Tag Archives: Worcester Rock

CD Review: Good Times Ne’er Forgot, by Hey Now, Morris Fader

Good Times Ne’er Forgot, by Hey Now, Morris Fader

 

In “Sounds the Same,” from their new independent release, Good Times Ne’er Forgot, Hey Now, Morris Fader asks if the muse is gone away for good. This dire existential dilemma hits like a mid-life crisis, signaling the maturing of the group and its members. Good Times Ne’er Forgot is the result of growing up, facing life’s growing complications, and, sonically, it stems from recent outside musical pursuits of the band members. Brooks, for example, has become a mainstay on the local scene, providing his virtuoso chops to a variety of lineups based out of Green Street’s Dive Bar, and Pez plays with uber-pop locals, The Luxury.

The good news is, as this record testifies, the muse isn’t gone, at least not for this band. The record teems with ideas steeped in pop, with Brooks Milgate’s piano playing – as the lead instrument – defining the band’s sound, while his potent arsenal of blues and jazz chops have infused HNMF’s music with some historic presence, and elevated its appeal much the way superlative playing elevates the pop of Ben Folds or Phish.

The new tunes present the usual topics –social and relationship critiques – but often from less obvious vantage points, and with subtle suggestions of broader meanings. “Sounds the Same” finds the singer questioning his own creative sense (“Is anybody with me in thinking that the muse is gone away for good? It all sounds the same”) while seeming to call the state of all current music into question. Similarly, hidden beneath the bright, up-tempo, RnB/jazz-style piano hammering and blaring trumpet of “Not for You Anymore,” the band delivers the artist’s manifesto to create for the self rather than pandering to audiences. (“It’s not for you anymore, and it never will be again. “I won’t write your song and I won’t sing along.”). Or, perhaps it’s all just directed at a former lover.

Most of the songs presented on Good Times Ne’er Forgot are pop, and move in unpredictable ways that are hard to pin to one genre or another. Some, though, incorporate well used tropes to positive effect, like “Suits,” a condemnation of phonies (“A crooked smile, insincere and smug, you’ve got all new scams to pull”) with its Ray Charles-like Rhodes riff and bluesy right-hand trills (as well as a great Rhodes solo and a barrelhouse piano bridge); and “Two Weeks Notice,” a five-minute soul/blues revue that would be right at home on Joe Cocker’s Leon Russell-led Mad Dogs and Englishmen, borrowing chord changes from Ray Charles hits, like “A Song for You” and “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” The tune is big and bluesy, with tasteful lead guitar and a scorching solo courtesy of Troy Gonyea (The Howl, Booker T. and the MG’s), who also delivers some sweet slide guitar work ala Derek Trucks on the opening track, “The Blues and Alcohol.”

The work hangs together and makes good use of musical friendships developed by the band members. In addition to Troy Gonyea’s fine guitar work throughout the record, track four (“Gone for Good”) features strings by Boston guitar ace Ian Kennedy (Reverse, Groovasaurus), and track five (“Cop Show”) features Dana Colley (Morphine, Twinemen, Hi-n-Dry studios) on saxophone.

Overall, the record stays true to the band’s belief in having a good time. So, while the themes can be bleak, critical, and sometimes anxious, the mood is carried by the arrangements and production, which are driving, up-tempo, and slick, making the overriding vibe light and fun.

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Local Tunes: Recording in the City

Originally appeared in Worcester Magazine, August 2, 2012

Photos by Steven King

Music stores, production companies and recording studios are the adjuncts to the music scene—third-party offshoots that evolve to seize upon the marketable talent of, and/or provide the tools for, the artists who work in the given area. At one time, American bands sought out the major label hubs, originally New York and Chicago, and then Los Angeles, where they could record in fully outfitted studios complete with acoustically tuned rooms, large plate reverbs, isolated control rooms, German-made large diaphragm microphones, and horn-rimmed engineers operating bulky, state-of- the-art mixing consoles. Of course, even then, independent studios existed, making critical contributions to recording arts, and capturing regional sounds that might have gone overlooked by the major labels. The centralization problem was, though, the considerable financial outlay required to design and build appropriate spaces and equip them with the necessary gear.

Of course, technology has, as with many other fields, made the gear ever more available to the consumer, bringing the essential studio outfitting budget from the millions to the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. Today, for as little as about $200, an enthusiast can purchase a digital recorder with built-in condenser mics, and software that allows for multi-track recording, and even digital effects, on which she can make her own “Sgt. Pepper’s” album. In fact, there’s an app for that: you can multi-track today on your iPhone!

However, while consumer technology is often advertized as the panacea, the promethean provider of the power of the gods (or at least Rick Rubin or George Martin, in this case), the studios – both major league and minor league – remain open, and even seem to be multiplying in certain vibrant musical markets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Worcester doesn’t have any high profile, major label- aligned studios. In fact, it has few prominent, full-time studios, unlike Boston. The reasons are many. Not only is the scene significantly smaller, but artists can easily record nearby in Boston, Providence, or even New York. This opportunity is fueled, too, by a perception that big-city studios will offer better results. Studio owners also point to changes in the recording arts industry that have led to considerably downsized budgets for recording and band development, even among national and international acts.

There’s no record-shaped building, or neon-lit recording studio in downtown Worcester. Like most everything else today, especially in this town, you’ve got to use your nose and snoop around a bit. Even then, it can be a bit difficult to find decent recording space.

At the top of the local scene there are essentially two studios: Tremolo Lounge, in West Boylston where for close to two decades Roger Lavallee has manned the helm, engineering and producing the lion’s share of local recordings (or, at least, more than anybody else); and Fontanez Recording and Rehearsal Studio, which opened in downtown Worcester last year, where Alejandro Fontanez has grown an impressive resume of urban artists, including a mixing session for Wyclef Jean.

Beneath them, the drop is steep down to part-time studios and project studios, where bands or artists record themselves and their friends. The phone book lists perhaps a half dozen operations in Worcester and surrounding towns, though even this scant listing is optimistic and a bit deceiving. Many of the listed numbers are nothing more than home numbers to a kitchen phone whose owner has learned not to anticipate any calls from customers.

The market for good studios in Worcester is thin.

The less suspected reason for the scant listings is the nature of recording studios, which, with the exception of the aforementioned major-label variety, can be – for lack of a better term – sort of mom-and-pop outfits, run by—who else?— musicians, who, according to their nature, eschew slick, established business norms and often operate by word of mouth.

Ask Lavallee for a business card and he’ll write his number on your hand. In fact, you can’t even find Tremolo Lounge without guided instructions. There’s no convenient Main Street address, no neon sign to signal your arrival. The studio is a pastoral, converted suburban house annex. And though you have no doubt driven (and perhaps even walked) lower Pleasant Street dozens of times, you probably have never noticed that Fontanez Recording Studio exists there.

The decision for Sam Margolis and Andrew Kramer of Riverview Studios, in Waltham, to go pro, came naturally. Margolis says of their approach, “It’s all been organic, so we haven’t put a focused effort on trying to build a business. The approach has been more networking and community-based and doing projects that we’re truly interested in and have fun doing.”

The need for instruments beyond the range of the band members while recording their own CDs brought them into contact with a number of area musicians, who then inquired about renting the space for their own projects.

Their studio, too, is tough to spot, hidden within a nondescript suburban home along the Charles River.

To find these studios you must actively seek them, and ingratiate yourself to the local scene, unlike Boston and Providence, where a host of trade magazines devoted to the music scene carry ads for highly competitive studios vying for clients.

Some musicians/engineers prefer it this way.

Luke Bass, an area engineer and bassist with a host of local groups, including The Farmers Union Players and Kalifa and Koliba, has what he refers to as “a project studio on steroids” near College Square, where, he says, he “can get the quality of a bigger studio.” He has released a fulllength recording by Kalifa and Koliba; is presently working on a follow-up; and has plans for a Farmers Union Players full length this year. Bass, however, has little interest in being a business owner.

(PHOTO: Zack Slik plays banjo during a recording session at the studio of Luke Bass. Steven King/Worcester Mag)

“I only work with people I like, and I don’t have to make money on it, so I don’t call it professional,” he says. “I keep my day job, and the day job pays for everything, so I only record people I enjoy. But the quality I’m getting is through the roof.”

Guitarist David Stadig, of Northbridge, who runs David Stadig Studios and King Kat Productions, feels the same way about the business end of recording. “If you’re doing that commercial venture,” he says, “then you’ve got to kind of put up with that stuff.” His motives for building the studio, like many musicians, are personal. “I publish my own stuff. My whole purpose was really just as an adjunct to being a lifelong musician.”

Modern technology has made it possible for the modern musician, like Stadig and Bass, to forego the professional studio and do it themselves. Innumerable others have, too.

Ubiquitous local bluesman, Jon Short, has done lots of his own recording. Of his numerous CDs since 2005, his 2006 recording “Barrelhouse Ramblers,” with Paul Chase (bass) and Josh Teter (drums), “was recorded live here in Worcester with Jonathan (JD) Leary at [Leary’s] home studio”; 2007’s “Three Different Ways,” with Keith Carter (harmonica), “was recorded live at my home studio on Pro Tools”; 2009’s “Live from the Shack at Vincent’s” “was recorded live with one ambient large diaphragm condenser mic on the porch of the shack, using a Zoom 4 and was mixed/mastered by Bill Ryan”; 2010’s “Big Shorty” “was recorded live at my home studio”; 2012’s “Live from the Shack at Vincent’s 2011” and “34 Special (Limited release)” “were recorded live with one ambient large diaphragm condenser mic on the porch of the shack, using a Zoom 4”; and his band Big Eyed Rabbit, with Duncan Arsenault (drums) and Jeff Burch (bass), “just recorded live this past Monday night with Paul Dagnello using a bunch of incredible equipment” at Erick Godin’s Lucky Dog Music Hall.

So, it can be done. And Short’s recordings are hi-fi and clean and professional sounding. Short, however, specializes in a genre of music that values the live over the recorded, the primitive over the complex, vintage over modern, and so, single takes without overdubs, limited effects and editing, and ambience are preferred.

Kramer and Margolis home record, too, except that their home is a studio. They met at the formation of their current band, Comanchero, nearly a decade ago, and, after self-recording the band’s first two CDs, the pair got serious and attended Boston University’s CDIA (Center for Digital Imaging Arts) degree program, applying their newly acquired knowledge to the band’s most recent CD, 2011’s “The Undeserved.”

“I think that recording was just such a natural part of all of our musicianship,” Kramer says. “Sam and I each had our own setup at home.”

Their results, though, testify to the potential quality of “home” recordings. Margolis says that, even with the first two CDs, “a couple of the tracks got some play on the radio.”

“We got great gigs out of it,” he continues.

Fontanez says that the experience of home recording, in addition to being an economic and/or creative necessity, and sometimes a little funky, can be fun. “When I started, I was recording in my friend’s kitchen, on Home Street,” he recalls. “The control room was the kitchen and the vocal booth was the laundry room. We had this joke that the cockroaches were the background vocals. It was a great time!”

“It was still pretty good recording. We had Pro Tools [multi-track software], MBox [digital interface], and a decent microphone, and a nice preamp. It was mostly for practicing. We had a band going. It was more for us, just to see how it sounded.”

(PHOTO: Alejandro Fontanez in his recording and rehearsal studio. Steven King/Worcester Mag)

Fontanez opened his studio after over a decade of travelling as a performer. “I got married, and I started doing a lot of mixing at my house. It got busier and busier, and I decided to open a studio right here in Worcester.”

Lavallee says that brilliant recordings are being made locally, both in the city’s professional studios and in “people’s closets.”

“I’m biased, but I’ll say this: Legendary records have been made [at Tremolo Lounge], whether I’ve worked on them or not,” he says. “There are records that I think that I could play for anybody that have been done here over the last 20 years that would blow your mind. So, yeah, I know that it’s possible.”

Lavallee also agrees that the magic could happen on a home project studio. “I’ve heard stuff that people have done—on their own, in the Worcester area—that is awesome, incredible. People come with demos to me sometimes and they think of it as a scratch demo, and they don’t even realize how great it sounds. I think it happens sometimes by skill and sometimes by trial and error and sometimes by dumb luck, especially if you are writing and creating something that is sort of unique sonically. It’s definitely possible and it has happened where people have made amazing stuff – in Worcester and in their closets, or on their laptop or on their iPod.”

Fontanez agrees with Lavallee, with stipulations. “I think that the technology is such that you can get a good recording sound [at home]. You’ve just got to learn; you’ve got to know what you’re doing recording-wise.”

Stadig further stipulates, “If you’re very meticulous about what you do, you could have a recording that sounds just as good as something that is done in a professional studio with a poor engineer. It still comes down to, even if you’ve got all this great equipment, you’ve got to have someone with great ears, and someone who knows how to use the gear to its optimal effect. I’ve heard a lot of lousy recordings come out of what should be good sounding recordings.”

For their first disc, 2010’s “Live at the Emporium, Greatest Hits, Vol. III,” J. Stu “Dr. Gonzo” Esty and his band, The Roadkill Orchestra, chose to record on their own at a makeshift studio set up at Gonzo’s Unusual Condiments storefront, because, as Esty says, “It was important for us to record it where we had written and practiced the songs.” So, Esty continues, “Bill Nelson, who had a studio for years above Union Music, was gracious enough to come down and set up a live recording. With the technology we have today, we could go straight to hard drive.”

This approach wasn’t foreign to Esty. “I’ve been recording since the ’70s, beginning in my bedroom with reel-to-reel recorders and razors, Tascam 4-tracks, all of it.” And the experience of working professionally wasn’t always appealing, he notes. “When I was in Europe I recorded in Nuremburg, and every time you’d go in, you’d see that tape, and when that light would come on there was money going down the drain and you had to either shit or get off the pot. And so it was always nerve-wracking to lay it down that way.”

