‘The Suite Acoustic’ by Matthew Lister, matthewlister.bandcamp.com: On his new album, classical guitarist Matthew Lister side-steps classical tropes and creates a beautiful instrumental album. The 16 tracks on “The Suite Acoustic” sound more like a film score than an album of string plucking. The songs are sparse, though some are supported by violin. The first seven tracks are original compositions by Lister. They’re beautiful arrangements that feel contemporary and traditional. The album also features compositions by Anthony J. Showalter and Mozart’s “KV 65a Minuet #1-7,” both arranged by Lister. Though instrumental, his original compositions and arrangements carry with them stories. Each one seems to reflect a place or time, like “The Seacoast,” or “Our Time is Short.” “The Suite Acoustic” plays like a sublime soundtrack for the small but memorable moments in life.
‘Raised on Fire’ by The Hotel Alexis, hotelalexis.bandcamp.com: “Raised on Fire” by The Hotel Alexis is a subtle, melancholic album, its sound an inviting dreamscape with elements of The National, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen. And though primarily concerned with loss, it’s one of those rare albums that remains, even when its mood is dire, uplifting. Sidney Lindner’s voice, like the music he writes, is a warm invitation to follow him into the dark. Each song is a rocky coastline faintly appearing in the mist, with Lindner’s singing alternating between lighthouse beacon and siren song, bringing the listener closer to crashing on the shore but keeping at a safe distance. In “Raise Me” and “Michael Where,” his narrators seem to ask for help and guidance. The music on the album jangles and grows with orchestration, but is guarded when it’s stripped bare on tracks like “Gold Tonight.” “Raised on Fire” traces Lindner’s steps as he stalks the halls of his ramshackle old hotel, each room filled with a memory. The difference is when the album is over, you can leave and Lindner will still be there, haunting those old halls. The songs are darkly romantic, spare at times in their arrangement, and deeply satisfying. “Raised on Fire” will undoubtedly attract the attention The Hotel Alexis deserves.
‘Rock and Root’ by John Perrault, www.johnperrault.com: John Perrault, Portsmouth’s Poet Laureate from 2003 to 2005, is a longtime staple of the Seacoast’s music and literary scenes. “Rock and Root” is a collection of 17 tracks that captures the essence of Perrault’s folk/Americana music. The songs span Perrault’s songwriting from 1977 to 2013, a mix of old and new material. “Rock and Root” (the name comes from a 1977 song off the album “Thief in the Night”) is Perrault’s ninth studio album and a perfect retrospective of his long career as a singer-songwriter. The songs are inspired odes, poems set to music about the pleasures of simple living, with a focus on community, the environment, and the actions of our government. The album carries with it elements of Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and Tom Waits’ “Closing Time.” It’s partly a time capsule, following Perrault’s perspectives on war and history, from Vietnam to Wounded Knee. The collection of songs also features guest appearances by Perrault’s Seacoast friends, including Joyce Andersen, Cormac McCarthy, Craig Werth, and more. Altogether, “Rock and Root” is more than a greatest hits collection. It’s a history lesson, and it’s also a love letter to Perrault’s home in New Hampshire.
‘Only Human’ by Joel Glenn Wixson: www.reverbnation.com/joelglennwixson: “Only Human” is an album of anthemic and uplifting piano rock from singer/songwriter Joel Glenn Wixson. His 12 songs are bluesy arrangements with pop inclinations and elements of world music. Wixson uses the album to stretch himself, working to reach soulful levels of rock, while his narrators, everyday people, look for the answers to life’s many questions and complexities: who are we, what is love, what happens to us when we’re gone? Wixson tackles the subjects with inspired arrangements and heartfelt lyrics, words that are personal entries in a journal of discovery. A self-described “song dreamer” (his music comes to him in dreams), Wixson is a chronicler of stories. The subjects that populate Wixson’s music are on a hard stretch of road and Wixson acts as their guide through the toughest moments. If the album is lacking, it is not from Wixson’s capabilities as a songwriter, but from the warmth of a full band. “Only Human” was recorded mostly with digital instrumentation, and this leaves some of the songs feeling as though they are unlived in, lacking in warmth, although not sentiment. “Only Human” is an album about searching, and Wixson is finding his footing here.
‘The Magician’s Wife’ by Clara Berry & Wooldog, www.claraberry.com: Clara Berry’s been compared to Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, and Tori Amos, and while those are fine comparisons, Berry is more than a copy. She spins her own velvet web of songs with subtle notes of sadness and longing that make the somber songs hers alone. The sultry singer and pianist, along with Wooldog (Joe O’Neil and other musicians) has crafted an album that is beautifully tragic. “The Magician’s Wife” is at times bluesy, folky, and a little cabaret on tracks like “Boys” and “Go Slow,” but mostly, it feels introspective and private, sweetly disarming in its arrangements. “I was sneaking into your garden late at night / To see if the sapling that I had planted caught the blight that all of the maples in all the neighborhoods nearby / had quietly succumb to on the backdrop of the pale moonlight,” sings Berry on the song “The Bad Guys,” as the protagonist finds her lover kissing another person. Berry’s ability to be sardonic and kind in her songwriting makes the album a tug-of-war of internal conflict and external emotion that is raw and alluring.
Look for the Clara Berry CD release concert on Oct. 8 at Sonny’s in Dover.
—Craig Robert Brown