I’m a sucker for great power pop and have long enjoyed The Rationales, who have consistently been among Boston’s finest practitioners. Their latest release not only continues that trend, it raises the bar a few notches higher.
The band’s line-up has evolved over the past few years, resulting in an expanded sound. Two resounding electric guitars remain the driving force, but the arrangements are given tremendous depth by keyboards and pedal steel guitar.
The songs on Upstream have darker overtones than the band’s previous work, however it still can’t hid the band’s melodic enthusiasm. “Trade You” has an appealing 1980’s retro vibe while “Under the Gun” gets a touch jammy while still maintaining the catchy melody and power pop precision.
The album’s centerpiece, however, is the nearly 7 minute “Climb the Ladder.” The song starts as a straight-on, riff-fueled rocker before segueing into an entrancing piano and pedal steel interlude that eventually builds into an explosive electric guitar-driven conclusion. Epic in all the right ways.
As is wont to happen, I find myself leaning towards the b-side of this digital single. Don’t get me wrong, both tracks are great and it’s hard to not be enamored with Kirk’s collaboration with Aimee Mann on the “a-side”, a song called “Baby Who Knows.”
Said song is a bit of melancholy pop perfection, a restrained message to a former lover that finds Kirk asserting, “those grapes turned sour long ago.”
“Powerstroke” is a fine counterpoint, an uplifting ode to burgeoning love (at least in the singer’s view) that displays the same intelligence of lyrics and melody as its counterpart. I mean what’s not to like about lyrics that flow like this:
An opportunity that landed right in front me, almost like a smack in the face
A big ascending harmony that takes off like a mystery but always winds up in the right place
Ok, so Yoder doesn’t live in Boston anymore. That, however, is where his musical legacy resides. And his band. And his producer. Once a Bostonian, always a Bostonian right?
Although I’ve long know him as a generally happy guy, his latest album is clouded by dark shadows. He sets the tone in the opening “Optimist”, where he asks, “what’s a man like me doing in a place like this.”
Despite the gloominess, Yoder has a knack for infectious hooks and an engaging Americana-tinged rock spirit. “I Don’t Love You Anymore” is a fine example, a break-up song that somehow sounds uplifting. Bad love never sounded so good.
Fierce is the best way to describe Abbie Barrett. Her songs pack a punch while retaining a polished sound, reminiscent of early Elvis Costello and former Bostonian Tracy Bonham. There’s a sense of urgency that pulses through That Shame, a musical catharsis fueled by Barrett’s impassioned vocals and musical arrangements that pull no punches. Heck, even the ballads burn with a resolute intensity. This album was meant to be played loud. I’m sure Abbie wouldn’t have it any other way.
For more than 20 years Boston’s the Upper Crust have been proclaimed (well, maybe self-proclaimed) as the finest purveyors of 18th-Century Rocque and Roll. Picture AC/DC if they dressed up in aristocratic make-up and garb.
That’s just the starting point, however. As song titles like “Fopped Up”, “Heads Will Roll” and “Only a Lowly Lackey” indicate, the band’s songs often take a tongue in cheek swipe at aristoctratic life.
And the best part? The songs rock. Aggressive guitars serve up mighty riffs, complemented by harmony-driven choruses. Crank it up for a good time, just beware the guillotine.
Lippert is rock and roll survivor. He played the major label game – a couple of times – suffering the requisite bruises and disappointment along the way. It’s hard to suppress the creative spirit, as Lippert illustrates with the release of a new EP.
His ep, released earlier this year, showcases the same fire of his earlier work. Fervent vocals and rousing guitars lead the charge, blending his power pop tendencies and rock ambitions into a glossy sonic experience.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.