Archive for the ‘ Cameos ’ Category

The Death of Me – The Vanity EP

A Cameo by Patrick Boyle

I have never been fond of the generalized good advice that society casually tosses around. “Always make a good first impression” and “Never judge a book by its cover” never sank in with me, especially working around a constant barrage of new bands and new music. Most people walking into a record store will almost always judge an album by its cover, and if they adventure to wear the store’s provided headphones, a couple poor sounding tracks on an album can really shame the eye-catching cover art. So when Dom Lettera, the energetic frontman of The Death of Me, handed me an advance copy of The Vanity EP in a broken slim jewel case, I had to put societal advice aside and assume the cracks to be wars scars from an intense journey leading to my hands—making me all the more excited to listen. I was not then surprised that my initial enthusiasm to throw the EP on in my car (where I do all my important listening) turned into a week-long marathon.

Between engaging introductions and memorable choruses there are countless small pleasures to be found in each track. And while “Oh! The Mirror” is a solid first song, it only cuts across the surface of the whole EP. Digging deeper, any listener will be instantly hooked to the opening piano beat for “Famous Generals” and the sheer charm of the line “…this curse with be the death of me” in “Lock and Key.” As a whole, the EP plays like a live set with a distinct rise and fall tension that makes each listen an experience.

The band itself is composed of experienced and seasoned performers. Dom Lettera (vox), Matt Yeager (drums), Mike Carroll (guitar), and Will Lewis (bass) collectively draw their pasts from The Alternative Outfit, Those Mockingbirds, and notably The Escape Engine (Lettera and Carroll). With Lettera reprising his role as frontman, showing exponential growth from his days in The Escape Engine, he is definitely not holding back creatively with The Death of Me. The proof is in the pudding. There is no simple way to describe The Death of Me sonically. They list their own interests / influences as being At the Drive In, Built to Spill, Cursive, Fugazi, and Hot Water Music among many others. And I think that’s fair—the range of influences the band brings into their distinct sound makes them difficult to pin. Knowing that New Jersey bands are very internally influenced, and being that Lettera is nothing short of a veteran in the scene, I would personally place The Death of Me between Armor for Sleep’s alternative and Thursday’s post-hardcore styles; The rhythms and melodies are very tight and just barely edge on the dance-alt that Armor For Sleep sometimes embodies, with the grit and darker tones falling in parallel sentiment with Thursday’s War All the Time.

In all honestly, The Death of Me harkens back to a crunchy and elegant sound that the NJ scene popularized almost a decade ago (from which Thursday and Armor For Sleep were born), and if it was 2002, Epitaph Records may have just swooped in and carried The Death of Me off to fame, but I’ll let nostalgic digression end there. I personally feel that The Vanity EP will turn into a scene-cred worthy addition to any collection. Anyone who is passionate about a band has strong feelings about their first album (I can quickly recall Death Cab for Cutie’s Something About Airplanes and Motion City Soundtrack’s Back to the Beat) and once The Death of Me drops another album or two, I can see The Vanity EP falling in line with other awesome career-starting records. If I can offer some horrible generalized advice for listening to this album, I would say, “Leave no stone unturned.” The Vanity EP is truly a product of strong experience, and every track is worth at least a listen. As for me, I’ll soon dig into another week-long marathon.

Find, contact, and listen to the Death of Me at


Ray Lamontagne & The Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise

A Cameo By Dan Wade

On his fourth album, singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne recruited his trusty touring band, The Pariah Dogs and self-produced this seasoned and highly enjoyable collection of songs. Familiar themes – cheating lovers, broken hearts, youthful ambition and wistful longing for former flames are all well-represented here.

The level of intimacy in LaMontagne’s voice – and what a voice it is – is really intense. He carries the songs with a cigarettey rasp that alternately growls as a snarl on “Repo Man,” a sneering jab at a cheating ex, and haunts as a whispery croon “New York City’s Killing Me,” a wintery ode to misery and loneliness in NYC.

Behind LaMontagne are his trusty Pariah Dogs, who wisely create atmospheric, glassy pedal-steel guitar swells, shimmery acoustic and a bass and drum rhythm section that plays comfortably behind the beat, perfectly complimenting LaMontagne’s voice on the sleepy morning hymn of a title track.

The highlight of the album is perhaps the back-to-back breakup song set of “Are We Really Through” and “This Love Is Over.” On the former, LaMontagne’s voice soars above a sparse foundation of a delicately fingerpicked and sophisticated folk guitar chord progression, with a ghost-like pedal steel guitar floating in the background. With a less convincing singer, lyrics like “Is that sun / ever gonna break / break on through the clouds / shine down in all it’s glory” might come off sounding a little generic and uninspirted, but LaMontagne could probably sing the alphabet and it would sound completely fresh and new.

The latter track, “This Love Is Over,” is my obvious standout song of the CD. LaMontagne’s voice has never sounded better, and the way he sings the simple yet effective chorus line (which is essentially the title, repeated) suits the song’s aching sense of longing, regret and sadness perfectly.

There are some pretty standard run-of-the-mill folk songs here, such as “Old Before Your Time,” “For the Summer,” and “Beg, Steal or Borrow” with familiar melodies that might be at home on a Bright Eyes record. These songs, like their tried-and-true subject matter are solid, sturdy album tracks that don’t draw me in as effectively as some of the standouts, but they have some amazing musical moments, such as the down-and-dirty backwoods back porch guitar solo on “For The Summer.”

They are well worth the wait to get to the epic, strummy ballad “Like Rock ‘n Roll & Radio,” the record’s penultimate song that uses the formerly prosperous relationship between rock music and popular radio as a metaphor for a formerly happy relationship between two lovers. Very clever there, Ray.

Overall, I would say that this is a really good record that mixes standard singer-songwriter fare with some truly transcendent, instantly classic songs and gets elevated by LaMontagne’s world-weary-troubador vocals and the Pariah Dogs’ tasteful, seasoned instrumentation. This album accomplishes the rare feat of tapping into your feelings and complimenting whatever mood you might be in. I foresee it becoming the musical equivalent of a homemade quilt – being played on an old set of headphones, indoors, on a snowy winter day and comforting the listener with its folky, live-band warmth.

Rodeo Ruby Love – This Is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things

A Cameo by Wesley Goble

While digging through the cheap, music-filled cardboard box on the floor of my room that I like to call “the internet,” I was at a total loss for a meaningful subject to analyze and review. I failed to realize that I’ve spent the past few months doing just that with one of my favorite albums.

Rodeo Ruby Love is a colorful group from Marion, IN and they are a construct from the ashes of Away with Vega. Starting as a side-project for Zachary Melton, the group blossomed into much more. Their sound is almost more visual than it is audible. They are enigmatic in the way they take classic, rather than old or tired, concepts and make them fresh: Love, God, Infidelity, and Youth. Rather than regurgitating dull, insipid bar-chord teenage-blues with the timbre of a tear-soaked prom night, they present love in a “lie-on-the-grass-and-talk-about-our-favorite-words” manner. This helps them fit right into today’s more minimalistic, optimistic take on songwriting.

Their newest album, This is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things, is no different, but it does present a few noteworthy changes-of-pace to the weathered fan. While the power-pop and punk influences have always been apparent, they shine through in a major way here. In the past, the sound was defined and driven more by acoustic guitar, piano, horns, and long harmonized vocal phrases. While all are still present, the drive of this album seems to have moved to the vastly improved drums, crisp electric guitar, and commanding, powerful bass. It’s worth mentioning that this could be attributed to the production quality of the album. Rodeo Ruby Love was never a band that needed first-rate production value to be one of the best bands around, but it sure as hell never hurts.

The album opens with “Elizabeth”, an acoustic piece that acts as a monologue that almost preemptively sums up the entire album. Listening to this song I am reminded of those deep emotional and philosophical moods we’ve all experienced at 4am on a Tuesday night when we were facing an overwhelming trial in our youth.

Directly following is “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Secrets.” Like the transition from those long nights spent in deep self-analytical thought to the bright sunny morning when your innocence is regained and your worries melt on the pavement, these songs are the perfect follow up. This is an exhibition of what Rodeo Ruby Love truly is at the core. Also, it’s great to hear that ukulele again!

“Black Sunday,” “The Coming Up Roses,” “Beast of Joy,” and “Kind to Me” in my opinion make the record.  They are what fans have come to expect from this crew.  It’s a sub-style of their own and they really make it work. The things Rodeo Ruby Love have to say are important and they are going to say them, and if you can’t hear it they are going to shout them. In a world where every teenager and pre-adult thinks they are an artist, Rodeo Ruby Love truly are that and they expose everyone else for the frauds they are. Goodbye Myspace generation. Let’s put the spotlight back on the people that make art. Melton’s lyrics have more meaning in one line than a million passive-aggressive 2am tweets texted from a sixteen year-old girl’s pillow. That being said, “Ricky Henderson” is of extra-special mention.

This brings us to “The Melody,” “No One but Us,” and “Josephine.” These songs carry with them a bit more than the others. Every time I listen to them they require a little bit more of me. Question with boldness everything around and everything you are told.  For me, my personal interpretation of these brings me to the questions I ask myself all through life: “Why does this have to be so hard? Why me? When will it be better?” They ask the hard questions, but they also answer them. Why is it so difficult?  Because if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be worth it.  These songs, I’m sure, have very specific meanings and messages from the writers, but a song isn’t just that, it is the message taken and the effect upon the listener. Job well done, guys.

The CD closes with “Careful with that Axe.” This is the perfect song to cap the album for the simple reason that it leaves you with a reminiscent feeling and you aren’t sure why, and it leaves you wanting more. Like the encore to the best show of your life, or the last drink before the bar closes. I imagine the final ascension will sound something like this song.

My final thoughts on this album are that it deserves many more ears listening.  This has the potential to have more people singing along than the National Anthem in an entire season of baseball. Anthem is undoubtedly the best word to describe every song here. I hope to see more from Rodeo Ruby Love in the near future because they have a potential that most local bands can’t even fathom.

The Gay Blades – Savages

A Cameo by Adam Bird of Those Mockingbirds

The Gay Blades – “Savages” (Triple Crown Records)

‘Savages’, the second LP from the Gay Blades, is well thought out and dripping with inspiration. The doors are kicked down right away with “Rock n Roll (Part 1)” with a main riff that is sleazier than a snake with a snake tattoo. Interestingly enough, the first song does not set the tone for the rest of the album… each song successfully carves out its own identity, and each identity is unique. Some are just absolutely beautiful, like “November Fight Song”. Others like “Wasted On The Youth” almost have a reggae vibe. And then, my personal favorite, “Mick Jagger” which is the kind of song that sounds SO urgent… and so important… that it doesn’t matter WHAT is being sung about.. because it IS important.

However, with all of that said… the Gay Blades wouldn’t be the Gay Blades if they didn’t keep a tongue-in-cheek thru the entire record.. and force you to wonder which parts are serious, and which are not.

This album was done masterfully, and I do not think for one second that the words I am typing right now do it justice, so I am going to stop and BEG you, as a fan of music… you MUST hear this album. If not for yourself, do it for the scene points you’ll get to cash in 6 months from now when everyone you know suddenly loves that band with the “Gay” name.


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