A musical year to remember
Some of these bands are new, some well-known; these CDs are all great
As we enter the new year, it is fun to look back on some of the highlights of 2012. So, with that in mind, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite locally produced music of the past year. Maybe you will find some of your favorites here, or perhaps this list will encourage you to seek out new music from some of these fine local musicians. This list is in no particular order, so enjoy!
Fancy Trash “As Is” (Independent)
Fancy Trash is an acoustic trio, but the band’s sound has a lot more in common with rock than it does folk. “As Is” clocks in at only 28 minutes, but it’s a powerhouse of a disc that, thanks to engineer Justin Pizzoferrato, captures a lot of the energy of the band’s live shows. Songwriter and vocalist Dave Houghton can go from a Neil Young-like whine to a deep roar, often in the course of the same song, giving added emotion to his raw, often dark lyrics. Fancy Trash has been around for some 10 years now and has weathered some lineup changes, but it remains one of the finest bands on the local scene.
www.fancytrash.com Fancy Trash will perform at Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m.
David Wax Museum
“Knock Knock Get Up” (Independent)
Local residents David Wax and his donkey jaw-bone wielding partner Suz Slezak form the core of this exciting Mexo-Americana band. On this CD, the band’s third, they experiment with fuzzy electric guitars, mariachi trumpet loops and even add a touch of Calypso to the tune “Vivian.” While the band has managed to stretch out, its members haven’t lost the jubilant energy that has made them such an amazing live act. Only the David Wax Museum could sing a song about struggling (“Harder Before It Gets Easier”) and make it sound like they are having a good time.
The David Wax Museum will perform at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield on Friday, Jan. 4, at 8 p.m.
‘All My Lovely Goners’
On the band’s fifth disc, this self-described chamber-pop band from Northampton continues to make atmospheric music that is marked by the lovely harmonies of Flora Reed and Philip Price. In addition to handling lead vocals, Price is also the band’s chief songwriter. His lyrics, such as “We awoke to find the world/And our mouths all full of pearls/And our hands unbound/And our words unfound,” are always intriguing. Songs like “Sunspots” and “Pretty Girls” showcase the band’s softer side, but Price has always known his way around a good pop tune and on songs like the peppy “Rogue Highway” that talent is on full display. Another winning disc from one of the valley’s finest.
“Pilot Machines” (Independent)
Armed with cello, violin, mandolin, guitar and drums, this quintet recorded its full-length debut in a home its members shared in Hadley. The string-rock this band creates is the result of the diverse musical backgrounds of its five musicians, including jazz, choral singing, classical music and even the traditional music of Turkey and Brazil. From the haunting beauty of “Drowning Elvis” to the full on rock of “Ava,” Darlingside have a sound very much its own. “Pilot Machines” is easily one of the strongest debuts of the year.
Darlingside will perform at the Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m.
Daniel Hales and the Frost Heaves
“You Make a Better Door Than a Window” (Independent)
This was a good year for Daniel Hales, who proved himself to be an artist that doesn’t sit still. “You Make a Better Door Than a Window” finds Hales indulging his musical restless streak with a genre-hopping album that includes traces of Americana, pop, rock and even psychedelia. A talented lyricist who brings a sense of humor to a lot of his work, Hales writes about everything from car trouble (“Singing in the Breakdown Lane”) to standardized testing (“Bubble Test”). It is also worth noting that this album inspired a multi-media show that was performed last year. About the only style of music he does not include on this disc is hip-hop and dance music. He saved those for his side project, the Ambiguities, and the recently released the EP “Everything Rhymes With the End Times,” another worthy album of 2012.
Daniel Hales and the Frost Heaves will open the screening of “Don’t Shoot the Piano Player” at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 7 p.m.
And The Kids
“Nothing Came First” (Independent)
And the Kids had generated a strong buzz on the local music scene even before the release of its debut disc in December. The band who started out performing on the streets of Northampton playing a brand of indie rock that sounds like nothing you have heard before. It is fresh, playful, danceable and, yeah, slightly odd. In addition to conventional rock instruments, the group utilizes ukulele, glockenspiel and melodica while it sings about topics like “Geology” and “Tonka Trucks.” This is one exciting new young band that is a must-see live act.
Chris Smither ‘Hundred Dollar Valentine’
When Amherst resident Chris Smither sings the line “I don’t have to prove anything to anyone” from “On the Edge,” one of this disc’s finest songs, we listeners can only agree. On his 12th album, Smither has released his first disc ever that consists entirely of his own compositions (although three were previously recorded). This CD finds Smither in a contemplative mood, singing about life in his world-weary voice accompanied by his trusty six-string and trademark foot tapping. The master folk bluesman gets some help from his friends, including local producer David “Goody” Goodrich and Kris Delmhorst on cello. This album is a welcome addition to an already impressive catalog.
Chris Smither will perform at the Ashfield Town Hall in Ashfield on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 8 p.m.
The Sun Parade
The Sun Parade made its debut last year with a five-song EP and it expanded on the promise heard on that disc with this full-length release. Since the release of the EP, the band’s singer and songwriter Chris Jennings has teamed up with Jefferson Lewis, who shares vocals with Jennings, in addition to playing mandolin. Drummer Don McAulay and bassist Jacob Rosazza add to the mix, bringing a rock edge to Jennings’ folk/pop leanings. The music is lush and infectious, sunny even when the lyrics are not. “Need You by My Side,” a holdover from the EP, is one of the catchiest songs you’ll hear.
Jamie Kent – “Navigation” (The Valley Music Collective)
Northampton-based singer-songwriter Jamie Kent has a strong expressive voice and on his sophomore release, he embellishes his folk and pop sound with traces of jazz, R&B and funk. The music ranges from breezy Jack Johnson-styled pop (“Navigation”) to full-out funky soul numbers (“Hold On.”) Kent utilizes some top-flight guest musicians to flesh out his sound. Beau Sasser’s Hammond organ is a particularly welcomed addition and sax player Charles Neville also guests on a cover of Eddie Grant’s “Drop Baby Drop.”
Jamie Kent will perform at Bishop’s Lounge in Northampton on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 9:30 p.m.
Various Artists “Valley Rising Compilation Volume II” (The Valley Music Collective)
The second release from the Valley Music Collective, this volume provides an introduction to 10 rising acts here in the Pioneer Valley. The tracks range from the hip-hop sounds of Northampton’s Vesuveo to the aforementioned indie pop of And The Kids as well as the classic rock sounds of Doug Ratner and the Watchmen. The collective does a great job of representing a variety of genres here and the best things is that it is free. Free download cards are available at local music outlets, including Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls and Rewind Records on Main Street in Greenfield.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org