Friday, January 31, 2014

Girls Guns and Glory "Good Luck" album review

This is definitely a different band than I fell in love with almost 10 years back, even a little different than their last release. Girls Guns and Glory has seen a lot of transformation since their first recording "Fireworks and Alcohol". Constantly chasing what will be that perfect song, that perfect sound, and owning it. This effort is no different....a little less roots, a little more rock n' roll. A little more polish on the tracks than F&A for sure (I think you can thank a the label for this). Regardless of why, I can see that commercial appeal comes into play a little more, and that's not a bad thing for the boys or for us listening. The result is something you want to dance around the floor too and get down a bit.

Hayden still has a way with the English language and lyrics. His ability to take a simple phrase and make it into a great hook still rings true throughout this new work, and for that I am thankful. His voice is front and center where it should be, where I found it a bit buried in "Sweet Nothings", the previous album. Though the overall feel of the songs certainly has taken a turn from that lonesome sadness to a hopeful glee in the songwriter's life (I think we can thank a certain lady for that), he proves that "country-tinged" songs don't have to be all heartache and desperation. His vocal is one of the most memorable in the Americana scene these days (if not THE most memorable) and I am glad to see it truly shining in these mixes. It's clear and crisp and strong as ever.

Stand out tracks are  "Rocking Chair Money", starting off simple and acoustic with Hayden's voice taking center stage. A slow build with a mid tempo snare and hat, a lonesome guitar howl, and steady bass. A nice break from the heavier parts of the rocking record and a smart insert.

Another track I have gravitated to with each listen is  the opening song "All The Way Up To Heaven". It puts Ward's ability to take a simple phrase and make it a memorable hook in full view. A great arrangement with the usual line up, some plucked banjo in the back as a nice surprise if you listen close. It just has a killer groove, some excellent lyric lines, and an excellent sing along phrasing. The band is super tight.

All the way up to heaven / all the way down to hell
I own every star up in the sky above the place I dwell

One criticism I do have (more of a request I suppose) is I would like to hear this entire record performed either solo acoustic by Ward or "more acoustically" by the band together. I feel like some of that "something" that the band has always exuded is a bit lost in tracks like "Jello", where a whole lot of noise is going on. Though I will say, the track is a wonderful homage to 50s Rock, Chuck Berry, and shaking your booty. Another thing I noticed, is Hayden seems to "howl" quite a bite throughout the record...a new signature, perhaps?

Overall I think this is an extremely solid effort from these boys. Between the four of them, there is an endless supply of talent on stage or on tape. Their vocal harmonies are smooth as butter and the playing is prime. With their previous release they were searching for that "new sound" and I think with "Good Luck" they have nailed it down solid. A place where they are happy and so are their fans.  Hayden seems to have finally found the crew (and been with them long enough) that he can put his full faith in and be the front man that he plays so well, and the band can rely on him to do so while they lay down their part.

"Good Luck" will be released on February 7th here in town at The Sinclair in Cambridge with Sarah Borges and The Swinging Steaks (now that's a hell of a line up). Tickets here:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Locals Playing Locals: Meet the Players

This Sunday, we hit Riverview Studios for our first tracking session for our Iguana Fund Grant recording project. Wait, we got one of those wonderful things? Yes, yes we did and you can read about that here . Before we get started though, I thought it would be nice to get to know the songwriters/musicians who are going to be joining us this Sunday for the first round of tracking.

With all of the messages I got around "I want to record a song" and "if you are looking for any one else..." it was really hard to choose people. I have a lot of incredibly talented friends I wish I could include, but the fact is that we only have so many dollars, which amounts to only so many hours in tracking/mixing/mastering and duplication. I tried to choose a cross section of the "folk scene" if you will. People who I respect as songwriters most importantly, but also folks who have impacted me directly in some way. Made an impact on my own playing, my own songwriting, or someone who I just respect greatly as people and artists.

Hopefully we can do another one of these soon...different faces and voices covering different voices.

Ian Fitzgerald: I have known Ian for less than a year, but the impact that his music and songwriting has had on me is profound. Knowing him as a fellow songwriter and friend challenges me to be a better writer myself. I now often ask myself when I am in the songwriting process "is this just an easy rhyming scheme way out of this verse? Can I do better?" because of listening to his music. He also happens to be one of the funniest, most modest, and kind folks that I know. I am ecstatic that he is on board for this project and know he will add a depth of humble beauty to this recording.

