“Vestiges & Claws” – José González

José González

“Vestiges & Claws”


José González is an Argentinian singer / songwriter born and raised in Sweden. Since his first solo release in 2005, he’s been touring the world exhibiting his unique style. After recording the last two albums with his band Junip, José has returned to his solo career with a beautiful new album. His style is simple but beautiful. Singing quietly with his classical guitar, he composes songs that have a natural ebb and flow that feels like part of nature itself.

His recently released album “Vestiges & Claws” continues in that tradition. It is full of peaceful, thoughtful songs penned with philosophical verses and played with care. His subtleties all add up synergistically to create a sound that is beautiful, catchy, and seamless. It’s hard to decide what is more soothing, his guitar playing or his voice.

Many of these songs carry a strong rhythm despite the sparse percussion. He keeps a steady pace with his playing, thumping out droning bass notes with his thumb while playing lead lines and chords with his other fingers. It takes a lot of talent to create such a full sound with only a guitar and the occasional castanet joining in the rhythm.

His lyrics are poetic in nature. He covers a wide range of topical material with his writing, from songs about love and life to commentary about politics and the state of the world. I get the impression that he is a very thoughtful, intelligent person. His words dance across the music like dragonflies skimming the surface of the pond, touching the water gently and leaving few ripples.

José made a conscious decision to record “Vestiges & Claws” without a producer. He wanted to retain all the artistic control, and was intent on recording the album exactly as he thought it should be, rather than taking input from the traditional production school of thought. The result is rich. In my opinion, it is the best of his solo work and stands strongly next to his last self-titled album with Junip, which received excellent reviews when it debuted a couple of years ago.

He’s coming to the area in early April, playing Brooklyn, New York City, and Boston between April 8th and 11th. If you like thoughtful, inspired, artful music then you will probably love José González’s work. He’s doing something that I just don’t see much of these days with the classical guitar, and his love for the art of making music shines through in every song.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“Django and Jimmie” – Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard

“Django and Jimmie”

Legacy Recordings

When you think back to classic country music, there are a few names that jump out at you. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings all come to mind, but it is Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard that are my favorites of that era. When I heard this new album was coming out, it was a no-brainer that I would want to review it.

This is their first reunion in the studio since their smash hit “Pancho & Lefty” came out in 1983. It is chock full of wisdom, humor, storytelling, and that classic country sound that they helped define. There are lots of references to changing times and the way it used to be, done with tongue firmly in cheek at times.

It opens with the title track “Django and Jimmie”, paying tribute to a couple of their old time heroes: Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers. It really sets the tone for the whole album, which is full of appreciation for the past and their roots.

“It’s All Going to Pot” is a not-so-subtle double-entendre about both how the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and how they intend to keep smoking up on the way down: “I got a hundred dollar bill, you can keep your pills, ‘cause it’s all goin’ to pot”.

They’ve got a great tribute to the man in black with “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash”. It’s a lighthearted, upbeat number commemorating the legend of outlaw country. They tell stories about his legacy, his music, and his antics.

One of my favorite numbers on this album is “Live This Long”. It’s a ballad reflecting on the passage of time and choices made long ago. “We’d have taken much better care of ourselves if we’d a known we’d live this long”. It’s a touching sentiment, and the music helps tell the stories.

There’s a great rendition of the classic Bob Dylan tune “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”. They bring in a country-shuffle rhythm, and their voices fit this classic so well. While many others have covered this song and added their own twists, Willie and Merle stay pretty true to the original while adding a little bit of country flavor.

There are many more songs I could mention – the album is solid from front to back. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard exhibit their wisdom, songwriting, and classic sound like no one else. It’s great to hear such icons of music history still cranking out hits and inspiring us with their insight and music.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“Currents” – Tame Impala

Tame Impala



The newest album by Australian psychedelic rockers Tame Impala picks up where the last one left off and delivers some really nice sounds. It’s full of weird twists and turns, seamlessly moving from mind bending effects to dance beats and synths. They’ve left behind some of the guitar driven sound and gone for something a little more club oriented. It’s a pretty amazing piece of work.

“Currents” was written, performed, recorded, and mixed by the main band member Kevin Parker. Working out of his home studio, he worked meticulously on getting everything exactly the way he wanted it before readying it for release. It has received critical acclaim across the board, and debuted near the top of the charts internationally.

