Geoff’s Night Out: Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies with Tom Bianchi at Front Street Concerts

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies with Tom Bianchi

Front Street Concerts, Hopkinton, MA

July 30, 2016

Front Street Concerts

Front Street Concerts; photo by Geoff Wilbur

One of my favorite house concert venues, Front Street Concerts is a popular place to catch great music in a backyard setting out here in the outer suburbs of Boston. The timing for this evening’s concert was pretty good, a cooler night than most we’ve experience the last couple weeks, and quite comfortable by the time the concert was in full swing. Tonight’s gig featured Metro Boston’s not-so-hidden gem Danielle Miraglia and her band the Glory Junkies with her husband, Boston music scene veteran extraordinaire Tom Bianchi, serving as her opening act.

Danielle Miraglia & Tom Bianchi

Danielle Miraglia & Tom Bianchi; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Opening Act: Tom Bianchi

This was my first time catching one of Tom’s sets, and it was the fun experience I was told to expect.

Tom Bianchi

Tom Bianchi; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Tom was tuneful and delivered nearly as broad a mix of acoustic folk-rock as possible within a short set that mixed legitimate acoutic guitar (and electric bass) chops and fun between-song banter into a folky froth. Indeed, the set was mostly acoustic but occasionally featured his electric bass.

As usual, I didn’t ask about song titles, so I may get them wrong, but here goes:

Tom opened with a self-described new song, “My Old Friend,” which featured acoustic guitar strumming, Tom’s engaging, bit-of-a-growl vocal style, and his big, welcoming personality.

The several-song set closed with an interestingly matched couplet, as Tom himself pointed out, featuring first an original anti-cover-song song, then his cover of the Beatles’ “Something.”

It’s obvious from even this short set why Tom is such a popular local performer. His performance comes across a bit like organized chaos… a guaranteed fun night out!

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Headliner: Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies

Danielle Miraglia was the headliner tonight with her band, the Glory Junkies – Laurence Scudder (viola), Jim Larkin (bass), and Chris Anzalone (drums). Favorites around the Boston area and up and down the east coast, Danielle and her band packed the house – OK, the barn and the yard – at Front Street Concerts.

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies; photo by Geoff Wilbur

I reviewed Danielle’s February gig at Atwood’s Tavern, and I’m not sure I’ll ever write a better description of her blue-chip band’s rockin’ blues style than I did in that review; suffice it to say, Danielle Miraglia and the Glory Junkies again delivered a performance of folk-influenced, rock-inspired, subgenre-crossing blues, all with a sly, sarcastic, fun, and sometimes heartfelt edge. The band’s leader and her partners-in-crime seem to always be at the top of their games; this gig was no exception.

The band kicked things off by getting the crowd fully engaged with “See the Light” from Danielle’s Box of Troubles album, followed by the rollocking “Fair Warning” from her latest release, Glory Junkies.

Danielle Miraglia

Danielle Miraglia; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Popular culture-inspired “Famous for Nothing” followed, as did Danielle’s amazing ability to channel Janis Joplin in an inspired Joplin cover. Here, as elsewhere, Scudder’s inspired viola work stood out.

A few songs later, Danielle ditched the band for three songs and went acoustic, reaching back three albums for “Snow Globe” and following it with a new song (“Silence Was Your Weapon”?), both quite sensitive songs that spoke to the audience. The highlight of the acoustic trifecta for me, though, was Danielle’s new “empowerment” song, a tune I’d never heard before, “Aim Low.” Instant classic. Like a musical demotivational poster.

The return of the band featured Danielle growling along with some well-placed viola on “Don’t Pray For Me,” followed by “Stagger Lee,” an energetic number that always brings to my mind an image of a railroad train chugging full-speed down the tracks.

The set closed with Tom Bianchi joining the band for its final three songs, closing with a rendition of Tom Waits’ “3:19” that, a Danielle Miraglia concert staple that she truly makes her own.

The evening ended with one of my favorite Danielle Miraglia tunes, a rafter-shaking performance of “Choir.” And, of course, the evening ended too soon.

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

The “shows” page on Danielle’s website lists her next gig as Friday, August 5th at Atwood’s Tavern opening for the Tim Gearan Band. Other upcoming scheduled shows include the Kingsville Folk Festival in Kingsville, Ontario on Saturday, August 13th; Saturday, September 3rd at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine, opening for The Mystix; Friday, September 16th at the Burlap and Bean in Newtown Square, PA with Beacoup Blue; a Saturday, September 17th house concert in Reston, VA; Saturday, September 18th at World Cafe Live at the Queen in Wilmington, DE with Kyle Swartzwelder; and Saturday, October 1 at Old Sloop Coffeehouse in Rockport, MA with Jon Shain.

