THE BEST LOCAL ALBUMS OF 2012
AND ARTISTS TO WATCH THIS YEAR
By Nick Tsui, Rita Savard & Joe Graham
Nothing compares to getting up close and personal with amazing music at your favorite neighborhood watering hole.
The experience of listening to performers live and in the raw, on a small stage without studio effects and high ticket prices also rolls out an opportunity to interact with the artists who move you.
Thereâs so much great music happening right in your own backyard. Everyday. And Howl doesnât want you to miss a beat.
We rounded up our picks for noteworthy homegrown bands and solo performers of 2012, and those who you should definitely be watching out for in 2013.
Download their music and keep your eyes on the Howl calendar to catch them live at a venue near you.
Hold onto your face kids. Shods leader Kevin Stevenson returned to the local music scene with a vengeance last year, fronting a power trio that cranks out some of the most gritty, raw hard-driving rock weâve heard in a long time. Unholy IIIâs âRight in the Eyeâ is a perfect mix of melody and mayhem. The kind that makes you want to crank it up loud in the car and sing along with Stevenonâs angry lyrics. Title track âRight in the Eyeâ along with âCarjack,â âEvil,â âBlacklistâ and âI Donât Want to Hear Itâ are all winners off this 10-song collection. We wouldnât want to be any of Stevensonâs exes, but damn, we do want to be front and center at the stage when he unleashes his feelings on a six-string charged with attitude. This is one hell of a trio to see live. Listen here.
This Amesbury foursome made up of brothers Joe and Chris Plante, David Drounin and Aaron Zaroulis, is on a fast-track to success. The Brew released their third album from the bandâs ambitious âTriptychâ project in 2012. âHard Enough to Breakâ followed 2011âs piano laden âA Garden in the Snowâ and âLight From Below,â that showcased their jam-band beginnings along with a cover of Led Zeppelinâs âGoing to Califronia.â After a 2012 tour that helped The Brew build their name across the U.S., and their popular single âWhen Darkness Fallsâ getting loads of radio airplay, the band headlined a big show at Boarding House Park for the Lowell Summer Music Series in August â on the same stage where they previously opened for the B-52s, Bruce Hornsby and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Their headlining night also doubled as the release party for âHard Enough to Break,â which the band says pays homage to the days when radio introduced them to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Queen. Listen here.
Hereâs where the best elements of American music meet â rock songs that mean something, indelible melodies and songwriting that sticks in your head and has you humming along a week later. For people who want their music pure and straight forward, it doesnât get better than Lowell native Peter Lavender whose talents managed to catch the ear of Columbia Records producer Ralph Shuckett earlier in his career. His 2012 Middle Street album is chock full of songs too catchy and clever to be ignored, like âDuck Lady and Nails,â a tune based on the true story of a former Lowell city building inspector accused of swindling an old woman for her house. Listen here.
Hailing from Billerica, this born-to-be country star has been singing since she learned how to talk. Country became Kristaâs calling and with 2012âs âLike it or Notâ she shoots and scores. With a voice both soulful and powerful, the young singer/songwriter has been playing clubs and coffee shops all over Greater Lowell â and was tapped to sing the national anthem for the Boston Celtics and Red Sox. Before January is over, sheâll head back to Nashville, where she recorded her six-song debut album. âNashville is the heart of country music, and I love that I get to bring those influences back home to Boston,â Angelucci says. Be sure to catch her at Garcia Brogan's on January 15, before she heads south. Listen here.
Agressive and haunting yet atmospherically beautiful, this North Chelmsford trioâs progressive metal infusion feels a little like a slap and a kiss. These virtuosos are playing on a world stage. Their free EP, "Episode 01: Like Peering Into The Deepest Ocean Abyss", has been downloaded over 1,000 times from as far away as Turkey, Egypt, Finland and Sweden. Lots of impeccable drumming by Greg Murphy bursts through a killer combination of heavy riffs managing to be both technical and artsy. The new year means some new tunes in the works for these guys. If theyâre reading this â guys, we know youâre huge U2 fans so consider this a request for 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.' Also, something from My Bloody Valentine would be cool too. Oh, and try to open up for Muse on their next tour, OK? Thanks. Sincerely, Nick Tsui. Listen here.
Montbleauâs 2012 âFor Higherâ is a smokinâ hot collection of songs with a little bit of everything and the kitchen sink thrown in. Snazzy horn lines, blackwater guitar licks, thumping bass â you want it, itâs in there. This soul filled, groovy collection of originals and obscure covers has Montbleau backed up by a dream team of some of New Orleansâ finest musicians. Still, take a song like the ballad âJust Perfectâ and weâre all reminded what great vocals and a guitar can accomplish. You can catch Montbleau, who was also nominated for a 2012 MTV Music Award for Best Concert Experience, on Jan. 28, 29 and 30th, at the legendary Club Passim in Cambridge. Listen here.
Originally from Indiana, Kaitlinâs musical journey led to Lowell where rows of burnished bricks, cobblestones and canals, lonely hearts and barflies, became the inspiration for her 2012 'Trouble With Dibble" album. Her collection of poetic songs read like a love letter to Lowell, conjuring images of dreams, heartache, friendships and road adventures â even a stint working in a strip club on the track âLive Nude Girlsâ â all hanging over a backdrop of great melodies, great grooves and most of all, great fun. Listen here.
A guitaristâs guitarist, youâll most likely find Johnson sharing the stage â or many stages in the same night â as he lends his fretwork to musicians all around Greater Lowell from Peter Lavender and Arte K. to Kaitlin Dibble and the Big Trouble band. His new 13-track CD âThe Lone Wolf Diaries,â released on 12/21/12 is inventive, playful and affecting from the swampy guitar on opening track âStrange Birdâ to the futuristic theremin-filled âTinkerâ and soaring melodies on âNature Seeks a Balance.â As usual, Johnsonâs signature guitar style is smooth with harmonized leads and crisp snapping chords. Unearthing a vein of craftsmanship thatâs rarely seen these days without the aid of a drum machine, every instrument you hear is being played by Johnson on this self-produced opus. Listen here.
Organic black metal made in Massachusetts, Obsidian Tongue recorded and mixed their debut album âVolume 1: Subradiant Architectureâ onto vintage tape machines in March 2012. The result: massive amounts of head-banging worthy groove. The beauty lies in the layers we get from dynamic duo Brendan James Hayter and Greg Murphy. Peel back each one until you reach the core and discover an undeniable mix of gut-punching power and atmospheric melody. After a successful 2012 tour, these guys are already talking about a new album. Stay tuned for more. Listen here.
If thereâs a southern heart beating loud north of Boston, itâs the Tom Dixon Band. After the release of two new singles in November 2012, followed by 2011âs Truckinâ album, itâs really no surprise that Dixon is packing his bags and headed for Nashville to chase the dream. If youâre a fan of country, let your fingers guide you to the download button now because youâre cheating yourself if you donât. The musicianship on their latest efforts, like âTreemont Bottom Lineâ is right up there with any of todayâs big names in alt country rock. Guitar work by David Wilson, as John Sebastian might say, plays âclean as country water.â Combine that with Tom Dixonâs raw vocal talent, Leo Melansonâs tasty steel guitar and a rhythm section built to bring the house down thanks to John âCrawdaddyâ Crawfordâs bass and Billy âThumpahâ Ferraroâs drums, and youâve got rock hard country ready to kick ass and take names. Listen here.
BENEATH THE SHEETS
"Forever Loud" is the name of this power pop bandâs new game. BTS has been on the Lowell map for a while, churning out house party tracks with catchy hooks and audience-grabbing dance beats to keep the floor hoppinâ. But in November, they cranked it up a notch with the release of their single âSheâs Bad And She Knows It,â a teaser to the new EP coming out this spring. The band hasnât unveiled a release date for the full album but theyâre keeping the energy high by playing a string of shows featuring new singles. The next show will be Feb. 22 at Wally's Pub for their "This Is How We Do It" release party in celebration of finally putting together a studio version of Montell Jordan's big R&B classic. Listen here.
Keep your ears open for these names in 2013:
D-TENSION & EFFECT
A well-known and respected music producer on Bostonâs indie rap scene, former WFNX radio host and a fast-rising young comedian, Steve Perez (D-Tension) is the definition of a quality entertainer. The beauty of his artistry is this â even if youâre not a huge fan of rap or hip-hop, it doesnât matter. You canât help liking D-Tensionâs music. He has a natural-born talent for spinning great beats and hooking listerns in with his laugh-out-loud misadventures.
Enter Chris Butler as Effect. Together, they form Los Wunder Twins Del Rap and in Lowell, they are untouchable as the kings of old-school rhyme splitting.
As luck would have it, both emcees have a new album dropping this year. Chris Butler's (Effect) album "You Don't Love Me and I Don't Care" is due to surface sometime in spring. Guests include Illicit, Pat G., Reks, Celph, and of course, D. First single hits the radio in a month or so.
One of Howlâs favorite solo Effect numbers is the side splittingly funny ode to Lois Lane herself, âDear Margot Kidder,â from his 2011 "Simply Dope" CD. Watch here.
D-Tensionâs latest opus is slated for April. An interesting concept, the five-song EP, "Subliminal Minded," was inspired by a dream he had about a KRS One concert.
"I woke up and wrote all of the songs down and started recording them as fast as I could so I wouldn't lose that inspiration. So while in my mind, these are new KRS One songs, they were actually written by my subconscious," he says.
Also, be on the lookout for a possible new secret project that according to D, "will be unlike any record I have ever released." Listen to D-Tension here.
Welcome to another level of âOh My Godâ axemanship. Johnny has been the go-to guitar player for professionals like Bobby Whitlock, J. Geils and Peter Wolf. And you know when Gibson comes a knockinâ to make a signature guitar in your honor, well, need we say more? Walking a fine line between rock, jazz and blues, critics have been awe-struck by the Malden native, finding it hard to describe his style. A fan of the greats â Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page â Johnny taps into the past but adds his unique fingerprint to the sound, creating fret work that other guitar players strive to emulate. Last year, he was featured on âThank You Les,â a CD documentary tribute to Les Paul, and was also a featured guitarist in Jerad Finckâs song âBeautifulâ from the EP âStuck In Your Riddle.â Word on the street is Johnny A. is coming out with a new CD in 2013. Listen here.
THE TEN FOOT POLECATS
Ready for a rolickinâ gutbucket juke joint hoedown? Well, hoo doggy, you wonât want to miss this trio out of Eastern Mass that can take a room from slow-burning to a vigorous boil in under 60 seconds. The Ten Foot Polecats is a Back Page lounge favorite for a reason. Drawing their influence from the deep roots of northern Mississippi Hill Country, Jim Chilsonâs cigar box guitar and Delta blues vocals mixed with Dave Darlingâs greasily tuneful drum groove lends to a psychobilly sound all their own. Be sure to catch these cats and their new album coming out in March/April. Listen here.
In the vast sky of New England performers, Sarah Blacker hangs brightly. A downhome soul with a knack for ticking off expressive meoldies, Blacker will be releasing a new EP in early 2013 called "Precious Little Things." Sarah will also be opening for Paula Cole at The Bull Run on Jan 19th and will appear live on WCAP on Monday Jan. 14, at 1p.m. If you haven't heard of Blacker before, giver her a listen. We promise it's worth it. Fade to Blacker here.
ABBIE BARRETT AND THE LAST DATE
Abbie Barrett's music is like the dawn of a new day. With warmth and honesty, it just makes you feel like everything's going to be OK. Her dreamy waltz, "Draw Me In" is simply divine. Good news is, this rising star will soon be releasing the final CD in "The Triples" series, Vol III (the first 2 were awesome). In fact, Vol II is Joe Gâs choice for CD of the Year. Abbie knows how to write a song. Listen here.
Nemes (promounced Neemis) had a 2012 like no other act, signing a record deal, a license agreement and performing over 150 dates including The SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas last March. On Dec. 29, the band recorded with Grammy winning producer Ducky Carlise. Their new CD will drop before the spring. Listen here.
DRESSED FOR THE OCASSION
Dressed for the Occasion is currently in the studio putting the finishing touches on their debut CD targeting a late February release date. One of the areaâs best new acts, their retro/rockabilly revival sound is a fan favorite everywhere they play. Listen here.
After a successful show at Gemstones that featured the original lineup of Hell Within, these Lowell metalcore natives are hitting the studio to record five brand new songs. They will be released individually throughout the year as singles and will feature a new member â a DJ "as sick as Slipknot's Sid Wilson"â says frontman Ronnie Carignan. Listen here.
BEHIND THE STARS
A rookie band on the scene, these Dracut up-and-comers recently played the infamous Battle of the Bands at the Worcester Palladium and held their own just fine. They plan on releasing a new EP sometime next month. Vocalist Corri Savlen, a huge Beatles fan, knows it's always a good thing to listen to the past and let it influence the present. They are a young band, but they're playing their hearts out so give them a listen here.
If you represent a local band (or just happen to be their biggest fan), please submit their CD's and press kit for a write-up in Howl. Mail the CD's to:
HOWL Media Inc.
ATTN: Local Music Department
250 Jackson St.
Lowell, MA 01852