Many times, I’ve heard the comment that the Boston Rock Scene isn’t what it used to be. If you follow that reasoning, the magic flew out of the city like a deflating local balloon by the end of the 90’s. But you can come up with dozens of creative, vibrant acts that graced listeners with immense talent since: Powerman 5000, Morphine, Letters to Cleo, to name a few.
More than 30-years on, Boston music still rocks out in area clubs and online or in the ancient Dead Sea formats of CD and vinyl (although the revival of those is another great story). Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the scene certainly remains; the legendary annual ‘Rock and Roll Rumble’ is set to return in April after three inert years dodging COVID.
These four releases have all been reviewed and covered by the music press and, indeed in the case of Barrence Whitfield, have been out for a few years. But credit this article to personal discovery after seeing all of these bands in concert. 2-3 years of avoiding nasty microbes has forced a restart for a lot of us; I’m glad the groups are already ready and rocking.
THE NERVOUS EATERS - MONSTERS AND ANGELS (2022) Wicked Cool Records
The ‘Eaters’ as we called them during the halcyon days of the Boston punk scene (1977-1981) could have been called the house band at the Rat for the sheer number of gigs they played there. Plus, their early singles, including the signature song “Loretta,” came out on Rat Records. Signed to Elektra Records by 1980, the Nervous Eaters was a labelmate with the Cars, releasing a debut album mis-managed by their producer to inexplicably suck the life out of a once-powerful set of songs. The band broke up, reformed a few years later, went on hiatus, changed lineups; but through it all, the central spark has come from guitarist and singer Steve Cataldo.
Fast forward to 2022 and Cataldo is still at it; the hair is gray now and the voice not quite as strong, but the songs are truly better than ever. The new lineup recorded this album during the pandemic and the title of it hints at past trials and newer redemption. The opener “Wild Eyes” is an easy match to the Eaters’ greatest single “Loretta,” and the closer “End of the World Girl” rocks out as loud and brash as any ‘last song of a live set. Elsewhere is Byrds-like shimmering on “Superman’s Hands” and “One Thousand Ships.” An update on the band’s demo tape jewel from the Rat days “Last Chance” finally shines in its latest redo. How exciting to release such a fantastic album after more than 40-years on the job.
THE LOYAL SEAS - STRANGE MORNING IN THE GARDEN (2022) American Laundromat Records
A long way from the punk-rooted Nervous Eaters is Loyal Seas, a project formed by Tanya Donelly and singer/musician Brian Sullivan. I’ve been a Donelly fan since Throwing Muses days, but that crystallized fully during the Belly and solo years in the 90’s. As a committed artist, she’s never stopped creating with many musicians including Sullivan and his band Dylan in the Movies in 2006. The friendship continued through the years and has culminated, so far, in this group collaboration and album released in the summer of 2022.
Noted Boston music writer Jim Sullivan interviewed Donelly last year and she acknowledged that its more of (Brian) Sullivan’s show than hers, but the blend is wonderfully seamless. The combination has been called ‘dream-pop’ and it's an apt description. I told Brian, who sings along with Donelly that it sends me to a similar place as Kate Bush, and he agreed. Certainly dreamy; I don’t know about pop, but its sticks in your head for sure.
GHOSTS OF JUPITER - KEEPERS OF THE NEWBORN GREEN (2021) Band’s indie label
The Ghosts of Jupiter is a somewhat mysterious entity in the Boston area with a limited, almost exclusive, club and touring schedule. They do not perform as prolifically as most bands, so when you see a local date, it’s a good idea to motivate. Gathered about the prodigious musical talents of keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Nate Wilson, the group is known for spatial sonic landscaping as well as aggressive guitar-driven moments.
This album is the band’s fourth and it invokes the era of early English psychedelia when traditional folk and rock were opening into wide-open vistas, more than not inspired by the various mind-expanding chemical currencies either smoked or dissolved under the tongue at the time. Visions of early Pink Floyd, Traffic, Family, Gong, Man and others are easy to hear, but Ghosts crafted a solidly personal album that builds on the work of those bands to stand on its own.
BARRENCE WHITFIELD & THE SAVAGES- SOUL FLOWERS OF TITAN (2018)BLOODSHOT RECORDS
I recently saw Whitfield on a double bill with Nervous Eaters and was amazed that after 40-years of singing, bellowing, and cheerleading onstage, the riveting talent still has a voice to match his earlier years. Anchored by ex-DMZ guitarist Peter Greenberg, the Savages staked out a style based on soul music, especially the infant period when R & B formed rock and roll, as well as the punk power Greenburg embraced in his early bands. Think James Brown to Iggy Pop.
This album came out in 2018 (the band has released one since – a collection of Sun Ra covers) and through the twelve tracks, Whitfield joyously applies the growling voice and shouts that have made him an international sensation from America to the BBC and Europe for years. For all I know they are also celebrities in Katmandu. There have been 15 releases out over the years, but this one holds its own with all of ‘em!