excites the shit out of me. It’s simply raw, real music with brilliant songwriting. It’s emotionally driven, simple, delicate and beautiful. The two artists play off each other in a manner like they have known each other forever and just seem to fit perfectly as musical allies. There is certainly hints of bluegrass in the sound, but its authentic to both Roy and Bernie, they aren’t putting on a twang they don’t really have, they aren’t playing to cater to a certain group or region, you can just tell the guys love the style and have taken it to a place that is all their own.
If you head to their site they have a host of videos labeled the Mt. Airy Sessions. A very cool idea, the two sitting in chairs across from one another and playing..feels like morning coffee on a Saturday  when you are up far to early. Again, simple, wonderful, but graceful and rich in its sound. For the sake of choosing one to review before the fellas release another new record. This song is called “Maxine”…

There is extreme hesitance and suceptability in Davis’s vocal. He sings a lot of material bordering on the sadder end of the spectrum, but still it’s incredibly powerful in its delivery. There is a relaxed focus from the two as they weave the tale, knowing where each other are going but feeling where the song has the potential to go at the same time. The structure of the song is solid, a recognizable repeating chorus and the verses are full of great lyrics...I mean GREAT lyrics.
She still carries cigarettes / though she hasn’t smoked in years
And still somehow / they disappear
Bernie Nye’s banjo plucks along with the words of the song as Davis spits words about a gal who is stuck where she has been for what seems like forever. I feel like I know this girl, the visuals pop into my head and Davis’s use of literary devices is impeccable. This is poetry put to some really well played and solid instrumentation. It’s not complicated, it’s not so out of the ordinary you do a double take, but it fits the song content perfectly. I honestly wish I could write 10 pages about this song, but to be honest with you and myself it just comes down to one thing…I love everything that these guys do and they are only getting better and better as a songwriting pairing. Do youself a huge favor and check them out next time they are around your city. You won’t be sorry.

Check them out online at :

Random Thought Thursday: Songwriting craft versus Songwriting crap

As a songwriter, I like to pride myself on my personal process of writing songs and think that, while I am not the greatest writer in the world (trust me, I accept that I am middle of the road at best), my music is personal, the songs have an intimate meaning and therapeutic motive behind me getting them out, but I do throw a catchy hook in there every few tunes. Have to make at least one “radio friendly”tune in a bunch, right?
More and more I have adopted and accepted the ‘story song’ that may not necessarily be a personal story. As long as a songwriter can put themselves in that person shoes and evoke the feelings that their characters have, I can jive with that. It’s undoubtedly a part of the fabric that makes the history of American roots music, so at some point I needed to take a stab at one, or at least acknowledge that a good song doesn’t need to be solely about “me”. That being said, I am a firm believer that constructing a good song very much should rely on lyrical substance…otherwise we are doomed to a world filled with “call me maybe” and “gotta get down on Friday”.
Can musicality and catchiness make up for the fact that a song has absolutely no expressive or consequential content? I would like to think not, but what is popular (even in the roots genre) today leads me to believe otherwise. There are certainly some days where I am sitting around and would rather listen to something where I don’t need to consciously delve into the writer’s deep thoughts and emotions, but at that point I’ll put on some Bach or old fiddle tunes. There is just something I cannot accept about someone calling themselves a singer/songwriter or even PRIDE themselves on it when a) they are singing absolute gobbledygook (I used a Thesaurus for that one, it’s a real word-and I think quite fitting) or b) they don’t even write their own songs. And while I won’t get into it in this post, I understand that this malady isn’t just restricted to the “pop” music genre…there are plenty of artists I have seen playing alt-country/folk/blues/etc. that I just can’t bring myself to accept as peers, nevermind envy them for their work.
I’ll leave you with this…are the folks who write these songs that we hear on popular radio genius’s? I’d like to think not, at least not in a profoundly meaningful way, as long as there is good music, there will be bad music and I suppose I should accept that. I just hope the former sticks it out…no matter how mediocre-to-decent a performance, I die a little inside whenever Miley Cyrus covers Dylan.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Throw Back: Three Day Threshold "Straight Out of the Barrel" album review

As we come off the high of the St. Paddy’s Day weekend debauchery, and back into this mess we call New England weather, I would like to grace you with a throw back. And there is no better band to throw back to after this weekend than the one and only, Three Day Threshold…

When you talk about country, punk, celtic, or Americana music in Boston it’s hard to not think of Three Day Threshold. Kier Byrnes may very well be the Godfather of the genre in this city (kiss the ring, folks), taking many young local artists under his wing, tossing them a gig, giving them a write up in Noise, or just providing input on how to get “out there”. No matter how you slice it, the band has left a lasting mark on the city of Boston, and show no sign of slowing down soon. ‘Straight Out Of The Barrel’ is the bands fourth studio album and provides all the energy and gusto you would expect from the band on a record or at a live show.

With a revolving cast of characters over the years, this release features Kier Byrnes on vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin and harp; John Stump on bass; P.J. Aspesi on drums; Zac Taylor on guitars, and Evan Gavry on dobro/steel/banjo. Three Day Threshold’s sound has just as much variety as its long list of previous contributors. A little bit country, a lotta bit rock n’ f’ing roll, and that hint of celtic charm make these boys, and this record, one you should have been spinning all weekend long (if you didn’t go out and see them live at the 18 in-a-row gigs they usually put forth this time of year).

The opening track “Whisky River” displays a definitive confidence in lead singer, Kier Byrnes’ voice, a certain relaxed conviction that is seemingly missing from a lot of singers these days. A nice melodic mandolin line runs over the ringing guitar parts and the drums and bass are keeping time like pros. I can see them playing this tune as an encore to a sold out crowd at the Paradise and everyone singing along.

The raucous track “My Favorite Titty Bar,” shows off the bands ability to take a humorous (slightly blue humored…ok, really blue humored) topic, back it with Byrne’s gruff vocal, toss in some shit-kicking guitar licks and a great rhythm section and rock so hard it will make your grandma get up and start two stepping.

“Jim Beam” has a great story behind it as the fellas met up with the master distillers of the bourbon company and had a grand old time from what I have heard. The song itself is a mid-tempo dance around the barn floor with your lady and has a MEAN whistle solo right in the middle. Sweet but with a little bite, just like it’s brown liquor namesake.

Each and every one of the eleven songs on this work show the bands punk-a-billy influences, blending a variety of different genres into one that I am pretty sure they invented and have blown up to epic proportions over the last decade (or so). There is no slowing down for 3DT, and that just lets me know that all is right with the Boston music scene.

Check the boys out online:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Random Thought Thursday: Awards Season

This week’s Random Thought focuses around local award shows…I guess the timing is right because there are about 4 in the upcoming weeks. And just a warning, I am playing devil’s advocate on this one. I may sound like a whinny, miserable prick in this rant, but I am just taking the “other side” this time around. Proceed with caution if you are sensitive to the subject, its not an attack or made to make folks feel bad, just tossing the line out to see what people think about the subject.
I’ve only ever attended a handful of these shows and while I am sure many of the folks who receive the awards are well deserving (I know a few who certainly are fantastic musicians, top of their game, and well deserving of an honor), I still get the feeling that some (not all) of the accolades are a popularity contest of who knows people on the nominating committee/who are the planning director’s favorite bands/how can you guilt your friends into voting multiple times via social media circumstance. Time and time again I see a very obviously defined pattern of who is nominated for a lot of these award shows/wins in the end. Could it just be that a lot of these bands really are “the best” in the area and get themselves out there far more than others might? In some instances, yeah sure. But a lot of times I feel like it’s a who you know, and who you…ummm, know…situation. It’s not necessarily completely dependent on the fact that you are the best musician or songwriter ever, you are just better at forcibly inserting your music into someone’s ear.
More often that not I see the band that wins “best in town” has played two shows actually in town over the past year. I think that’s great for bands organically growing to a national level, but should there be some sort of precedent set around play more than X number of local shows? At that point are you really still “local”? Or the "best new act" category, its a tough call. Some folks who win or are nominated have been at it for years. Not necessarily taking away from other "new acts" as you should put in your time, but maybe reconsider your wording of the trophy (breakout act, rather than new? Someone who really made waves in the year rather than labeling them as new to the music thing).
Do I think I deserve one of these awards? No, of course not. There are 1,000 other songwriters (and blogs) probably similar (if not better) than me floating around the city. Am I a bitter old fool? Ehh, maybe sometimes, but I also just don’t like the idea of comparing folks on such a grand level. Does a piece of etched glass on a plastic rectangle make you the greatest band in Boston? No, most likely not at all.
Don’t get me wrong I like the entire idea of bringing a community together for night to celebrate the local music scene, but I just think there are other outlets for it. For now, is this a good way to do so, sure, maybe, perhaps. I just really hate to see a large quantity of truly amazing musicians be overseen for these type of events while they exist. People who are truly driving the community forward, never expect anything in return, and genuinely love being a part of it all. Then again, I guess not everyone and their sister can be on the ballot.
What do you guys think? I am all ears on this one and would love to hear both sides.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mark Whitaker (ftr. Eva Walsh) "Nowhere to Land" video

