Just Another Band Out of Boston: A Special Boston Playlist


Here is the latest installment in our periodic series highlighting Boston and New England artists. (View the complete series here.)


Mark Erelli (from the Hillbilly Pilgrim Records release Milltowns)
Erelli pays loving tribute to his hero and mentor, the late folk musician Bill Morrissey. With the help of some talented friends — including Peter Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst and many others — Erelli re-visits twelve songs from the Morrissey canon. The selections range from the amusing “Letter From Heaven” (“I bought Robert Johnson a beer / Yeah, I know, everybody’s always surprised to find him here.”) to the sadly moving “These Cold Fingers” (“Everything slips through these cold fingers / Like trying to hold water, trying to hold sand.”)

In addition to the Morrissey songs, Erelli contributes one original composition to the collection. The title track is a touching reflection on his relationship with Morrissey:

I was getting ready to go on / you said “Grasshopper, you sing ‘Birches’ / I’ve been singing it for too long” / So I sang it like I’d written it / though I wished you hadn’t asked / ‘Cause I couldn’t shake the feeling / like something was being passed.

One can hear the admiration in every note. Here, for your listening enjoyment, is “Milltowns.”


Four AM, Josh Buckley (from the self-released Blind Side of the Heart)
Ok, so Buckley moved to Austin a few years ago. I’ll always associate him with Boston, however, where he lived for several years. Heck, this album was even recorded here with local quartet the Blue Ribbons and several other talented Boston musicians providing musical accompaniment.

If Buckley’s last release was a rock record with a Neil Young and Crazy Horse vibe, this collection veers more towards Gram Parsons and Doug Sahm. The songs move along with an ambling feel, accompanied by lyrics that reflect on heartbreak and loss. The combination gives them a distinctive blend of resignation and contentment.

Of course, Buckley still likes to have some fun as he does on this sauntering gem. “Only Warren Zevon calls at 4am that’s why I didn’t pick up.”

Audio Download: Josh Buckley, “Four AM”

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Tattooed Man and the Saint, Dan Blakeslee (from the self-released Owed to the Tangled Wind)
Despite the fact that Dan Blakeslee is widely recognized as one of the friendliest, happy-go-lucky musicians in town, his songs often has dark and mystical overtones. All the better I say, as he is a master at using vivid and poetic language to tell ornate musical stories.

Blakeslee travelled to the Columbus Theater in Providence Rhode Island to record Owed to the Tangled Wind. The theater has become something of an artist community, anchored by Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky of the Low Anthem. That duo appear (and lend their engineering talent) along with Joe Fletcher and Jonah Tolchin among others. The musicians create a rich musical tapestry that is the perfect setting for Blakeslee’s songs. The results are strikingly beautiful.


World Go Round, Will Dailey (from the Wheelkick Records release National Throat)
Having finally extricated himself from a failed label deal, Dailey set to do things on his own terms. If National Throat is any indication, the newfound freedom suits him well. Dailey creates a sound that is best described as eclectic pop, mixing in bits of everything from reggae to jazz. Hooks abound, with the occasional angular twist to make things interesting.


Wellspring, The Boston Singer’s Project
Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andy Santospago has set out to release a song a month in 2014. Although each track features a different singer and a host of other musicians sharing their talents, one can hear the consistent thread of Santospago’s musical pen. So far the songs have ranged from classic Harry Nilsson-esque pop to groove-heavy blues to Americana pop.

Nine months down and three to go. I, for one, am eager to hear what’s coming next.

(Visit the Boston Singers Project site for lyrics and the stories behind each song)


Fort Point Boogie, Tony Savarino (from the self-released Guitarino)
Any guess as to Tony Savarino’s instrument of choice? Savarino puts his guitars to work on this eclectic collection of instrumentals. You’ll hear a bit of blues, some pop and even a standard (a wonderful solo acoustic “As Tears Goes By”), all played with the perfect combination of skill and personality. Here’s the tasty opening work-out.


They’re Gonna Shoot, Abbie Barrett & the Last Date (from the self-released The Triples)
Barrett’s latest, the compilation of a recent ep series, is filled with regal indie pop that is sometimes dark and sometimes dreamy. Well, perhaps more dark than dreamy but brimming with melodic hooks that occasionally veer in unexpected directions.


Flash of White Light, Watts (from the Rum Bar Records single Flash of White Light/The Mess is the Makeup)
Are you ready for some smokin’ stadium rock? This Boston quartet pick right up where they left off with 2011’s On the Dial. Do you like big ol’ hooks and loads of in-your face guitars? If so, this is your jam.


Life Goes On (Until It Don’t), Township (from the self-released ep Life Goes On (Until It Don’t)

1970’s rock in all it’s glory. If you ain’t playing it loud, you ain’t playing it right.

