screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

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Introducing… Ryan McDowell

It is often said that to be a true artist, you should be able to take your pain and turn it into art. Massachusetts-bred musician Ryan McDowell has taken that concept one step further — out of a profound rejection in his young life, he has created a four-part, 23-track concept album. Berklee Reject is exactly as its title suggests. As he wrote, recorded and performed music through his high school years, it was the dream of this talented teenager to attend Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. The college’s unfortunate decision caused him to reassess his life and explore his identity. In doing so, he has created a masterpiece. Continue reading at Ryan’s Smashing Life.

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Introducing… Dead Trains

photo by Humar Miranda

photo by Humar Miranda

If anyone out there is feeling the winter blues or feels otherwise frozen in their lives, here’s something that’ll kick out those cobwebs. Dead Trains are from Boston, but their country blues stomp sounds more Mississippi Delta than Mass. Ave. There’s a rambunctious hyperkinetic edge, though, that fits right in to this town’s punk rock traditions. In their official video for the first single from their upcoming album Country Road Bound, they take us around town and show us basement band life, Boston’s approach to sanitation pick-up and the city’s nighttime entertainment choices.

“County Road Bound/Mean Town Blues” begins with the album’s title track and then seamlessly morphs into the band’s interpretation of Johnny Winter’s “Mean Town Blues.” Their music features fast tempo changes, irregular chord progressions and adept pacing that gets the blood flowing. Plus the fact that I’ve always been a sucker for slide guitar.

The band debuted in 2013 with their Break ‘Em On Down 4-track EP, following it up with another EP in 2015 called 32/20, while touring extensively on the East Coast and beyond. On the new album, which they’ll be releasing independently on February 26, they continue their edgy/shuffling Delta punk-blues style with decidedly down-on-their-luck lyrics (what else would you expect from a punk rock/blues trio, love songs?). The album includes their take on Suicide’s 1977 track, “Rocket USA.” On the closing song, “Fire Next Time,” they drop the tempo down for a gorgeous slide guitar bluesy lament. The album title itself is a nod to traditional blues lingo. “Country road bound” means that you’re likely to do time in a road prison due to crimes you’ve committed (or those you plan on committing).

The second single from the album, just released a few days ago, is “Going Down To The River.” The trio (Matt Axten – guitar and vocals, Natan Keyes – bass and Steve Olsen – drums) will be performing at the Out Of The Blue Gallery on February 26 for their record release show, along with Miracle Blood, Dirt Naps and Crow Feeder.

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Introducing… Tristan Bouchard

Photography by Stephanie Burgos Rodriguez

Photography by Stephanie Burgos Rodriguez

Sometimes it takes a catastrophic event to put one’s life into suddenly sharp focus. For Boston-based Tristan Bouchard, it was witnessing a fatal accident of a fellow college student on Commonwealth Avenue. The experience was traumatic for him, leading to a struggle with PTSD, which he was only able to alleviate through his music.

But this talented singer-songwriter didn’t just stop with self-healing. He took it one step further, allowing the pain to inspire and fuel his music. The need to share what he was feeling helped him to overcome crippling stage fright. After performing these new songs for audiences, he recorded a 3-song EP, Little Nights. “I Will Not Go To Paris,” both the song and the sweet homegrown video, feels like a young man discovering himself, figuring out his boundaries and deciding what’s important to him and what’s not. Bouchard’s warm vocals are beautifully accompanied by his expressive piano playing and soft melancholy violin.

Last year, he started an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a full-length album, to be called Blue Nights. Part of the proceeds will be donated to support McLean Hospital where presumably he received some important support of his own during his time of crisis. Though he did meet his funding goal, it appears you can still become involved in this extremely worthwhile project.

Just released yesterday was the first single and video from the forthcoming album. Warning: it’s not for the faint of heart. This stunning acapella performance piece is like a modern-day Appalachian dirge or old negro spiritual set in today’s incomprehensible world.

Tristan Bouchard will be performing at the Middle East Corner on Wednesday, April 6. See him if you can and show your support for this fine artist.