Mark Whitaker: Mark has a few things in common with Ian as well...I only met him in the last year and a half or so (October 2012 at a Tommy Doyles songwriter gig I believe), I am always in awe of his playing/songs and he constantly challenges me to be a better musician by virtue of being around him. I can honestly say, I have the most fun when I get to make music with Mark. Whether its vamping on our own original stuff, or playing traditional fiddle and bluegrass songs I just am happy when we get to play. A killer songwriter, probably the most exciting and innovative musician I know...and another guy I am so happy is joining this project.

Eva Walsh: Jeez, another newish friend. I think I met Eva for the first time when Mark brought her to a gig at the Plough to trade songs and play on each others tunes. I will say this about Eva's fiddle playing, she is the most tasteful musician I have had the pleasure of playing with. She knows exactly what to play, when to play it and never overdoes it. That, on top of the fact that she always has a smile on her face and has managed to make me thoroughly enjoy what she calls "pop-folk". Plus...I mean, she let me beat box on her song once.

Dan Blakeslee: Short story - Dan is the most wonderful human on the planet. Long story, I had seen Dan playing in the subway for a long time, always wondering "who is this guy with the octopus guitar?" I finally shared my first gig with Dan at Precinct in 2008 and immediately we were like old friends. He just has this impact on people that I cannot explain. His joy is infectious and his appreciation for the music and music community is unparalleled. He makes music for the pure joy and love it brings him. Dan Blakeslee IS folk music in Boston.

Ryan Fitzsimmons: Ryan's presence on stage is unmatched. He is an absolute f'ing monster when he digs in to his guitar player, a MONSTER. He is also an incredibly thoughtful and poignant writer. He thinks about his songs, he uses all sorts of different tunings I can't even comprehend to create moods within his writing, he is just a smart, exciting songwriter. I first met Ryan when he gave me a chance as a young songwriter just moving back to town. He let me play his RISA round night in Providence, which was my real first taste of knowing there is more than just "rowdy bar gigs, covering Brown Eyed Girl" to be had.

Ryan is also being joined by Laurence Scudder on viola and Jim Larkin on bass and percussion. I have seen both of these guys around town on so many occasions I cannot even count them. They both seemingly playing with everyone around town and make everyone sound a million times better as a result. I actually think the first time I met and saw both of these guys was playing with Ryan. I remember thinking "holy crap, that fiddle is hooked up to a pedal board"...and then Larry's foot clicked a pedal and I was hooked. Any time I have seen Jim, I just think "this guy is so on point". Another super tasteful player than plays multiple instruments and does so extremely well in many forms.


Chuck Melchin, Michael Spaly, Jess Fox, Jef Charland: Chuck is one of these guys where for the life of me, I cannot understand why he isn't wildly famous. He is an outstanding songwriter, he writes some of the most emotional and heartfelt songs I have ever heard. He is a great player as well and surrounds himself with great players in the Bean Picker's Union. I first met Spaly at a round table session I was hosting where Chuck brought him along and immediately I just loved the guy. He is an
excellent multi-instrumentalist, knows a ton of great music, and has a great voice to boot. I just met Jess in the last few weeks after Sam Reid reached out to ask if I wanted to play bluegrass music with him and Jess...yes, why yes please I would like to. It was one of those moments that you just click while playing with someone. She is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to awesome traditional songs, reels and fiddle tunes. Chuck asked if he could bring along a bass player, and when he said it was Jef I was floored. I have seen his band the Blue Ribbons many a night at Toad. These guys are the creme de la creme of great players in town and Jef lays down the low end keeping everyone tight. This is going to be a really fun session to be a part of.

Well, thats it for the first session...there are more musicians coming in in later Feb/early March to record, but I will wait until then to let you know who those wonderful folks are.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

First Listen: Julie Guidi "Who's That Yonder"

Best liner note ever...Dan Blakeslee wasn't there, but we know that he was smiling somewhere.

Before hearing one note, I know I already like this person for being a wonderful person. Then I dive in...and I am sold after 5 seconds of the first track. I've got a soft spot for gals who can sing the blues, and Julie Guidi makes your knees weak when she sings out. I also have a soft spot for musicians who take traditional songs and covers and make them their own while really staying true to their original material. Guidi does that as well within these 6 tracks.

There is a certain Lo-Fi charm to this recording. What you hear is what you would have gotten if you were siting in the room with them while they were recording it. The songs, the performances aren't hiding behind any overzealous production, and they absolutely shine as a result. There are a few well played guitars, with some really bluesy and tasty solos and licks going on. On top of that dances Julie's vocal. It casts delicate line between soul, blues and folk. She has an absolutely incredible voice.

The first track "Hey Stranger" just owns my heart after listening to it. It's full of passion. I love when an artist takes their own spin on a traditional song. But when Julie starts crooning 'Wade in the Water' I immediately say "yes, please, more of this. Over and over again". No lie, I think while listening to this at my work desk I said that, and people started to look at me funny...but I really dont care, this is wonderful. There is something to be said about a collection of songs that just works. Regardless of whether or not they were all written by the artist but they simply jive in a such a way due to the performance, now that is something to be marveled. She has left her mark on me with these tracks.

This may be the first time I have heard this gal, but if people are smart, it surely will not be the last. She is a powerhouse of a singer and a smart musician. Paying solid tribute to the history that came before her and her craft while maintaining a sound that she can call her own. Can't wait to see what is next for this lady.

Listen to the album here:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Digging Up Your Roots: What Made You Want To Play?

This week I asked folks the question "what was your first musical memory. The one that made you say "I Need to pick up a guitar, or banjo, or bang on a piano"? These are what the fine folks who answered the always, interesting to see what makes people tick and want to start on the path of music.

Michael Spaly : There are two memories that come to mind as the base influences in getting me started playing and shaping the way I listen to music. When I started kindergarten, I became friends with Bruce Maynard. His mom taught piano and he played the violin. I went home, told my mom I wanted to play violin. She immediately set me up with lessons and kept me at it throughout the years. The second memory was riding in the car with my dad. He had a couple of his favorite 8-tracks - Fist Full of Dollars and Zorba the Greek, that also had a few choice tracks added to the end; I don't remember any names, just that they had great melodies. Each of us kids had our 'favorite' song and he'd cue it up. I'm pretty sure this heavily influenced my strive to find alternative music sources.


Joshua Black Wilkins: My grandfather would constantly sing "you ain't nothing but a hound dog" at
the farm. All day. Just that line. Until the day he died, he would walk around his farm singing that.

Courtney Gallagher: My first musical memory: When I was little I saw Itzhak Perlman playing violin with a little girl on Sesame Street. That made me want to play the violin, so I took Suzuki lessons and that was my gateway into playing instruments and reading music. 

Brian McKenzie: I grew up listening to rock and metal. When I was about 11 years old, Cinderella
and Iron Maiden were my favorite bands. I made a "guitar" out of a badminton racket and a whammy bar out a straw and a lego. I was rocking out to "Somebody Save Me", standing on my bed, playing my racket and my parents walked in. My mom said to my dad "I think we should buy him a guitar". I was a lot worse at badminton.

Patrick DeCoste: I heard Ozzy's "Crazy Train". What's funny is I sound nothing like Randy Rhoads but it just shows how no matter what the style/ genre or message, music transcends and can open doors you never imagined existed.


Jeff Butcher: Well. I was about 8 or 9... My dad sat me down and put on a record with 4 people making a ton of silly faces on the cover. He skipped to track 5, and the nylon string riff of "And I love her" started and my eyes widened. Pretty much mystified from that point on. I wanted to write a song like that. The rest of "A hard Days Night" was equally as amazing, but I'll never forget the first Beatles experience.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Must Know Musician Monday : Will Houlihan aka "Haunt the House"

There are those who try and fake vigor and enthusiasm. The world is full of "douche face" guitar solos, crappy rhyming schemes in songs, and jackasses dressed in late 19th century garb singing about the farmland when they live in a 3 story brownstone in Allston. This is not of those people. Will Houlihan absolutely exudes passion for his music and songs.

Rural Instrospection Study Group

There is a beautiful simplicity to this release. Its so emotionally full, but the sound has this hollow "man alone in an empty room with a guitar" vibe to it. The music is really quite incredible. There's some hints of Jeff Buckley there. The second track 'Vamprye' leads off with a shrill, shocking, but incredibly beautiful vocal falsetto.I just really really want to listen to this over and over again. It's a short 6 tracks, but still feels like a complete and well presented thought. Something that is loose, but still consciously purposeful. Spooky, powerful, and affecting. With the way Houlihan sings and arranges his work its no surprise he goes by the moniker "Haunt the House".

Haunt the House

While Haunt the House is Will and his performing act, he also has a myriad of folks join him on stage to perform as this act. Always a treat, always more emotion driven and more beautiful than the last time you see them. They are constantly evolving the craft and perfecting how to really get that evocative and stirring sound. Recently I had the pleasure of seeing Will perform at a Brown Bird Tribute show. Quoting my recap " so f*cking beautiful, I have nothing else I could possibly say to better describe it". That's really it. I hate to use this again, but the music is haunting, the name fits. This is music who's purpose is to make you feel feelings. It simply evokes something inside of you that makes you feel moved.

Just listen to this guy's music. It's incredible.

Girls Guns and Glory CD Release Show and Interview (CD Review forthcoming)

Growing up in the same town with a fellow musician, you always root for your friends to do well. Watching my pal Ward build his band Girls Guns and Glory over the years has always been something I have had a lot of admiration for. Through all the ups and downs he has always stayed true to his craft and to his vision for his music. Now, with a solid band of incredibly talented musicians (with Chris Hersch on guitar and BG vocals, Paul Dilley on bass and BG vocals, and Josh Kiggans on drums) the band has been an unstoppable force, touring relentlessly, writing new material, re-adapting old songs, and "working all the time". The boys will be releasing their second label release "Good Luck" on February 7th (review is coming for that album), with other local favorite rocker Sarah Borges at the Sinclair in Cambridge. This is also their 5th album since their first release Fireworks and Alcohol back in 2005. I caught up with Ward to tell us all about whats been going on, new music, touring, and the big release show. Check it out below...

1) Ok, first and foremost, in as few sentences as possible, Who are you and what do you do?

WH: My name is Ward Hayden, I'm the singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist for Girls Guns and Glory. 

2) Sonically the band has come a long way since Fireworks and Alcohol. As an artist, I know you are always searching for either that perfect instrument, that perfect song, or that perfect sound for your band. How has GGG gone through those ropes over the years? Do you think you have hit the "this is it" mark?

WH: I feel like that's a mark you're always aiming for as an artist. A few times in our career we've had those "oh wow, this is really something!!" moments. And those definitely help keep you going.
But, I always find myself referring back to Hemingway's Nobel Prize acceptance speech to stay on track and keep motivated. In 7 or 8 paragraphs he lays out the appreciation he has as an artist for other artists who have fought or are fighting the same fight to create. Then he acknowledges the sacrifice and solitude needed to work in his craft. It's brutal and honest and inspires me to keep working harder every time I read it.

I'd like to think that each time we step into the studio we're working to push ourselves more and make a better album than we made before.

As soon as it feels too easy or uninspiring it's probably time to find a new passion.

3) What inspires you as a songwriter?

WH: For a long time I was inspired by a long term relationship that ended badly. The sting and heartbreak of things not working out is what initially drive me to pick up a guitar and find a way to explain and understand why I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach 24 hours a day for weeks on end. 

I got about 4 albums of songs out of that ordeal. But, lately my luck in love has taken a turn for the best. So, for the songs on the new album "Good Luck" I started looking elsewhere to find my muse. There are songs on the new album that deal with a single moment or event, or relationship experiences I've observed both directly or indirectly. This album is less about heartache and more about feeling great about finally finding something good.

4) Boston has been your homebase since you started this thing up (going on 9 years?) and in recent years has been a hot bed for Americana and Roots music. Now, I know you are a modest gent, but obviously had some part in it really growing here. How have you seen things change since you were out there trying to book gigs but "too country for rock, but too rock for country"?

WH: When we started playing in Boston there were a handful of bands that were playing what's come to be known as Americana music. It was a real struggle for the first few years to find gigs and get anyone hip to what we were up to.

We were a band for well over a year before we could get a gig at a proper music venue in town. The main reason we got for not getting booked was that people didn't know what to do with us. We didn't fit with what else was happening in the music scene at that time.

So, I'm happy to see that Americana/Roots scene has grown so much in Boston. There's really a special scene here and probably because it was a struggle at first to get in the radar of a lot of venues, a lot of bands and artists have become very supportive of each other. It's a wonderful thing.

5) Boston is also been recently noted as a very community driven music scene. How have you experienced that and what are your thoughts?

WH: Oops, I might've just answered this.

The Americana community is one of the coolest things about living in this city. I feel like on any given night I can go out in the city, see an amazing show and socialize with great people who love and support Americana/Roots music as much as I do.

And there are residencies in town like Session Americana, Roots in the Round and Greg Klyma's night at PA's Lounge that encourage other musicians to join in as special guests and share their music with the band and the audience. It's an awesome way to share music with other musicians and with new fans. To me it's a sustainable model for the continuation if Americana music in Boston.

6) Lastly, plug anything you feel like plugging!

WH: We're very excited for what 2014 has in store. We ended 2013 releasing our new album in Europe and following it up with a great tour of 7 European counties. Now we're getting ready for the album to come out in the US and we'll be having a huge Dual Album Release show Feb 7th at The Sinclair w/ Sarah Borges, plus alt-country pioneers Swinging Steaks are on the bill. It's gonna be an incredible show and celebration.

GGG can be found online at

Friday, January 24, 2014

Show You Should Know: Ryan Alvanos CD release at Passim 1/27

Ryan Alvanos, singer, guitar player, poet...all great things. Lucky for you he has a new record coming out and is releasing it at our favorite little listening room in the world, Club Passim, this coming Monday. I caught up with Ryan to answer a few questions about writing, this release, and the show. Check it out!

1.  Who are you, what do you do? Fill us in!

RA: My name is Ryan Alvanos. I'm a poet by training, phrase-smith by trade, songwriter by passion, busker by calling, and whim-blown vagabond by good fortune. 

2. So, you have a big show coming up...what are the details

RA: I'm releasing a record (yup, vinyl) called "Sharp Little Hooks" with a concert at Club Passim on Monday, January 27 at 8pm. Each of the tunes in this sequence has something to do with fly fishing. I recorded it at Q Division here in Somerville with one of my favorite bands, The Blue Ribbons. They're sitting in with me at the Passim show, and The Suitcase Junket is opening. Tickets are available here: This will be the first time I've headlined at Passim since I released an album called "From Here" a few years ago. Here’s a clip from that show:

Help me out by buying a ticket so they invite me back for the next one too. 

3. Why is making music important to you?

RA: I’m a live music junkie, and it’s an inspiring thing to live in a town that’s so rich with musical dynamos. When it comes to creative pursuits, I’m a writer first and foremost, so I love music where the lyric is as studied and refined as the bass line or the lead lick. For me, “making music” boils down to creating pedestals for lyric ideas. I love the process of beginning a song and revising it until there are no more placeholders. I’ve been sucked into enough New Yorker articles to know that you can write unforgettably about anything. That’s what I’m trying to do as a songwriter, and this is how my songs try to contribute to the conversation around here.

 4. Sell us on coming to this show in 140 characters or less:

5. Plug the hell out of anything else you wish to

RA: I’d encourage you to check out my last album, “From Here,” which is a collection of songs inspired by places, and it features many of my favorite local session musicians. I also write and record commissioned songs. Drop me a line if you think this might come in handy, and don’t be reluctant just because you want a song about microbes or something. I can handle it.

I'm making an on-air appearance on Patrick Coman's "Local Folk" show on WUMB on Saturday 1/25 at 1pm to promote the Passim show.

Tune in to hear from Ryan on WUMB this Saturday and be sure to get out to his release on Monday. It will surely be a hell of a show!

Check out Ryan's website while you are at it as well: 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Susan Cattaneo "Haunted Heart" album review

Mainstream popular country is not my a matter of fact it is pretty much the furthest thing from what I aspire to be as a musician. But when a friend asks you to review a record, you do I suppose. After listening, I have to say that I am completely and totally proven to be wrong with Susan Cattaneo's new release. Sure, there are hints of popular country in her style, swagger and writing...but this isn't no Taylor Swift garbage. These are some well written and contemplative songs.

There is a vast tapestry of sound going on here curated by a line up of star session players. A bit darker than Cattaneo's previous work in sound and content, which I am a fan of. There are still some stereo-typcical country tunes and context, like barroom stomper "Worth the Whiskey" and the steel driven "How A Cowboy Says Goodbye", but a lot of this material seems to come from a very genuine, haunting and emotional place.

'Barn Burning' is a track with a killer groove. A heavy drum thumbing, gravely guitar and that "theres a baaaaaarn burning" turnaround that completes the phrasing perfect. An artfully simple arranged song that just plain works.

There’s an orange haze to the sky
Looks just like the night is on fire
Wind carries the smoke for miles
Raise the alarm
There’s a barn burning 

'Done Better' is another stand out track to my ear. I love a good piano tune. This is the kind of thing that I could see in a movie when the protagonist is understanding that they screwed stuff up and is going to get his lady back, or make amends with his buddy, or something. Commercial global appeal is something that I think Susan strives for and she nailed it right on the head with this particular song.

The one major objection I could say, is a personal choice, and that's the length of the record coming in at 15 songs. Personally I really enjoy tight, concise records. 10 is my ideal, I can deal with 12. That being said, I think that Susan had a plan and she stuck with it filling the 15 tracks with the best music possible played extremely well by her band. Maybe that's just my own gripe that I have to deal with!

I think this is a very strong showing from this lady. Unlike so many artists in the world today, Susan has a clear vision and knows what she is aiming for and does so very well. She is a confident songwriter and knows where she shines while capitalizing on those strengths, a smart lady! Folk, country, Americana, whatever you want to call it, it doesn't really matter when the songs are crafted thoughtfully and the band plays the tunes so damn well.

Check Susan Cattaneo out online at: