Music

CD Shorts

Reviewed this week: Royal Headache; Michael the Blind; and JP Harris and the Tough Choices

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Royal Headache
Royal Headache
(What's Your Rupture?)

R&B-inflected punk is a new genre for this listener, but on their self-titled debut, these four Australians craft an energetic batch of tunes that fly by in a little over 20 minutes. Despite claims that he takes after the style of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, lead singer Shogun wails with little resemblance to the masters. Instead, his rapid-fire warbling trembles amidst the rasp and fury of solidly-played garage rock. "Psychotic Episode" features lines about "not feeling good" and taking pills to stave off the "pain of the universe," while elsewhere "Girls" finds little else to say other than females look "great" and "fine," especially when they are in "altered states." When the band actually takes the time to slow down on the disc's groove-filled second half, the sound is the closest it will get to actual R&B. It's quite good, too—something the group should remember in the future. —Michael Cimaomo

*

Michael the Blind
Are's & Els
(Alder Street)

Singer/songwriter Michael Levasseur, leader of Michael the Blind, weaves his expressive voice and guitar through a tapestry formed by a variety of instruments. Electric autoharp, violin, trombone, cello, vibraphone and trumpet appear throughout Are's & Els. Tempo changes lend depth; slow vocals lead up to snappy percussion-led sections. Levasseur's guitar and voice give the lyrics life, and the lyrics are the true strength. Clever metaphors and word play explore themes such as the human condition, the poor economy, and love. During "All and More," Levasseur encapsulates how history is changed to suit mass appeal in a few potent verses. "Depth Perception," the eighth track, seems to refer to how deeply people look at the world; most see the surface, but others can see what lies beneath it. Levasseur has that depth perception and the ability to express it in song. —Patrick Kelley

*

JP Harris and the Tough Choices
I'll Keep Calling
(Cow Island)

The latest offering from Northampton-based Cow Island continues the label's tradition of neo-honky tonk and old-school country. Harris sports a basement baritone, complementing his Telecaster-twangy low notes with a well-whiskeyed upper end. The tunes cover all the requisite bases, drenching stories of lost love in buckets of spilled beer and neon-lit dissolution. Harris navigates the honky tonk world with a sure ear for clever lyricizing, offering gems like "These clothes ain't dirty, they're just stained/ from the honky tonk lifestyle I've maintained." The music ranges from hard-edged twang to a surprisingly smooth version of Western swing. If Nashville hadn't turned its attention to mere rock and pop with overbaked Southern accents, players like Harris who hail from the best country tradition would get the attention they richly deserve. —James Heflin

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