Tom’s performances page lists his weekly local Somerville/Cambridge residencies: Thursday nights with the Baker Thomas Band at Toad; Sunday nights as host, emcee, and performer at the Burren Backroom Acoustic Music Series; and Monday nights as host and emcee of the Lizard Lounge Open Mic Challenge.

Front Street Concerts has one upcoming concert currently scheduled: Florent Dufour on Saturday, September, 10th.

Album Review: Suit of Lights – Break Open the Head

Suit of Lights – Break Open the Head

Suit of Lights/Joe Darone

photo by The Lonely Doll; photo courtesy of Planetary Group

The Connection

Formerly of the Fiendz and The Rosenbergs, Joe Darone founded Suit of Lights in 2003.  David Fagin of The Rosenbergs was interviewed by Pam West in the August 2001 Industry Edition of Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter. That connection – the fact that my former publication interviewed Joe’s old band – was enough to pique my interest.

Album Review of Suit of Lights: Break Open the Head

Suit of Lights - Break Open the Head

image courtesy of Planetary Group

Break Open the Head, the follow-up to Suit of Lights’ critically acclaimed Shine On Forever, gives the immediate impression of being a concept album. I haven’t examined the lyrics for a storyline – it’s not important, though it makes for interesting consideration – but the songs themselves are largely psychological and “inside the head” in nature, and the overall flavor of the album’s ebb and flow is that of a ’70s rock opera. The music soars, the drums crash, and the sonic rises and falls are akin to those of the late, great, overly-ambitious concept disc, with the songs correlated closely enough to serve well as a soundtrack album for a non-existent film.

Though the hoarse, gravelly, strained vocal style may not trade well with a broader, more mainstream listening public, it is tailor-made for Break Open the Head‘s edgy, experimental-ish, cutting-edge theatrical alt-rock.

Suit of Lights/Joe Darone

photo by The Lonely Doll; photo courtesy of Planetary Group

The album opens energetically with the title track. “Break Open the Head” is an attention-grabber, with tempo changes, meandering bridges, and harsh, dichotomous musical peaks and valleys.

A few other songs could also cross over to more mainstream listeners, though that isn’t the apparent goal of this artistic endeavor. For example, “Ritual. Routine. Control.” has a flowing, broader musical appeal within its irregular beat-driven soul. “Monsters” also catches the ear with its occasional hook among the rising, falling, and crashing that give the track its texture.

“Revolution of You,” particularly due to its song placement after the melancholy “Zero Camera,” provides an uplifting, ear-catching respite. Indeed, all of the songs seem specifically placed within the album to provide a flow or contrast with the tracks around them, and I’m not convinced this tune would stand out as much by itself if not for its specific placement within the ebb and flow of Break Open the Head.

Suit of Lights/Joe Darone

photo by The Lonely Doll; photo courtesy of Planetary Group

You, of course, may be drawn to other tracks, depending on your inclination toward a particular blend of rhythm, pace, and melody and, of course, placement among the rhythms and beats of this carefully-orchestrated alt-rock collection.

Overall, Break Open the Head is an experimental progressive rock fan’s dream; it’s the musical version of an auto manufacturer’s “concept car,” with uneven but interesting results that are likely to inspire creativity in others both within and beyond the the field of music. And that seems to be the point. Whether it speaks to you or not, there’s no denying Break Open the Head is an ambitious attempt to play at the edges of – and perhaps expand – the progressive musical envelope.

However this album strikes you, though, expect something different from Suit of Lights’ next. As Joe Darone noted in the band’s bio, “Some bands go for 30 years with one sound, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s boring to me.”

The Band’s Links

The band’s main dot-com web address directs to a music, merch, and video page. Other band links are the Suit of Lights Facebook page and Joe Darone’s Twitter account.

Geoff’s Night Out: The Mychael David Project at Ellsworth-McAfee Park

The Mychael David Project

Ellsworth-McAfee Park (Northborough Summer Concert Series), Northborough, MA

July 14, 2016

The Mychael David Project at Ellsworth-McAfee Park

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Backstory: About the Northborough Summer Concert Series

Of all of the local summer concert series, Northborough is one of my favorites. Four shows per summer, at 6:00 pm every other Thursday (with Sunday as a rain date). They tend to book top-notch performers (as do many of the local summer concert series), but just as importantly, the seating area is flat and comfortable, there is generally at least one food option if you don’t have time to pack a picnic basket, and there’s plenty of parking, though for those who arrive late it’s grass parking. When I first see the list of performers each year, I check them out online, and even though my availability is the key determinant of whether or not I attend, a quick listen to Mychael David’s music online suggested this was a show I didn’t want to miss.

