CD Review: Quiet Life - Act Natural

CD Review by Adam Wujtewicz

So everyone knows by now that Quiet Life released a record this year. Also that that lead guitarist/vocalist Sean Spellman, has moved to the left coast and that the rest of the band is to follow in January. 

If you’ve seen Quiet Life play live you know it’s a high energy, alcohol fueled happy time show.  Act Natural is pretty representative of that.  It’s a fun record – it’s warm sounding, and like the live shows there’s a few surprises.  The album’s diversity is really something to behold.  Believe it or not there are stoner rock songs on this record...  "Trying to get Home" and "Every One" contain some pretty big riffs and a solid distortion sound.  With a little extra reverb on Sean's wavery, folky, bluesy vocals they are allowed to float over the guitars like a feather on the breeze but still cut through the mix like a straight razor. You mix those two tunes in with some acoustic numbers like the foot-stomper "Night Time" and the sensitive guy type ballad "California" and that gives you miles in between to make the bulk of a record.  Let’s face it these songs aren’t reinventing the wheel or anything but they’re solid, well written tunes that help to add dimension to the record.  Those are obviously the two poles of this record, most of it is somewhere in between the riff laden rock and the acoustic folky tunes and that’s where the real magic lies.

The rhythm section has a lot to do with this even though they can come off as very subdued with the amount of guitar and vocal on the record.  "Trying to get Home" has great bass and drum presence but can tend to  get a little lost and the guitars and vocals start carrying things away.  "Niantic Bay Blues" is a great song that starts off with a lot of great sounding bass and drums but the guitars kick in and you can start to lose your place.  The guitars do sound great though, there isn’t a thin sounding note on the record but I always thought of the bass and drums like the ring masters that kept the lions from taking over the circus.
Apart from sounding thick, the guitar sound is hugely varied which is a great way to keep things interesting.  Another thing that will more than likely get taken for granted on this record is the "decoration". The horns, banjo, pedal steel,  organ and harmonica are things that make this record special.  Not that they are the only band that uses these instruments, but they use them all to their full potential in the songs. It's not a gimmicky half-cocked attempt at being different... it's done with the intent to make the song sound better.  The frill with this record does lie in the instrumentation rather than any sort of studio magic.  The sound of the record is just warm and inviting, it's a very honest sound.  There is pop sensibility not only in the song writing but in the actual sound.  It’s not slick and shiny – because if it was it would sound weird and fake. It’s not muddy and under produced either – then you’d lose all the articulation which is important  to the genre.  It’s a happy medium that allows Act Natural to be appreciated by a much wider range of people. 

For more information on Quiet Life:

CD Review: The Reducers - Guitars, Bass & Drums

CD Review by Adam Wujtewicz

New London's band The Reducers released their first album in 10 years.  Guitars, Bass and Drums is proof that The Reducers are just as relevant and necessary to the music scene today as they were when they brought punk rock to New London in the late 70's.  They may not do punk songs like "Scared of Cops" anymore but as veteran rock n’ rollers they are showing everyone that, if done right, the up-beat 4 chord pop song is one of the most important things in music.

This record is super cleanly produced without any fancy studio trickery and you can hear all the instruments and vocals clear as a bell.  That's incredibly important when you consider the tones that these guys get.  Steve’s bass sound is the best punk rock bass sound I've ever heard.  It’s crisp and has the real trebly snap that makes it cut through the mix  without ever sacrificing the low end to round it out.   The lines he plays are acrobatic in a way that push the song along and accent the chord changes but never take the attention away from the vocals or a guitar solo.  The rhythm guitar has a great mix of distortion and articulation.  It's never muddy or overpowering it just sounds like rock n' roll.  The solo’s have great blues feel to them both in tone and riff construction.  The sound has enough bite to make it stick out so you have something you can sink your teeth into. Even when there isn't a solo going on, the play between Peter and Hugh’s guitar work is a lot like their vocals in the way that they are similar yet distinct.  You can always tell which is which but they are extremely complimentary to one another. Now what about the hammer that drives the nail? That would be Tom on drums with the snare cracks like no other.  Never flashy, always on time and drums that are tuned to perfection... there really isn’t much more you can say about it.

Now being a band for thirty years has obviously given them the time to get this immaculate sound that they have but let’s examine what it’s done for the song writing shall we?  The style of songs on this record appeal to pretty much anyone with ears.  They are a little longer than most pop tunes but they move quickly from chorus to verse to chorus so instead of getting bored with it you almost have to keep up.  If that description makes it sound repetitive let me assure you that there are bridges, guitar solos and musical buildups… like Hugh’s guitar change ups that drive "Paranoid Blues". There are elements that are reminiscent of The Replacements like the band’s complete tonal change during the solo in "I Don’t Mind". There are other things that have smatterings of great "Brit Pop" like The Kinks; the strong presence of backing vocals especially when they're "oohs" and "ahs" and a very snare driven style of drumming.

