Here is the latest installment in our periodic series highlighting Boston and New England artists. (View the complete series here.)
Barnstar! (from the Signature Sounds Records release Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!)
I don’t think that it is possible to listen to Barnstar and not crack a smile. Every performance, even the songs of heartbreak and loss, are injected with an infectious enthusiasm. The New England-based group are essentially a pop band masquerading as a bluegrass quintet and pack the best qualities of both genres into their performances.
Like their debut, their sophomore release leans heavy on an eclectic mix of covers. How many bands can you think of that would dare to follow a take on the Hold Steady’s “Sequestered In Memphis” with one of Cat Steven’s “Trouble”? More to the point, how many could make both sound fresh and enjoyable? The Hold Steady cover, in particular, is a treat. The acoustic arrangement breathes new life into a song originally filled with bombastic electric guitars.
The album also includes a handful of originals that prove that the boys can write ‘em as well as they can play ‘em. Mark Erelli’s “Country John” pays tribute to legendary New England country singer John Lincoln Wright. “Country John, it’s plain to see you’ve earned a place in Heaven’s Opry,” he sings, “tonight we’re drinkin’ one more for Lincoln, here’s a song for Country John.”
Banjo player Charlie Rose offers up the more traditional “Cumberland Blue Line.” The song tells the tale of a mine worker trying to make a life for himself before ultimately declaring, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the hand that I’ve been dealt, it’s the deeper the hole, the closer to hell.”
Reflecting back on Barnstar’s first album, their cover of Dawes “When My Time Comes” was so impressive that even the songwriter was in awe. I didn’t think that they would be able to top that one but damn if they didn’t prove me wrong with an absolutely amazing version of the Faces “Stay With Me.” Singer Mark Erelli croons like a less-weathered Rod Stewart while fiddle, mandolin and banjo sound so good you’ll forget the original version was a bombastic rock song. Congratulations fellas, you did it again.
The Suitcase Junket (from the Whistle Pig Records release Make Time)
It’s been great to see a new generation of one-person bands emerge. Like those who came before them, they make a healthy and percussive racket. What sets the new group apart, however, is the strong sense of melody that they bring to their songs. Shakey Graves may be the most recognized practitioner but make way for Matt Lorenz, aka the Suitcase Junket.
“Dauphine and Desire” and “So, No” explore both ends of a romantic relationship. The former song, set in New Orleans, finds the singer trying to express his feelings to the object of his desire while “So, No” is a scrappy pop song with an infectious chorus that nearly masks the fact that it chronicles a broken relationship.
“Wherever I Wake Up” is a beautiful song of reflection and living in the moment. A melancholy verse gives way to a soaring sing-along chorus as Lorenz sings, “I can’t complain for I’ve seen some beauty and wherever I wake up I’ll call my home.”
“Made of Rain” is a hook-driven gem that occasionally finds Lorenz spitting out lyrics in double-time. The song also features some of his trademark throat-singing, in this case scuffed with a touch of distortion.
Aside from his voice, Lorenz’s instruments are a hodge-podge that range from a baby shoe that kicks his, um, kick drum to a guitar that he rescued from a dumpster. He may use them to create a scruffy sound, but it doesn’t mask the beauty of his songs. All the better, I say.
Set Me Off, Kingsley Flood (from the self-released ep To The Fire)
Kingsley Flood are a bit of a paradox. Their songs buzz with energy and oft-infectious melodies. Yet a studied listen reveals a more challenging and often darker edge. Songwriter Naseem Khuri’s songs are world-weary and intense, as passionate as they are intelligent. “I should’ve taken my advice,” he sings on this lead-off from the band’s latest ep, “should’ve kept my war because you never forget a good fight.” The band propels him along with taut arrangements that often augment rousing guitars with textured strings and keyboards.
Red Diamond Blues, Patrick Coman (from the self-released Reds and Blues)
Patrick Coman has built a reputation curating fun songwriter tribute shows so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his latest release celebrates some of his favorites. Specifically, each of the seven original tracks on Reds and Blues pays homage to an album that has influenced Coman’s artistic journey. These range from obvious choices like Bob Dylan & the Band’s The Basement Tapes to more surprising choices like Leon Russell’s Carney.
So often the term “inspired” translates to “copied.” In this case, however, the true meaning holds as Coman delivers a collection that is both genuine and fun.
Climb, Brian Carroll (from the self-released ep canyon)
There’s something special about hearing an artist find his or her voice. Such is the case with Brian Carroll on his latest ep. The singer-songwriter took his latest batch of songs to Dirt Floor Studios in CT, a studio that has established a reputation for a minimalistic but powerful roots sound. The results are impressive, the arrangements showcasing the gentle vulnerability in Carroll’s voice and songs. “Tell me why I’m not climbing yet if the mountain ain’t that hard to climb,” he asks on this ambling country folk gem.
Murderpedia, Love Love (from the self-released ep Love Love)
Who knew murder could be so catchy? While the band called Love Love are relative new-comers on the Boston scene, their roots stretch back quite quite some time. Singer-songwriters Chris Toppin and Jefferson Davis Riordan have established their credentials in various bands over the years. Perhaps that’s why their debut ep sounds so potent and fully-formed. Their sound tend towards the indie rock end of the spectrum but the songs have a captivating folk storytelling style. Here’s a stand-out from their debut ep and, hopefully, a harbinger of great songs to come.
We Never Learn, INFJ (from the self-released ep INFJ).
The band’s name should give a strong indication of the ambient emotion of their sound. The duo of Scott Thompson (of the band Tallahassee) and Hayley Jenae Simmons brilliantly walk the fine line between warmly melodic and darkly haunting. Incredibly, the duo apparently met for the first time the night before entering the studio with producer Ben Knox Miller (The Low Anthem). The results of those sessions are darn right impressive, a collection of songs that are wonderfully intoxicating.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
While this 2006 release may technically be from the archive, the song is relatively new to me. I heard Klyma rock the house with it late last year and it has been in my music rotation ever since. Any song with plenty of guitars, some swirling organ and a rousing sing-along chorus is alright with me.
“Give your heart a shot of Novocain, don’t feel anything, nothing gonna get to you.”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.