The Show

With storms approaching, the organizers kept a close eye on the weather but made the appropriate call… just barely; the rain began falling during my drive home after the show. The result of the approaching storm, however, was a relatively cool summer evening ideal for an outdoor concert. In spite of weather concerns, the turnout was very good. Now, about the concert…

The Mychael David Project at Ellsworth-McAfee Park

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Mychael’s rich, full, deep, emotive vocals are this band’s calling card. It’s a special voice, capable of everything from ballads to rockers and great on the mid-tempo, laid-back-but-still-energetic songs that seem to be his sweet spot. He gets support from Susan Jayne on vocals, some impressive guitar shredding from guitarist Howie Swett, and some sweet keyboard work from Glenn Stegner, with the tight rhythm section of Pete Early and DC Carter rounding out his concert-caliber line-up.

Yes, there’s traffic in downtown Northborough at this time of day, so I may have missed the first song or two, but upon my arrival I was treated to the fun, rockin’ Southern rock-style country number “It’s All About Tonight” (with apologies to the artist if I don’t get the song titles quite right).

The band showed its versatility over the course of the evening. Mychael’s “Heartbreak Song” showcased his deep, emotional, tear-jerking vocals. The energy and tempo changes within “Hang on Tight” set it apart as a worthy listen. And “Little By Little,” a mid-tempo duet with Susan, was a pleasant, almost Buffett-esque tune with perhaps a little more guitar twang and some rocking Howie Swett axework.

The Mychael David Project at Ellsworth-McAfee Park

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Also worth noting were the Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison Blues” cover that got the crowd clapping along and took full advantage of the low end of Mychael’s vocals. And “Take a Lot to Make a Livin’,” a rollicking working-man’s country rocker; it’s so effective because Mychael delivers it with such conviction.

“Smoke and Ash” sported a growly vocal and a little funky guitar riff, while even on a mid-tempo twanger like “Goodbye is Still Goodbye,” Mychael’s vocals are still as crisp and clear as ever while still projecting full emotion. Did I mention that there’s a special nature to his vocal talent? I believe I did.

Finally, toward the end of the show, Mychael and band rolled out his biggest hit, “Nothin’,” a mid-tempo tune with lyrics that really connect, especially thanks to Mychael’s deep, emotional, powerful voice. The song is very catchy; I can see easily why it was a hit.

Looking Ahead

The Mychael David Project at Ellsworth-McAfee Park

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Mychael David Project lists a lot of local dates over the coming months, so you may have an opportunity to catch the band yourself if you live in New England, particularly in eastern or central Massachusetts. The next few shows listed are Friday, July 22nd for the Center of Hope Benefit at the Indian Ranch in Webster, MA; Saturday, July 30th at Halligan’s in Auburn, MA; Saturday, August 6th for the Massachusetts State Chili Cookoff at the American Legion in Winchendon, MA; Saturday, August 13th at Forty’s in Leominster, MA; and Saturday, August 13th at the Straw Hollow Engine Show on Cross Street in Boylston, MA. Check the “Tour” page on Mychael’s website for additional information on those and additional upcoming shows in Massachusetts, New Hamphire, and at the Woodstock Fair in Woodstock, CT.

As for the Northborough Summer Concert Series, there are still two more upcoming concerts. Hit the Bus performs Thursday, July 28th, and Eclipse closes this summer’s series on Thursday, August 11th. Shows run from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. You can find more information on the Northborough Community Affairs Committee’s website here.

Album Review: Desk – All-American Awesome

Desk – All-American Awesome

Desk

photo by Tom Robeiro; photo courtesy of Desk

Album Review of Desk: All-American Awesome

Desk could be described as a “supergroup” of New England rockers, featuring members of Vary Lumar, Body English and the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra, Downcity Armory, and AdaptorAdaptor. Musically, though, what is the end result?

I try to listen to new music without reading too much in advance of my first listen, and my immediate first impression of Desk was that I heard a heavy dose of early-era Kiss. If I had merely scanned the band’s logo, the Kiss influence would have been apparent. But I’ll resist writing too much about the band’s backstory, which you can read on the Desk website here, and focus on the music.