Tame Impala is one of the strongest innovators in the indie-rock scene these days. One listen to the opening track, “Let It Happen” will show you what this album is all about. It is filled with lush reverb, trippy phasing effects, dizzying loops and thoughtful, and emotional lyrics. It sets the stage for a swirling, mind-bending listening experience: “All this running around, Trying to cover my shadow; An ocean growing inside, All the others seem shallow; All this running around, Bearing down on my shoulders; I can hear an alarm, Must be morning”.

There are too many good songs on here to talk about. One of my favorites is “The Less I Know The Better”. It’s an upbeat, catchy tune with a straight-forward rhythm. After driving hard through the verse, it drops off into a dreamy chorus, pining for the love he lost and begging her to come back. It’s a common theme throughout the album.

There are some slower tempo songs on here too. An excellent example is “Cause I’m A Man”. It starts off with the vibe of an old 80’s pop love song, then launches into a new sonic level in the chorus with a David Gilmour-like guitar riff punctuating his lines: “Cause I’m a man, woman; Don’t always think before I do; Cause I’m a man, woman; That’s the only answer I’ve got for you”.

It’s really awesome to see a young indie-rock band continue to find inspiration for new and creative material, where other bands fall off with new found fame. Kevin Parker and Tame Impala know how to keep it real, keep it exciting, and keep it honest. If you’re not afraid to get bent, check this one out for sure.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“AcousticaLevy” – Barrington Levy

Barrington Levy


Doctor Dread Presents

Barrington Levy is a Jamaican reggae artist from the old school. His career started as a teen in 70’s dancehalls, and has been an admired international singer ever since. Recently, he released an acoustic album featuring stripped back versions of many of his hits. It is pure gold.

Barrington Levy is a reggae artist, but this is not really a reggae album. Once you take away the drums, you lose the backbeat and the reggae feel. The album has more of an acoustic rock and pop vibe without the distinctive reggae one-drop going on. It is replaced with passionate guitar and a focus on Levy’s exquisite and emotive voice.

Barrington Levy is an incredible singer. He’s one of these old-school cats that really exemplifies the art of the crooner. He’s capable of hitting high notes far above your average singer’s range, and his sense of timing and dynamics can move you deeply.

The album starts off with a very catchy song entitled “Murdera”. It features a steady rhythm from some hand percussion and tambourine. It is one of the few songs on the album to have any percussion at all.  It’s one of the only political minded tracks on the album, and it’s hard hitting.

My favorite track on the album is “Be Strong”. It’s a passionate plea from a man to his woman to stop accusing him of messing around and to trust him completely. It is delivered with incredible passion, and Levy’s voice just cuts right through to a deep place where you can really feel the emotions: “…we’ve been together for so long, and we’ve been through so much; I try to do right, yah, but everything I do seems to go wrong; If I didn’t love you baby, I’d be long gone; I need you now, I need you to be strong”.

Another great track is “Things Friends”. It’s a critique of people who are only around because you have money, fame, and other things. “I don’t want no things friends; I want genuine friends; to be with me right through the end, and just not some things friends”.  Typical of much roots reggae, the album is full of positive sentiment and criticism of people that waste their time chasing materialistic goals.

I fell in love with this album from the first listen. I’m a sucker for a good acoustic album, and I was blown away by Barrington Levy’s incredible voice and strong lyrics. If you’re looking for something different than the mainstream, check out “AcousticaLevy” – it’s the kind of music just about anyone can enjoy.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“Carrie & Lowell” – Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens

“Carrie & Lowell”

Asthmatic Kitty

There are few albums that have moved me as deeply as this recent release by Sufjan Stevens. It is a subtle masterpiece, a work of art, and a true reflection of the real struggles that we all deal with in our lives – love, loss, confusion, and trying to find one’s direction in the world.

The first few times I listened, it was too quiet and slow for me to jump into and really enjoy. I kept hearing stellar reviews about it from other musicians who I respect, so I found some quiet time to sit and listen. It really paid off. It is a beautiful, sparse album decorated with quiet acoustic guitar and banjo, with Sufjan’s airy voice dancing lightly over the top.

As light as the music is, the words carry some heavy weight. This is part of why the album is such a masterpiece. “Carrie & Lowell” is largely about the recent loss of his somewhat estranged mother. She was sparsely present in his life to begin with before dying of cancer in 2012, and the album is dotted with memories of her, both the pain and the love he feels.

