Click to hear: “Appetite” (by Darien Brahms)
The Greetings From Area Code 207 series, now in its eighth year, continues this Tuesday with the release of Vol. 7. Proceeds benefit the Friends of the St. Lawrence, a non-profit group that runs the St. Lawrence Arts & Community Center atop Munjoy Hill.
The Friends have already created a great performance space (the 110-seat Parish Hall Theater) within the crumbling walls of a century-old church, and now hope to build a 500-seat venue in the adjacent sanctuary. Those hopes took a dive recently when the Friends announced the soaring stone sanctuary will have to be demolished and rebuilt at a cost of $5 million or more.
A for-profit developer would be hard-pressed to raise $5 million for an arts project these days, nevermind a non-profit, but the Friends – now a dozen years into the campaign – are forging on. It may be a quixotic quest, but so is a career in popular music. Just ask the talented musicians on these comps.
Most of the acts on Vol. 7 have two things in common: a.) they’ve appeared on a previous volume, and b.) they’ve had a brush with regional or national stardom. Ray Lamontagne, Rustic Overtones, Guster (here represented by Adam Gardner, who accompanies partner Lauren Sullivan on the countrified “Lovesick”), Spouse, Sean Mencher, Phantom Buffalo, As Fast As, and Darien Brahms are among the 21 contributors here whose names are likely familiar to commercial radio listeners.
Speaking of corporate radio, this is the first Greetings produced in association with classic-rock station WBLM, rather than “alt-adult contemporary” station WCLZ. Citadel Broadcasting, the media giant that owned both, was forced to sell ‘CLZ last year when the Walt Disney Company took majority shareholder ownership and merged its ABC Radio stations with Citadel’s.
This change has not resulted in a more rockin’ collection of more-or-less local music, but neither has the overall quality of the material suffered. The Greetingsseries is still being compiled by former Long Haul Trucker Charlie Gaylord (see “Diesel Doug and the…”), whose ‘CLZ radio show of the same name has been moved to ‘BLM (it airs live Wednesdays at 8 p.m. and is rebroadcast Sundays at 9 a.m.). Vol. 7 alternates between alt-roots and alt-rock, but Blimp listeners – even those who tolerate power ballads – will be disappointed by the dearth of riffage. ‘CLZ’s old demographic is in for a foot-tappin’ treat.
Many of the tracks here have not previously been released, and Gaylord cannily bookends this volume with two of them: live cuts of previously released songs by Lamontagne and Rustic that their respective fans will eat up. The Lamontagne cut is “Be Here Now,” the opener from his critically deified sophomore album, Till the Sun Turns Black, captured live two summers ago at One City Center. Rustic’s is the title cut from this year’s comeback album, Light at the End, recorded last summer in the same place.
Among the truly new stuff, Brahms’ “Appetite” is a stand-out, a catchy stomper featuring some nifty backward guitar by Gaylord. Phantom Buffalo’s “Radio Signal” will crawl inside your head and live there for weeks, whether you like it or not (I still like it). The Coming Grass deliver another Keith Richards-on-country classic (“One More Gig in Paradise”) and As Fast As (the pop side-project of Rustic keyboardist Spencer Albee) provide the solid “Bigger Than Both of Us,” the second-most-rockin’ selection next to Albee’s other band’s.
Local music connoisseurs can quibble over the rest. For example, of the songs on Spouse’s Relocation Tactics, why pick “Delta” over, say, “Coaster”? Is Mencher’s Cajun sojourn, “Bayou Beauty,” the right cut to pluck from the rockabilly guitar hero’s latest album? (Answer: No.) And why is the Boston band Varsity Drag (a project of former Lemonhead Ben Deily) doing in our area code? (Not to mention that their mediocre song, “Billy Ruane,” is about a drunk dandy cruising Beantown, and appeared on one of their records two years ago.)
Minor gripes aside, the latest Greetings is good music for a good cause. And just think: if you get this volume, someday you might go to a show at the newly rebuilt sanctuary and be able to say, “Hey, I bought that brick!”
— Chris Busby
For more on the St. Lawrence and the Greetings series, visit stlawrencearts.org.