Desk - All-American Awesome

image courtesy of Desk

You can almost close your eyes and sense some healthy tongue-in-cheekness when listening to All-American Awesome, but the album quickly transcends that. Indeed, the songs will rock your face off, and upon closer consideration, the album is clearly much more homage than satire, transporting itself musically back to a time when power chords dominated arenas and rock was king. In the end, the album is best described as a tome of respect… with a smirk.

The seven-track album opens with “Wisdom of the World,” a classic arena-rocking album opener; it’s one of the tracks on the 7-song disc that clearly recalls 1970s, full-makeup Kiss.

Among other standout tracks, “Cowboys in Boston” is essentially a civic pride anthem… “because,” as the song insists, “we’re all-American awesome in Beantown.” Representative of Desk’s median state on this disc, “Cowboys in Boston” delivers rough-hewn, high power vocals, a pulsing beat, and a drum kit that is taking the beating of its life. Bonus points, by the way, for inventing the word “fixiation.” There’s a video for this song, too, which I can describe in three words: Fire! Fire! Fire!

Desk

photo by Tom Robeiro; photo courtesy of Desk

“Love” wallops with a sort of swamp rock boogie hook, tempo changes, a guitar solo, and vocal roars. “Great American Stupid,” meanwhile is more of a straight-ahead distorted guitar rock onslaught.

And the album closes with a raucous song that’s as stylistically Kiss-esque as the album-opener, “(You’re) Hot (But You’re a) Problem.” Screeching guitars, vocals that inspire listeners (and, I presume, concertgoers) to shout along, and powerful drums drive this song, while wild-dog howls end it. And the disc.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what I thought of this collection. It feels a little loose, the vocals sometimes at the edge of tunefulness. But after a few listens, I realized that unfiltered energy is the album’s greatest strength. Raw, unsweetened, ’70s-style hard rock. And now I have a hard time choosing just one or two favorites. Let this album rock you for a while. Like a bad seed, it’ll grow into a bad apple tree – one that’ll scream “Kiss this!”

Looking Ahead

The album leaves me confident that Desk kills it live. The only upcoming live gig listed on Desk’s website right now is this Saturday, July 16th, at The Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain, MA. If you can’t make it, watch the band’s “shows” page for additional upcoming dates as they’re added.

Geoff’s Night Out: TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

TOS

The Pleasant Cafe, Maynard, MA

July 9, 2016

The Backstory

I stumbled across an announcement for this show a few days ago while scanning a list of local events. So I checked out TOS’s music and was extremely impressed by the songs posted on the band’s YouTube channel. After that, I looked at the band’s website, and I was shocked to learn the band members were all aged 16-20. So much talent for such a young band. I was glad I was able to fit the band’s Saturday show into my schedule.

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Concert

TOS delivers alt-rock with a modern edge and an old-school haunting vocal wail. Vocally, I hear a bit of Lush and perhaps a hint of Cocteau Twins, but TOS’s music is much more broadly accessible, more rocking. TOS’s repertoire of songs is mostly mid-tempo but with some variance, the music is engaging, and I’d pit this band against the best bar bands in any town. It’s also music that translates well to the studio, which is a bonus.

This particular gig was TOS’s album release show, launching its disc Killer. For the first set, in fact, the band performed its new album beginning to end. The second set featured some of the band’s new songs and some old ones.

Before I get any farther, I should point out something that’s apparent from the beginning. There can be no mistake. The original, unique flavor that is TOS emanates from the voice, phrasing, and songwriting of Sophia Ward. The rest of the band is tight and talented, and they have exceptional rapport on stage and, I can only assume, in the studio. Such a strong band by itself can be a bar scene favorite; add strong songwriting and an identifiable, memorable vocalist, and you have lightning in a bottle.

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Each band member contributes memorable segments to the songs – each, in fact, carries some of the songs. Lead guitarist Jackson Parker contributes well-placed, song-moving solos. Rhythm guitarist Jonathan Sommer provides memorably catchy hooks, particularly during a few of the songs on which he wields the acoustic axe. Bass player Jae Mannion keeps a steady rhythm, more noticeable on this evening during the second set, when he more often delivered the catchy hooks that held the songs together. And skinsman Mitch Rolla occasionally goes beyond just keeping a steady beat, providing subtle drum fills that add needed texture as a backdrop behind the melodies, noticeable for those who paid attention on several of the tunes performed this evening.

The first set opened with “Death of Me,” a song that combines Sophia’s haunting vocals with driving rhythm and a steady beat. One of the catchier songs on the album, it’s a solid welcome to the album and served to grab the audience’s attention from the very start of the evening. It was followed by “Soul Keeper,” a song that augments great vocal tone with an engaging song structure that builds to power before stopping cold in places. “Cry Baby,” meanwhile, was a bit poppier, driven by an energetic acoustic guitar line and what I can best describe as oh-so-cool, “That Thing You Do”-esque drumming.

