This end of summer music roundup is a grab bag of indie rock and pop (The Sawtelles, Bunk, Speedy Ortiz, Problem With Dragons), folk-rock (Frank Critelli), and classic Americana (Miss Laurie Ann & the Saddle Tones). Something for maybe everybody.
The Sawtelles: Orange Disaster (ThinManMusic) Their sixth full-length release finds the Plantsville, CT husband-wife duo (Peter and Julie Riccio) continuing to mine a wellspring of intimate, lo-fi songs about love and desperation. Despite that familiar configuration of husband-guitarist-vocalist, wife-drummer-backing vocals; they aren’t the White Stripes. There aren’t any rave-ups, flat out rockers or bangers on this release — just dreamy, jangly and mid-tempo tunes that are lyric-centric with plenty of verse-chorus-verse. Songs like “Drive In,“ “Grindhouse,” and “Crash” are the duo’s bread and butter, but the occasional foray into an adventurous arrangement like on “Fully Realised,” with its understated Fender Rhodes and Julie’s double-tracked spoken word bit, and the emotional meltdown of “I Think You Know,” makes Orange Disaster soar.
Miss Laurie Ann & the SaddleTones: Ease My Mind (self-released) An Eastcoaster who’s fully ensconced in the traditional American idioms of western swing, blues, honky tonk is a rarity, but New Jersey native, Laurie Ann Hullinger is straight up old school and has the chops. Produced by Dave Gonzalez (The Paladins, The Hacienda Brothers) and recorded in Western Massachusetts at the studio of Cow Island Music impresario, Bill Hunt, this record has the intimate and live sound of a big room with folks having fun playing for the sake of playing. Her sound is evocative of Kitty Wells and Wanda Jackson, and on Ease My Mind, her second release, she cuts loose further afield on the Cajun-flavored “Better Get It,” and border radio on the weeper, “Why Don’t We Fall in Love.” If your thing is Americana music, you must have this record.
Frank Critelli: Everything is Everything (Third Floor Chalet Songs) New Haven, CT coffee house troubadour, Frank Critelli, comes swinging out of the gate with this collection of earnest and uptempo rock ‘n’ folk tunes. As a reference, there’s a passing resemblance here to the music of Wesley Stace (John Wesley Harding) both vocally and stylistically in Critelli’s friendly approach to pop songwriting. From the rollicking road house blues of “Change Your Mind,” the Grateful Dead inspired, “Zen Again,” to the sax-fueled “Ask Anyone,” Critelli’s, if anything, consistent in his songwriting craft.
Problem With Dragons: "Wizard Mode" (RPM Fest) This one-off single from RPM Fest’s recent compilation album of metal music is a raging slab of fury. This Easthampton trio has made a cottage industry of smart, politically aware music in an industry not known for enlightenment. PWD breaks that mode under the leadership of Robert A. Merican, known for his anti-establishment views. “Wizard Mode” is very near cool as anything Al Jourgensen has to say about contemporary ‘Merica.
Speedy Ortiz: "Bigger Party" (Adult Swim Single Series) Northampton’s Speedy Ortiz’s meteoric rise in the indie music scene is unparalleled and so it should come as no surprise that the cable channel with the most weirdo programming would scoop up our popular musical export for their Singles Series, their foray into music compilations. Our Speedy Ortiz girl, Sadie Dupuis, erstwhile English lit teacher at UMASS/Amherst, spits out “Bigger Party” in roughly two minutes to explain she’s a shithead for fucking all your friends. The single is delirious and effortless, then it’s over.
Bunk (self-released) On their eponymous debut release, Hadley-based band, Bunk, prove that generic indie-pop is not much more listenable than a major label release from _____ (insert whatever flavor of the week pop band you choose). The problem with good intentions is that the road is paved unevenly. Case in point, Bunk's debut record. On “Fall’s Coming Around,” a dreamy bedroom pop outing that’s just superficially interesting enough to win over the WRSI crowd with its cloying vocal harmonies, treacly lyrics and grandstanding piano trills. Every track has the mandatory “ooooh, lala” chorus that’s de rigeur with young bands just discovering the Beach Boys or The Carpenters. Throw in some pedal steel guitar and you might think you have a winner, but sadly, it’s not the case on the precious “Temporarily Mine/Set to Spin.” Nothing sparkles or jumps out on the twelve tracks here (far too long), but perhaps next time around.