Thursday, October 31, 2013

First Listen: "Fly Away" Barbara Cassidy Band

 For today's First Listen track we have the track "Fly Away" by the Barbara Cassidy Band.

The track starts in with a bit of a simple ukelele sound and begins to build right away.There are definitely some interesting textures happening within the track. The break around the 1:45 mark has a nice little piece with some flute parts, a hint of twang/slide guitar in there. I kind of dig that. The vocals harmonize well with each other, you can tell there is a second voice somewhere in that mix, but it blends very well.

Cassidy has a pleasant voice to listen to, but at some times it feels a little put on or perhaps generic. It's a little "too much thought and not enough feel", which tends to turn me off a bit. In the technical sense, she measures up but for me music isn't about technicality, its about emotion and feel and  that's just missing a bit here for me, personally. The song pays respect to the American folk writing tradition, so I can certainly appreciate that.

Overall the track is a fair enough effort, its arranged in a way that makes sense, has some good instrumentation, but just lacks a bit of "that certain something" that sets music apart for me.

I think I may have to just dig in a little deeper...but til then, that's my first listen response.

Make your own opinion and check out the Barbara Cassidy Band on

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Doctor Gasp and the Eeks "Vampire Fish for Two" album review

Dan Blakeslee aka Doctor Gasp is an institution of Boston music. His personality shines. His creativity knows no bounds….and he is back with a new Halloween record. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Doctor Gasp and the Eeks present “Vampire Fish for Two”, complete with that beautiful and intriguing artwork that the man is known for.

The record has this “you just stumbled into a speakeasy for the deranged!” kind of feel to it. And I mean that in the best way possible. It’s fun, its full of life (though some of the songs are about dead things), has a waltzy vibe, and it just has that “thing” that Dan Blakeslee embraces so well. If you know, or know of, Dan than you know what that “thing” is. The record has so many variant textures and the sonic din of each track is so interesting if you really dig deep and listen. Don’t be fooled, this is no gimmick despite it being a “holiday record”. These songs are admirably thought out and deeply charged with liveliness and soul. Plus, the liner notes denote saw, zombie sounds, and frying pan as instruments just can't go wrong!

The take on the “Monster Mash” is rather loyal to the original tune sonically. It’s fun, danceable, and
the entire arrangement is really wonderful with Doctor Gasp’s vocal in the fore front really driving the tune. The ending is particularly representative of Blakeslee’s humor. I will let you listen and hear it for yourself.

“RAWR!” has minimal lyrical content (something I typically LOVE from artists..especially Dan), but is one of my favorites from this collection. A cool swinging guitar, the background noises aplenty, the marching of the drum…and then….RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWR!!!!

“The Werewolf” is actually a wonderfully beautiful song. The base of the arrangement is an almost silent swelling organ (or it could be accordion?) in the background, sparsing picked banjo and guitar parts, and Blakeslee weaving the tale of lost love in beast form. Regardless, it really strikes a chord and the ambiance and feel of the song sits deep with me.

OK, the next track is INSANE. It’s a rap track, complete with record scratching, rapping about classic monsters (apparently Swamp Thing was a bit of a ladies man?). A really excellent departure from what one would expect. And as per the rest of the record, the textures and layers of the track are complex and smart.

 (photo by Michael Winters)

This entire piece has Blakeslee’s typical fullblown energy and witty sense of humor. I don't know how, but he is able to take what seems like even the most ridiculous of topics and write smart and wonderfully brilliant lyrics about it. I love this. I love all the work that Dan puts forward. It’s always completely enthused and he sinks his whole heart into his projects. Blakeslee should make records for every holiday!

Buy your download or physical copy now at:

Only a few shows left to catch Doctor Gasp before he retreats back into the catacombs for another year!