Self-recording, though, wasn’t without its own inherent problems. “We had some separation problems we had to deal with,” Esty says, but the situation brought out an old-school musical toughness that he liked. “You had to bring your A game. It was a Ramones-style thing. We laid down 16 tracks in six hours. Fourteen were keepers and 12 made it onto the disc.”

(PHOTO: Luke Bass in his recording studio near College Square in Worcester. Steven King/Worcester Mag)

Bass’s experience with the pros was similar, and he says that the compulsion to self-record “started…because we went to the other studios and I didn’t like the sounds we were getting. When we couldn’t get it, we decided – me and my partner at the time – we needed to build the studio ourselves. That’s when I started buying equipment.”

“Best thing I’ve ever done in music, except [to] start playing music,” he says.

According to Bass, the problem with commercial studios is that most artists don’t get to work with producers. “They work with an engineer and they pay by the hour. And the engineer’s job is simply to get a recording, and I think it’s kind of a cookie-cutter recording. You’re paying by the hour, and you don’t have $10,000 to put into an album, so everybody’s always watching the clock and everybody’s trying to get as many songs in as they can. It doesn’t work, to me, to be a quality album.”

Working in your own studio, he says, is entirely different. “If I don’t like a track, I’ll record it 10 times; I don’t care!”

“Going out and hiring a [commercial] studio,” says Stadig, “would run you anywhere from fifty to one hundred dollars an hour, and if you needed players, you’d have to hire guys or try to get people to do things. If you’re pretty prolific at what you do, those kinds of moneys can add up pretty quickly.”

And like his fellow musicians, desperation became, once again, that mother of invention. “At that point I started researching how I could set up a small project thing for myself and that’s how that took place,” he says.

By all accounts, it is cheaper to record at home, and this is probably the top reason cited for doing so. This presents a lethal business arrangement, when the primary market is poorly paid musicians, who no longer enjoy the unbridled patronage of an earlier time. And as noted, an old Tascam four-track can be purchased for next to nothing (in fact, they’re probably being given away today), and you need as little as an iPod with the right app or a basic portable digital recorder.

“Good gear is still expensive. Period,” says Stadig. “But you can do a lot more with the advent of digital equipment and signal processing and all the trappings than you could 10 years ago. I mean, 20 years ago? Forget it!”

“The climate has changed so much in the last 10 or 15 years,” says Lavallee. “Everybody’s got their own home recording systems, whether it’s Pro Tools or Logic or Garage Band, and they’re able to do really cool stuff.”

So, things have gotten less expensive and more user friendly. Why not just do it all at home? Well, you could also paint your house, repair your own car, service your own computer, home school your children, and transplant your own vital organs (this last one might not be legal). Why hire anyone?

Well, as Lavallee points out, “It’s not immediately apparent to everybody what a large studio—what a producer—can bring to the table. They [home-studio owners] know how to record the stuff, but they don’t know how to mix it; they, perhaps, don’t have the space or the mics or the interface to do a full drum kit, or a full tracking of the backing band.”

The modern compromise, then, says Lavallee, is a mixed effort, whereby artists on a tight budget might track the parts that they feel equipped to handle at home, and hire out the studio for multi-microphone applications, or critical pieces like mixing and mastering, fullband recording, and vocal recording, that require trained, acute ears.

In fact, it’s not only local bands and artists that operate this way. Lavallee says the whole industry does, and that the days of unlimited budgets – even for big-label artists – are long over. Nowadays, he says, signed artists are likely to have a budget of, say $50,000—a paltry sum compared to the heydays of the 1970s, when major bands would wile away a year or more in a studio developing a project. Today, even bands like Wilco and Los Lobos, for instance, develop ideas and track in their own rehearsal studios, before heading to big studios for mixing, overdubs, and mastering.

Still, Kramer points out, “even there, they have engineers on hand to work the equipment and set up all the microphones,” which frees the band up to do what they ostensibly do best: write and/or perform.

And, as with the bands mentioned above, a mixed approach of personal and professional settings suited Roadkill Orchestra’s needs on their first, self-recorded effort. “We did the mixdown at a studio down in Whitinsville,” says Esty.

Moreover, not all exiled recordists are able or willing to invest the considerable time, money and energy required to do it right at home, as Bass has.

“About two years ago I found myself a nice isolated room where I could record anytime I wanted, but it was really small. I moved down the hall and got a much bigger room and was able to put in the extra rooms. I had the gear to do it. I didn’t have what a professional studio would have in the isolation rooms and the windows, so people could actually see each other while they play even though they’re in separate rooms. That was basically the next logical step to getting a better recording: having finely tuned rooms and a real recording environment instead of a band room.”

Another crucial element that doesn’t come – either included or optional – with the purchase of recording equipment, is a producer’s ears, and years of experience.

“To work with a great producer and put real money and real time into an album? I would absolutely love to do that,” admits Bass. “Recording can be a daunting process. It’s a lot of hours of mixing, a lot of hours in the studio. I would love to just be able to walk in somebody else’s studio, lay my tracks, and walk out, and get a great recording. But without having either great people producing it or a lot of money backing it, that doesn’t usually happen.”

“Bands come here just because they don’t want to deal with any of the setup and the tweaking or the troubleshooting, or anything,” Kramer explains. “By the time you’re done getting the sound you like and checking for phase coherency and getting the levels all right, sometimes it’s tough then to go be creative, when your mind is all focused on the technical aspects.”

One additional bit of useful wisdom that Margolis and Kramer acquired during those formative recordings was that “it’s pretty easy to fuck up a recording.”

Fontanez agrees with this wisdom. “When it comes to the engineering part – to mixing – that’s when you need the help,” he says.

Ultimately, musicians must face this truth. “I am a composer and a performer. I am not an engineer,” says Esty, whose second album “was designed to be the next level up, a studio one. We were fortunate enough to get into Tremolo Lounge.” The benefit, he says, was in the engineer. Lavallee’s abilities, he says, are “phenomenal. He hears every fucking note! His musical knowledge is so vast. You say, ‘I’m trying to get this sort of a vibe, this sort of a feel, in this kind of a color, and the sound of the ocean,’ and he knows exactly what you’re talking about. He’s been around long enough so that he can get any kind of a sound. And, plus, with the gear that he’s got there….”

Ah! To have a professional, who has been through all the trials and errors, and has spent years developing an ear for recorded music.

“You just go in there and play and that, for me, is the essence of making music, says Esty. “If I had unlimited resources, I would ensconce the band in the recording studio and never fucking leave!”

Studios stay alive because some artists are simply baffled and overwhelmed with the prospect of outfitting a studio, mastering a litany of highly technical devices, and devoting years to developing the subtle hearing skills required of good recordings. And all agree that Worcester has studios that offer this professional experience.

“There are very good studios in Worcester,” asserts Bass. “You definitely do not have to go elsewhere. No matter what your style is, there’s someone out there that has a decent enough studio that can record you at a much better price than you can get in Boston.”

Kramer at Riverview Studios says that they’re doing very well west of Boston, and that business is increasing. “We’ll have maybe five ongoing different projects, where we’re mixing one project, we’re recording another, we’re coproducing another. It’s basically two to three nights a week we’re working on other people’s stuff and one night a week we’re focusing on our stuff.”