The way he articulates his feelings is so poignant and so real. That’s one of the things I really appreciate in music – when an artist can produce not just a great sounding song but actually convey a sense of reality to you through the music. There’s nothing fake, phony, or pretentious about this work. He seems to bare his soul naked to the world as he examines the pain in his life.

The whole album works together as a cohesive whole, but a few songs stand out to me as particularly strong. “Drawn to the Blood” has a dirge-like element to it with shards of light interspersed. Biblical references are woven throughout the album: “How? God of Elijah, How? As fire to the sun, tell me what I have done. How? Heart of a dragon, How? For my prayer has always been love; What did I do to deserve this?”. 

Another brilliant song is “Fourth of July”. He tenderly and sadly sings about his lost mother, remembering her as “my firefly” and “my little hawk”, and reflecting on how we’re all bound to die eventually. Rather than coming off as morbid, the gentle singing and playing just comes off as real tender feelings, and almost a numbness in the midst of puzzling thoughts and feelings.

The timing of this review is apropos, as many of us in the New England music community are feeling the loss of New Haven native Todd “Demse” Zullo, drummer and producer of The Alchemystics, a popular regional reggae band. The sudden loss of Demse and his best friend Budzy in a tragic car accident has left shock waves throughout the community, and somehow hearing this album and diving into those feelings has helped me cope with the atmosphere of loss that we’re all coming through right now.

At this point, it stands at the top of my list for best album of the year. It’s not party music, it’s not beach music, but it is a real work of art. I recommend listening as I did – somewhere quiet and calm, listen deeply, and float down the gentle river of music Sufjan Stevens provides for you. After “Carrie & Lowell”, appreciate your own life and the lives of the ones you love, for we all have to say goodbye sometime.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“b’lieve i’m goin down” – Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile

“b’lieve i’m goin down”

Matador Records

Kurt Vile released his sixth studio album, and it is a real gem. “b’lieve i’m goin down” hits all over the place, with catchy hooks, moody moments and an indie-rock sound that comes straight at you. The vocals are spot on and the guitar work is great.

Kurt is originally from the Philadelphia area and was a founding member of the popular indie-rock band “The War on Drugs” before leaving to devote his time to his solo work. He’s toured the world extensively and has received much critical acclaim with his last few releases. This one may be his best album to date.

“b’lieve i’m goin down” starts off with a catchy song called “Pretty Pimpin”. It revolves around the theme of Kurt being unable to recognize himself in the mirror and goes on to treat himself as a stranger. It has a steady, thumping beat and the guitar riffs really sound great.

His next tune, “I’m an Outlaw” has a great vibe with some interesting banjo work. It could be the theme to an old John Wayne movie, or maybe a more modern version of a story involving a lone man out on the road with no laws to answer to but his own. “I’m an outlaw on the brink of self-implosion, alone in a crowd; On the corner, in my Walkman, in a snowglobe; Going nowhere slow”

“Dust Bunnies” adds another layer to his sound with some keyboard bumping along to his open-chorded electric guitar strumming. Like the other songs, the music exists to support his ethereal vocals, but stands well on its own as well.

The album is pretty cohesive, while at the same time varies in feel from song to song. He has some pensive numbers on here, like the fingerpicking ballad, “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)”.  It’s a mellow number void of drums, but full of philosophical musings and beautiful guitar work. “I wanna run into the rolling hills along some mid-western highway; But there are scorpions out there…”

“b’lieve i’m goin down” really showcases Kurt Vile’s mastery. Not only does his musical talent and originality shine throughout, but his lyrics evoke deep thoughts and emotions, and his voice has a character of its own that will keep you coming back to this album again and again. It’s catchy, well-done, and worthy of a few listens for sure.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“Set in Stone” – Stick Figure

Stick Figure

“Set in Stone”

Ruffwood Records

Stick Figure is a Southern California reggae / dub band that has enjoyed great success the last few years touring with the biggest names in American reggae and charting a #1 reggae album, “Burial Ground”. Now they’ve released a brand new LP entitled “Set in Stone” that picks up where the last one leaves off, and does so in fantastic style.

The music for Stick Figure has always been written and produced by Scott Woodruff. Originally from nearby Duxbury, MA, he spent many years as a solo artist. Woodruff eventually put together the live band in 2012 due to the growing popularity of the music. Characterized by an easy tempo and a mellow mood, they have a very chill sound that can be meditative and inspiring.