10/29 Dover, NH-Barley Pub w/Soggy Po Boys 9pm
10/30 Salem, MA-Salem State/Ellison Ctr. "Underground" 8pm
10/31 Cambridge, MA-TT The Bears w/Tallahassee 9pm
11/02 Providence, RI-Columbus Theatre w/Snake Wagon 7pm

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dan Baker "Pistol in my Pocket" album review

Dylan, Waits, Cohen, Prine…Baker. Dan Baker is a songwriter from the Boston area who has been kicking around for a bit. A man who writes about the environment around him and transforms every day observations into brilliant works of poetry and song, sung out with an inspired guitar picking style and a gruff, grained voice weaving tales of loss, heartache, tenacity, and triumph…but it’s really the sad ones that get me every time. His first two albums have become staples in my collection. Beauty through despair seems to be a common thread in his writing, and in my eyes, are the type of songs that strike the deepest chord with me. The type that really digs deep into my heart, tears it out, and then puts it back gently, you know, just so I feel a thing or two. But, Baker creates beauty through his craft regardless of the sentiment he uses to conceive it. This is truly just the pinnacle of great songwriting.

Dan’s latest effort “Pistol in my Pocket” stems from his time living in Chelsea, MA…just outside of the city of Boston. His description of the town as “A place littered with factories, oil tanks, and pot holes… surrounded by great heaps of salt and scrap metal” really shines through in the thematic sense and gritty, yet subtly warm, textures used throughout the record. One thing is for certain, he has succeeded in arranging a collection of songs that are emotive of a place that exists in most every major city and folks can relate to on a profound level.

There is a good mix of dynamic and diverse material contained in the records 10 songs. Two of which are a bit more uptempo than I have previously seen Baker demonstrate, which I thoroughly enjoyed (see this video for another old example of Dan getting down and funky on the electric guitar Those two tracks come in the form of “Threw me Down the Well” and “What I’m Looking For”. “Well” kicks off with a lonely, tremolo’ed up guitar and Baker’s signature snarl, and then when the band kicks it, it’s really on. Singing with a sincerity and fervor endeavored by many, but only realized by few. The song just has that killer hook “you threw me down the well, threw me down the well, threw me down the well” that it resolves on each time through that is going to stick in your head for long after the record resets. Dan just has a truly remarkable and unique voice that may not be “pretty” by the usual standards, but every so often he just hits these notes that really gleam and you want to keep listening to him to hear that distinctive sound. “Looking For” jives in with a super funky groove. This tune just has so much feel and movement to it. The instrumentation is awesome, with a little overdriven guitar, some organ, a strong drum beat and the thumbing drive of the bass.

“Up on the Roof” is a ballad of sorts. It’s lonely, it’s cavernous, and it’s raw and heartfelt. His voice floats gently about a soft piano line, the empty space being filled just enough to let you inside and have the ambiance seep into your pores. It’s a bit haunting, a bit gloomy, and heartbreakingly poignant. I don’t know, I just believe everything he says and feel whatever this dude is feeling when he plays his songs. 

Up here on the roof, I can see the bridge and the river / birds flying, see cars going by

I hear a radio in the courtyard, let the music move your body, your body, your body…

Another one of those tracks that just sits with me (well, all of them really do, this record is all around fantastic) is “Coming Home”. It has a great chord progression that goes somewhere I don’t expect it to, which is a great surprise. Again Baker’s ability to take simple phrases and mold them into a fantastic song is prominent in this track. The opening line “this goddamn couch, hurts my back / there’s nothing on for me to watch”, straight to the point, candid, bluntly stated, and wonderfully successfully on execution. It also breaks down into a beautiful space with the piano the always electrifying violin work of Rob Flax. Effectively thought arrangements and extremely well-executed playing throughout this track make it a superb listen.

I could go on all day about what is right about this music, but I’ll spare you that. What this record really boils down to it Dan Baker just keeps getting better and fucking better at songwriting. He writes with a neat and graceful simplicity that is purely captivating. Its emotionally driven, illusion provoking and thoughtful music. He isn’t sitting on his couch with a guitar and a thesaurus and I think that is why much of his writing is so relatable and enthralling. You literally hang on every word he writes. He annunciates in such a way (with those sporadic “woooo’s” and voicings) that is just so interesting and unique you can’t, and don’t want, to turn a deaf ear at. Raw emotion, mood, and energy just pour out of this artist and it’s displayed firmly both in his recorded and live performances alike. “Pistol in my Pocket” is absolute and pure genius. A stunning success and a work of art. Pick this record up immediately if you have not already because I have a feeling that even 25 years from now people will be listening to the stuff Dan is releasing today and be saying "man, why don't songwriters create songs like this anymore?"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Artist You Need To Know: Jonah Tolchin

Every so often an artist comes along that you want to scream from the rooftops for everyone to listen to them. Its a rare occurrence and this is only the second time in 2013 that this has really happened for me (given how much music comes through the email inbox, that's pretty impressive).

When I first heard Jonah Tolchin, he was playing on a local radio station with another one of my favorite songwriters and people, Dan Blakeslee. In between tunes, the two were talking about this and that, Tolchin seemed to be a rather unassuming character. Somewhat soft spoken, humble and just happy to be anywhere playing his music for a set of ears willing to listen. He then told his story about the song he was about to perform and how it came from weaving an engagement ring out of grass for his fiancee-to-be. The lyrics, the delivery, his voice, everything just fell into place for me in that instant and I immediately became a fan of this man's music.

Diving deeper into his catalogue, I found a man after my own heart in that much of his music has a dark, folk thematic to it. Life isn't all peaches and cream and Jonah is mighty good at putting those feelings to melody. With a deep, rich voice and a strongly picked blues inspired folk sound, he weaves tales of love, loss, and the occasional bright song for good measure. This piece isn't a review, or in promotion for a gig, just a general "you really need to give this guy a listen". I plead that you go and check out his music, I guarantee you will be as moved as I was from his art and find something in his music that a lot of other music out there lacks. He is just a wonderful, wonderful songwriter and performer.

Admittedly, it should not have taken me this long to find this songwriter, but I am damn glad that I did... 

Mark Mandeville and Raianne Richards: On the Hill / Kettle Pot Tracks session

This is the first and last mention I will make that these are wonderful recordings, completemented by amazing video, so damn cool! Go watch the videos…go! Not to mention that the music is just beautifully crafted and pure.

I get bits of the Low Anthem with the rich vocal harmonies and ever present clarinet wafting throughout the background noise. Raianne’s voice is slightly reminiscent of Gillian Welch in some instances, giving the duo’s sound a delicate nod to Gillian and Dave Rawlings, if for no other reason than they complement each other perfectly. Mandeville has a strong, but cautious vocal that really makes these songs approachable and makes you want to ease on into them. The music is very rootsy, warm, and real. 

Out of the 4 tracks in this Kettle Pot session I am really digging on “Last Tree Standing”. Mandeville’s steady picking leads in with the song, and those wonderful harmonies kick right in. The clarinet edges in for the second verse, coiling around Mark’s guitar and vocal like a snake made of smoke.  It’s a very visual tune, it speaks to me quite a bit, particularly the line around:

Your floor is someone’s ceiling, your ceiling is someone’s floor
Somebody is pounding with their fists upon the door

That really brings me back to my first apartment out of college. I was on the third floor out of a 4 story building and can close my eyes and smell the paint on the walls, the musty closets, and muffled sounds of my neighbors above and below. Being able to stir up such explicit memories from a song is a real amazing feat.

The two of these artists simply supplement each other seamlessly. I really don’t need to say more. The sound is surprisingly full for only two people being in the group. The lyrics are affecting and genuine. Really, truly lovely music here. I cannot wait to catch these two out at a live show soon…they will be a part of the For the Sake of the Song (tribute to John Prine) series at Atwood's Tavern on November 14th.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Club Passim Iguana Fund: Dan Hogan inteview

Dan Hogan is the Executive Director at Club Passim. In case you have been under a rock for the past 50 years, Passim has been one of the most respected listening rooms for folk music in the country (nevermind, the city) since, well, good folk has been around these parts really. The folks at Passim have been a cultivator of great music and incredible supporter of younger musicians just getting their start for a very long time. Something we all too often may take for granted around here. As a way to give back and show this, each year The Iguana Fund toss out its line and sees what great new projects from artists hook onto the bait. They then...well, I will let Dan tell you all about it. Read on below for some Q & A from the man (named Dan):

1. We know what the Iguana fund is (by reading the site, of course), but why do you feel it is so important to give back to this community and foster the artistic endeavors of the musicians in this town?
DH: Because it’s a core part of our mission at Passim, which has three legs: Nurturing artists at all stages of their development, building community, and creating exceptional musical experiences.

2. If you had to narrow it down, what has been one of the most original uses of the fund in your eyes to date? Anything particularly stand out?
DH: Rose Polenzani and her group “Sub Rosa” back in 2008 were one of the original grantees and their “Three-Mile Island Project” has been unbelievably successful.  The grant allowed members of that group to go on a week-long song-writing retreat to Three-Mile Island on Lake Winnipesaukee.  The collaboration and camaraderie resulted in a host of new songs and collaborations.  We’ve now given them an ongoing grant because it’s been so productive.
And here’s what Alastair Moock said of his grant:  “The 2013 Iguana Fund grant helped me create an album for kids with cancer which has now been distributed to nearly 1,500 patient families around the country.  In an era when musicians are increasingly giving away their work for free – sometimes by choice, as in this case, oftentimes not – patronage of the arts has never been more important. The Iguana Fund is one of the very best and most accessible organizations out there directly supporting musicians in their work.”

3. So, any special advice for folks filling out their forms to catch the attention of the selection committee?
DH: We are very concerned with artistic excellence and that will always remain a top priority.  It should be a project or request where our help will show some tangible results.  We often help out with some stage of CD production.
Remember that we also give grants for providing creative and valuable community service.  So, we’ve given grants for bands performing at veteran’s hospitals or nursing home and for an artist doing a DVD for children facing life-threatening illnesses in hospitals.

4. Passim holds a very special place in the folk history of not just Boston, but for American roots/folk music in general. What makes Passim special to you?
DH: It’s that we’re still doing what we were 55 years ago – by providing a supportive community and place to help young artists hone their craft as they develop their careers.

5. Finally, give us a few words (aside from the obvious, we are supporting musicians with monetary gifts!) on why artists should submit to the Iguana Fund.
DH: In the total scheme of things, the size of our gifts is small ($500-$2,000).  But the impact is often huge in terms of helping an artist complete some project that might have stalled or that needed some kind of push.  Once you have a grant, you feel an obligation to make sure you do what you said you would.  And that is good, both for you and for the world of music.  We have also found that receiving an Iguana grant can help an artist with other grants.

They have extended the application date for the Iguana Fund until WEDNESDAY, October 23rd. You still have two days to apply, so head on over to the site and fill out the form!


Friday, October 18, 2013

Nora Jane Struthers "Carnival" Album review

Nora Jane Struthers is a story teller. She paints pictures of stories from yesterday, but does so in way that makes them relevant and believable today. With a beautiful voice and top notch assembly of musicians behind her, her newest record ‘Carnival’ is a much needed addition to anyone’s record collection. Struther's sings with an intimate playfulness and the traditional american instrumentation choices for the record really make this a great listening experience.

The first track, The Baker’s Boy, is a real strong start and one of my favorites. It has that forward driving rhythm that Mumford and Sons tries so hard for….except this is actually really good. It has everything really. Nora has an absolute gorgeous tone to her vocal, there are fiddle breaks, a strong beat, and the song is just really quite excellent. A tale hundreds of years old, parents getting involved in who you should be with…but with a bit of an Americana twist. I really enjoy this tune.

“Sourwood Tree” gets a real unplugged, lo-fi treatment, which I think is just fantastic! I love when an artist will take a turn like this from a highly produced set of songs and really let the simplicity and beauty of a track shine through. Nora Jane’s soft, but powerful voice shines above a strummed acoustic guitar. A very beautiful track…the kind of thing I would love to see an artist walk off the stage and into the crowd to perform, while the audience quiets to pin drop level to listen.

The last song “Travelin’ On” takes has a really interesting and cool arrangement. Starting with just a clap, some vocals, and then slowly guitar and bass parts dance in and out of the composition. Just a cool feel and a very unique way to pull a tune together.

Admittedly, I do have a small gripe with “long” albums. And that is pretty much the only complaint I can pull out of my being about this record. Once a record starts getting up above the 10-11 track mark, I tend to lose a little interest. Aside from that, this is a great, great listen that I am sure to re-visit again and again. Beautiful music played expertly.

Check out Nora Jane online at: