The Green Sisters’ “Endless Blue” is Familial Gem

The Green Sisters
Endless Blue
(self-released)
Release date: 6/30/18

Call it a family affair. Given these turbulent times, this debut release from four singing multi-instrumentalist sisters from Hubbardston – Rebecca, Betsy, Brianna and Melody Green – is a welcome slice of sibling harmony and country living put to music.

Opening track “To Build My Dreams On” sets the amiable tone. Penned by Brie Green and featuring lines about the sun, land, water and fire, the tune forgoes instrumentation and rides along on the sisters’ shining voices alone, employing a group a capella delivery to charming effect and giving a preview of sounds to come.

Since the Green Sisters grew up singing together while doing chores on the family farm, their practiced vocal interplay is what steals the show on Endless Blue. No matter which sister takes the lead, the backing of the others accents the proceedings often achieving the effect of sounding like one voice.

The quartet picks up its instruments though for the album’s second number “Sailor’s Valentine.” Fiddle, guitar and mandolin, all appear to have their place in the mix and contribute to the song’s Celtic-tinged tale of a seaman and his love. Not content to stick with one traditional style, the sisters continue to merge multiple genres throughout the rest of the record’s run time.

For example, “Walkin’ After Midnight” is perhaps best known as a country classic popularized by Patsy Cline. But re-interpreted here by the Green Sisters, the tune takes on a more jazz-inflected style exemplified by its string-bass intro and the group’s inventive vocal arrangements.

Another merger occurs on the aptly-titled “Fiddle Medley.” For nearly six minutes, the sisters turn the track into an old-time and bluegrass instrumental showcase that picks up speed around the two-minute mark, while still allowing for a breakdown or two to spotlight the group’s string playing prowess.

Elsewhere, the Brie Green written “Here and Gone” emerges as one of the album’s latter half highlights. Filled with reflective lyrics focused on the passage of time, the song is one of the record’s most mature efforts aided by both its engaging melody and the sisters’ sighing harmonies.

Yet, it is the languid album closer “Oak Tree” that may best exemplify the Green Sisters’ roots as well as their ambitions. Revolving around a repeating guitar figure, the song starts as a story about finding peace and truth in the welcoming arms of a stately oak, however, more philosophical questions come to light as the tune progresses. Soon the narrator’s rising voice explores a higher register as listeners are transported along, higher into the tree’s branches, asking, “What am I doing up here?” and “Am I a bird or am I really a human?”

The answers aren’t as important as the act of asking. Still, the number as a whole is very telling. The Green Sisters are four individuals who take obvious solace in the charms of nature, but they aren’t afraid to push at their own boundaries, or the forms of music they choose to employ. Where their searching takes them next will be intriguing to see. There’s plenty of space to explore in the “endless blue.”

The Green Sisters perform Aug. 16, 8 p.m., Luthier’s Co-Op, 108 Cottage St., Easthampton, (413) 527-6627, http://www.luthiers-coop.com/

For more information on The Green Sisters please visit https://thegreensistersfour.com/.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

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Set Sail with Snackbeard

According to a passage in his novel “Redburn,” no less an authority on seafaring life than Herman Melville states, “It is a great thing in a sailor to know how to sing well.”

For, he explains, those at sea who are blessed with a talented voice may help raise the spirits of a lagging crew, and make even the most drudging of work feel less monotonous. Could, though, such a songster on a ship even lead one to buried treasure?

To test said hypothesis, enter into this swashbuckling tradition the figure of Snackbeard the pirate (aka former Valley Advocate writer and editor Tom Sturm), who embarks on such a quest on a self-titled children’s music album, which is available now.

Consisting of 10 tracks that merge a narrated tale of adventure on the high seas with songs that give life to such topics as getting a ship ready to sail, and what happens when someone is forced to walk the plank, the album is not short on storytelling moxy.

The record’s opening cut sets the scene with a backdrop of sounds that include water lapping against the shore and gulls soaring overhead. Snackbeard/ Sturm provides a fine voice for the proceedings, consisting of equal parts wizened sea scallywag and cryptic storyteller, who alludes to interactions with a “harebrained” scientist as well as informing listeners of his own intriguing backstory.

The music doesn’t start until track two, where the speedy “Ship Shape” blurs by like an old LP played at 78 rpm instead of the recommended 33 and 1/3. The sub-two minute blast also introduces a plethora of additional voices that paint a picture of a merry band of scoundrels running around decks trimming sails, tightening lines, and trying to obey the captain’s orders.

“Salmagundi,” the next track, features perhaps the album’s most appropriate subject matter – food. Described as consisting of “a bit of this and that,” the dish itself may be a mystery, but there’s no mistaking the tune’s Caribbean rhythm with acoustic guitar strummed over what sounds like distant steel drums.

