Ernie And The Automatics is a New England based band with a bit of an identity problem. It includes two minor players from the band Boston. Plus, three more well-respected local players who have for years been friends with the minor players from Boston. Add to the mix a likeable, eccentric local auto dealer celebrity who was educated as a musician but never achieved his rock star dream before going to work for his father’s auto dealership. Ernie And The Automatics is named after Ernie Boch Jr., the hyperactive billionaire who inherited his father’s myriad of businesses in Norwood, Massachusetts.
The band debuted with the release of this CD Low Expectations and it has done well in the greater-Boston area because of Boch’s name recognition and the involvement of two musicians who played with the mega-selling band Boston back in the 1970s. Guitarist Barry Goudreau and drummer Sib Hashian are still legends in the minds of many in the Boston music community who are old enough to remember seeing them on Boston’s album covers back in the day.
There are not too many weak moments on Low Expectations. On the other hand, there are not any shining examples of brilliance either. The musicianship is solid. Not a note is less than excellent. Yet, no new ground is broken and this leaves a feeling of another local band that didn’t quite make it over the hurdle into national stardom.
The disc opens with “The Good Times (Never Last),” a classic rock influenced anthem that, with its Bad Company and Led Zeppelin inspired guitars, would have been big on the radio on the 1970s. Today, it sounds like the Automatics are merely trying to emulate what they grew up listening to instead of going for a new sound. Title track “Low Expectations” adds a saxophone to the mix, but it still sounds a lot like bands we’ve all heard before. Bob Seger keeps coming to mind every time Automatics sax player Michael Antunes starts to wail.
“If I’d A Let You” features keyboardist and lead singer Brian Maes’s strongest vocal performance on the album. He handles himself well among the strong talent around him, but without a distinct voice like Peter Wolf, Brad Delp, Steve Tyler, or Ric Ocasek, Maes does not quite make it into the hall of fame.
“Tappin’ On An Empty Head” Wants to have a self-deprecating sense of humor and falls flat as the lyrics about a man struggling to think or remember or whatever he is trying to do only comes off half-baked and odd. The lyrics here are insipid and uninspired and the song comes across as filler material. “Blues Town” is another throw away track that offers good, solid musicianship without any memorable hooks, lyrics, or solos to make it stick in your head.
“I’m Gonna Haunt You” gets by on the strength of Barry Goudreau’s guitar playing and Sib Hashian’s palpable drumming. Goudreu and Hashian are used as selling points for this band because they performed and recorded with the mega-selling band Boston back in the 1970s and early 1980s. It doesn’t really matter, though, as both have been out of Boston for such a long time, and neither were as essential to Boston’s sound as the late Brad Delp, who sang all the vocal tracks, and guitarist Tom Scholz, who wrote most of the material, played most of the guitar and bass tracks, and whose recording techniques made Boston sound like Boston. This is an undisputable fact, despite Scholz’ lack of personal popularity and Goudreau’s mini successes in the 1980s.
It is unclear how much influence Boch had on this recording. He is only the second guitarist and his name appears in only two songwriting credits. It is hard to imagine he had any more to do with it than maybe financing the project. There is nothing like having a billionaire businessman in the band. Boch did co-write an instrumental track with Hashian called “Honk Kong Shuffle” which is pretty good despite the kitschy title. This shows Boch does have some musical knowledge. He just doesn’t show a whole heck of a lot of it on this CD.
There is nothing wrong with Low Expectations. The band will sell out plenty of well-respected rooms in New England. They went over well at Chan’s in Woonsocket, Rhode Island a few weeks ago. It is difficult, though, picturing this band getting out of New England. Boch’s ego might not hold up too well in parts of the country where no one knows of him.