“Set in Stone” is very cohesive, staying with a pretty constant sound throughout. Relying on the steady one-drop and a hint of dub feel, each song paints from the same palette – finding peace and consciousness in a world gone awry.

The opening track “Fire on the Horizon” does a nice job of setting the pace for the album. A moderate tempo sets the table for a mental vacation wherever you may be. The lyrics echo the main theme throughout the album – finding calm in the storm: ”There’s a little old town and it’s tucked away on an island on the sea; So far away from everything, where time it don’t mean a thing; And time moves slow and certainly we got no place to be; Where there’s love there is life, there is a hope there’s a dream, This is the place for you and me…”

Another great track is “Choice is Yours”, featuring members of California reggae icons Slightly Stoopid. It’s got a great vibe with a little bit of reverb and flange going on, adding to a hint of an underwater feel. The lyrics are in line with the albums theme of self-empowerment and rising above the difficulties:  “Movin up in a style and in a fashion I’m supposed; Open a another door any time another door is closed; Move into the light from in the dark now exposed, when I’m reachin into sky and spread it out to let it grow; Never do a thing just cause somebody’s sayin so…”

There are many other great tracks on “Set in Stone”, such as the easy-going “In This Love”, “Smokin’ Love” featuring Collie Buddz, and the upbeat jam “Out the Door”. It’s a real steady album that doesn’t deviate much from the magic formula Stick Figure has been working with for years. It makes great driving music or working music, as it keeps you moving without intruding too hard into your mental space.  It’s great to hear artists like this that just get better and stay true to their roots as they find more and more success.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“Crush” – Lettuce



Lettuce Records

If you’ve spent any time around the jam scene, you must know Lettuce. The band features legends of the music world such as two members of the funk trio Soulive – the incredible guitarist Eric Krasno and their ultra-talented keys player Alan Evans. This seven-piece funk band got its start ages ago at the Berkeley School of Music, and has been coming out with new material every few years.

The album cover shows some African animals with tubas in place of their heads. It’s apropos, as the horns dominate the sound of this album from front to back. With Benny Bloom on trumpet and Ryan Zoidis on sax, the horn section punctuates every song thoroughly, setting the tone for a very danceable, upbeat set of jams.

The album starts with a bang. The opening track “The Force” is just ferocious. The horns are loud, the drum hits are heavy, and the groove is deep. The thematic melody lines sing out like this is a theme song of some great 70’s crime drama.

I love third track, “Chief”. It’s another up-tempo rager, again with heavy use of horns. The drums just jam out from start to finish, and there’s awesome synth and guitar solos to boot. I can see this one playing behind some “Ocean’s Eleven” type casino-heist movie scene. High action, lots of fun, and extra swagger. This is probably my favorite track on here.

They get all trance-like on “Phyllis”. Opening up with delayed guitars, strange echoing sounds and Hendrix-like space noises, it eventually opens up into a pretty groovy rhythm. By the time the horns kick in, we’re in movie mode again. The compositions just create so much drama and such heavy dynamics that I can’t help but see a plotline.

There are no ballads on this one. It is a non-stop funk train from start to finish. They provide intermission from the instrumentals with “Sounds Like a Party”. Featuring Nigel Hall on vocals, it’s another upbeat dance number with high energy and that 70’s funk feel. Also “He Made a Woman Out of Me” features guest Alecia Chakour with a gritty, bluesy singing performance.

Bassist Erick Coomes said that 90’s hip-hop had a key influence on the album. The straight ahead, hard hitting drums from Adam Deitch certainly tie the whole thing together with a very consistent feel. High energy is the name of this game, and it is outright bombastic.

I love having “Crush” on in the background, because it just gets my energy level up and it doesn’t stop. I can see cranking this in the car on the way to a big show, or putting in a good workout at the gym with these tunes as the driving force. You don’t need caffeine if you put this album on – you just need to get down with the funk. Check it out.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“Joyride” – Kung Fu

Kung Fu


Dojo Music

Spring is in the air, and what better way to kick it off than with something high-energy and fun. Kung Fu’s new album “Joyride” is exactly as described – a very fun trip. It’s a funkified journey to some kind of 70’s jazz-fusion time warp, with lots of danceable rhythms and wicked exhibitions of skill and style by this incredibly talented group of players.

First of all, I must say that the drums are absolutely sick. Adrian Tramontano is a monster behind the kit. His extremely fast chops are executed super cleanly and with flair. He’s got some real nice rips in this one, and does it tastefully without completely dominating the sonic landscape. He definitely drives the tempo hard and it sounds so good.

Tim Palmieri on guitar is well known for his blistering solos and his dynamic versatility. He continues to shine on this album, bending minds with emotive leads and a constantly shifting color of sound. Lots of jazz feel, wah-wah and funk chords really mash up the 70’s sound with a modern creative style.

This is the first album with Beau Sasser replacing Todd Stoops on keys. Beau is a legend around the Northampton music scene for his amazing chops and his big smile. Tim and Beau are also members of The Z3, a Frank Zappa tribute that does a great job recreating a similar feel. In fact, I feel like I can hear some of that Zappa flavor in a couple of different motifs on “Joyride”.

Robert Somerville is featured prominently with his sax throughout the album, and shows off some very fun vocals on a handful of tunes. Chris DeAngelis on the bass lays down a real groovy bottom end completing that 70’s crime –drama feel that so many of these tracks have.

The album kicks off hard with “Daddy D”, and never lets off the throttle. It’s just one funk-jazz fusion tune after another, and keeps on moving. There are only 9 songs on the album, but they’re all long, jamming out for a good seven or eight minutes per track. It makes a great party album. Everyone knows people want to dance at the show, and this will keep everybody on their feet.

One of my favorite tracks on this is the finale, “Samurai”. It’s got some real blistering riffs, a fast tempo, and ends the album with a bang. There are some wild rhythm changes and a great thematic element streaming throughout.

Another great track is “Speed Bump of Your Love”. Somerville’s vocals have a great hook and the song just has that magic quality bound to keep you coming back to it. The whole album is a showcase of artistic virtuosity, all done with lots of fun and attitude. It’s definitely great energy for launching your spring into overdrive.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music

“Change Yer Life” – Bella’s Bartok

Bella’s Bartok

“Change Yer Life”

Amity House

Bella’s Bartok is one of those rare bands that defies description. With so many bands and artists riffing from well-worn blues lines or rock motifs, these guys stand out on their own as highly original. Their self-described “modern pop-klezmer” combines a high-energy Eastern European sound with a vaudeville feel. Everything is up-tempo, surging from song to song with intensity and flash.

Mardi Gras is another thing that comes to mind listening to this album. There are an abundance of horns dramatically punctuating the rhythm, with ferocity. In any case, there is a party happening with every track. This is the kind of album that is hard to just relax and chill out to – it has way too much energy. It’s a much better choice when going out for a run or pre-gaming for a fun night out.

Musically, it’s a very solid work. The lead vocals from Asher Putnam dominate the tracks. He’s got a lot of style and great control, which he exhibits frequently. They feature lots of harmonies too, which add some great contrast at times.

The rest of the band is just as tight. Many are multi-instrumentalists, and the list includes clarinet, mandolin, trombone, accordion, trumpet, and banjo to supplement the guitars and drums.

“Change Yer Life” kicks off with “The Strigoli Waltz”, an up-tempo klezmer song that really represents well the feel of the whole album. It is punctuated by trumpets and features the vocals front and center. They exhibit tempo and rhythm changes and really show off what they do well.

One of my favorite tracks on this is “Mother”. It features lots of great vocal harmonies, supporting a ballad feel at times. It picks up into a more medium tempo for a while before dropping off again and switching gears to another down-tempo section before picking it up again to take it out strong the rest of the way. It’s close to 8 minutes long and has a lot of great movement, as well as some nice sentimentality in the lyrics.

There are a lot of great tracks on here. “The Fiddler & The Devil” is a fun upbeat stomper. “The Strange Ones” starts off kind of quiet before bursting out into almost a tango feel. The last track “Ramona” is their first single off of “Change Yer Life” and has a more pop feel and some nice changes.

What really strikes me about Bella’s Bartok is both their originality and their swagger. It’s one thing to commit to a really unique sound – it’s another thing to pull it off so convincingly and confidently. I highly encourage you to check out “Change Yer Life”, and see Bella’s Bartok live for the full experience. They tour the Northeast regularly and will be in CT and RI several times this summer. That is, if you have the energy to keep up with the band. Bring your dancing shoes.

Tom Matthew, Two Ton Music