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Around Hear: November 2012

Nick And The Ovorols

Though the initial (and title) cut on Ride My Junk is only so-so, once Atomic Shop kicks into gear, John Kuczaj’s studio-only project hits a fun groove. From “Green Lantern,” a rollicking ode to the famed comic-book hero, to a forceful cover of Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah’s “Lake Shore Drive,” the 13 tunes – which range in style from pop and country to folk and tropical – are energetic and engaging. Kuczaj’s singing voice could benefit from additional lessons, but that never dampers this entertaining excursion. (atomicshopmusic.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

The no-frills, guitar-based arrangements on the self-titled debut from The Belvederes fall somewhere between punk and mainstream rock. Lead vocalist/guitarist John Michael Ford effectively conveys the ups and downs of relationships, from the romantic sentiments of the mid-tempo “My Love” to jealous rage on the revved-up “Anymore.” A streetwise sensibility runs throughout these nine melodic songs, along with a Springsteen-like vision that love can sometimes overcome adversity.  (reverbnation.com/thebelvederes)
– Terrence Flamm

Keith Betti crafts softly winsome songs on Company Loves Misery, an album of lush, generous arrangements with just the right touch of instrumental flourish. Americana and country-inflected folk are the dominant styles. Weeping lap steel, gently swaying banjo, and swirling piano mingle with relaxed ease. “Found A Love” features a sauntering beat and optimism that sounds inspired by Betti’s time as a travelling salesman, and shimmering mandolin illuminates “That Ol’ Train.” (keithbetti.com)
– Patrick Conlan

Note to aspiring singer-songwriters: leave lines about gut-infesting parasites on the cutting room floor. “Moonglow Tapeworm” from Birds Of Chicago’s self-titled debut serves as a reminder to divert attention away from the album’s inconsequential lyrics and focus on the sweet vocal interplay of JT Nero and Allison Russell. The rootsy duo’s intertwining guitar and ukulele conjures up a backyard scene complete with apple pie, red gingham tablecloths, and mason jars filled with dancing lightning bugs on “Flying Dreams.” The Cajun hoedown of “Sans Souci” is a perk while “Come Morning” finds inspiration in Linda Ronstadt’s Laurel Canyon days. Country harmonizers Little Big Town could use “Sugar Dumplin'” in its Southern-fried repertoire. (birdsofchicago.com)
– Janine Schaults

Equal parts punk and alternative rock, Blue Eyed Jesus recalls bits of The Ramones, Foo Fighters, or The Replacements throughout its Velvet Years EP Though the five-track collection could benefit from beefed-up production that stretches beyond the basement feel, the trio is surely on the right track for those who like the raw side of the dial. (reverbnation.com/blueeyedjesus)
– Andy Argyrakis

Befitting of its musical style, Fallen Angel provides a laundry list of the gear it uses to make its music, so before we crack open “Let Me Out,” we have a pretty good idea of what’s coming. And Fallen Angel’s driving, atmospheric rock doesn’t disappoint. Drilling guitars strike the right mix of melodic and technical; but, there’s also a dark undercurrent throbbing throughout the three songs on God Like Me. This unexpected twist helps these moody rockers avoid tired rock clichés. (fallenangelmusik.com)
– Patrick Conlan

It’s hard to categorize the music of Furious Frank, so maybe the self-description of “gypsy-carnival rock” is the closest one can get. On its sophomore effort The Map & The Territory, the seven-piece outfit has produced yet another curious collection of alt-folk mashed with a strong brass section and old-fashioned country music lyrics. While few of the melodies are memorable, one does have to admire the band’s ambition and innovation. And while the sonic journey Furious Frank brings you on isn’t always where you wanted to go, it’s at least somewhere you’ve never been before. (furiousfrank.net)
– Carter Moss

There’s certainly a heady lyrical bent behind The Hawthorne Effect‘s full-length debut Awakefulsleep, which addresses everything from oppression to addiction and mortality under an umbrella of power pop, punk, and hard rock. Fans of The White Stripes, Butch Walker and T. Rex are sure to relate, alongside anyone seeking out intensely introspective lyrics, which come courtesy of frontman John Jauch (Smoke Off Vinyl, Killing The Enemy). (reverbnation.com/thehawthorneeffect)
– Andy Argyrakis

Stridently lo-fi psychedelic pop is loaded with all manner of oxymorons, though Going Away never seems to sidetrack Honest Engines. The outfit’s grasp of early Mercury Rev – androgynous vocals and all – spins off into a fairly controlled environment of spiky guitars, slipshod beats, and untethered dreams. Without proper funds, the Engines’ ideas might never taste the fruits of their endeavors, though the attached desperation might prove to be an unforeseen wildcard. (tandemshoprecords.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Denise Hradecky‘s Save The Universe is a brilliant fusion of spritely pop melodies and intricate folk craft. The bright, crisp production showcases each strum and finger slide of Hradecky’s simple, but compelling guitar playing. Keening violin and swelling cello accents transform “Drive Around You” into a miniature folk masterpiece. “Brain Clog” thumps along with a pleasantly sunny disposition before melting into the gorgeously sublime “Obsurd.” (denisehradecky.net)
– Patrick Conlan