Sugar Ray & the Bluetones – Living Tear to Tear

Sugar Ray & the Bluetones have added an entertaining gem to their long list of album releases with Living Tear to Tear.   From the first notes blown through Sugar Ray Norcia’s harmonica on “Rat Trap,” the album is a pleasure to hear.

Sugar RayIt’s not surprising that harpist Sugar Ray Norcia, a former member of Roomful of Blues, is a master at his craft. Roomful of Blues, a fine outfit in its own right, has become a stamp of quality for its alumni. The lexicon of blues masters who, along with Norcia, have been affiliated with Roomful of Blues include guitarists Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl, trumpeter/cornetist Al Basile, and pianists Al Copley and Ron Levy – all musical standouts.

Norcia, who founded the first version of the Bluetones in the late 1970s, formally became a member of Roomful of Blues in the early 1990s.  But he had been playing with those guys for years.  Ronnie Earl, who took over from Duke Robillard as lead guitar, had been one of the original Bluetones.  Norcia’s decades of experience playing with great musicians ala Roomful of Blues shows on Living Tear to Tear.  The album includes a collection of original tunes written not only by Norcia but also by Bluetones Monster Mike Welch, Michael “Mudcat” Ward, and Anthony Geraci, with a couple of standards added in.  “Here We Go,” which you can stream below, was written by Welch.

On Living Tear to Tear, the Bluetones’ tight lineup includes  Welch on guitar, Ward on bass,  Geraci on piano, and Neil Garouvin on drums.

Audio Stream: Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, “Here We Go”

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Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson – For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters

Larry “Mud” Morganfield and Kim Wilson have put together a collaboration that features 1950s Chicago Blues akin to Morganfield’s famous father, McKinley Morganfield – Muddy Waters. And the surprisingly good tribute album by Waters’ eldest son and the frontman from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters, captures that Muddy Waters feel without knocking off any obvious hits like “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” or “Mannish Boy.”

MudMud Morganfield is one of two of Waters’ sons – the other is Big Bill Morganfield – who are making a name for themselves in their father’s business.   He didn’t consider a music career until after his father’s death in 1983, becoming a professional truck driver for a time instead.  But since 2000, Mud has been building a solid reputation.  releasing his first album, Fall Waters Fall, in 2008.  His second album, Son of  the Seventh Son, released in 2012, included a number of original songs and received some positive critical notice.   Wilson, of course, has held the Fabulous Thunderbirds together since Jimmie Vaughan left the band in in the late eighties.  The band managed to hang together through some ups and downs and, with the release of On the Verge in 2012,  received critical notice as glowing as during their heyday of the seventies and eighties.

On For Pops, Mud’s round baritone vocals and Wilson’s harmonica establish a a great core for the project, but the veteran crew including guitarists Billy Flynn, who played with Chicago blues standout Jimmy Dawkins and the Legendary Blues Band (with Waters’ sidemen Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Pinetop Perkins) and Rusty Zinn, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, former Ronnie Earl sideman Steve Gomes on bass and drummer Robb Stupka, who frequently backed the legendary Luther Allison.

For Pops is a tour de force that covers a range of offerings written by Muddy Waters, such as “Gone to Main Street,”Still a Fool,” and “Blow Wind Blow.”  It also includes songs written by others for Muddy, such as Willie Dixon’s  “I Don’t Know Why” and “I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love” and Bernard Roth’s “Just to Be With You.”  None of the songs were huge hits for Muddy, but they all have that signature Muddy Waters sound, especially when played by this group of veteran musicians. 

Audio Stream: Mud Morganfield and Kim Wilson, “Still a Fool”

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Mayer’s Playlist for August 2014, Part 2

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Uncle John Farquhar, by Goodnight, Texas

Goodnight, Texas
Goodnight, Texas are on a journey, if not across geography then certainly through time. The bi-coastal group – songwriters Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf live in San Francisco, CA and Chapel Hill, NC respectively – are committed to taking listeners on a musical tour of Southern American history. Whereas 2012’s A Long Life of Living focused on life in the Appalachian Mountains during the Industrial Revolution, their latest transports listeners back to the South circa the Civil War.

Using archival material as a starting point, Wolf and Vinocur shaped authentic character-driven stories that capture day-to-day life during the era. Uncle John Farquhar is, in fact, Wolf’s great great great grandfather. The song that bears his name chronicles Farquhar from his early years in a Pittsburgh steel mill to his elderly years at home. Wolf paints a vivid portrait as the elderly Farquhar reflects on his life:

At the same old screen door that the dog scratched through,
And the same old wood floor underneath my shoe,
And the same old woman making chicken every night,
Yea, I guess I did alright

Although these songs are firmly anchored to a historical era, Vinocur and Wolf skillfully find timeless sentiments in the stories that they tell. “The Horse Accident (In Which a Girl Was All But Killed)” is an up-tempo song about love in a time of tragedy:

Lord let me die first, I can’t be without her,
I hope I never live to see her casket lined with lace,
She deserves to thrive on this earth a little longer,
If you need another worker you can take me in her place.

