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Ratboy—Back Roads to Start With
Joe Jack Talcum—Joe Jack Brand Talcum (Acoustic Fury Records, Split Series Vol. 4)

The split-release is one of rock’s great mysteries, sometimes the special merch table item for a tour of artists linked by nothing more than their ability to put up with one another crammed into a beat up van, sometimes a perfect combination that makes you fall for one song after the next. Fortunately, Ratboy and Joe Jack Talcum’s combined EPs on Acoustic Fury Records falls into the latter category.

Ratboy’s Tim Sutton has one of those voices wrought with deception. You think you’re being boondoggled, swindled by some huckster cut from the same cloth as Frank Black or David Byrne or Sting. And you’re not being irritated by comfortably clever lyrics and a distinctive, borderline whiny voice at all; you actually love it, even when you can’t quite figure out just why that is. You love it, especially with co-conspirator Matt Senzatimore’s smooth baritone filling in the gaps. The name is dreadful, and the quirkiness a calculated con, but dammit all if it’s not absolutely, undeniably loveable.

Let’s face it, comparing the game of chess to life is either awkward or absurd, but who cares? Because the acoustic shuffle of “More Alike” is a stunner. And so are their other five contributions to this release. Ratboy, for all their inherent silliness, are a force of nature, one which combines the Hudson Valley’s seemingly natural gift for musicianship with what the area sometimes lacks, personality and chutzpah.

“Surface,” Ratboy’s exit midway through the album, should just about wring tears out of anyone with half a heart beating somewhere special. “So many ups, so many downs as I lay here on the ground” isn’t going to read well on the page, but Sutton’s delivery is so sincere, brimming with actual emotion, it’s clear it was meant to be heard and not read anyway.

I have to admit, I didn’t actually read up on Joe Jack Talcum before listening to his half of the split-release. So when it all started sounding like some brilliant amphetamine-folk project fronted by the guy who sang for the Dead Milkmen, I didn’t actually realize that’s exactly what it was. With his original band, Joseph Genaro has spent the better part of the past 25 years being snotty and sarcastic. And if you’d said back then that the same voice that charmingly warbled through “Punk Rock Girl” all those years ago could pull off a song as emotionally powerful as “Greenworld,” you’d have been laughed out of whatever college dorm room you’d been positing in. But there it is, and even songs with dumb titles like “Turd of the Century” are undeniably wonderful.

An old friend and a new one, both unique and fantastic, yet perfectly suited to one another. —Crispin Kott |

Sharon Klein—The Way Back Home (Music Without Walls Production)

Sharon Klein’s story is about as interesting as it gets, and it would be a disservice to lift highlights from the long, wildly varied bio on her website. Especially as the music on The Way Back Home, her debut album does a splendid job of evoking some of that journey all on its own.

In its infinite wisdom, iTunes identifies Sharon Klein’s music as New Age. Perhaps it shares with the genre a soothing vibe, like a warm breeze winding through the trees. But there’s so much more to the store, and it all stems from Klein, a virtuoso on the acoustic guitar and a soulful singer. Combining her musical skills with her gift for telling a story, as on the West Bank narrative “Borders of Stone,” Klein’s debut is as confident and assured as anything likely to be heard this year or any other.

Recorded both in the Hudson Valley and Israel, The Way Back Home is in every sense a journey, one which travels through lands both near and far, which brings together friends in the spirit of music, and which has its own satisfying end on the album’s title track. “The Way Back Home” isn’t weary for the journey, but with the entire collection’s gorgeous harmonies, is still grateful for a sense of belonging. —Crispin Kott

Kenny Siegal—Eleccentricity (Old Soul Records)

Rock and roll is alive and well and living within the confines of Kenny Siegal’s Eleccentricity, an album brimming with so much honest to golly rawking, it almost completely obliterates any superficial thoughts of wishing for a cool band name or a less cool album title.

If Kiss’ Paul Stanley was robbed of his grandstanding and posturing and idiocy and just let loose, he might still not come up with something half as terrific as Eleccentricity. It’s an album designed for head bobbing or fist pumping, for driving with the top down, or at least the windows open. Siegal, already an accomplished musician and producer, seems to have soaked up everything worth believing about the simplicity and brilliance of the medium, strained it through a filter designed to remove the bullshit, added a few whimsical bells and occasional whistles (especially on the truly weird “Underground Army”) and what was left is this…whatever this is, it’s fabulous.

“Back to You” opens the proceedings, busting through the door like some lost artifact from an album you only thought you dreamed of. Even when it’s not full on rock, “The Wake” for example, there’s still in the acoustic guitars and insistent pounding of the drum track and harmonies soaring straight into the heavens an attitude that fully, completely and sincerely rocks. —Crispin Kott

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