“Forgive me for being, whatever it is that I am / cause I’ve been flying around for a lifetime, with nowhere to land”
As a songwriter, do you ever hear a song and think ‘wow, I really wish I wrote that’. Well, this song is my “that song”.

There is an intense amount of soul in this guy’s music and he has one of those undeniably powerful voices. A voice that doesn’t need to be super loud to come across as such, it just has a tone and quality that really speaks to the listener and hits you somewhere deep in your chest. The simplicity of two instruments and two voices cascading over remarkably well-crafted lyrics and song arrangement is something that when done right, is something of great artistry. Mark Whitaker and Eva Walsh have done just that in this song. Whitaker’s banjo playing is tasteful but really extraordinary. The places he takes a traditionally “plunky” instrument is truly amazing. The soft touches that Ms. Walsh adds, both vocally and on her fiddle, are also quite delightful. Together, the two musicians fashion a song that is moving, soothing, and just plain beautiful to listen to.
The video itself fits the song perfectly. Simple, shot in an apartment living room. It feels comfortable and really sets the tone of the song and the interaction between Mark and Eva. The best way I can describe it is that morning cup of coffee on a Saturday when you have nothing else to do but relax the entire day…in this case, relaxing means playing and singing extremely well.
Whatever the “it” is that you hear thrown around the music industry, the two of these musicians have it by the truckload. Mark informed me he is working on an EP later this year, so be sure to keep an eye out for it…or you could just go catch him live. He is playing all over the place!
Check him out online at:     

and Eva at:

The Marshall Pass "Phantom Train" album review

I have been extremely lucky in the music that has been sent to me thus far. I have heard some new bands that I dug, I have been given the opportunity to review local bands I know and love, and in the case of The Marshall Pass, I get to review a band that made me say “Holy sh*t that is some great music”.

Never before, have I heard a somewhat somber, sorrowful sounding record with so many colors and deep levels to it. I don’t know the band personally, but after listening to the record I feel a personal connection to the gents. From what I gather the back story of the project was in memoriam to a lost friend. The entire record illustrates that very well. Each and every note and part is artistically and professionally placed. Craig Rawding’s vocals are just enough, not too much, but still have that “this guy is a pro” sound to them, this is something that Nashville should be paying attention to and take note. Mixed with the plethora of instruments Duncan Arsenault adds to the mix creates a palate of loss, distress, and the hopefulness that maybe things will get better. They have to, right?
Stand out tracks, well all are pretty stand out. Track 2, Blue and Gray has a driving through country roads and through a mountain pass kind of a feel. The follow up track, Boot Hill Bound, has a bit of a delta blues feel to me, a lot of great finger picking type work, a bit swampy, and brings you for a ride traversing through the troubles a man led to the drink. Except, it doesn’t end well for this character and he spends his life running from his troubles. The repeated line “I’m not paying the mortgage anymore” followed up by “keep that pound of flesh they can suck it to the marrow” with a delivery with such conviction that I believe he really isn’t going to pay his bills. The closing track Redemption Hill is a slow moving waltz and great conclusion to the 7 track work. A story of a man who feels he may have strayed too far to be forgiven in the end. The final line being sung in a choral fashion to add closure a fantastic collection of tunes.
The record as a complete work flows extremely well. It’s a comprehensive story that feels purposeful and not just a handful of the best songs cherry picked from a bunch that the duo wrote. With hints of blues, folk, rock and roots music, Arsenault and Rawding present a truly soulful and meaningful work with ‘Phantom Train’. It’s a cozy blanket that wraps you up in front of the fireplace on a cold, melancholy New England day and somehow warms you despite all that is going on outside in the world. I will surely revisit this EP again and again. This is the kind of stuff that is straight up my alley. The music really took me to a place and I think thats exactly what The Marshall Pass set out to do with this EP.

