The Gaslight Anthem
3 stars (out of 4)
Brian Fallon has clearly never forgotten the first time he heard Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's "The River." With the Gaslight Anthem, the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter has crafted a wholly convincing presence by blending the "three chords and the cold, hard truth" approach of "River"-era rockers with the late-1980s punk rock grit and growl evidenced by the strongest efforts of Mike Ness and Social Distortion.
"Handwritten," the New Jersey quartet's fourth album and first for a major label, is stuffed full of earnest, passionate working-class anthems, paeans to dreams that refuse to die and hearts that break, but refuse to bend. These are songs that scream for an arena big enough to house their yearning, tunes that soar on melodies that can be memorized within the 3 1/2 minutes it takes to deliver them, and walls of guitars that demand full volume and open windows.
The title tune offers in microcosm everything that's great about Fallon and his buddies. It's anthemic enough to make Brandon Flowers of the Killers blush, and life-affirming enough to excuse its obvious debt to Springsteen. Music for believers, an open hand extended toward those who struggle to transcend their own limiting realities.
"Here Comes My Man" is a little bit Willie Nile, and a whole chunk of Mike Scott and the Waterboys, at once muscular and heart-on-sleeve tender and sensitive. "Howl" is no nod to Allen Ginsberg, but is rather a four-on-the-floor, Gretsch guitars through Fender amps cranked to 11 bacchanal, a dizzying punk-laced ode to the spirit that demands that you get up, get going, and get the hell outta that home town where everyone knows your name and the auto plant beckons like a hangman's noose.
Music that's tailor-made for hard times, then. Can a glorious guitar riff really change the world? Of course it can. At least for a few minutes. Brian Fallon believes it. And he'd like you to do the same.
-- Jeff Miers
Vermont's Kyle Thomas -- aka King Tuff, former J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. collaborator and member of indie-rock band Feathers -- wants to party like it's 1979 on his self-titled debut. And he pulls it off. By the time you've made it through the album's 12 songs, you'll be convinced that Marc Bolan of T. Rex is still alive, and that Big Star's "Third/Sister Lovers" actually cracked the Top 40, rather than disappearing into cult-level obscurity.
A gritty, ambient collection of DIY power-pop, "King Tuff" is all rock-candy guitar riffery and helium-laced, echo-laden vocals. It was recorded in an abandoned high school in Detroit, and sounds like it was -- imagine a Vox AC30 amplifier blasting in a tiled hallway, or a drum kit bouncing off the walls of the boy's room, and you get the picture.
The album's centerpiece is likely the T. Rex-ish stomper "Alone and Stoned," a red-eyed slab of naughty glee and snarky double-tracked vocals. "Keep On Movin'" is Thomas wearing his love for "Dandy In the Underworld" on his sleeve, and reeks of the sort of joy one felt during high school, when mom and dad were out of the house, and you could crank your bedroom stereo with no fear of embarrassing reprisal. "Loser's Wall" would have made a great Sloan tune, while "Stupid Superstar" boasts the sort of beautifully awful wall-of-sound production values that made Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos" yet another overlooked-at-the-time 1970s gem.
The downside? Sometimes, the devil-may-care production approach fails to serve the songs fully -- Thomas has penned strong, healthy melodies here with hooks galore, and he didn't really need to be so "indie rock" about the album's sonic qualities. That said, "King Tuff" is, on balance, a heartwarming collection of stoner-pop gems.
Performed by Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman, conductor
Haydn got the big things right. He was the master of nobility, dignity, a sense of the sacred. He also had a great sense of humor, as well as an entertainer's humility, a responsibility to his audience.
All these things worked to make "The Creation" the hit that it was. The Boston Baroque tackles the music with unflagging enthusiasm, and the not-too-windy notes explain how the musicians discerned Haydn's wishes as far as tempo and personnel. The big choruses have zest. And there is glory in the details.
One thing neat about "The Creation" is that in many cases the recitatives are as much fun as the arias, and how often can you say that? It is fascinating to hear Haydn -- thinking kind of like Wagner would 50 years later -- putting into music visual things like the stars sparkling, the sun rising, the heavy, honking beasts of the field.
The soloists are all good, with superb diction so you can understand the German without the texts (although text and translation are included). They are soprano Amanda Forsythe, tenor Keith Jameson, and the very engaging bass baritone Kevin Deas. Deas has sung at Kleinhans, by the way. His commanding voice led off the "Ode to Joy" in Beethoven's Ninth during the season-opening gala of 2009.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Hot Club of Detroit
2 1/2 stars
The press material claims the following about this new disc from the Hot Club of Detroit: "Junction's sound is at once vintage and boldly new, rooted in the legacy of Django Reinhardt but also the sensibilities of Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, John Zorn and even the rock band Phish. Far from a traditional gypsy jazz ensemble, Hot Club of Detroit (HCOD) proves itself a versatile modern jazz group, with a unique acoustic-electric sound that surges past expectations and genre boundaries."
Got all that? You can hear a lot of that in the disc's very first selection "Goodbye, Mr. Anderson," which, we're told, refers simultaneously to the movie "The Matrix," Bobby Hebby's "Sunny" and the music of John Coltrane.
It's rare to hear a jazz disc with so much first-rate playing on it that amounts to so little. The contributions of bassist Shawn Conley, the great saxophonist Jon Irabagon (who came to Buffalo with Mostly Others Do the Killing) and guitarist Evan Perri are superb.
The lion's share of the problem is ineradicable presence of accordionist Julien Labro, who is an imaginative and fiercely swinging player but whose instrument, when it doesn't sound all-too-reminiscent of French cafe tourist music, can't help miniaturizing every other sound it touches. (And when you get to the intro to a piece called "Chutzpah," you know that neither the piece's title or the band is kidding.)
If the accordion is supposed to lend Djangoesque cafe "authenticity," a switch by Labro to inauthentic piano (or Hammond B-3) would do wonders for the group's inauthentic daring.
For those more tolerant of the sound of the accordion, add a full extra star.
-- Jeff Simon