It’s probably a wild stretch to compare Lying Delilah‘s Return The Love to The Who’s Tommy, but that’s the reoccurring touchstone brought forth with repeated listens. The narrative thread is absent, but the swelling, bustling psychedelic pop confections, twisted around driving piano, swirling keyboards, and Jodi Rosenthal’s lusty singing ring with the same epic drama. Tender, but tough ballad “Crybaby” contrasts nicely with the bouncy, seesawing “Grey & Cold.” (www.lyingdelilah.com)
–  Patrick Conlan

Nick And The Ovorols manages to escape the trap insufferable live albums fall into: failing to translate the heat of the night captured in perpetuity. Live From Kingston Mines wags a taunting finger as if to say, “Bet you wish you were here,” like a postcard flaunting sunshine and sandy beaches to the snowed-in. The colorful hour-long set never bores even when the guitar noodling passes the 10-minute mark on “Dust My Broom/Heed The Words I Say.” It’s one thing to see frontman Nick Peraino grimace while he’s wailing away, fingers floating over frets, but extended jams without the visual component tend to drag. Barry White’s deep growl be damned – the shoulder-pumping funk of “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me” sounds like an audition for an opening slot on Soulive’s next tour while a chugging rendering of Sam Cooke’s “Somebody Have Mercy” wipes out any trace of Peraino’s New England upbringing. (nickandtheovorols.com)
– Janine Schaults

The members of Ravensthorn know power metal isn’t to be taken too seriously, so Horrors Of The Black Mass gets its digs in while their ironclad instrumental prowess does the lifting. At their most focused, the tracks come to rival a fierce replication of Among The Living-era Anthrax, with tacit nods to Maiden, Mercyful Fate, and the Bay Area thrash sultans. But there’s a difference between parody and satire, the latter just out of reach thanks to Count Bloodwynn’s diminishing-returns vocal leaps and tick-the-box lyrical themes of damnation, witchy women, and supernatural beasts. Not everything needs to be cranked to 11. (ravensthorn.com)
– Steve Forstneger

On the surface, Al Rose may appear to be simply another singer-songwriter crooning out ballads with his acoustic guitar. But Rose doesn’t settle for “simple” on anything – he enlists the help of 11 different musicians on his latest effort Sad Go Lucky. His music still flows comfortably down the country/folk river, and his lyrics are still as clever as ever (not to mention song titles: “The Girl Who Whispered Wolf,” “The Amber Waves Have Let Me Down”). Rose’s latest effort may not win over droves of new fans, but it should satisfy his current ones. (alrosemusic.com)
– Carter Moss

“Guantanamo Bay,” the rollicking first track on Rob Schulz‘s Tragedy & Comedy, establishes this veteran singer/guitarist’s knack for positioning a liberal point of view within power pop arrangements. “I’m Not Going To Live In Fear” and “You Can Come Out Now” offers biting political commentary, but Schulz is adept at other subject matter as well. The heartfelt ballad “I Was A Fool” depicts a troubled relationship, while the title track advocates self-confidence. (robschulz.com)
– Terrence Flamm

The members of Uneven all wear grim expressions for the album art, but the music on Instrument Of Revenge isn’t nearly as menacing as implied by the band’s photo. Instead, we get fairly conventional, contemporary heavy metal fueled by crunchy, fuzz-bomb guitars, and lava-like bass. Mid-tempo pacing, gruff, but intelligible vocals, and basic rhythmic structures highlight Uneven’s approach, which emphasizes accessibility over brutality. “The Darkness” and “All About You” charge and churn with amped-up energy, and “Building A Bomb” hits upon the self-loathing that’s commonplace for the genre. (theofficialuneven.com)
– Patrick Conlan

Whitewolfsonicprincess founding members, singer Carla Hayden and singer/guitarist James Moeller, have origins in avant-garde theater, but on their second release, 10 + 1, their provocative poetry flows within more accessible songs. That’s particularly evident in the Neil Young-style fury behind “Inner Light” and on the soaring guitar by Victor Sanders on “Lady In The Sand.” Most of the 11 tracks move at a leisurely pace, but the powerful “Sad-Eyed Prophet Reprise” is reminiscent of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up.” (whitewolfsonicprincess.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Despite their self-described “experimental metal” style, Without Waves offers fairly straightforward, hard-driving melodies with occasional dashes of jazz flair. Which essentially means the eight songs on Scab Platter are agreeable though by no means avant-garde. The title track offers the most ambitious workout, and there are a couple of brief atmospheric cuts, but the collection is far more mediocre than meaningful. (withoutwaves.bandcamp.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

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