Still, Margolis says, it’s not enough to go full-time. “That’s where the day job comes in,” he says. “I think we could [make a living on the studio], but we’d have to work our freaking asses off, networking the hell out of bands around here.”

(PHOTO: Leighton Kennedy plays the saxophoe during a recording session at Fontanez Studio. Steven King/Worcester Mag)

Fontanez says of area studios, “We are cheaper than other cities. We get great quality here. There are people who have been to Boston who now know about this studio and who now come out here.” His optimism is buoyed by the movement of Boston’s Bristol Studios, which opened a voice studio with him and are now training singers here.

This trend makes him hopeful for the future. “Hopefully in five years – 10 years – we’re going to need more studios to open up to handle the business. Right now, it’s not a big music scene in Worcester,” he says. “There are a lot of great artists, but Worcester is that type of city where you have to push people to get them involved.”

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Dirigo and Comanchero Bring American Roots to Tammany Hall

Dirigo and Comanchero at Tammany Hall, Worcester, Friday, April 27, 2012

by Matt Robert

This article originally appeared in Worcester Magazine’s Thursday, April 26, 2012, issue. All photos courtesy of Dirigo and Comanchero.

Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto? Let’s call the whole thing off.

Both Dirigo and Comanchero, who come together for a show on April 27 at Tammany Hall on Pleasant Street in Worcester, label themselves, though both also get a little squirmy about labels. Dirigo, who describe their music as “jamericana,” and Comanchero, who call theirs “nuevo Americana,” want listeners to be more open-minded.

“I hate the labels!” exclaims Luke “Patchen” Montgomery, guitarist for Dirigo, about the oft-maligned term “jam band.” “If you look at any old Led Zeppelin footage, they stretched stuff out and (their songs were) different from day to day. To me, that’s what a jam band is.”

“(Guitarist) Steve (Jones) is pretty heavily into the roots-Americana vibe,” adds Patchen. “We kind of combined those two sounds into jamericana. So, it’s like trying to do some country-flavored music, but also letting it stretch out. We didn’t want to do anything too Grateful Dead or Phish. We didn’t want to really just let it go completely out there into the ether. We kind of wanted it to have a basis in roots music – country music – but also let it kind of breathe a little bit.”

“The song is the essence of the whole thing,” Patchen adds. “I come from a background of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and Neil Young, for example, where the essence of the song is really the heart of the whole thing, and then stretching it out, letting it breathe and improvising on it is the secondary part,” he explains, citing The Stones’ “Let it Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers” as particular inspirations.

Dirigo and Comanchero share a love of roots music, in general, and American country music, in particular. So, while both bands enjoy instrumental, improvisational music, their approach is more Austin than San Francisco, more “Live at Folsom Prison” than “Live Dead.”

Dirigo, comprised of Patchen, bassist Erik Glockler, guitarist Steve Jones, and drummer Russ Lawton, know of what they speak. Dirigo features members of the seminal Burlington, Vt., jam band Strangefolk; Phish guitar guru, Trey Anastasio’s, touring band; and wellknown Maine folk/Americana band, The Boneheads. The band grew organically from post-Strangefolk-show acoustic jams, taking a life of its own as an acoustic duet (much like Strangefolk’s own early-’90s UVM origins), and by 2004, included drums and bass, adding the current band name in 2010.“It’s a good old rock ’n’ roll show,” says Patchen. “(We’re) just having a good time and having fun. We’ll definitely stretch things out and have a good time, for sure, and jam out,” he says about the Tammany show. “We really just want to have everybody dancing and having a good time – just enjoying the music.”

Sam Margolis, of Waltham’s, Comanchero, says that their mission is similar: “When I played lacrosse in college, we had a saying before every game: ‘Play loose, have fun, and leave it all on the field.’ I think we strive to create a vibe that is contagious for our audience. At the end of the day, we want to give our fans a new experience that’s entertaining, provocative and engaging.”

Comanchero’s live show, like Dirigo’s, is high-energy, tight and varied. “Songs like ‘One Foot in The Grave,’ ‘Jimmy Carter’ and ‘Fall in Line,’” says Margolis, citing three up-tempo, catholically country tunes from their 2011 release, “The Undeserved,” “get our crowds dancing. I think our Americana and roots influences shine through with these new tunes, but we still like to have fun sprinkling in other genres we dig, like reggae, Latin, and jam.”

Comanchero, made up of brothers Greg Moon (vocals, drums) and Bob Moon (vocals, guitar), Andrew Kramer (bass), Sam Margolis (vocals, guitar), and Jim Levin (percussion), came together in 2003, and have since released three CDs. The most recent, 2011’s “The Undeserved,” has received great reviews (see accompanying CD review) in a number of high-profile American and U.K. publications and paved the way for a recent gig with Ronnie Earl at the Regent Theatre, and spots this summer at the 2012 Harpoonfest, in Boston, and opening for Crosby, Stills & Nash in New Hampshire.

Of the April 27 show, Margolis says, “I can’t wait to play Worcester with Dirigo. This will be our fourth show playing with them and they tear down the house at every show. They’re amazingly talented musicians and can captivate their audience until the last note is played.” So, call it what you want. This Tammany show will unquestionably feature two road-tested, dynamic live acts with a taste for good old songs.

And there might just be a little jamming, too.

Dirigo and Comanchero, Friday, April 27, 2012. Tammany Hall, 43 Pleasant St., Worcester. dirigomusic.com, comancheromusic.com, tammanyhalllive.com.

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Roadkill Orchestra – Vincent’s Saturday, April 14, 2012

My pics from Stu Esty and Roadkill Orchestra‘s excellent, high energy boogie show at Vincent’s, where they play the 2nd Saturday of every month.

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Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll – Whiskey Bent – The Lucky Dog, Saturday, March 10, 2012

by Matt Robert

“Life is too serious. Rock ’n’ roll is an escape, man,” says Whiskey Bent vocalist, Ray Auger. “We are a band you can have beers with. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we hope the audience doesn’t, either.”

Whiskey Bent brings their good-times hard rock to The Lucky Dog Music Hall Saturday, March 10, when they release their debut eponymous E.P, and open for local rock stalwarts Deep Six (featuring Jimmy D’Angelo) and Mullethead.

If your good times involve crankedup Marshall stacks and Gibson guitars, then Whiskey Bent might just have your number. Whiskey Bent will take you on a trip straight back to late ’80s “Appetite for Destruction” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” unabashed Sunset Strip hard rocking and hedonism. On “Freak Like Me,” from the new E.P., the band welcomes you to its world with a Ramones-cum-Motley Crue gang vocal (“Hey! Hey!”) and a wah-wah riff right out of Slash’s private stash, while Auger sings, “Hot living, sweet sinning. Bet you never met a freak like me,” as he celebrates a night out, full of “Gibsons let out of their cage” and “willing” girls and their friends: the stuff of ’80s MTV videos.