Check out The Marshall Pass’s EP Phantom Train on bandcamp at:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Rationales "Radio" single review

So this is kind of a throw back, but Dave Mirabella shot me over an email, I listened to this track, and I really dug it...

The Rationales have been around for bit. Self described as “Mixing power-pop with alternative, teeming with hooks and harmonies, and layering their sound with hints of Americana and indie rock” is pretty perfect description of these fellas. And while pop may be a shunned term in the majority of bands in the Americana realm, it’s something these guys seem to embrace and own. As well they should….

 I would describe them as a fun, rock n’ roll band with hints of “a bunch of different things that reminds me of a great night out at your favorite rock club, drinking cheap beer and hanging with your closest pals”. Is that genre? No, but it’s what I feel when I listen to this track. I get hints of Nirvana with a lighter, not-so-depressing side, a throwback to a slightly more lighthearted rock/grunge I remember from the 90s, and a dash of the Talking Heads. The music rocks, but Mirabella’s vocal has a gentle sort of kindness and approachability to it. These are the type of guys who come off stage after a gig and share a beer with the folks in crowd, rather than heading back to the green room to self indulge in their performance.

While the lyrics are a bit nonfigurative, I sense a bit of celebration of music in a town that the Rationales know and love. The line “its like religion in my soul / like a song, on the radio” lends me the idea that these guys just love to play and music is their passion, something they want to share with a large stage at the Rock n’ Roll rumble, or their hometown pub. I believe the song was released around, or soon after, the opening of one of their frequent haunts RADIO in Somerville, and while the song doesn’t seem to be specifically about the club, I could easily see the song becoming its anthem.
Check out the Rationales at:

Autumn Hollow "Orlando Brown" single review

Brendan from Autumn Hollow just sent me a track called “Orlando Brown” from their new record…Full album is coming out 4/2/13 and our local cd release party is at Precinct on 4/6/13. So I figured I’d do a little review of this tune before their full release, then review that when the whole thing comes out. The description of the song is “the 4th track on the record, “Orlando Brown”, is about an ex-NFL player who suffered perhaps the most tragic and unusual career ending injuring in the history of sports.. .Also, there is a group chorus at the end of the song that includes the lovely voices of our children, family, friends, and several musicians who were kind enough to stop by the studio.” That’s pretty badass.

Boston is a sports town, Boston loves a hero, Boston should love this song. This is a story song that doesn’t play out like a typical story song (though at just over 5 minutes it clocks the typical time of one). It’s much more catchy, has a great composition that was obviously well thought out to be a song that would catch people’s ears. Well placed harmony parts, straight forward rock n’ roll guitars and instrumentation and strategically placed breaks in the song make for a really great tune that you want to give more than one listen to.
The close of the song is extremely climatic, building slowly into an all out sing-a-long. It makes me want to be in the crowd at these guys live gig so I can sing along, raise my drink in the air and cheers to the whole audience.
What I get from this right off the bat and throughout of the course of the song (and the band in general) is authenticity. The band is tight, the structure is solid, but they aren’t trying to hide anything.  With so much vocal work in the genre you get too much twang, too much put on “I’m singing Americana, do I come from Boston or do I come from Austin” style. Lead singer Brendan Murphy’s voice is genuine, raw, and true. Perhaps the guys lean a bit more to the rock side of the Americana scale than the country side, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Check the band out online at:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Random Thought Thursday: Does my tweed vest and fedora make my music sound better?

