Maine-made album reviews, Spring 2013: Arborea, Whitcomb, Putnam Smith, Worried Well

Arborea – Fortress of the Sun

In the best way possible, I’m unsurprised by Lewiston alternative folk duo Arborea’s latest album, “Fortress of the Sun,” the fifth overall for Buck and Shanti Curran. It’s absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous, which is totally in keeping with everything else they’ve done. What is unusual about “Fortress,” released last month on ESP Disk, is that it’s probably their most accessible album yet. Though it doesn’t stray too far from their trademark blend of Buck Curran’s expertly finger picked acoustic and soaring electric guitar soundscapes with Shanti’s haunting soprano vocals, it does incorporate some more overtly rock-based trappings. Album opener “Pale Horse Phantasm” could qualify as radio-friendly, with it’s gently loping percussion, a rarity on most Arborea songs. The experimental psychedelic side is still very much present, however, as on the psychedelic “Ghost,” and the pair continue to breathe fresh, mesmerizing life into traditional folk songs, as on the spare, spooky “When I Was on Horseback.”

Whitcomb – The Conqueror

Whitcomb’s take on metal is proudly rooted in the old school – that big, nasty riff that they get into on the first track, “Blind,” on their new EP, “The Conqueror,” is equal parts Black Sabbath and stoner rock gods Kyuss. Vocalist Brant Dadaleares channels a little Ozzy, sure, but also some Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. There’s a few flashes of interlocking duel guitars, courtesy of Sean Libby and Andy Beavis. But that overall vibe – triumphant but still sludgy, epic and yet very listenable – puts them somewhere in the same realm as fellow metal bands Mastodon and Baroness. Acutely aware of their roots and exceptionally devoted to mastering their instruments and the songs they’ve written, Whitcomb also happens to be a metal band that non-metal fans could enjoy. “The Conqueror” was cleanly produced by Jon Wyman, and joins the band’s 2012 album “The Amber Tide” as an excellent addition to the Maine metal history books.

Putnam Smith – Kitchen, Love

Portland-based banjo player and songwriter Putnam Smith, who’s been playing Americana years before the word Mumford meant anything, has just released his fourth album of spare, heartfelt folk songs, “Kitchen, Love.” Featuring longtime collaborators like cellist Seth Yentes, the album is in keeping with his previous albums – it feels at once decidedly old-fashioned, and yet strangely on-trend with the roots music boom of the past five years. But Smith doesn’t appear to be one to cater to the hype machine; his rippling banjo and soft-spoken low tenor voice feel like they’re being played around a campfire, in this century or the last. Piano, trumpet and drums flesh out parts of “Kitchen, Love,” like on the jaunty piece of self-reflection, “Looking Up,” while songs like “Cast Iron Pan” thump along to an ever-so-slightly funky beat. Fans of folk or bluegrass – new or old – would do well to give a listen to this album from one of Maine’s best roots musicians.

Worried Well – Luck

The thread of pop-punk that runs through Worried Well’s first full-length gives “Luck,” the 11-song collection from Daniel James and Cam Jones, is almost a story in and of itself. James synthesizes the anthemic choruses and major-chord bombast of that mid-2000s sound – something he played for five years, and gives it a mature, self-reflective, at times even poetic edge. This is pop-punk all grown up – as much Elvis Costello as Saves the Day, as much Ted Leo as New Found Glory. James plays a lot more acoustic guitar, rather than electric, and Jones’ judicious use of percussion sways from indie rock into pop effortlessly. Lyrically, James wears his heart on his sleeve – “Sickly Honest” recounts a dysfunctional relationship; others deal with death (“Luck”), or with coming to terms with adulthood (“Lords of the Beach”). If this is the future of pop-punk, it’s very bright indeed.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer and editor for Bangor Metro Magazine, the Weekly and the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine. Albums for review are accepted digitally only; please no CDs.