“Narragansett Nights” continues the assault with a touch of Diamond Dave (the band cites both Van Halen and Chickenfoot as influences), as Auger talks to the listener, laughing and invoking the local beer label’s slogan, “Hi, neighbor! What’s shaking? This could take all night,” as the band gets the riff together, announcing that it’s party time. ”You can bet I feel a party comin’ on/The clock stops at five/Living on borrowed time, Narragansett nights,” he sings over a rocking groove that evokes images of stick twirling, and lascivious, predatory looks for groupies in the front row. Later, as dual guitars solo, Auger sets up a tryst with women in a bar, in a gag right out of Roth-era Van Halen. This is arena rock, plain and simple.

“We’re performing in a beer commercial,” Auger says. With this song, they soon could be.

“When we hit the stage everything wrong in the world goes away for 45 minutes and the room becomes a sanctuary from evil forces,” says Auger. “Good times, good friends and good cheer. We do a song called ‘The Legend of Whiskey Bent.’ It’s actual folklore about the rise of Whiskey Bent from rock ’n’ roll scripture. So it is written, so it shall be. We perform it while wearing sombreros.”

“Rips Down,” the third and final track on the E.P., recorded recently at Rocket Dog Studios in Cambridge, takes the listener to a more sober place, but still within the parameters of any selfrespecting, libidinous rock act, lamenting the morning after blues “about my heart getting busted.” Dave Mabardy and Peter Hubbard’s guitars interweave in clean harmonic tones ala Jimmy Page, and Dave’s solo shows unmistakable Page influences in tone and phrasing, while drummer George Moomjian and bassist Glenn Selmi lock on a syncopated twochord groove.

“Rips Down” provides the necessary balance to what will no doubt be a largely up-tempo, rocking set, full of tight and practiced grooves, screaming guitars, and a general atmosphere of good times and partying.

Whiskey Bent’s crusade to bring a little hard-rocking fun into your life is just getting underway, but they seem to relish being unknown. “There is so much talent out there in our own backyards. How many more butterfly songs do we need from Nickelback? Don’t be fooled by the house on ‘Cribs.’ The true talent lies within the unsigned, baby.”

Yet, the band’s hopes, as you might guess, include playing more gigs, reaching more fans (especially “willing ladies,” it seems) and acquiring a recording contract. “That’s not to say we won’t sign on the dotted line in a second, though. Who wouldn’t?”

Experience the band live with Mullethead and Deep Six, Saturday, March 10 at 8 p.m. – 1 a.m., $8. The Lucky Dog Music Hall, 89 Green Street Worcester. luckydogmusic.com, reverbnation.com/bostonbent

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I Want My O-TV!

Orange Television with Minions of Funk: Friday, February 24th, 2012, Beatnik’s Bar, Park Avenue, Worcester, MA

by Matt Robert

Seattle Slew! How about Seattle Stew? On Friday, Feb. 24, ’90s rock will be on display when Seattle-style rockers (via Northampton) Orange Television return to Beatnik’s with Minions of Funk.

“We’re chums with [Beatnik’s] now,” says O-TV bass player and Worcester native, Myles Heffernan. “I like the room a lot. We love the bartenders, and it just seems like an up-andcoming, positive scene.”

Orange Television’s brand of heavy rock (Myles emphasizes “hard rock, but not heavy metal”) fits Beatnik’s laid-back, but often heavy rocking vibe to a T, with liberal seasoning of Alice in Chains, Temple of the Dog, and Pearl Jam, along with the obligatory Zeppelin influence that underpins all of these acts. The band’s self-identified genre includes psychedelia, which, in this case means black light, ’70s stoner rock more than day-glo jam band, twirling rock, though the instrumental “Bill Cosby,” from their summer 2011 release “Extended Play,” could find a home on a Phish set list, with its intricate, ironic changes and arrangement.

The rest of the album leans heavily on dark and eerie Lane Staley-ish harmonies, tight, in-the-pocket drums and bass, and white rock-funk—pioneered by Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith in the early ’70s—and frequently dodges into shadowy corners of loose, spacey “Seasons of Wither”-like modes. A couple of tunes even step out into more accessible pop, like “What To Do,” which dons a Coldplay suit with light percussion, Rhodes piano, delay-soaked and Wes Montgomery octave guitar, and heartwrenching lyrics about aging and regret.

The new CD is the culmination of several “iterations” of the band, whose lineup has settled into Nate Martel (guitar and vocals), Howie Jay (guitar, piano and vocals), Monte Arnstam (drums, percussion and vocals), and Myles (bass).

The eclectic but unified CD was recorded last year at a western Massachusetts studio run by a friend of the band and then really brought to fruition in the mixing stage under the direction of Alex Chakour, son of local musician Mitch Chakour.

Myles says that the band’s songwriting approach varies by song. “Paper,” he says – citing it as his favorite on the album – was written in about two minutes, after a period of writer’s block. “I had just come back from the bathroom and they were jamming on this cool little thing, and the band got it together,” he says, emphasizing the “band approach” to writing and recording, which seems to infuse their entire musical philosophy.

About the direction of the band, Myles says, “We want it to be anything, as long as we’re all into it. We just do it. It’s just fun, it’s freeing. It’s a fun band to be in.” This, Myles says, doesn’t undermine the band’s craft, however. “Professionalism is part of it,” he assures.

To Orange TV, though, professionalism isn’t about adapting hackneyed stage shtick, but rather getting better at presenting their vibe.

“We try to make our live show flow very well. We’ll play backup loops between songs.” These “pre-recorded, ambient” loops that they present live and similar sonic ear-candy that appears on the new album help to evoke the band’s taste for trippy textures and provide useful segues, too.

This professional attitude has helped the band to evolve quickly from the bass and guitar duet Myles started with Howie as UMass Amherst students in 2008 to the lean, tight and polished act playing throughout New England (and New York) today. It also helps the band to respond to ever-changing club designs, atmospheres and audiences. Myles says that the band likes to suit their material to the particular audience they’re faced with. So, while they may express a strong tendency toward moody, ambient gloom rock, Orange Television also understands a bar crowd’s desire to rock out and to hear familiar songs, and, as such, includes covers of songs by MGMT, Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Aeroplane”), Neil Young (“Down by the River”) and Led Zeppelin (“No Quarter”). (In fact, the band will cover “Houses of the Holy” in its entirety at Northampton’s Iron Horse this spring.) Though, Myles says, the band doesn’t exactly reinvent these covers, they are so close to the vibe of this band anyway that they should blend right in.

Come out and support Myles on his homecoming and what should be night of intense and often powerful rock in one of Worcester’s most live-music friendly venues.

Orange Television with Minions of Funk at Beatnik’s on Friday, February 24; located at 433 Park Avenue, Worcester. 508-926-8877, beatniksbeyou.com. Learn more about the band at orangetelevision.tv and check out Minions of Funk on Facebook.

 

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“Notes on the Rise”: New Faces in Worcester Music

This article ran on Thursday, January 26, 2012 in Worcester Magazine, a popular cultural weekly. See it at Worcester Magazine.

