Now Hear This

Reviews of new local releases

Alcoa, “Parlour Tricks”
Bridge Nine Records
File under: alt-country, ‘90s alternative, Americana
Sounds like: Drag The River, Whiskeytown, Rocky Votolato

One of the myriad complaints about popular country music today is the lack of authenticity and raw emotion found in its blues-driven forbearers. Replaced by obnoxious mouthpieces and corny dances, on its surface, mainstream country music has forgotten the expressive blues that once defined it. That sound isn’t gone, mind you, but we have to dig a little deeper to find it in some unexpected places.

For the record, Derek Archambault and company’s alt-country alter-ego, Alcoa, have done their part in creating a shining example to discover. Following a roller-coaster year for the band’s songwriter that culminated in marriage and a crowd-funded, successful, hip surgery, Archambault funneled his pains and triumphs into “Parlour Tricks.” While Alcoa’s jangles and twangs are in stark contrast to Archambault’s better-known hardcore act, Defeater, the quiet writer now heads two nationally successful acts from the Seacoast.

“Parlour Tricks” bridges the sizable gaps between country, ‘90s alternative rock, and punk, while gaining surprising, but deserved, acceptance from each community. Recording again at Mike Moschetto’s Office Recording studio, “Parlour Tricks” builds on 2013’s brilliant “Bone and Marrow,” still utilizing piano and pedal steel, but pulling some of the punches and softening the distortion heard on the first album. Here, the songs are more polished and their transitions to bridges and choruses are easier and more relaxed. From anthems “All Dolled Up” and “Rations” to ballads “Always Chasing Me” and “Poison Acquaintance,” in which the Archambaults channel Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, the recording is even more diverse than the first, thanks to a more collaborative song-writing process. Together with Blake Seale’s memorable guitar leads, Cal Joss’ pedal steel and magnificent production, “Parlour Tricks” is a fantastic representation of the growth of country-influenced genres.

Rick Rude/Kiss Concert, “Split Cassette”
Salty Speakers Records/Cat Dead Details Later Records
File under: slacker rock, indie, punk
Sounds like: ‘90s-era Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Shellac

For the past few years, Rick Rude has been the best Seacoast band without a long-play recording to their name. They technically still don’t, but in putting six tracks and 21 minutes on cassette, the slacker-rock quintet have thankfully documented the songs we’ve loved and memorized during their rapturous live shows.

With a host of production credits, including Alex Bourne, Noah Lefebvre, Adam Kozak, and Ben Troy, the split cassette was recorded over the past year on two cell phones, a laptop, and at two Dover studios. In keeping with the communal ethos of the Salty Speakers collective that both books their shows and released the tape, seemingly everyone in the Seacoast’s punk scene has somehow contributed over the years.  The results are perfectly imperfect, capturing the unbound energy and outright fun inherent in the material and on the stage.

In the same way that Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch can tell a story with his guitar, Troy’s leads and Lefebvre’s loose yet technical riffage achieve the same entrancing results. While that applies to the whole tape, it’s especially true of the instrumental journey “Surf Zealand,” and the end of “Fingertipz.” In “Tony in the Bathroom,” layers of guitar lines twist and bend before crashing together to the song’s only refrain, “Tony in the Bathroom!” and then just as quickly devolve into a trombone-infused, double-timed, surf-guitar freak-out. In another of many highlights, the speedy, opening hook of “Shirt” runs roughshod over Ryan Harrison’s infectious rhythm on the bell of his ride cymbal. In the manic style that typifies Rick Rude, it eventually drops out to reveal a slow Isaac Brock-influenced vocal bridge that, of course, gives way to more rounds of different paces and top-notch melodies — and, hopefully, more recordings.

Rick Rude plays The Red Door, 107 State St., Portsmouth, on Thursday, April 9 at 8 p.m. with Paper Castles, Bunny’s a Swine and Miniboone.

Justin Carloni, “Back Home”
Small Fire Records
File under: indie-folk, mountain music
Sounds like: Mark Kozelek, Iron and Wine, Bon Iver

Although you won’t see him play often, Justin Carloni has been an admired, but largely inconspicuous, fixture in the Seacoast folk scene since the mid-‘90s. He gained a following during his tenure in the indie-folk outfit The Water Section some 15 years ago, but has since receded from Seacoast stages to raise a family and record music with friends.

“Back Home” finds Carloni returning to his birthplace in the Great North Woods, a space that’s omnipresent throughout the album and especially in his voice, a beautiful, ghostly instrument that sometimes sounds like a January breeze and other times creates a warmth that could just as easily melt the mountain snow. Carloni’s penchant for well-written melodies is again on display in stand-outs “Patagonia” and “In the Miles Ahead,” buoyed by Emma O’Loughlin’s vocal accompaniment.

At times, the emptiness of woods conspire against him, as in “Valentines,” where a Will Oldham-inspired plain-spoken chorus warns, “If my heart is broken, it might register as anger. There is stuff inside of me and I don’t always understand its ways.” Despite the melancholy nature of the album, we’re left with the notion that Carloni is finding a shared connectedness with his surroundings. Most poignantly, at the end of “Mustard Sky,” he’s seemingly weathered the storm and the music recedes to reveal a trio of exultant voices in sanguine resolution: “Today the voices calling, the sun is out and I am hoping to see you.”