Variety in instrumentation and overall story keep Snackbeard an engaging listen. As events progress from a treasure hunt to mutiny and even to an encounter with a dreaded kraken, the music changes too. Violin and guitar fade away as distorted riffs and tolling bells emerge like subterranean sea monsters crawling up from the ocean floor. Even the many voices in the mix evolve from upbeat pirates “yo ho hoing” to ghastly specters on a ghost ship cackling and chanting.

Listeners be warned. If your kiddo has already sat through all of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, then nary an eye will probably be batted at the ominous sounds that emanate from some of Snackbeard’s darker tracks. But, the tiniest of audience members may have a question or two for mom and dad regarding bilge rats, shanks, and just what happens down in Davy Jones’ Locker.

Parents may even enjoy Snackbeard as much as their children. The album is filled with references to pirate lore and history. So many details are included in fact that repeat listens are quite rewarding as opposed to the grating irritation that can come from hearing certain kid favorites ad nauseam. Sturm’s life as a writer shines through with a veritable treasure trove of a vocabulary sprinkled throughout, providing ample terms to research together, maybe even for a pirate-themed spelling bee or two.

Despite the record’s replay value, what Snackbeard begs for is a sequel. A bunch of adventure is crammed into 40 minutes, and many grateful parents will no doubt applaud the tales for not going on too long or overstaying their welcome, but by the time events conclude, sans treasure and the pillaging of even a single merchant ship, the ending of the story arrives sooner than expected.    

Will the Crimson Crest sail again? What too of the captain’s daughter? Has the kraken disappeared for good? Fans will just have to wait until Snackbeard takes to the waves again in search of gold and goodies to eat to find out the answers.

For more on Snackbeard please visit https://www.facebook.com/snackbeardthepirate/.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats “Tearing at the Seams” album review

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats “Tearing at the Seams” album review

 

Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos” Deluxe Edition album review

Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos” Deluxe Edition album review

 

 

Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold is Celestial Smash

Foo Fighters 2017 (credit Brantley Gutierrez)

Foo Fighters 2017 (credit Brantley Gutierrez)

Foo Fighters
Concrete and Gold
(Roswell Records/ RCA Records)
Release date: 9/15/17

How does a stadium-filling rock band follow up its most ambitious album ever? In the case of the Foo Fighters, the answer is by achieving rebellion through an embrace of normalcy.

Whereas the recording of 2014’s Sonic Highways took place in eight different studios across eight different cities nationwide, the recording of the Foo’s ninth studio album took place in just a single location, EastWest Studios, in California. Inside the same walls that witnessed the creation of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Dave Grohl and company committed to making their first record inside a commercial studio since 2002, a choice that appears almost pedestrian when compared to the previous road-tripping project.

However, to keep matters somewhat unpredictable, the band joined forces with new producer, Greg Kurstin, this time around, instead of bringing back trusted hand Butch Vig, who helmed the Foo’s previous two albums. Kurstin, known for his work with Adele, Sia and other more pop-leaning artists, first came across Grohl’s radar because of his membership in indie pop duo The Bird and the Bee, whose other member, Inara George, contributed vocals to Concrete and Gold.

Together, Kurstin and the Foos decided to craft, “Motorhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper…or something like that,” according to Grohl. And for those imagining a universe of noise mashed with patches of psychedelia, the ensuing result is not far removed from such a statement.

Opening track, “T-Shirt” doesn’t wait long to announce itself. Beginning with Grohl singing a soft plea over simple acoustic guitar, the song explodes out of the speakers at the 30 second mark. A giant chorus of layered vocals provides the backdrop for hammering drums and what sounds like a wall of guitars before a return is made to the quieter intro for the closing seconds.

A similar pattern emerges on the album’s next number and first single “Run.” Familiar picked notes underscore Grohl’s gentle urge for listener’s to “wake up” and “run for your life with me.” Then the drums come in, pounding an insistent beat as Grohl’s singing grows more stressed. This, of course, is before all hell breaks loose. Suddenly the song’s speed shifts into overdrive and Groh’s feral hardcore screaming rides atop a churning metal-like frenzy. Just as suddenly a return is made to the slower rhythm, and one can easily picture the track’s back and forth nature playing out before a live audience – all mayhem and head banging interspersed with moments of appreciative swaying as revelers catch their breath.

After such a pummeling, the ‘70s rock-inspired “Make It Right” seems downright tame by comparison. Garage guitars crunch out a repeating riff as lyrics about a “train to nowhere” share time with declarations of not needing another martyr. Pop superstar Justin Timberlake adds backing vocals, apparently as a result of Grohl’s chance meeting with the singer at the studio, but you’d have to check out the liner notes to confirm such a fact as his contribution is just one piece of a stacked mix.

