Some of the best albums take both artist and listener on a journey. One need look no farther than the title of Lisa Bastoni’s latest release to appreciate that this is her musical intent. How We Want to Live may speak to Bastoni’s personal story but it comes with universal meaning and appeal.
Bastoni reflects on finding love (“Nearby”) and watching it fade away (“Silver Line”). She then considers how one can cope with the loss as the memories persist (“Never Gone to You”). Things come full circle on “Walk a Little Closer,” with folk trio Lula Wiles lending their instruments and harmonies to Bastoni’s bluegrass-flavored tale of a promising first date.
Elsewhere Bastoni broadens her focus to consider other relationships that influence one’s life. “Take the Wheel” is a love letter to the magic of old friendships while “Beautiful Girl” is a moving message to her daughter. Bastoni offers some gentle words of encouragement whose relevance extends to all:
Boston has a rich musical history and who better to celebrate it than Session Americana. The group has showcased Boston songwriters since their early days, always adding their distinctive flair in the process. Northeast takes it a step further – an album full of songs written by New England artists and featuring a host of special guest vocalists from the region.
The tracks sung by the band’s core members hew close to their individual personalities. Ry Cavanaugh opens the album with James Taylor’s “Riding on a Railroad,” leaning into the eye wink lyric, “we are riding on a railroad singing someone else’s songs.” He later leads the band through a restrained and beautiful take on Carly Simon’s “Coming Around Again.”
The outsized personalities of Dinty Child and Jim Fitting shine on their takes on Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner” and the Pixies “Here Comes Your Man”, respectively. Bassist Jon Bistline ruminates on former Bostonian Chris Pappas’ (The Everyday Visuals) murky “Driving” followed by drummer Billy Beard’s rambling take on Tom Rush’s “Merrimack County”.
The guest vocalists provide equally colorful turns. The more folk oriented Rose Polenzani gets a bit funky (courtesy of Jim Fitting’s dancing harmonica) on Amy Correia’s “You Go Your Way” while Ali McGurk wraps her hypnotic voice around Mark Sandman’s brooding “The Night”. And speaking of immense personalities, John Powhida leads a glorious acoustic romp through Donna Summer’s “Dim All the Lights”.
In the end, Northeast does more than commemorate New England artists, it’s a celebration of all music presented by a group who splendidly balance reverence with jubilation.
Troubadour Klyma scratches his rock itch on the second of a promised three 2019 albums. In many ways the album is a tribute to the classic rock era, with Klyma penning originals that honor revered songwriters Bobby Charles (“Bobby Charles on the Jukebox”) and Tom Petty (“He Had a Southern Accent”) as well as offering up a restrained, somewhat bluesy cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”.
Songs like “Hallways”, “Little Bit Lonely” and “Maybe” crackle with 1970s FM rock glory, filled with roaring guitars and swirling harmonies. As Klyma says in the digital liner notes, “Sometimes you just have to rock out.” Mission accomplished, and then some.
(C&W – short for “Country and Western” and the third promised Klyma album of 2019 – was released today. Check it out here.)
Lonely Soul, the debut from GA-20, is a glorious trip back in time. The group, led by blues guitarists Matthew Stubbs and Pat Faherty, mines the 1950’s and 1960’s territory where blues, R&B and rock & roll came together in both a sensual and fiery way.
Album opener “Naggin’ On My Mind” conjures up Saturday night in a Mississippi juke joint before giving way to the bluesy shuffle of “Happy Today.” The group digs deeper into the blues, both lyrically and musically, on “You Know I’m Right”.
“I Feel So Good”, “One Night Man” and “Lonely Soul” romp as if they were properly aged in a Mississippi juke joint. “Cracking Up” hearkens back to the early days of rock and roll, albeit with a Muscle Shoals swampiness.
As one would expect, Stubbs and Faherty wield their guitars as powerful weapons on every track. The instrumental “Greene Boy”, in particular, bristles with playing that is both melodic and gritty.
An email popped up in my mailbox last week with the subject “John Powhida still alive!!!!”. With that notice I learned that the enigmatic Boston musician had a new album to share, his first new music in five years.
As one has come to expect from Powhida, Bad Pilot is a collection of songs that is at various turns serious, irreverent, clever, playful and idiosyncratic. I mean how many songwriters can transform mundane parts of life like taking out the recycling in the morning into catchy pop songs? Powhida can – and does – with the irresistible “Recycle Morning in Arlington Heights”.
Powhida’s pop sensibility is as charismatic as it is masterful. Bad Pilot is a literal tour through 1970’s and 1980’s musical history. Powhida and company shift effortlessly from the disco-tinged “Denver (Be Gentle With My Stuff)” to the Steely Dan sophistication of “The Star Spangled Banner” and from the David Bowie-style glam of the aforementioned “Recycle Morning in Arlington Heights” to the sinister percussion-heavy Prince vibe of “Invisible Now”.
Yet even as he conjures up his musical predecessors, he infuses the music with his own personality and R&B flair. The results are downright infectious.
Back of the Line, Freeloader (from the Rum Bar Records release The Path of Least Resistance)
Nat Freedberg is having a busy year. The long-time Upper Crust singer-songwriter-guitarist released a rare solo album earlier this year and immediately returns with The Path of Least Resistance. Teaming up with some fellow Boston musical stalwarts and billing the group the Freeloaders, Freedberg adds another ferocious electric guitar-fueled album to his extended catalog.
As he is wont to do, Freedberg often keeps his tongue firmly in cheek. Songs like “Ten Songs Make an Album” and “Halfway Decent”, not to mention “Nobody Gives a Fuck” are guaranteed to provide a smile even as the guitars growl and snarl.
“Highland Fling” conjures up a Scottish folk song, albeit one led by bruising electric guitars. That same guitar insistence powers the album’s lone cover, a fist-pumping take on the Billy Preston classic “Will It Go Round in Circles”. The Path of Least Resistance does anything but, hammering forward in high voltage glory.
It’s always satisfying when a band’s name perfectly embodies their musical style. Such is the case with These Wild Plains. Thrilled to Be Here finds the group revitalized and serving up a collection of songs that bristle with haziness and yearning. It’s exactly the kind of music one would want to hear while driving through long stretches of flatlands.
The songs on Thrilled to Be Here generally fall into two categories. First are songs like “Cazador” and “El Reno”, tales of hardened characters battling demons real and possibly imagined, usually with a drink firmly in hand. Second are brawny love songs like “Carraro’s Blues” and “Stick Around” that mostly confess doubt and remorse, also shared with a drink firmly in hand.
Regardless of the lyrical focus, These Wild Plains find the sweet spot between rock bravado and lyrical vulnerability.
Not many bands make concept albums anymore, certainly not bands with only a single previous release. The Daybreakers travel that lonely road with Worn Out Dream.
The album tells the tale of two musical brothers whose band reaches for, but fails to find, success. Daybreakers songwriters Kyle Murphy and Matt Schairer trade off songs as they chronicle the all too familiar story.
Musically the collection has a classic rock feel that, perhaps not surprisingly, recalls the similarly themed movie and soundtrack “Eddie and the Cruisers”. They shift between blues and heartland rock, with a touch of saxophone adding extra flavor to songs like “Colorado Women” and “Ticket to Heaven”.
Although Worn Out Dream’s narrative may reach an arguably disappointing conclusion, the album itself is quite satisfying.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.