The two songwriters match their storytelling prowess with an ability to write a catchy hook. They serve ‘em up with plenty of banjo, fiddle and a host of other stringed instruments. Imagine the Band if they were a little less rock and a little more roots and you’d likely end up with a sound like this.

What era are you headed to next, fellas? I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to the next installment.

Audio Download: Goodnight, Texas, “Uncle John Farquhar (I Guess I Did Alright)”

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Still on the Levee, by Chris Smither

Chris Smither

Fifty years. That’s a hell of a long time to be making music. Sure, we often hear about Dylan, Springsteen and the Rolling Stones, all of whom are in proximity of that same milestone. Let’s not overlook folks like Smither who, though they may lack the commercial success of their contemporaries, boast their own outstanding musical legacies.

To mark the occasion, Smither invited an extraordinary group of friends and fellow artists to revisit songs from throughout his career. The results are remarkable.

Allen Toussaint’s rhythm and blues piano takes “Train Home” to new heights while Loudon Wainwright III joins in to create a late 1960’s folk feel on “What They Say.” He recruits saxophonist Dana Colley of the late, great Morphine, along with Colley collaborator guitarist Jeremy Lyons, to give a dark and stormy vibe on “Shillin’ for the Blues” and “Small Revelations.”

Among my favorites are Smither’s collaborations with Western Mass trio Rusty Belle. Their wonderful ramshackle and harmony-enriched sound fits well with the earthiness of Smither’s songs.

The centerpiece, though, is Smither’s songwriting. At times folk, at times bluesy, it never fails to hit the mark. Whether he is telling stories or reflecting on the human condition, his lyrics are simultaneously simple and compelling.

I’ve never seen my life in such as hurry,
but if I stop to worry,
I get left behind.
It’s a party, but you don’t get invitations
There’s just one destination,
You better be on time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful over-sized cardboard case and exquisite booklet that accompany the cd version. If ever there was an argument that one needs to get the physical copy of a release, this is it.

Audio Download: Chris Smither (featuring Rusty Belle), “Leave the Light On”

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THE PLAYLIST


Ghosts of Our Fathers, Otis Gibbs (from the Wanamaker Recording Company release Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth)
Don’t be deceived by the gentle ease to Gibbs music. He is a masterful storyteller who tells vivid stories about the downtrodden, downhearted and broken. This song is pure magic — and a great example of the power in his writing. With a deft eye Gibbs describes a childhood neighbor, a former boxer who lost a son in Vietnam. “How to carry on when the hardest punch is thrown, take away the burden from our shoulders,” he sings as a pedal steel and fiddle provide a mournful accompaniment.


The No-Hit Wonder, Cory Branan (from the Bloodshot Records release The No-Hit Wonder)
Branan’s latest release includes contributions from a host of the singer-songwriter’s notable friends, including Jason Isbell and the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. Not that he needed them, Branan’s songs shine brightly on their own. Whether he is tackling topics playful or serious, he waxes poetic with a sharp lyrical tongue. The title track is an animated ode to musicians long on aspiration, if not commercial success.

Years of living hand to mouth, years just getting gig to gig
East to west, north to south, well he could’ve been making a killing, peddling a dream
But if you found him at all, you found him just scraping a living, blood to string.


33K Feet, Peter Himmelman (from the Himmasongs release The Boat That Carries Us)
Himmelman is a songwriter’s songwriter, a guy who sets thoughtful and intelligent lyrics to warm and inviting pop melodies. This track is a great example. Musically, it has an urgency that conveys a sense of hurtling through the air on a plane. Lyrically, Himmelman describes the paradox of being helpless as life rushes us forward yet somehow finding some contentment along the way.

Audio Download: Peter Himmelman, “33K Feet”

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What We Can Bring, Walter Salas-Humara (from the Orchard release Curve and Shake)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Salas-Humara is an accomplished visual artist, especially when one hears the sense of imagery in his music. On his third solo album, the long-time Silos singer-songwriter brought together a talented group of friends to craft what amount to musical landscapes. The collection has a warm and melancholy feel, as this song illustrates.

Audio Download: Walter Salas-Humara, “What We Can Bring”

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Violent Shiver, Benjamin Booker (from the ATO Records release Benjamin Booker)
New Orleans musician Booker rocks with abandon on his debut release. His scruffy indie rock is centered around his guitar which delivers short bursts of electricity and attitude.


When You’re Gone, Tinnarose (from the Nine Mile Records release Tinnarose)
This Austin-based sextet serve up a bit of indie rock crunch with a decidedly 1970’s classic rock feel. Who says that summer is winding down? A few listens to Tinnarose and you’ll think it is just getting started.

