Friday, September 7, 2007

CD reviews: Varied Mix

While this may seem random, there is a thread that runs through this...and only a few will know (manical laugh goes here).

In an earlier incarnation before ROCK E. ROLLINS released this, his second self-produced solo CD, “Superheterodyne” (Vinyl Frontier, c/o, he was known as Sal Baglio, leader of the almost legendary Boston rockers, The Stompers. I became aware of the Stompers from their own-released single, “Coast To Coast,” which was a great pop rocker back in very early ‘80s. When their LP came out in ‘83, I bought that (at Sounds on St. Marks for $2.49) and found that producers Ritchie Cordell and Glen Holdkin has de-balled the band and the record was, well, bland. Yes, I still own both. So does his new persona make me want to rock, jump and holler? The music is mostly strong, melodic and fueled by some straight-ahead, almost post-big hair rock. I’m talkin’ guitar solos, shouting, and 4/4 beats. On this new collection, Rock E./Sal wrote all the songs, played each instrument, and mostly recorded it in his “room studio” on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. [Rock corrected me here. He says "the Superheterodyne cd was recorded on GarageBand except for Pumpkin Man/Anarleen/Hobo Song, which were recorded on a Tascam 4 trk". I appreciate the correction, Rock!] There is a bit of excess where the music gets drowned in electronica, like “U Turn”, the sample-heavy “Kissing Cobras”, and the noisy opening, “JetAgeSuperTrashWhitesStarHero” with use of every possible knob, beep and squeak on the said recorder. But when he just plays and wails, like on “Temporary Anesthesia” and “The Train to Liverpool”, and even the off-kilter “Pumpkin Man” (which could have come right off “The Who Sell Out”), he more than shines. While a bit of a mixed bag, I’m still impressed by the zeitgeist of what Rock E. is trying – and occasionally achieving – in his work. At nearly an hour, there is definitely some American fun. -- Robert Barry Francos

Reminiscent in modus of Harvey Pekar, JEFF MASTROBERTI writes and reads this words/poetry, and the music behind him is performed by various artists on his “This Land is Jeffland” (, a follow-up to his previous work, “Caution: You Are Entering Jeffland.” Both are an experimental exercise in spoken-word-with-music. The poetry is personal and expressive, such as “I Haven’t Written Anything Lately” (ironically one of the longest pieces here), “Back to Nature, Back to God”, and the live-taped “Pre-Election Thoughts”. Religion plays a heavy role in his ruminations, but it is never preachy. The music and sounds behind him vary from acoustic guitar instrumentals to harmonicas, to vocals by the likes of Stephanie Monticello, Ed Hamell (of Hamell on Trial), and even a Gregorian Chant. As always, Jeff brings divergent elements into a beautiful mixture of headspaces. He’s also one of the nicest people I’ve had the chance to meet recently. -- Robert Barry Francos

Also in the artist putting out his own material category is Boston-based KEN SELCER, with “Breaking the Glass” ( Put together with love and I’m sure bucks from his own pocket, guitarist/writer/singer Ken (with friends doing backup vocals and instruments). Each original song has a distinct style, from straight singer-songwriter to pop to rock to even funk (with a touch of rap in Blondie/”Rapture” mode). My only real grumble is that the songs are a bit long, averaging 5 minutes each, but the musicianship holds up with his nimble guitar playing. Using the studio wisely, Ken walks the walk successfully of using various effects without overdoing or overproducing, which shows he knows how to listen to the engineer and/or producer without his ego getting in the way. Even when Ken’s voice is a bit vanilla at times, it’s is a matter of the listener’s taste more than the singer’s talent, but there is no question it’s worth a try. -- Robert Barry Francos

Also co-led by the prolific Ken Selcer, along with Jill Stern, is the pop rock group SOMEBODY’S SISTER: “Circuits to the Sun” ( My question is, why can’t mainstream music sound more like this? While definitely pop music, it’s such a higher quality than just about anything one can hear on the top radio stations. It’s like SS refused to take the easy and dumbed-down route. The songs are catchy without being screechy (lClarkson), melodically all over the map (Aguilera), or just pretending to be on key (Spears). Plus Ken and Jill’s voices are so well suited for the sound that, in a more fair world, it would be SS on the charts, making listenable pop. Highlights include “Dancin’ Wild” (regular and extended mixes) and “Dirty Little Secrets”. -- Robert Barry Francos

New York-based JEFF TUOHY falls somewhere between singer-songwriter and rock, proving on “Breaking Down the Silence” ( that he can comfortably slide between the two. His songs definitely have a solid sound with strong back-up, and his vocals and lyrics move in the s/s mode, though he does know how to get that growl going. Also, he knows his way around a catchy lyric and melody line. This is shown with a powerful start with the opening cut, “Unaware” and follows through right to the end. Boston is both known as a center for both singer-songwriters and for rock bands, and Jeff is easily comfortable in both camps. -- Robert Barry Francos

While I have to admit that reggae – dancehall in this case – is not my forte, I have to ask, is it common practice to use other people’s songs and just change the words? According to the press release, DEZ I BOYD “Can write a complete song within minutes.” I bet not having to write the music makes it somewhat easier. The lyrics on this release, “Thanks For Life” (, are okay, and emotional, which is nice, and his harmonies with the co-singer work well, especially on “Shake Up Yuh Natty”, a commentary on the present status of dancehall styles. I’m just distracted by the reused music (such as the awful “Moondance”). Perhaps Dez I can work with someone who will write some appropriate melodies? Please? -- Robert Barry Francos

JOSEPH QUOTE shows a more rounded release with “No Credit For This Journey” ( He mixes different shades of reggae and R&B, sort of Marley meets the Miracles. There are many of the classic topics, like praising Jah, Mother Africa (“Strong African Woman”), and self-reflection (“No Credit”). While staying within the reggae framework, Quote still finds ways to be musically diverse and memorable. -- Robert Barry Francos

Dancehall is totally foreign to me. I mean, I once reviewed Shabba Ranks and thought it was awful, misogynistic, and boring. While NEGRIL WEST forays into the same territory with a sampling of his work in “Mixology” (, what I can make out seems so far superior. Yes, it’s still a bit out of my league, but Negril West doesn’t bore, partly by covering different styles within the genre. Only thing disconcerting is that some songs are complete, and some are fragments of different sizes, which is how NW can fit 15 songs in 38 minutes. If you want a taste, this is the place. -- Robert Barry Francos

As always, comments are welcome.

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