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(Sissy Bar Records 1 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/19/2001)
Unlike many other forms of music, rock artists often enjoy commercial success or failure more on the basis of non-musical factors, like fashion, marketing, association with a movie, social stance or even attitude. But for a band to have staying power it basically comes down to the songs, the musicianship and the vocals. And this week with have a the debut of good straight-ahead rock band that excels in all three. The group is called Lemonpeeler, and their CD is appropriately entitled The First Time.
Lemonpeeler are a decidedly unpretentious quartet from Boston whose two principal songwriters and vocalists, Michael Hayes and Jim Eddy, got together in 1999, sharing an enthusiasm for artists like Neil Young, Freedy Johnston, Paul Westerburg and Steve Earle, while seeking to create their own sound, based on rock's tried-and-true foundations. They drew on their knack for a good hook in the context of interesting compositions, strong vocal harmonies, and lyric writing that adds a degree of poetically intriguing ambiguity to some of the perpetual rock song topics. Rounding out the quartet are bassist Rob Pevitts and drummer Booth Hardy.
What Lemonpeeler achieve is an attractive mix of jangly-guitar-laden power-pop that will occasionally echo back to the Beatles, along with some roots-rock, a touch of folkiness, and a little country -- or at least as much as bunch of Bostonians can muster. Their songs have a kind of instant classic quality to them -- music that might have been created any time in the last two decades. It's a relatively short, but uniformly strong album that doesn't have a weak song. Most of the CD was co-produced with David Minehan, who has worked with Westerburg, and perhaps helped to bring a little sheen to this impressive debut independent release.
Leading off is one of the band's more energetic tracks, Automatic, which like most of the CD's songs, was written by Michael Hayes. It shows the group's combination of power-pop sensibility with good writing and attractive vocals. <<>> Interestingly, at the end of the CD, on the obligatory hidden track that many bands tend to include on their albums, there is a solo acoustic, apparently demo version of Automatic done by Hayes.
Another example of Lemonpeeler's adroitness with the genre is Around, a song of infatuation, that the group imbues with a tune that's not only infectiously melodic, but also has some musical depth. <<>>
The song by Jim Eddy is called Annabelle's Design, whose lyrics are a bit grayer in mood than much of the rest of the album, but it still shows the band's combination of attractive sound and worthwhile material. <<>>
Taking a decided turn in a country direction is the CD's title track The First Time, though country is not clearly their main musical genre. It's not the CD's best track, but it's still stands better than many of the panoply of roots-rock bands on the scene. <<>>
The Limit on You is one of the CD's more interesting pieces of writing. With a more laid-back sound, the track features rather intriguing lyrics and a mixture of rocky and folky ingredients. <<>>
Another of the more distinctive tracks on The First Time is Northbound Plane, whose lyrics seem to express fear of flying. <<>>
Lemonpeeler includes one non-original tune, Two Sisters, by one Angelo Petraglia. It's one of the most driving rockers, with slide guitar imparting a bit of a Southern Rock sound. <<>>
Before the hidden track, the album ends with my own favorite, Caroline's Gone, with a decidedly more acoustic sound. The song's plaintive lyrics get a musical accompaniment that fits them well, and shows Lemonpeeler at their folky best. <<>>
I have not been able to glean much biographical information about Lemonpeeler's members, but I would not be surprised if at least composers Michael Hayes and Jim Eddy came from an academic background, with the Berklee College of Music campus nearby, and the catalyst for lively Boston music scene. Though they assume a power-pop direction with some roots-rock undercurrents, their writing is musically sophisticated and the band's level of playing is first-rate -- nothing flashy but tasteful, solid and exactly what the songs require. Add that to Hayes and Eddy's winning vocal harmonies, and one has a band that does everything right. It's an impressive debut album by a group which has emerged fully formed with a sound that's likely to be quite durable.
Our grade for sound quality is an "A." The album is well-mixed, with good clarity on the just about everything, and we are spared faddish studio tricks like distorted vocals or drum loops, which is refreshing in these days of dumbed-down audio.
Lemonpeeler are certainly not the first band to do this kind of music, but their combination of musical quality, excellent writing and lack of pretense leads us to hope that The First Time will be indeed be the beginning of a successful career for this worthy Bay State quartet.
(c) Copyright 2001 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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