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Slay Me

By Bill Ketzer

Demiricous

One (Metal Blade)

Sweet! Old-school thrash. Clearly these young men spend many, many dark hours in the basement drinking Lone Star Ale and meticulously dissecting every 16th note of Slayer’s Reign in Blood. In fact, Demiricous unabashedly purloin whole measures of that watershed classic here, but the effect is glorious. What the band lack in originality they gain in sincerity. And really, not many are doing it this way any more. Not even Slayer, arguably.

Indeed, the clever “Repentagram” apes the structure of Slayer’s “Angel of Death” in the same way The Simpsons writers change several notes of a popular song, altering it just enough to avoid a lawsuit, but not so much that you don’t recognize the original. A curious thing, but there are other stellar (and more imaginative) tracks here, notably the streetsweeping “Cheat the Leader” and the heartlessly abrasive thrasher “Ironsides.” Old-school sewer rats should be drawn to this like warble flies to caribou. Not much more to say.

Sky Smeed

Mill River (self-released)

Berkshires-by-way-of-Kansas Sky Smeed’s first two CDs were wonderful, unhurried affairs. Great songwriting, expressive singing, but much was downtempo, often to the point of being zen-like. Nice and quiet.

This new one, Mill River, is something else again. Recorded mostly live in three days at New England folk mecca Signature Sound Studios, Mill River is a rollicking bunch of songs, with Smeed stretching emotionally, compositionally, and hitting every mark full stride. With Mill River, Sky Smeed goes toe-to-toe with the great Texas singer-songwriters like Jack Ingram and Robert Earl Keen. He’s that good, and he’s that distinctive. He’s got the kind of sweet voice that’s recognizable after a first listen, and he writes unforgettable songs.

The hard-boogieing “Tonight I Will” peels the paint, with Smeed yowling about tearing it up on a Friday; “Amarillo Sun” has a majestic and poetic darkness that’s sniffing around Patti Smith’s territory; “Nothing to Fear” is a slice of small-town boy optimism, winding up with a gypsy-like charge and Smeed singing in long notes “We’ve nothing to fear” over and over again. “Love Again” is a staggering epic, starting out as a tepid little woe-is-me lost-love number, building steadily over five minutes to a furious, violent conclusion, with the singer’s character shooting his ex-darlin’s new man. His take on Jimmy Reed’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” leaves the cosmic country stuff behind and shows that Smeed is perfectly capable of taking on the baddest roadhouse. Line ’em up.

Smeed’s also got one of the most sure-footed bands in the region. The rhythm section of Andy Crawford (drums) and Dave Christopolis (bass) is simply extraordinary in every respect; Jack Waldheim plays guitar and mandolin with taste and restraint, coloring the songs while leaving most of the solo work to the terrific pedal-steel player Pete Adams, who gives the tracks a distinctive county twang.

Something tells me Smeed’s not long for this local-musician stuff. Way, way too good for that.

—Paul Rapp

Eric Matthews

Foundation Sounds (Empyrean)

In the tradition of Paul McCartney, Todd Rundgren, Emitt Rhodes and a few others, Eric Matthews has recorded his latest album entirely himself. In keeping with his previous three, it’s filled with classically appointed pop, a grand sweep of lush, romantic, and regal songs. Less orchestrated than its predecessors, this set sticks closer to rock-combo arrangements, with thoughtful filigree coming in the form of Matthews’ brass and woodwind playing. With 17 songs clocking in at nearly 70 minutes, it’s a bit overloaded. The rich subtleties all start to blur into a cake with too much icing. However, the most glaring problem with this release is not in the recording, but in Matthews’ pompous liner notes. In an effort to place himself into a historical tradition by the force of his assertions, he’s thrown down a gauntlet that undermines his musical efforts, which make the case for him much more eloquently.

—David Greenberger


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