Hooked on sonics
Local CDs are popping up all over
by Brian Goslow
Ever since my wife brought The Beatles Anthology home
last month, I've joked every day before leaving for work and going to bed that
I was going to make like George W. and read the bible. One theme stands out
throughout the Fab Four chronicle: amid the screaming Beatlemaniacs, the visits
to the Maharishi in India, the Lonely Hearts Club Band leading the Summer of
Love, and the insan
ity of John Lennon -- in the end, it was all about the songs. Pop songs. And
Worcester's just been blessed with a slew of new CDs that are stripped back to
the basics and filled with songs that hook in your head and get you tapping
So, what's considered pop music these days? "If it's got some sort of melodic
element or hook that's catchy, it's pop," says the Curtain Society's Roger
Lavallee, who produced a number of the new local releases. "When I tell people
I like pop music, they're thinking of the mainstream stuff like the Backstreet
Boys. I'm thinking Elliott Smith, Badfinger, and the Who."
The British Invasion is still the primary musical inspiration for Matt Erhartic
of Carry the Zero, whose new recordings (available at their gigs on a
self-titled limited-release CD) have already received airplay on WORC's
Worcester Rocks (which should be back in its Sunday 5 to 7 p.m.
time slot this weekend).
A few years ago, Erhartic injected excitement into the local scene with the
band Gas Food Lodging, who brought Beatlesque-meets-the-Jam pop, complete with
suits and ties, into a late-'90s Espresso Bar that was brewing the support base
for the likes of metal rappers Limp Bizkit, Godsmack, Staind, and Reveille. His
initial inspiration came from Green Day, Nirvana, and the bands equated with
grunge. "That's what got me to pick up the guitar," says Erhartic. "I like
concentrating on hooks -- hooks are important to me. That's what makes the
world go round. I listen to a lot of British Invasion groups -- the Kinks,
Zombies, even Peter and Gordon -- all those Rhino compilations are great."
Erhartic also cites inspiration from the late-'70s work of Nick Lowe and Elvis
Despite their short time together, Erhartic, bassist/organist Ed Paquette, and
drummer Bill Gaudette are already performing regularly in the Boston and
Providence areas. They've also played a series of shows in New York City,
including one at the legendary CBGBs, where, ironically, they shared the bill
with Raymond, who feature Chris Principe, Erhartic's former songwriting pal in
Gas Food Lodging.
"I still call him if I need a lyric or hook for a song," says Erhartic," whose
soulful falsetto sends "Running on Empty" into Alex Chilton and the Box Tops
territory. Elsewhere on the CD, the radio-friendly "We'll Get By" continues the
recent trend of local cuts that milk the Bon Jovi/guitar-driven Big '80s sound
for inspiration. And on the CD's finale, Carry the Zero's version of the
Zombies' "Tell Her No," Lavallee manages to capture the late-'60s studio sound
Carry the Zero plan another studio session with Lavallee to record two more
tracks, which they'll add to the current CD before giving it wider release. "We
were happy with it [the original album]," says Erhartic, "but we said we can
still make it bigger." Carry the Zero perform on November 2, 9, and 23 at the
Lucky Dog Music Hall.
Lavallee also had a hand in the final mastering of Vibrotica's debut CD,
Neverbend. The title track features a huge Stone Temple Pilots-meet-Van
Halen (and perhaps Soundgarden) sound that has already received regional
airplay and won the band a slot at the WKPE/Cape-Cod Rockslide 2000
competition. Neal McCarthy and Ivo Matos (who played together in Snow Monkey
Plum) join Worcester native Craig Rawding in a guitar tandem that produces a
big-arena sound that's part show, part pose, and fully enjoyable. Bassist Joe
Wilson, who toured with Rawding in the Heavy Metal Horns, and drummer John
Perkins shepherd Vibrotica's sound through mood-setting atmospheric breaks that
set the listener up to be overwhelmed by the hook-filled choruses on "All
Fours" and "Temporary." There's definitely a hint of early Mötley
Crüe and Scorpions' anthemic rock on "Rose of the Underworld" and
"Overdrive." Vibrotica have seen their fair share of dingy nightclubs, and
there's nothing wrong with producing music with the potential for wide appeal.
Neverbend has its official release party this Saturday at the Lucky Dog
One of the reasons so many tuneful songs are seeing the light of day around the
Worm is that local acts know they have a like-minded ally in Lavallee, who,
with former Nebula guitarist Charles Blaum, converts songwriters' ideas into
reality at Tremelo Lounge studio. "I lucked out because I created this
safe-haven microcosm for pop bands," says Lavallee.
Of course Lavallee's had practice fine-tuning his producing skills with his own
Curtain Society, whose Volume Tone Tempo, has just been released
as part of the Bedazzled Records Singles Club (Volume One/Number Three). The
opening track, "Two Wonderful Stars," builds on the group's well-crafted
layered sound (albeit a bit more frantic than usual), but "Beautiful Song"
takes the group in a new direction. Lavallee joked he was aiming for a Beckish
vocal, but it's a lot closer to what you'd expect from the obscure British
songwriters whose music Lavallee's adored for years. The same is true of
"Motorcycle Baby." You can get a copy of Volume Tone Tempo through the
group's Web site (www.curtainsociety.com), which also features an MP3 of their
version of the Cars' "Moving in Stereo."
Perhaps the sleeper local pop CD single of the year is by God Fearing Man,
who make their area debut at London Billiards this Friday. Sutton bassist
Rob Nemetz recently joined up with guitarists Pongo and Paul Gates and drummer
Mark Sherman (who hail from the Cape and have performed as Punch Monkey). If
you turn up at the show, don't be put off by the number of covers they perform.
Just don't miss their intensely enjoyable hook-laden originals, which will be
featured on their soon-to-be-released second album, Embrace Yourselves.
"Clue of the Day" features big lollipop-sounding guitar licks from Pongo (who
sings lead on the track) and Gates. On the catchy multi-guitar-layered "Fear,"
Sherman sings to a nagging girlfriend who accuses him of thinking too much,
"Society lives inside of me, I spew out all the things I see. . . . My dear,
save your advice for the needy."
Another God Fearing Man original, "Woulda Coulda," was voted one of the
finalists at the Big Noise Song Slam 2000 at the Century Lounge in Providence
last summer. It's hard to believe it could be catchier than the other two, but
then again, according to Nemetz, that's exactly what the group's aiming for.
"We want everyone who walks into our shows walking out humming our songs."
AN ENDLESS STREAM of first-time promoters have been enthusiastically calling
area music writers over the past half-decade harping on their plans for
reviving Ralph's. And just as quickly as they've materialized, they've
disappeared, followed by horrors stories from the bands they booked about the
sad state of the club's sound system. The troubled gear received a major
revamping last Thursday, and to further prove that Ralph Moberly and Buzz
Tubert are serious about bringing their beloved diner/nightspot back to its
past glories, Ralph's has announced a full three months' worth of shows.
Worcester Phoenix Best Music Poll Winners Critical Condition and
Red Mercury are slated to appear on November 11, followed by a Ray
Mason/Charlie Chesterman twin CD-release party on November 18, "an Artie
Sniederman Thanksgiving holiday weekend" with the Crybabies and
Belmondos, and a year-ending bash with Angry Johnny and the
Killbillies. And yes, Ralph's burgers are still the world's best.
Brian Goslow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.