Hello Gentle Readers.
I’d like to introduce you to my review concept called Retro CD Reviews. The following CDs were released some time ago. Most music magazines have a rule about not reviewing anything released more than six months ago. But I think it is all right to go back and review some CDs that I did not get a chance to write about in the past. Besides, these CDs are still considered new by people who have not yet heard them. There will always be artists we have not yet become familiar with even though they have been around for a while and even though we may have heard of them in passing.. So, why not give music fans a chance to learn what they are all about, as many of them are still playing out and are still selling copies of their CDs.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones; Live From The Middle East
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are a band I wish had gotten more interested in during their heyday. With this live recording from The Middle East restaurant and music room in Boston, they have me kicking myself for not following them in their prime. The band had begun a tradition of playing Hometown Throwdowns, five nights of gigs at one venue. Needless to say, local fans were always excited to have a chance to catch their hometown heroes when they came back to Beantown. This 1997 recording of a December Throwdown was no exception. The Bosstones open mightily with their “128” party kick off number, and the band is rocking in overdrive like most bands don’t get to until their final set. Guitars are blazing. Horns are blasting. Drums and low end are thumping. There is not a dull moment on this disc. In fact, it never sinks below the intensity of a bonfire. “He’s Back” has a funky guitar line and a swing horn section that compels people to pay attention and dance. The song, and the others that follow, gives the listener a lot to listen to, like a three ring circus of music. Driving guitars mixed with exciting horn blasts over beats that range from oldies to classic rock to swing makes you picture a large live band busier than Boston traffic. The guttural vocalist gives this band a distinct tough guys from Boston attitude that fits their musical aggression. “Kinder Words” begins with a guitar and drum attack before the horns grace themselves over a bopping beat. Producers and engineers Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade captured this enormous live sound and put it across grandly on the CD so that listeners can envision the high energy show they are hearing. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones distinguished themselves from other quasi-swing bands of their era. They played with more of a hard rock edge and a sense of wild abandon that carried the rock and roll message of freedom while also keeping it together on all of those technical music feats required of large bands. The band’s sense of humor, their tendency not to take themselves too seriously, and they’re eagerness to rock out also kept them more interesting than other bands who mixed rock with swing. The Bosstones had a sense of dynamics and tempo changes that gave just enough time for them and their audience to come up for air before launching into another blistering rocker. “Royal Oil” has a simple winsome beat and smooth flow of horns that delights with its clever lyrics as well as the band’s fun delivery. After all these years, The Bosstones are still touring, recording, and playing their Hometown Throwdowns in Boston. If you thoroughly enjoyed this CD, then you have to catch them live.
Don’t Forget About It
There is a lot to be said about this sadly under rated North Shore talent. Erinn Brown graduated from a voice conservatory in Virginia before tackling a voice performance degree program at Berklee College Of Music in Boston. Though not as prolific a recording artist as most of her caliber, singer/songwriter Brown has released a couple of overlooked gems in the last 11 years. Road Signs To The Sun, her 1999 release, showcased an extraordinary artist on the rise. Her follow up came nine years later. Her 2008 release Don’t Forget About It was light years ahead. Six songs on Don’t Forget About It could have become national radio hits and the remaining tracks were turntable hits on Brown’s local North Shore and Boston radio stations. “Love Is A Peace Of The World” opens the disc with a cool smoky vocal from Brown while her studio band kicks it into a jazzy overdrive that she commands with her powerhouse delivery. Influenced by soul and rock from the 1970s and classic R&B from the 1960s, Brown gives a gospel feeling to many of these 2008 tunes. There is something uplifting in her vocal approach that reaches the spiritual level. “And In The End” has a 60s attitude in the beat and funky guitar riffs. A definite Sly And The Family Stone influence exists in Brown’s composition of songs that require a lot of funk interactions riding on a danceable beat. Every player she recruited for this project is a stellar musician, especially guitarist Jeff Buckridge from The Boston Horns. Producer Brian Maes nailed the sonic beauty of all of Brown’s range, whether she’s singing in a raspy blues style or a smooth pop delivery. The female backing vocalists on “Cool Summer Rain” hum a gospel line with a lot of warm spirituality while Brown serves up a more down and dirty blues chanteuse approach. Blues piano tinkling over slow B3 Hammond organ grooves make it a good song great. “An Eye For An Eye” has a sax line that brings to life Brown’s smoky tune about life in the modern age of competition. Again, R&B keyboards, funky guitar, and a danceable beat are mere tools in the hands of this songwriter who knows her stuff. “Time To Waste” changes the pace with its down tempo blues and it showcases more of Brown’s voice to handle the heavy lifting of carrying the melody and pushing the direction of the tune. “Get Out Of The Way” is a more aggressive slow song that takes her delivery to a more forceful level before the CD moves into the bluesy smolder of “Dig Out The Pain.” Next thing you know Brown is back into her funk pace of “If I Could Hear It From You” and “Take It Slow.” “Apartment Blues,” an ode to anyone who has ever had to live cheaply, is pure harmonica driven, 12-bar blues. Brown has a worldly wisdom about the futility of dealing with landlords and bosses, and she brings it home with a sense of acceptance and wit. A dobro on loan from Bill’s Music in Peabody makes a winsome appearance and adds the final stamp of blues authenticity to Brown’s song. This CD closes out with Brown giving a spoken word interpretation of “And In The End” that makes one wonder if she ever studied drama. This jazz-poetry piece features a rapper that uses an urban sensibility to mirror Brown’s attitude. It is easy to picture Brown slowly swaying at the microphone on a coffee shop stage, on acid, wearing a dye-tied outfit, and looking out at the bopping heads of a bunch of gourmet coffee drinking beatniks and bohemians who are powerless under her spell.