Notes on the Rise

Up & coming local music

by Matt Robert

Story Created: Jan 25, 2012 at 2:57 PM EST

Story Updated: Jan 26, 2012 at 6:07 AM EST

A new year can bring inventive resolutions and fresh beginnings. This year, while you resolve to lose 10 pounds, clean out your garage, write your memoir, or get that fractured relationship together, you can also vow to get out and enrich your life by taking in one of Worcester’s emerging musical acts, who, like the new year, bring fresh life to the cultural scene with new sounds, some spun from traditional mores put into new contexts, and some with a conscious abandonment of tradition. We’ve spent the past few weeks seeking out these new groups, visiting local clubs, scouring the web, and consulting club owners as well as the public at large in an attempt to bring you at least part of the emerging picture of where Worcester’s scene is headed and what new zeitgeist is springing up in the form of the area’s performing artists. What follows is a list of some promising artists or acts, which, by no means represent the entire local scene, or even all of the up-and-coming artists, but, rather, a sampling of promising or interesting talent recognized by the Worcester Mag staff, local club owners, or readers. Take it as a primer or starter kit. Get out and see what others you can discover, and keep us in the loop. Your comments and letters really help us to keep abreast of the local happenings!


THE LOCALS

On a recent Friday night, a text from my friend Jim, an aficionado of folk music of the U.K., alerted me that he’d be over at The Greyhound at Kelley Square seeing a new band. I decided to join up with him, and by the end of the evening, I knew that this 14-month-old duo from Brighton was one I’d want to write about.

On first appearances The Locals (Cormac Marnell and Brian Mooney) might seem like nothing special: an acoustic duet playing mostly Irish songs. The impression that quickly emerges, though, is that of a tight, confident pair of performers with a deep and interesting repertoire that will please fans of barroom drinking songs (“Wild Irish Rover,” “Molly Malone”) as well as those preferring quieter, perhaps lesser known tunes (“Fields of Athenry,” “The Wild Mountain Thyme”).

Armed with the barest essentials (Mooney on vocals and guitar, Marnell on banjo, harmonica, and tin whistle) they craft a serious, authentic vibe that lovers of any roots music will enjoy. Marnell is a powerful and passionate singer in the Irish tradition with a rich tenor voice and brogue. And his tin whistle and harmonica playing, despite his self-deprecation—the tin whistle, he says, is “the bane of [his] existence,” adding, “maybe one day I’ll actually learn to play it”—is refined, with a clear, clean pitch and complex melodic style. Mooney’s acoustic strumming on his pretty and rich-sounding Gibson J-45, which he chose because it was “Woody Guthrie’s guitar of choice” (Jorma Kaukonen’s, too!), is understated, but serves as the critical rhythmic underpinning of their tight sound. And though he prefers to steer clear of the microphone, he too can sing, as evidenced by his spot-on, spontaneous rendition of Ray La Montagne’s “Jolene” to fulfill a request.

The Locals had The Greyhound’s patrons stomping and singing along to “Black Velvet Band,” “Dirty Old Town,” “Town I Knew So Well,” and “The Rising of the Moon.” Both profess themselves servants to the rich traditions of the music they perform, finding the audience’s “collective knowledge of…Irish music…far greater” than their own, and exuding a humility in performance that extends to their musical origins.

Marnell says that he “began learning songs in October 2008 with the desire to simply play a few songs on Paddy’s Day,” but after losing his job in 2009, he decided that he “wanted to pursue music further and so hatched a plan to become an Irish folk group.”

Meanwhile, like a train chugging along the opposite way on the same track, Mooney took a trip to Ireland, where he became enchanted with a music he had long heard, but felt he was hearing for the first time. “We spent more time in the pubs listening to sessions-style play and one-man bands than we did seeing the sights,” he recalls. Already a Boston-area performer of original music, when he came back to Boston and searched for that music locally, he met Marnell for the first time when he “was out having a listen and a few pints.” Soon after, they “crossed paths” again and, it just so happened, Marnell was losing his guitar player so he and Mooney joined up.

“He said he was on a mission to revive this music because it is so relevant to the times of today,” says Mooney of Marnell’s zeal for Irish music.

“Early on I was dead set on just doing old-style folk, but as a compromise…we incorporated more modern songs from The Pogues and The Saw Doctors,” explains Marnell. Finally, he says, he realized that “these modern songs were an important part of the Irish cultural narrative.”

The Locals play regularly on the Boston scene and have begun forays into Central Mass., playing The Old Timer, in Clinton, and debuting at The Greyhound the night that Jim and I went to see them. They also have plans to appear at Fiddler’s Green.

Check them out at the Greyhound on Feb. 3, The Olde Timer in Clinton, Mass., on Sunday, Feb. 12, and Sunday, March 11; look for their soon-tobe- released CD within the next few months; or friend them on Facebook or ReverbNation.com.


MIARS

Getting a handle on Worcester’s Miars, who, though formed in 2007, didn’t take on the current lineup until 2009, can be tough. Writers before me have heaped praise on them for their attractive, unique music as well as for their hard-to-pin-down concoction that sounds to me—if you squint a little—a bit like Macy Gray backed by Rush. The songs are rootsy at heart and warmed considerably by vocalist Kayla Daly’s mellifluous tone that cuts right through the hyper, synchronized, syncopated backing band.

Drummer and Open Road Festival producer Marcus Ohanesian says that Miar’s (Daly – vocals and guitar, Imer Diaz – bass, and Ohanesian – drums) aim is for audiences “to enjoy themselves,” which the band hopes to do by allowing each person to “find a groove or pocket that they can move to and feel something deeper than just one genre or vibe.” Miars is successful in their quest to produce a music that is “temporal in the sense that it moves and grooves in different ways.”

Their eclectic, label-evading sound seems the result of diverse influences, which range among band members as disparately as Daly’s taste for Jeff Buckley, Motown, and soul singer Dorothy Moore; Ohanesian’s love of Lettuce, Soulive, Tycho and the Deftones; and Diaz’s jazz background with Tower of Power, Marcus Miller, and Herbie Hancock.

Holy marketing niche problems, Batman!

Miars speaks to the sensibilities of the late ’60s and early ’70s when breaking barriers and broadening listening tastes was common. Simon Cowell would have a conniption over these guys. Despite their possibly limited “X factor” potential, though, Miars intends to continue seeking open-minded music fans and to “move forward with touring, writing, recording new songs, and pushing our abilities and talents to new heights.”

Check out Miars’ July 2011 foursong EP “Sound of Tremors” online at Myspace, Facebook, or Reverb Nation, where you can access free downloads, and live at Tammany Hall, in Worcester on Saturday, Feb. 11.


MANITOBA

This band, recently renamed from The Silence, came recommended by Lucky Dog Music Hall owner and promoter Erick Godin, who has hired the group for his Wednesday-night new music series.

Manitoba began with local guitarist/vocalist Matt Marcel, who had been teaching his original songs to bassist Andy Belanger in their “spare time.” As with most musicians, the “desire to play live” reared its head and the duo began seeking other players to get the band together, eventually hooking up with and playing a few preliminary gigs with guitarist Nick Van Someren, before eventually adding drummer Jay Contonio and cementing the present lineup.

The tracks from Manitoba’s self-recorded new release “The Silence EP” (Alazair Studio) are a polished collection of tension-filled, high-energy hard-rock/prog-rock tunes, like “Remission,” with its frenetic pace, liquid-clean guitar tones and pounding drums, reminiscent of The Mars Volta, complete with a sophisticated harmonized guitar solo. This tune, like “A Lasting Cure,” reflect Manitoba’s solo songwriter origins, as, despite the big rock arrangements, at the core, sound like good songs that could be strummed out on an acoustic guitar. They’re melodic and vocal based, yet contain utterly modern elements of melody and structure, and detached, introspective lyrics and vocals, enhanced by tight harmony lines.

Manitoba hopes to continue recording and release an eventual full-length recording, but mostly, says Marcel, they want to write music that pleases them and to have fun.

Look for Manitoba at their CD release show at Ralph’s on March 2, on Facebook at facebook.com/wearemanitoba, and check out their new EP at Bandcamp.com.


PRO RE NATA

Pro Re Nata, featured in these pages a few months ago, is a young postmodern band from south of Worcester, in Sutton, where they have been honing a sound in their transmissionshop turned practice space. In two short years (they began in January 2010), they have sharpened their approach and developed a sound that should put them right at home with the hordes of independent bands touring the United States and routinely filling The Palladium.

Their sound – as heard on cuts like “Femme Fatale” and “Cages” – is a reckless cacophony of layered guitars, pounding drums, and yelled and growled vocals that brings to mind the post-punk, post-rave sound of early Hot Hot Heat, and, with its pastiche of heavily delayed electric guitar lines, even the psychedelic abandon of Jane’s Addiction. The band cites a few of its influences – Incubus, Brand New, Modest Mouse, Mobb Deep, and At the Drive-In –while its Facebook page also lists Radiohead and Michael Jackson.

With guitarist Neal McLaughlin, bassist Justin Marion, drummer P.J. Guertin, and guitarist/vocalist Brian Montigny, the band has been busy, working up the local club ladder, with appearances at Club Oasis, Hotel Vernon and Leitrim Pub, among other places; completing an EP at Echo Room Studios in Uxbridge with another in the works for a March 2012 release; and beginning writing for a full-length release with a tentative release of January, 2013. Additionally, they plan to broaden their performance schedule, with shows beyond the Massachusetts’ border this spring.

According to Montigny, the band hopes to continue to write and play shows and do short tours, and even tour nationally if the opportunity arises and circumstances are right. “As far as cross-country tours go, we need to make sure our families are taken care of before we spend their college fund on touring,” he says. “It’s a tough industry and [we’ve] seen so many amazing bands never get the recognition they deserve.”

Asked about the prospects for a rock band in 2012, Montigny nevertheless remains optimistic. “The music around Worcester has been good for a lot of genres,” he says, adding that “a lot of places have started to host more live entertainment.”

Pro Re Nata say they have what you need, though they comport the message with an air of humility. “We wouldn’t be doing much if we didn’t have all the support from everyone,” says Montigny.

Look for Pro Re Nata on Facebook or at ReverbNation.com.


THE TWANGBUSTERS

Like many of the artists that contribute to nightlife in Worcester, The Twangbusters are not from Worcester. They’re from Lee. But thanks to a small, devoted audience for good-quality roots-based music and a few clubs rife with suitable ambiance for it, bands from across the state like to perform here.

Vincent’s has a “great audience and a great vibe,” says Twangbusters vocalist, pianist, and ukuleleist, Paula Bradley. “We love playing there, and are so grateful that they support live music.” Bradley’s lightly rollicking, back-porch blues sound and Patsy Cline vocal twang make a perfect complement to Vincent’s dark, Depression-era rural feel. “And their meatballs are delish!”

Bradley, of western Mass. honky-tonk group Girl Howdy, says that The Twangbusters, who have played at Vincent’s about three times, rose up out of a group of future Twangbusters—Peter Zarkadas, Billy Nadeau (drums), and Brian Rost (upright bass)—who already performed together in a group called Twin Guitar Swing that played monthly at Vincent’s over about a year. And when their steel player, Rose of Girl Howdy, left to pursue pedal-steel training in Austin, Texas, Bradley stepped in, bringing with her a batch of originals she was “itching to perform.”

Bradley describes their approach as “blues-influenced,” but enthuses that they’re “willing to try a range of stuff,” and so a set can encompass “a Jimmy Yancey piano piece followed by a ukulele number followed by a Patsy Cline country song” or even Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” into what Bradley calls “a musical cocktail of blues, boogie and hillbilly bop – kinda ‘torch and twang!’”

“We have a great time and the crowd seems to as well,” she says, as to why these seasoned players would drive all over southern Massachusetts to play. “Playing with these guys is supremely fun.” That the musicians are “versatile” and “have such a great feel for the music,” and that the group tries “new and different material every time” makes “the drive out I-90…almost inconsequential,” she says.

The spare, rhythm-and-blues chug of “Too Late to Cry,” with its cautionary tale of a love at risk, and its wonderful, authentic country-jazz guitar solo and bluesy piano, will have you staring down to the bottom of your glass, while “Cattin’ Around” evokes dreams of a ’50s dance with poodle-skirted girls being spun and thrown over shoulders.

Check out the Twangbusters at Vincent’s on Feb. 15, or at ReverbNation.com.

Watch a clip of the band performing live:


CARA BRINDISI

Cara Brindisi earned her place on this list after I had the opportunity to catch her Thursday-night residency at Vincent’s and an appearance as a guest soloist for Bobby Gadoury’s American Songbook at Nick’s, and after both Nicole Watson and Vincent Hemmeter—of their respective eponymous nightclubs—recommended her as an up-and-coming bright light on the local scene.

The two gigs provide some insight into this Shrewsbury native’s range. At Vincent’s, Brindisi is the young woman I saw on her website performing Talking Head’s “This Must Be the Place” in a video that could easily pass as an impressive “American Idol” audition tape: a confident and competent performer, singing in a pretty, controlled voice. During her multi-set show at Vincent’s, at which she is armed with only a microphone and an acoustic guitar that mostly provides little more than support for her voice—she is a singer, first and foremost—her repertoire, over three or so hours, darts in and out of the ’90s (Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” TLC’s “Waterfalls”) to the ’60s (Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends”), the ’70s (John Denver’s “Country Roads,” Neil Young’s “Old Man”) to the ’50s (Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight”). Like her guitar accompaniment, the songs become merely vehicles to showcase a classic pop voice that shows hints of Judy Garland, Norah Jones, Nancy Griffith, and, yes, Patsy Cline. In other words, a voice that feels at home in almost any popular American music, perhaps suggesting why the Vincent’s crowd so warmly receives her.

Similarly, at Nick’s, when appearing as guest vocalist for Bobby Gadoury’s American Songbook show, by simply donning an elegant gown, she becomes the pre-rock chanteuse, performing elegant, skilled renditions of standards, like “All of Me,” “Moon River,” “Route 66,” and “Blue Skies.” Brindisi’s voice is the point. Like successful “American Idol” contestants, she makes each song a fitting piece in her own persona. She is a chameleon of sorts, who, because of a diverse range of exposure as a child—she cites Sinatra, The Beatles, CSN&Y (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), The Cars, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler, Natalie Merchant, and Nat King Cole as some early influences—seems not to see the distinctions among artists and genres, but merely the entirety of it all.

Brindisi says that “music has always been an integral part” of her life, as “music was constantly played throughout” her house. By senior year of high school, “after one campus tour, [Berklee School of Music] was the only thing [she] could think about [during her] senior year.” So, she spent four years at Berklee “soaking it all in” and “breathing, eating, and sleeping” music.

Brindisi says that she loves “raw vocal talent” in her favorite singer-songwriters and catchy hooks with a beat when she’s out and looking to dance, and this is evident in her vocal-strong selections. But she has an appreciation for the practical part of the job, too: “Some gigs it’s more appropriate to showcase what I love to do vocally. Other nights, it’s more appropriate to play music so that an entire bar will sing along. Either way,” she says, “my hope is to evoke some sort of emotion for the listener, be it a moment of peace or a night of fun!”

See Cara Brindisi Thursday nights at Vincent’s, or online at carabrindisi.com.


 HERRA TERRA

“We want people to party like George Michael on hallucinogens,” says Herra Terra guitarist Gregg Kusumah-Atmadja. With an energetic and aggressive presence befitting a major arena act, Herra Terra, a self-described “space/electronic/symphonic rock” band that calls both Massachusetts and Rhode Island home, is making waves with an introspective synth pop that consciously avoids traditions of blues, folk and jazz embraced by many alternative and mainstream acts today. They prefer, instead, moody rave rockers – metronome-rigid thumping drums and sixteenth-note bass, wildly fuzzed (and often synthed) guitar lines that seemingly jump right out of King Crimson, and, yes, layer upon layer of ambient and video-game synth, all topped by highly melodic lead vocals that, at times – it’s okay because Kusumah-Atmadja said it! – might evoke George Michael or Duran Duran. Not that these guys sound like Duran Duran. They’re more like a kinder, gentler Ministry. But there’s an undeniable self-consciousness and dignity that bears resemblance.

Herra Terra has been around as an electronic duo since 2008 when they released the threesong EP “Organs for the Afterlife,” but the band has only recently put together the act as it appears today. Founding members, John Paul Tonelli (vocals) and Kusumah-Atmadja (guitar) added drums (Brad Caetano) and, finally, bass (Adrian Bettencourt Andrade). In 2010, they released their first full-length LP, “Quiet Geist.” Their sound today results from those early days as a duo, according to Kusumah-Atmadja, who says, “Our beginnings were very experimental, especially because we lacked the element of live percussion.” And though the addition of a traditional rhythm section has “brought the energy level way up at shows” and “really helps everyone get into it, especially the crowd,” their “inspirations [still] come from free association jam sessions.” Kusumah-Atmadja says that “especially…with the new material we’ll be releasing this year…most of the material is born ‘off the cuff.’”

The performances are tight and unified and deliver a sonic blow in concert that incites crowds to stomp and cheer and body surf, as a number of videos on their site (filmed at Ralph’s) attest. The band has begun to generate steam and a significant reputation, and enjoyed a busy 2011 performance schedule, being invited to the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, in the spring for which they organized a mini-tour that ran across the southeast, and appearing in Philadelphia, Providence, Boston, Worcester, western Massachusetts, and New Jersey; and as this article goes to print, an all-night show on Jan. 14 at Worcester’s Club Oasis, ending at 10 a.m.

2012 looks to be even busier, according to Kusumah-Atmadja. “We’re currently in the studio recording a six-track EP, which is due for a 2012 summer/fall release,” he says, adding that “booking has begun for a 30-day tour to SXSW during the month of March to promote said release.” And if that’s not enough, Herra Terra also has “a cover-song EP and a split 7” in the works that” they are “super stoked about.”

Check out Herra Terra on Feb. 25, at the Lazy Dog in Marlboro and at herraterra.com.


DANNY FANTOM

Danny Fantom’s slo-jam raps are perhaps the most “local” of the local music covered here. His cerebral compositions, like “Reflections,” “More Reflections,” and “Longboards and Reefer (Remix),” teem with references to local streets and destinations. Fantom says that he is “born and raised” in Worcester and hopes to point out better options than hanging around to kids growing up today, though his tunes are also littered with happy memories of smoking weed, drinking beer and causing mischief.

The solo songs listed on his Facebook page and on Sound Cloud—he’s also a member of local act The Grand Arkanum—are very cool, and professional, despite a casual playfulness that permeates them with trippy samples that ping-pong left and right in complex rhythmic patterns, and backing vocals that effect off-mike conversations and small talk, often in hilarious, ironic call and response to crooning vocal samples. Fantom’s tracks are underpinned by deep clear beats and an array of unexpected samples: sped-up old ballads, jazz riffs, crystalclear piano and bouncy synth, as well as his friends chatting along.

“Another Reflection” includes all the typical name dropping found in rap but also takes an unusually complex look at the dilemma of producing music for self-amusement—i.e., “I just want to meet the big faces, get beats from Kanye, and rap with Kweli, give daps with Common, and puff on Whizza’s weed”; and, of course, business—“But none of this comes free. If I don’t try for money, how do I pay the fee?” Fantom’s music is smart, compelling and self-deprecating at times (he calls his music “nerdcore”), all of which makes it a lot of fun to listen to, while not evading the big issues that made rap important in the first place and which is often lost in the mega-commercial hits that populate FM stations and MTV.

Keep an eye out for Fantom or The Grand Arkanum in local listings, or find him on Facebook or SoundCloud.


Places to hear new bands: If you’d like to get out and hear new talent for yourself, a number of opportunities exist. The challenge is that most new acts face the dilemma of proving themselves on off-nights before being given the shot at premiere weekend slots. To catch them, and help them get to the weekends, you’ve first got to take a shot on them during the week. The Lucky Dog Music Hall, on Green Street, hosts new bands “just about every week,” according to owner Erick Godin. Opening slots on Wednesdays, Thursdays (and sometimes even Fridays and Saturdays) often feature newer bands. Check out weeknight slots at places like Nick’s, Vincent’s, Ralph’s, Beatnik’s, The Greyhound, and The Hotel Vernon; and open-mike nights all over Central Mass.

If weekends are your preference, established musicians often appear in new aggregates, which you can find on weekends at The Lucky Dog, Vincent’s, Ralph’s, and even JJ’s in Northboro. Bands like Happy Jack (covering The Who), Heavy Horses (covering ’70s arena rock), Pony for my Birthday and The Pistol Whipped, are all recent groups made of staple musicians on the local scene, while others are made up of new and established talents, like the duo Dan and Dorette (Dan Kirouac and Dorette Weld). Plus Duncan Arsenault’s Thursday night shows at The Dive Bar, on the corner of Green Street and Temple, routinely feature prime-time musicians in a range of formats, performing all kinds of music.

Tell us your favorite local band that we may have missed when you comment.

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