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Introducing… brmfthsstm*

What do you want to be when you grow up? Boston native Owen LiPuma, going by the name of brmfthsstm* (Broom of the System) has been working all that heavy stuff out in the solitude of his bedroom with his wistful lo-fi song, “Honest.” As he explains it, “it is a song about my struggle with finding myself and my growing up to become me.” I have news for you, son — that struggle never ends.

In the time it has taken for me to post this, he has released another song, called “Mute,” which he says “touches on my own anxieties about the world and myself.” Yup. I hear ya.

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Introducing… The BoxBerrys

Listening to the BoxBerrys’ new EP, Maria For The Last Time, one might find it hard to believe that they’re a current band. That they’re a current Boston-based band is even harder to believe. Let’s face it — Boston isn’t exactly known for its gentle, sunny pop music (unless, of course, your idea of gentle sunny pop music is Pixies, Gang Green or Mission of Burma). But the BoxBerrys, with a nod to The Beatles and Elton John (and, on “Holly Rollers In The Sky,” Chuck Berry, Little Richard and those ’50s doo-woppers), are bringing their upbeat, retro-sounding pop to Boston’s mean streets.

The trio started in 2012 with their Sleepy Jesus EP, and this latest EP is the follow-up. Bits of wistful melancholy and sweet heartache keeps things from getting sappy, and the gentle harmonies and soft strumming is a nice way to wind down from a stressful day. Check ’em out!

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James Roseman releases his debut demo tape

I was first knocked sideways by James Roseman’s music back in the summer of 2012. He had just released his debut album, Words and Tricks, where he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, saxophone and drums. In it, I found a wise and sly old soul trapped inside an 18-year-old body. Wiser and slyer and a few years later, today James releases The Demo Tape, which can be listened to on iTunes, Spotify and Bandcamp.

This is billed as his “debut 3-song demo” and indeed, it’s a stylistic departure from his earlier work. With the same wry, sophisticated lyrics, the music is far more developed and professional. He might call it a demo, but clearly a lot of attention was paid to production values this time around. Fortunately, his warm, intimate and insanely charming style is left beautifully intact. “Wasting My Time” is a pretty, haunting reflection about a one-sided relationship that’s far too jaded and insightful for a 21-year-old. In addition to his spare, sharp and sparkling musicianship, Roseman has a gift for storytelling, as is evident in “Jack Rose.” He uses acoustic guitar melodies, a touch of bass and handclaps to great effect, perfectly highlighting his vocals and harmonies. I’m still working out the deeper meaning of “Croesus Curse” but there seems to be a central theme running through these songs that has to do with what one does in one’s life and the regret of wasted time. “Croesus Curse” uses the same minimalist percussive sounds and handclaps with haunting guitar melodies. Brilliant.

I’ll be on the lookout for any live appearances and will list them here. Meanwhile, James is attending Tufts University in pursuit of a Computer Science degree and continues to explore his creative side, actively looking for gigs in the greater Boston area. Musicians and promoters, take note!

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Introducing… St. Nothing


I came upon St. Nothing while watching the live web feed of the most recent Boston Calling Festival. This Boston-based electro-pop trio won a SonicBids contest to perform at the festival. Now, anyone who has perused this blog will know that I’m not a huge fan of electro-pop — or at least, there isn’t a whole lot of it represented here. However, these amazing musicians completely blew me away. What makes them different (or maybe not, but it’s the first time I’d heard it done) is that they integrate lush live strings in with the beeps, boops and beats. What results is much warmer and more emotionally engaging than I’ve found electro-pop to be. This puts the humanity back into the music, and it’s hypnotic. For me, it’s the missing link.

St. Nothing is Marco Lawrence, devices and vocals; Sophia Carreras, guitarist; and Meredith Nero, strings. In February 2013, Lawrence self-released the Begin EP under the name of Hall of Mirrors. It featured a collection of demos that he wrote in late 2012, with cellist Jenna Calabro accompanying him. Lawrence started writing music at age 14, after music theory and improvisation training from his classical flute instructer. Five years later, he began playing electro-pop and eventually joined up with Carreras and Nero, changing their name of their collaboration to St. Nothing. In addition to the Boston Calling set, they’ve headlined at Great Scott and have performed with Young Galaxy, Juana Molina, Alpine and Freezepop. Fast forward to now, and they’ve been nominated for two Boston Music Awards this month, for ‘New Artist of the Year’ and ‘Electronic Artist of the Year.’ They’re currently recording their debut album.

They’ll be playing at the Middle East Downstairs as part of a special Shiner Beer Presents show, along with Small Black and Condor. It’s FREE, but you need to RSVP. They’ll also be at Pearl Street Night Club in Northampton, Massachusetts on December 6. We’ll be anxiously awaiting the new album.

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Introducing… the Hillary Reynolds Band



I’d like to say I planned to cover a few vintage style Americana-flavored bands right around the July 4th holiday, to pay proper tribute to our nation’s independence, but to be perfectly honest, it was a happy accident. The Boston-based Hillary Reynolds Band features, yes, Hillary Reynolds on sparkling clear lead vocals, Trevor Jarvis on cello and backing vocals, Connor Reese on guitar, Jeff Hale on drums and Chris Mewhinney on electric and acoustic bass. On The Miles Before Us, their imminent new album (it comes out next week), they stretch out into a smorgasboard of rootsy country-flavored homespun pop music with the emphasis on the warm sound of acoustic strings and Reynolds’ effortlessly soaring vocals. They’ve released a new video ahead of the album, for “Honey, Come Home,” a delicious slice of their folk-infused Americana.

Even on tracks like “Pretending I’m In Love,” the mood is decidedly upbeat, though my personal favorites are the quieter songs like “This Love Is Ours,” with beautiful interplay between softly sung vocals and reverent cello, and “How,” with its tinkling piano lines adding extra emphasis to heartfelt lyrics. “I Didn’t Know Who To Call” brings melancholy piano and a softly drifting voice, creating a jazz-blues feel and moving things into moodier territory, with the cello adding a perfect counterpoint. The album ends on a hopeful note with “Keep On Driving,” piano and cello driven along nicely with chugging organic sounding percussion. It’s the equivalent of comfort food for the ears.

They’ll be celebrating the new addition with a performance at Berklee School of Music’s wonderful performance space, Cafe 939. While the band members hail from different parts of the country, Berklee provided a central meeting place where they shared their love for traditional American music. As for the venue, the laid back coffee house atmosphere and intimate space is the perfect environment for listening to music like this, so if you’re in the area, definitely check them out. If you’re not in the area, they’re also performing in Biddeford, Maine on July 23, and will then be embarking on a proper tour in August, beginning in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as all great tours must do. They’ll be hitting Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and parts south. See their full tour schedule for more information.



Speaking of the band’s multi-instrumentalist leanings, guitarist Connor adds: “Each instrument adds a different flavor, and if someone plays some random thing, we can usually find a way to incorporate it. Because of this, the instrumentation is always evolving — we travel with 10 instruments on the stage and more in the car, like piano, cello, mandolin, acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitars, ukulele, upright and electric bass, and drum kit. It’s quite a family.”

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This Much shows their “Disdain” for this Boston winter (or maybe it’s just me?)

(left to right): John Stricker, bass; Denny Kennedy, drums; Terrence Mulhern, vocals, guitar, keyboards

(left to right): John Stricker, bass; Denny Kennedy, drums; Terrence Mulhern, vocals, guitar, keyboards

For their fifth song, just released along with an official video and perfect for the season, is This Much’s aptly titled “Disdain.” A full-length album is apparently forthcoming. You may think these snowy scenes of Boston are pretty, but as far as I’m concerned, never was there a more effective public service announcement for moving to Southern California. There. I said it.

I intend to post this on Wednesday, when we’re due to have yet another Nor’easter. True to form, even when I try to be clever and make the most of things, the weather doesn’t cooperate with me. I see it’s now going to rain. Figures.

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Leonard Cohen at the Wang Theatre, Boston, May 30, 2009


I recently introduced my parents to Leonard Cohen’s music; needless to say, they’ve become huge fans. Upon hearing that I would be seeing him in person, my mom said to me “make sure you bring a handkerchief”. Which is like telling someone to bring a teacup, in the event of a tsunami. At first glance, some might see Leonard Cohen’s music as dark, cynical, or at the very least, melancholy. But there’s a quiet joy that runs through his songs. A reverence and deep respect for the mundane – and quite often the bawdy – aspects of everyday life. Tears, yes. But more of release, rather than sadness.

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