This five-piece blues and R&B band lead by guitarist Brian James can really lock into a tight, thick groove at their lives shows. Fortunately, producer John Paul at John Paul Productions in Merrimack, New Hampshire captured that indelible beat in the studio. Released about four years ago, Naughty finds the boys at their bluesy, grooving best. “Another Lonely Weekend“ would motivate any couple onto the dance floor with its slow groove and forlorn guitar and saxophone melodies. James keeps pressing the mournful blues feeling out of his six string and singer Alan Rosen drawls out the moody, isolated pain. “Tell Me One More Lie” features James wiry guitar lead taking its time spraying the sparks and interacting gracefully around a gentle sax line played by Tom Hoctor. Rosen penned the swamp-groove number “Alabama Blues Man” that becomes a highlight of the disc. The coolness of this band is their most important quality. Brickyard Blues bring it home with charisma in every step. Take their title track “Naughty” for example. Hoctor’s saxophone smokes in way that blends with James’ guitar blisters which together winds in a swinging manner around the deep pockets opened up by drummer Willy Wiegler and bass player Bernie Rozmovits that smoothly joins the groove from Rosen’s keyboards. That last sentence makes it sound easy, but it is obvious this band spends a lot of time getting its part together so that whole blows you away its unbeatable style. Remember, in music, being the best isn’t always as important as being the coolest, having the right sound, making people like the personality of the band. Their song “Chicken Shack Shimmy” makes you want to do the chicken shack shimmy because the R&B beat carries this blues around the block with a danceable allure. This nine song CD is a good introduction to the Brickyard Blues Band.
Howard Randall & Friends
Howard Randall & Friends
The guitarist, singer, and jam master from Strange Brew Tavern’s Sunday Night Blues Jam had a lot of fun making this CD with a handful of buddies from the greater-Derry, New Hampshire area. This CD is definitely geared to go over well with blues purists. There isn’t much watering down the blues here with R&B styles and jazz flourishes. Howard Randall opens his informal CD with his own tune “Venita” that brings us into his world of blues served up with saxophone and Randall’s own whiskey soaked voice. Saxophone man Jimmy “Forever” Young swings on tenor sax on “Castle Rock” and Joel “Little Harpo” Latulippe grinds away at the melody with his harp madness. Eventually, Randall cruises in with his guitar rounding the curves of this piece like a Corvette winding its way around a bend. Randall likes to get out of the way now and then to let the other players strut; a wise and generous choice on his part, as these guy know how to handle themselves around him. “I Wonder Why” works on the strength of Randall’s inspired vocal chops. He possesses a low tenor that speaks of thousands of nights stretching his vocal chords over the din of the crowd, faulty equipment, and underneath NFL games. You don’t get to sing it this way without years of paying your dues. Randall is one of those singers who is the only vocalist in a hundred mile radius who can reach the low garble of “Roadrunner” without losing the tune. Listening to this song might make you wonder if Randall had a race change operation to record this song. His voice goes places where no white man has ever dared to tread. “Hello LaShunda,” another Randall original, has a funky beat that has Randall humming the groove in the background when Little Harpo blows a see saw of notes and Young does his thing with a jazzy alto sax phrase. There is a jazzy lilt to this number that makes it really hip. “Raining In My Heart” is another blues classic given the blues harmonica treatment by Little Harpo. Harpo’s long, slow, strong note bends makes me picture black field workers hanging out at a roadside juke joint after a long hard day picking cotton and belting down a few cold ones. Randall sounds like he might have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to sing this so down and dirty, earthy, and organic. Hearing him sing “Red Hot” convinces you he is not really a white man.
The Coupe DeVille Band
Stompin’ On Through
This is definitely a guitar band. The father and son team of Dale and Matt Stubbs offer up plenty of riffage on this outing, recorded at Club 39, about ten years ago. Title track “Stompin’ On Through” is an instrumental blues-surf combo that features both Stubbs banging out memorable chords. A mediocre vocalist named Roxanne Young doesn’t glide around the groove in “Teeny Weeny Bit” the way a blues singer should. She tends to finesse things more than belt. One Stubbs becomes a stalwart member of the rhythm section here while the other grinds out a respectable bluesy lead. “Reconsider Baby” also benefits from the guitar magic of the family Stubbs. The lead has a personal touch in its picking style. “Baby Baby” also works on the strength of its guitar prowess and a male vocalist Dan Cyr who also plays the drums. Cyr carries the lead vocal so solidly that it’s hard to understand why the band tacked on a feckless vocal track from Young. By the middle of the disc I’m not even sure how she got into this band. She is not a par with the talent in Coupe DeVille. Cyr’s snappy drumming style shows itself best on Muddy Waters “Make Love To You.“ Cyr gives this song a punchy beat that allows the Stubbs to rock those riffs. This disc is a good document for anyone who wants to trace the develop of the younger Stubbs, Matt, before he formed his own successful band and moved to Los Angeles. He clearly gained his love for American roots music from the 1950s and early 1960s from his father. The Coupe DeVille Band eventually morphed into The Matt Stubbs Band. The Matt Stubbs Band won the Boston Blues Challenge in 2003, placed third in the International Blues Competition in Memphis in 2004. Matt Stubbs went on to play with big names in modern blues and his father Dale is still an active musician. Bass player John Bunszell co-hosts a jam in Quincy, Massachusetts, and singer Roxanne Young went on to form a mediocre blues band called Roxanne and the Voodoo Rockers that never seems to get out of New Hampshire.