A heavy mix of layered vocals, harmonies and arrangements, throughout multiple tracks, appears to resemble what Grohl’s vision for this record was inside his head all along. The partnership with Kurstin allows for many of these touches to be fleshed out, so too does the inclusion of guests like Timberlake, as well as singer Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men fame, who lends his vocals to Concrete and Gold’s title number.

Perhaps no guest looms larger though than Paul McCartney, who unexpectedly mans the skins for the Taylor Hawkins vocal turn “Sunday Rain.” The story goes that Macca wanted to borrow Kurstin for some work in the middle of the Foo’s recording sessions, so Grohl pulled the former Beatle into the studio. Hawkins’ raspy singing provides a nice change up from Grohl’s throatier howling, and suits the song’s shaggy jam-like feel. With a running time of six-plus minutes there’s plenty of time for the tune to wander off and find itself again. As for the inclusion of some random piano noodling at the end of the track, the explanation is anyone’s guess.

Foo Fighters - Concrete and Gold cover art

Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold cover art

No explanations are required for two other Concrete and Gold highlights. Second single “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” marries a plodding beat to sighing backing vocals and a rhythm reminiscent of a forgotten nursery rhyme. Every chorus of “banging on the ceiling” brings to mind the classic image of a parent wishing their child would just “keep it down” upstairs, but the song manages enough odes to heaven above to perhaps strive for something more constellation-inspired, an idea explored more fully by its Grohl-directed video starring his two daughters Violet and Harper.

“The Line” finds the Foo Fighters in full-on anthem mode. The song is already popping up as the soundtrack for major league baseball promos on television, and seems ready-made for future stadium sing-alongs. “Are you there?” Grohl sings over driving power chords and shimmering single notes. “Everything is on the line this time.” A likely candidate as any if the band decides to release a third single, the song is melodic without relying on variations in speed and tone and doesn’t overstay its welcome, possessing the second shortest running time on the album.

Every great record needs a fitting finale, and Concrete and Gold’s title cut suffices in spades. Starting with a menacing opening crawl, the song lurches from the gate with distorted guitars and restrained drums before artfully deploying Stockman’s aforementioned vocals as dramatic mountains of noise. Time is made for an interlude featuring sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a broadcast to distant planets, but the track’s status as a budding epic is sealed by its echoed guitar strums and rising harmonies. Harkening back to Grohl’s claim that this is his take on “Motorhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper,” the song even ends on a sudden sustained blast that fades out over the final minute, leaving just one mystery – who’s Darrell*, and what did he do to merit the “Fuck you” hurled his way in the album’s closing seconds?

For more information on the Foo Fighters please visit www.foofighters.com.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

* A likely candidate is Darrell Thorp, who mixed and helped master the record.

LuxDeluxe Delivers with New Album “Let’s Do Lunch”

LuxDeluxe
Let’s Do Lunch
(Spirithouse)
Release date: 5/5/17

The latest release from these Northampton rockers is a pretty straightforward affair. In fact, the album’s opening track, “Intro,” even welcomes listeners and lists each band member’s name in succession.

Ned King, Jacob Rosazza, Gabriel Bernini, Caleb Rosazza and Jake Edwards, have seen their collective profile rise over the past few years playing sold out shows, earning the song of the year (“So Far Away”) title on WRSI, and opening for none other than Bernie Sanders at a rally held at the Mullins Center in Amherst. But it’s the group’s continued refinement of a classic sound that still garners the most notice.

That sound, once described by former Advocate writer James Heflin as, “solidly delivered, exuberant pop music that draws from the sounds of several decades ago,” is on fine display throughout “Let’s Do Lunch.” Album single “Keep Your Distance” rides some bubbling bass over its sub-two minute run time, while “I’m Goin’ Fishin’” features a tasty, extended guitar solo. “Baby Whatcha Feelin’” conjures the same vibe John Fogerty and company once dredged up from the bayou, and “Hey Girl” resembles a take on some lo-fi indie rock with just vocals and a couple of guitars making up the mix.

The mere existence of such a variety of tunes on one record is a testament to LuxDeluxe’s craftsmanship, especially given that the tracks were recorded live by the band on a Tascam Portastudio four track cassette recorder, which was set up in the group’s rehearsal space. Outtakes from the recording sessions are even included on “Let’s Do Lunch” via “Interludes,” a song-length medley of music snippets, studio chatter and unfinished ideas, some of which beg to be expanded upon. But if all this creativity and experimentation doesn’t sound the least bit straightforward, hear me out.

The members of LuxDeluxe know exactly what they’re doing. By marching from start to finish to a steady, rhythmic lockstep groove “Let’s Do Lunch” is a complete album experience. The record begins with “Intro,” and ends with “Goodnight” – a clear beginning and a logical end. In between are songs that push and pull at different emotions without overshadowing one another or feeling out of place. There’s time for nods to classic sounds. There’s time to expand, fly free, and try new tricks. There’s even a section (“Interludes”) acting as an outlet for this overflow of ideas. But the proceedings work best as a cohesive whole.

In a recent interview, Bernini said, “We wanted the record to represent our influences and the music that we’re most comfortable with. It’s definitely a return to form for us. It’s the music we grew up on and still listen to and it’s what we do best as a band.”

Enjoy the ride. Just don’t forget to start at the top.

LuxDeluxe album release show with co-headliner Madaila, April 8, 9 p.m., $10-13, Pearl Street Nightclub, 10 Pearl Street, Northampton, (413) 584-7771, http://www.iheg.com/pearl_street_main.asp

For more information on LuxDeluxe please visit https://www.luxdeluxemusic.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/luxdeluxemusic.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Say Yes to Expanded Elliott Smith “Either/ Or” Reissue

Elliott Smith
Either/ Or: Expanded Edition
(Kill Rock Stars)
Release date: 3/10/17

Either you are an Elliott Smith fan, or you are not.

For some, Smith is the singer and songwriter who contributed a handful of heart-rending songs to the soundtrack of the film “Good Will Hunting,” including the Oscar-nominated number “Miss Misery.” For others, he remains a cult-figure, known equally for his delicate artistry and his sudden death in 2003. Smith lived his whole life between such dichotomies.

Now to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his best-selling album, Kill Rock Stars is again shining the spotlight on the work of such a tortured and talented figure. “Either/ Or,” Smith’s third solo release, has been repackaged by the label into a new expanded edition featuring a collection of previously unreleased rarities and live tracks, as well as a remastered version of the original album.

For fans, this news is a welcome reinvigoration and reason to revisit Smith’s work all over again. But newcomers to the artist’s discography should rejoice too. For whether you’ve listened to “Either/ Or” a million times or not even once, the release is worth a closer look.

The original version of “Either/ Or” was released at a pivotal time in Smith’s career. Recorded while he was still a member of the alternative rock band Heatmiser, the record would also be Smith’s last release before being signed to the Dreamworks label. Thus, the sound captured on “Either/ Or” could best be encapsulated as resembling a bridge between his earlier lo-fi acoustic recordings and the more ornate orchestrations of his later releases.

Tasked with remastering a work that straddles two different worlds, recording engineer and Smith friend Larry Crane, who also helped produce the posthumous Smith compilation “New Moon” in 2007, appears to have chosen the path of least resistance. Instead of radically altering the mix, Crane goes for a more cleaned-up take. Both Smith’s voice and guitar now sound more distinct, and the same goes for all other instrumentation present.

This approach works well on songs like “Angeles” with every finger-picked note coming through loud and clear atop an almost spectral drone. And on “Ballad of Big Nothing,” the drums provide a solid foundation for Smith’s vocals and acoustic strumming. In fact, the sparser the arrangement the better Crane’s scrub down of the original material sounds. “Say Yes,” one of Smith’s most optimistic songs, inspired by his relationship with musician Joanna Bolme, remains a tender ballad that now sounds like the listener is in the studio with Smith while he’s recording instead of hearing the singer whisper the tune through a set of headphones.

Still, the biggest motivation for anyone to buy a reissued version of an existing album is the inclusion of additional material. The first five songs on the expanded edition’s second disc are live cuts from Smith’s appearance at the Yo Yo A Go Go Festival in Olympia, Wash. in 1997. The singer and guitarist shines in a stripped-down fashion playing three songs from “Either/ Or” as well as the country-inflected “My New Freedom” and b-side “Some Song.” Smith seems relaxed and confident on stage, taking the time to playfully call out to his sister in the audience after completing a performance of “Pictures of Me,” and laughing frequently while asking the crowd if it wants, “to hear a fast song or a slow song.”

The jovial version of Smith also crops up on “I Figured You Out,” a demo of a song recorded for indie folk musician and frequent Smith touring partner Mary Lou Lord, who later recorded a version for her “Martian Saints!” EP. Though filled with lyrics about heartbreak and being ignored, the tune is full of melody and feels unabashedly pop, a juxtaposition any longtime listener of Smith might describe as par for the course.

There are indeed two sides to everything. Either you are an Elliott Smith fan, or you are not. Smith himself often expressed his own duality inside the same song by masking his melancholy words with elegant music. Now, 20 years later with an expanded edition of one of his career highlights, music fans get the opportunity to parse both sides of such a work all over again.

For more information on Elliott Smith please visit http://www.killrockstars.com/artists/elliott-smith.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.