At this point I've given you plenty of reason to get this record and go see every Reducers show you can possibly make it to.  I haven't even touched upon the crown jewel of this record... the pop masterpiece "My Problem", featuring Mark Mulcahy on vocals. It’s nothing less than world class.  Paul Brockett once described this song as "the song that everyone wants to write, within their genre". Which is better than any description I could think of.  It just hits on all cylinders and it’s really the perfect pop/rock song... especially if you're a musician you want to write a song that has this sort of power.  These are 4 guys who have really learned from the best and are writing their own book on how to create really great music... that lasts.

Get your copy of Guitars, Bass and Drums at The Mystic Disc, The Dutch Tavern or:

For more info on The Reducers:

CD Review: Fatal Film - Thrill'r

CD Review by Adam Wujtewicz
Fatal Film, after a long wait, has finally released their new full length album Thrill'r.  It's filled with mostly old Fatal Film classics as recorded by their latest lineup, Matt Potter (vox and guitar), Dave Freeburg (bass), Sebastian Coppotelli (guitar) and Mike Winslow (drums).

Though the songs are not brand new, the selection is diverse enough to always be interesting but still very cohesive as a record. There's a little punk and a little blues; a few mid tempo songs and a few up tempo songs; some clean tone and some dirty tone; like I said the song selection is great.  This record does give me a different vision of these songs than I previously had, hearing them live.

When I think Fatal Film I think very angular very sharp guitar, a rhythm section that is pummeling and vocals that give you a false sense of calm about the menacing music that's being played.  The production of this record seemed to smooth it all over without making it sound smooth. The guitars are very muddy for the most part and the drums are almost non-existent. The lack of attack in the sound made me see a pop-sensibility I never saw in Fatal Film but the lack of polish on the sound kind of shoots those sensibilities in the foot.

In sharp contrast to all that the vocal sound on this record is amazing. The play of different reverb and distortion on the vocals throughout the record gives them great intensity and makes them stand out.  Matt Potter's lyrics have always been very raw and up front and Thrill'r gives the vocals a sound that matches. There are a few other sonic tidbits that made me do a double take while listening to these familiar songs. The distorted drum roll leading into the closing of "All Our Cash" where the tambourine keeps time is a great way to bring the song to a big finish. They added keyboard on the album's opening track "Last Step" giving the song a really creepy atmosphere and depth. This was an unexpected move considering the stripped down straight ahead approach of this lineup. For me it paid off in spades. I didn't do a double take because I knew that the guitar nose dives at the end of "Sea Of Shitheads" would be coming but I was elated to hear them right up front where they should be and sounding meaner than hell.  The bass sound on this record is also pretty true to form.  It's dirty, it's extremely punchy, it leaves nothing to be desired.  With the guitar sound on this record however, the bass can sometimes get lost in the mix or be overpowering, it's a hard sound to pin down.

My vote for best song on the record is "Sick as a Dog". This was a little surprising because my favorite thing about Fatal Film was their ability to put out more energy and anger than any "genre punk" without ever pigeonholing themselves. However,  Thrill'r made me hear something subtle and interesting about this song that I'm extremely happy to have heard.

CD Review: The Liz Larsons - Talk Like A Male Artist

Review written by Adam Wujtewicz

The now defunct Liz Larsons, (except for 1 or 2 reunion shows),  just released their first post humus record Talk Like a Male Artist.  A title  that is intriguing if nothing else.  If you could cut this record open it would bleed hip-ness and confidence.  Lou Reed would have totally taken the Larson’s out on tour if this album came out around the same time as "Transformer".  

The songs are very well put together and much more interesting than their live show ever showed them to be.  Liz’s vocals are in a lower register than a lot of female vocalist -- they are incredibly strong and they have a charm that you cannot ignore.  Sebastian may be most complimentary guitar player NL has ever seen.  He has never played second fiddle to anyone but instead he has played alongside Liz Larson (The Liz Larsons), Phil Agins, (The Royale Bothers),  Matt Potter, (Fatal Film) and has pushed what they were doing to another level.  The guitars are almost completely panned which gives them enough separation so that you can tell them apart and appreciate what they do for each other.  This is just one thing that makes the production values for this album so good.  

The slight change ups in vocal sound in the song "Petty Clovers" and the snare drum that sounds like it was recorded in a deep cave as it washes across everything at the beginning of "He Digs Lacrosse" are 2 other great points of production on the record.  Talk Like a Male Artist has awesome pop sensibilities but also a great sense of self.  The songs are undeniably old school coffee house artist music, with the banjo and the obvious folk influence, but with such an ability to catch the ear of average listener with catchy melodies and well placed vocal breaks.  The bass and drums are not flashy but this also adds to the pop charm of the record and tight and concise rhythm section will drive and accent the songs rather than distract from them and keep people listening.  It also has all the speed of a pop album in that most of it is pretty mid tempo with a few slower ballads in there and couple sped up sections of songs.  

I must say that this record was a bit of a shocker for me.  I didn’t expect to enjoy it half as much as I did so allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised as well and check out Talk Like a Male Artist from The Liz Larsons.  Also, don’t stop listening to the CD until the bitter end, you’ll be glad you did.



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