music reviews

(Self-released, CD)

Seems “hiatus” is the new hip word in music circles. Burlington’s Kent Variety — who have only been around since fall 2002 — have just returned from one such sabbatical, and they bring with them the follow-up to last year’s 1893 EP. Spectacle is another brief platter, with 18 minutes of music spread over three songs. It may not be much for fans searching for a full-length, but it’ll have to do for now.
The group sounds tight and polished, with the addition of lead guitarist Roger Noyes providing some needed depth to the music. It’s easy to tell that these are seriously talented players. The album boasts many a nimble-fingered solo and well-placed drum fill. The recording itself sounds professional, resonating with a glossy, smooth glow.
In some ways, this veneer is the album’s greatest selling point and biggest detraction. Certainly, good-sounding discs are a treat, especially from local bands with limited recording budgets. The down side, though, is that the perfectly tweaked tracks on Spectacle show little life and excitement. The Kent Variety could be one of the most ripping groups around, but this recording makes them sound like tame, adult-jam popsters.
The tracks themselves are acoustic-guitar-driven, mid-tempo tunes that highlight the sincere vocal style of front man Benjamin Roesch. The real plus of the group, however, is Noyes’ guitar playing. It’s difficult to imagine that the band once existed without him, as his licks and tangling solos push this music to another level.
All in all, The Kent Variety have made a decent disc that showcases a band growing stronger and more interesting with time. But the pressure is on TKV to prove whether they can become local standouts or just the latest purveyors of adult-contemporary jam-rock. Catch them live next Wednesday, March 10, at Club Metronome, with The Groove Components and Charles Dead or Alive.



(Seed Knowledge Records, CD)

This what I imagine Burlington’s Cancer Conspiracy would have sounded like if they had a bit more dub flavor and drum programming. Echo Base Soundsystem are basically an ambient instrumental band with an emphasis on creating textures and almost cinematic sonic landscapes. The drums, recorded live with a great “room sound,” are frequently cut-up or manipulated. This plays well in headphones, rocks the glitch factor, and calls to mind another excellent band called The Notwist. The melodica is another major player on this record. It smoothes out the soundscapes, making a listener feel calm and comfortable, and is drenched in that classic echo that calls Paris or Jamaica to mind. Completing the EBS sound are effects-laden, reverby guitar melodies and slow, bouncing bass lines made up of delicious, round notes. If this is what the kids call “ambient dub,” Echo Base Soundsystem’s take on it succeeds at being soothing and engaging, and is a treat to listen to. Fans of Carrigan will probably also appreciate the interaction of the guitar and vibraphone — another reason to check out these folks when they play Nectar’s next Monday. Recommended for mellow afternoons and relaxing evenings.


(Certain Records, CD)

Texas singer-songwriter Denice Franke is a musical chameleon who’s been writing songs, singing backup, and playing out for more than 20 years. Her well-seasoned sound swings from sparse old-time acoustic to saxophone-tinged soul numbers à la Laura Nyro. Her 2001 album Comfort was produced by another Texas songwriter, Eric Taylor. The opening number, “Little Bit of Poison,” sounds like Gillian Welch at her darkest. By the time we get to track four, “Indifference,” Franke is into that quavery Laura Nyro thing. “100 Miles From Mexico” is a Tom Russell and Townes Van Zant-style border ballad. “Let Me Go” is a parting song in the best Catie Curtis sense. In other words, Denice Franke has the art of songwriting down cold and can cook in many cuisines. She performs at the Good Times Café in Hinesburg next Wednesday, March 10. It promises to be a varied show, and a treat for audience and other songwriters alike.


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