For decades stage presence has been an ever evolving art within the music world. KISS make-up, hair metal bands, and most recently in my comfy little folk corner of the world: dressing like you grew up in 19th century, rural West Virginia. While there is something to be said about embracing your craft as a performer, I often find myself looking at a band and thinking “why are they doing this?” rather than “wow, this is a great tune”. So where does theatrics overtake the quality of the music?

I come from the school of thought that music should speak for itself, but at the same time a guy playing sad folk songs in a pearl-snap plaid makes more sense to me than the same guy in a Metallica t-shirt singing the same songs. I, myself, am guilty of wearing plaid yolked westerns most of the time…hell, I even own a pair of cowboy boots (what, they are comfortable. Don’t judge me). But I think I am on the lesser end of the spectrum when it comes to taking it to the next level, Gram Parsons style. This is just one blogger’s opinion, but seriously, I have pondered this long and often. Am I the only one that this occasionally "disconcerts"? Can we draw a line in the sand and just say “No. That’s just not working”?
I guess the ultimate thought is that there is a thin line between “playing a part but still be true to your songs and your music” and pure, unadulterated douchebaggery. Hopefully we as musicians don’t find ourselves on that “other” side of the line anytime soon, but then again, stranger things have happened. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jimmy Ryan "Readville" Album Review

I need to preface this review by saying, it’s probably not fair I review this record. I already have a pre-existing adoration for Jimmy Ryan’s work and quite honestly, him as a person. A completely unassuming guy, with an incredible talent and way of awing a room of pretty much any size. You simply cannot deny that Jimmy is a true mandolin maestro, a master of his art and a gift to our fair city’s music community…that being said, this is a new record, it was sent to my attention by his PR folks, I haven’t heard it before and I am going in head first.

The new 8 track release from Boston’s master of the mando, Jimmy Ryan, is entitled ‘Readville’ (I am guessing it has a link to the town on the commuter rail line). There is an effortless, mild grit and break to Jimmy’s voice that is undoubtedly sincere and occasionally vulnerable (especially exhibited on the song “Every Word”). A breath of fresh air amongst some of the "all too put on" crooners that the genre often unearths. Ryan has a way of pulling the vocal melody into his mandolin lines and embellishing the heck out of it. Something that makes you go “hey that’s familiar…holy crap, did you just hear what he played?!” But Jimmy isn’t a vain player, you can tell he really is playing because it’s what he loves and was born to do. Plus he shares that spot light with some really talented other folks as well…
Track 2 (“Peace Down in my Soul”) is an “organized chaos, drunken sing along caught on tape” type of a track. A ‘friends sitting around a table, trading songs and shots” type of song where everyone catches on and sings on the chorus. The next track, “All the Hearts” demonstrates the softer side of the songwriter, telling the story of a woman who loses her sister and best friend…a little bit of sadness and heartache goes a long way here. Track 6, titled “Just Like You” brings us back to the drunken, pumped up ramble of a man who loves his whiskey almost as much as he loves his lady…all eight tracks are fantastic and present a wide range of what this band is capable of.
I love this record because I feel like I am down in the basement at the Lizard Lounge or hanging at Toad, watching a bunch of friends making music together. It’s a well produced and great sounding album, but it still manages to harness the feeling that these guys know each other and play together all the time over a few pints…and love every minute of it. Jimmy and co. (Dave Westner – drums, guitars, keys, percussion; Ed Riemer – bass, harmony vocals) have constructed an excellent collection of 8 studio tracks with the feel and vigor of a live performance. The potential for audience participation, the unyielding desire to clap and stomp your feet that the band instills into the listener, and the energy that is presented throughout the course of the record is uncanny. Mr. Ryan really boasts no comparison for me. This is something that as a part of this town’s music scene you simply know and love. Something that is remarkably familiar, but you are incapable of merely putting a finger on. This project is a definite winner in my book.
Check out Jimmy Ryan online at
And release party information:
CD RELEASE PARTY: Wednesday, March 13, Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass.
Ave., Cambridge (617-547-1228), with Duke Levine (guitar), Kevin Barry (lap
steel), Billy Beard (drums) and Richard Gates (bass)