I’d love to go song-by-song through the set, but I’ll just mention a couple more of the standouts. “Reckless” is a raucous rocker in which the bass line stands out as a sneaky-monster hook while featuring a nice little guitar solo and showcasing the singer’s vocal power and a few nice vocal flourishes. And set album-closer “Killer” is a powerful song whose tone, vocals, drumming, and even the speed-acoustic guitar solo recall a lava lamp-and-black light, late ’60s/early ’70s classic rock vibe.

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The band opened the second set with a great cover of the Beatles “In My Life,” then slipped into a straight up hoarse-vocalled alt-rock number, “Best You’ve Ever Had.”

Other notable tunes in the second set included “Primadonna,” a driving pop song with a somewhat different sound featuring a little bluesy and funky rhythm; “Alphabet Hate,” a sad but thoughtful song that’s delivered a bit angry; “Side Effects,” a slow, rhythmic, steady balladic song with a hint of a ’70s rock singer-songwriter vibe; and “Without You,” a poppy alt-rocker with a hooky bass rhythm and slick electric guitar solo that doubles as an audience participation clap-along song. The set closed with “Money,” a tune with a prominent bass line and blistering-though-subtle guitar solo that showcases the singer’s otherwordly trademark alt-rock vocal wail.

With the crowd calling for an encore, TOS delivered the goods with “You Don’t Know.” Featuring a strong bass line and catchy rhythm guitar that seems to both mimic and mock the vocals, this is a song that brings the energy level in the room to a fever pitch. Talk about ending the show on a high note!

Brimming with talent, don’t dismiss this band because of its youth; TOS could rock any bar in Boston… or New York… or London with those cities’ best. These musicians are ready for a big stage. I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

Looking Ahead

TOS has three shows listed on its website: July 24th at The Raven in Worcester, MA; August 5th at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, NH; and August 8th at the Natick Commons in Natick, MA. Keep an eye on the band’s website for additional upcoming dates.

Also expect to see a review of the band’s album, Killer, on this website in the coming months. I have a few albums in the queue ahead of it, but I have a copy of the disc and look forward to penning its review.

Album Review: Debbie Hennessey – No Longer Broken

Debbie Hennessey – No Longer Broken

Debbie Hennessey

photo courtesy of Debbie Hennessey

Album Review of Debbie Hennessey: No Longer Broken

Debbie Hennessey‘s music is folk-styled songwriting with an overarching country/Americana musical style, but her voice is that of a gravelly rock vocalist, and she augments that effectively with occasional mid-tempo rock electric guitar parts. It’s a combination that allows her to stand out from otherwise-similar artists.

Debbie Hennessey - No Longer Broken

image courtesy of Debbie Hennessey

In fact, the album begins with a rock beat and a guitar riff that dances through the rhythm, kicking off with soft rock-flavored “Every Song is You.” Like so many of Debbie’s songs, this one is simultaneously energetic and laid-back.

It’s followed by what may be the catchiest song on the disc, “Whiskey Charm,” with Southwestern guitar flair and a stop-and-start rhythmic beat complementing Hennessey’s persistent vocals.

Another song that jumps out is “You Can’t Unpull a Trigger,” featuring its harmonica and thoughtfully-constructed lyrics, forcefully delivered with attitude by Hennessey.

Debbie Hennessey

photo courtesy of Debbie Hennessey

Debbie slows things down nicely, too, with a mellow, western-tinged guitar line supporting the heartfelt vocals in “Let Me Go.” A purer country ballad is “Sugar and Rain,” where subtly dancing guitar lines combine a vocal touch that holds onto some lyrics just that extra split-second for emotion to produce a powerful, impactful country crooner.

The disc closes with “Woman,” a duet ballad in which Debbie’s voice is nicely offset by Lexie Hofer’s crisper, higher tone. A great way to end a solid disc.

In its entirely, No Longer Broken lands on the soft to mid-tempo rock end of the country music spectrum. Her songs would blend well on a playlist with the Eagles, Stevie Nicks, Karen Nash, and Foreigner. Such a strong album, of course, was to be expected from a singer like Debbie Hennessey, whose web page lists accolades spanning more than a decade.

Looking Ahead

There are no upcoming dates listed on Debbie’s concert calendar, but keep an eye out for future gigs from this talented L.A.-based singer.