Mayer’s Playlist for August 2014, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Too Blessed to be Stressed, by Paul Thorn

Paul ThornIt has been a bit of a wait for some new music from Tupelo Mississippi’s second favorite musical son. Thorn bridged the gap between 2010’s Pimps and Preachers and now with What the Hell Is Goin On, a fun covers album. While I certainly enjoyed his re-working of lesser-known songs by Allen Toussaint and Lindsay Buckingham, it made me that much more eager for a collection of Thorn originals. Thankfully, the wait is over.

There has always been an endearing quality to Thorn’s songwriting and it is in fine form on Too Blessed to be Stressed. Mix one part optimism with one part humor, peppered with a dash of realism, and this is the sound that emerges.

“Mediocrity’s King” is a great example. The song finds Thorn lamenting the state of everything from culture to government. “They manufacture stars on a tv stage, Johnny Cash couldn’t get arrested today,” he declares before really letting loose:

When you don’t expect much then you’re never let down
You get the kind of government we’ve got now
Republicans and Democrats are breaking my heart
I can’t tell them sons of bitches apart

Thorn rachets up the humor on “Backslide on Friday.” An ambling beat shuffles him through the days of the week. I sin on Saturday, I repent on Sunday” he sings, “then I tell myself I won’t procrastinate on Monday, Tuesday I do like I should.” It leads to the inevitable conclusion captured in the song’s title.

The fun continues with the Mississippi boogie of “Real Goodbye,” a stout kiss-off to a new ex. “My future’s bright now that I’ve put you in the past,” he proclaims, “hasta la vista, syonara, kiss my ass.”

Thorn’s infectious optimism shines brightest on “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy.” The song slowly builds from a subdued opening to a soaring finale as Thorn shares “the words that my Grandpa always said.” Words to live by, indeed.

Audio Download: Paul Thorn, “Real Goodbye”

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THE PLAYLIST


Tears Don’t Matter Much, Lucero (from the INgrooves release Live in Atlanta)

I expect that I’m not alone when I saw that Lucero are one of those bands from whom I’ve long awaited a live release (I’m looking at you, too, Patrick Sweany). Well, the boys from Memphis have finally delivered. Recorded over three nights in Atlanta late last year, the band culled thirty-two tracks spanning the band’s nearly fifteen year career. Some fans may quibble a bit but it plays like a greatest hits album. From the horns on “That Much Further West” to the roar of the crowd on “Tears Don’t Matter Much,” Live in Atlanta finds the band is exceptional form.


Neon Hearts, Jim Lauderdale (from the release I’m a Song)

I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised that Jim Lauderdale has amassed an impressive array of friends over his more than thirty year career in the music business. He has worked with artists ranging from Elvis Costello to Robert Hunter and Patty Loveless to, of course, frequent collaborator Buddy Miller. Many of these friends appear, both as co-songwriters and performers, on his tuneful new twenty-song collection.

With one foot firmly grounded in classic country era, Lauderdale still manages to have a satisfying freshness. Let’s call it vintage without feeling dated. We can also call it damn good.


Prettiest Girl, Ben Miller Band (from the New West Records release Any Way, Shape or Form)

This Missouri-based three-piece makes a mighty fine racket. Singer-songwriter Miller and his cronies — Scott Leeper on the washtub bass and Doug Dicharry on percussion, trombone and various other instruments — play country and bluegrass with a healthy dose of attitude. The group often infuses its songs with Miller’s slide guitar to give them extra edge. Here’s one of the more traditional numbers from their fine new record.


Cruel Alibis, Mustered Courage (from the release Powerlines)

This quartet from Australia seem determined to crack the US bluegrass scene. If their US debut is any indication, they’ve clearly got the chops to do it. There’s both energy and buoyancy to their music, with songs chock full of catchy pop melodies.

Audio Download: Mustered Courage, “Cruel Alibis”

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Feet Back on the Ground, Dead Fingers (from the Pipe & Gun/Communicating Vessels release Big Black Dog)

Alabama husband and wife duo Kate and Taylor Hollingsworth have a great ramshackle sound. They start with enticing pop melodies and build raw yet immaculately crafted arrangements around them. From the haunting “Pomp & Circumstance” to the scampering “Feet Back on the Ground,” they deliver the goods.

Audio Stream: Dead Fingers, “Feet Back on the Ground”

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Messin’ Around, Quiet Life (from the Mama Bird Recording Co. release Housebroken Man)

Although the quartet call Portland, Oregon home, their more likely to be found somewhere on the road. Their forthcoming ep reflects their wanderlust ways with an eclectic sound that runs from the honky-tonk of “Messin’ Around” to their intensely dark rock and roll cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die.”