Steph Barrak "Words to Break Your Heart" Album Review

Steph Barrak is a Boston-based singer-songwriter after my own heart. She just released a new record on Valentine’s Day called Words To Break Your Heart…again, a songwriter after my own heart, through the conduit of breaking hearts. Steph is also a very smart musician and surrounds herself with friends who happen to also be excellent musicians and seems to collaborate often with them. The music itself is also smart, a smart take on pop music (whether its rock, indie, light rock pop…I’m not sure how to pin it down, but it’s damn catchy).

In its whole, the work is pretty upbeat in its nature and structure. I sense a lot of sing along capacity in her tunes, driving in your car, turning the dial up and singing out loud (to be caught by the person in the car next to you…and still you keep singing anyway). Despite its cheerful sounding dynamic composition, it’s definitely a record that contains some of the more bleak components of love, but I have no qualms with that. I think some of the best lyrics and poetry come from a broken heart, so you go on with your sad self Ms. Barrak
While I find myself tapping my foot along to pretty much every track on the album, “Robot” is a pretty cool track that caught my ear immediately. The way that Steph sings on this track almost mimics a robot with a staccato approach to a lot of the phrasing . It’s an interesting take on something I’ve often felt and pondered. Are we really just cogs in the machine, running blindly through this thing we call life? Deep meaning in an indie-pop song, I can jive with that.
The record as a collective work is very commercially friendly. I think she could (and will) do quite well on the radio, tv, movies, all media outlets, etc. On the other hand, she is sticking true to herself, writing about personal experiences and not conforming to the “pop” norm and just rhyming words for the sake of rhyming words. I think you will be seeing and hearing a lot more from this gal in the future…so keep an eye out and an ear open for Steph Barrak.
Check out Steph’s bandcamp to listen to “Words to Break Your Heart”

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Longwalls "Kowloon" Album Review

My first review for RLR, Glenn Yoder, forwarded the folks in the band The Longwall’s my way, and man, I am happy that he did so. The band masterfully blends traditional folk instruments and music with a modern style of synth usage, sound modulation, and atmospheric noise dynamics that is really quite impressive and pleasing to the ears. I have to admit that this style of music was never really my thing until I gave this record a listen…and I have to say, that after playing this through a few times, I am a fan.

The record kicks off with Vaasa. A slightly grungy track, a bit lonesome and isolated kind of feeling makes it way through my bones as Alan Wuorinen delivers a vocal performance slightly reminiscent of The Low Anthem. I hear bits and pieces throughout the 8 tracks that remind me of that band (which I have no complaints about, because I love the Low Anthem and its different enough that it took me a long time to pinpoint the likeness). Track 3 (Long for Shipwrecks) has a bit of a Bright Eyes feel to the vocal and lyrics (which I also enjoy). Its upbeat, with a happy whistle throughout the song.There are ever-present, complex arrangements of traditional folk instrumentation interspersed with synth and sound modulation which is really interesting. It pulls me back and forth from an acoustic roots feel, to something I would most likely hear on college radio...well, stations that have good taste at least.
Track 5 (Woods Pretty) is my favorite of the eight. It has got a bit more of a rootsy, haunting feel. I get a very rural, wintertime, warm fire, going for a snowy drive in New England vibe when listening to it…which I can never complain about, but I may have a little bias here. The vocals have a slight raspiness to them, gives it a bit of a calming feel (again wintertime, hibernation, etc.) and has a cool harmony part that carries the listener along for the ride. Either way, it paints a great atmosphere that really pulls you into the song.
The band has presented a adaptive collection of songs ranging from folk to indie rock to avant-garde ambience and back again, blending the best elements of roots/country music with something hip/modern day music fans will appreciate. Thank you Longwalls, you have turned this roots music purist into a believer that good, traditional folk music can evolve using electronic instruments without causing detriment to the genre. Keep it coming!
Check out their bandcamp and steam some of their stuff: