Guitarist-vocalist Justin Chamberlain and bassist Brendon Bouchard of the Bangor-based power trio One Shot Nothing have been playing together since they were in high school. What started as a teenage classic rock cover band has grown, with the addition of drummer Nate Hart, into something a lot bigger. “Watched Out & Waited,” One Shot Nothing’s first LP, is one of the most radio-friendly releases Maine has produced in years. Where a lot of the more popular Maine bands are either playing trendy folk music or hewing to the dominant indie rock sound (whoas, heys and drum machines), One Shot Nothing are aggressively untrendy. They like their riffs big and their choruses even bigger, as on the muscular “Icarus” or undeniably catchy “Under the Noose Again.” This is the kind of stuff you hear on modern rock stations, in between Kings of Leon and the Foo Fighters. It’s not particularly original music; they’re not breaking any new ground, and are clearly indebted to the works of Mr. Grohl. But that doesn’t really matter — it’s well-played and written, and Chamberlain is a strong vocalist, as his heartfelt performance on the mostly acoustic “Bend Before We Break” shows. Though they’re all still quite young, the band members have already got some legit songwriting chops that undoubtedly will improve as they mature. For now, this is music to pump your fist to; it’ll sound fantastic pouring out of car speakers as you peel out of the parking lot after school or work.
Essence — 26-year-old Sarah Violette, by day — is one fierce rapper. Out of all the MCs in Maine, she’s the most serious, the most direct, the most in your face about her emotions and opinions. “The Root Of It,” released less than a year after her well-received all-original album, “An Unseasonable Spring” is Essence’s first mixtape, which features her putting her vocal stamp on beats from everyone from electronic duo Bonobo to Nicki Minaj to rapper and producer Mac Miller. Violette’s background in poetry shines through as strongly as it ever has — “Under You” is a kind of fight song, defending her territory from her detractors, while “What I Need” combines a hard-hitting dissection of relationship ills, set atop a classic-sounding Jake One beat. Portland area vocalists including Renee Coolbrith and longtime Essence collaborator Kristina Kentigian guest on several tracks — Kentigian’s voice adds an ethereal filigree to the most heart-on-her-sleeve track on the album, “Jets.” As one of the few female voices among a sea of male rappers in Maine, Violette’s words are fresh, vital, thoughtful and uncompromising. You could play this album during a party, sure, but it’s perhaps more enjoyable listening to it on your own, so you can really hear what she’s saying. She’s saying it directly to you.
Greg Klein’s old band, the now defunct Dark Hollow Bottling Company, felt a little out of place among the holler folk bluegrass-ish masses — don’t get me wrong, they were definitely a roots band, with plenty of mandolins and harmonies to be found. But the lyrics were a little darker, and Klein couldn’t help but let his pop chops and country rock influence shine through. Now that Dark Hollow is no more, Klein is free to explore those elements, and his new band, Greg Klein and the Right of Way, and accompanying album, “Watching In My Mind,” does exactly that. There’s a loping, enjoyable “Summer Teeth” Wilco-esque bounce to these songs, and a wry, sarcastic lyrical tone reminiscent of Warren Zevon or John Hiatt. John Clavette’s excellent piano playing and Drew Wyman’s expressive bass foundation propel Klein’s songs far beyond the typical singer-songwriter fare — it’s as tight and well-composed as Klein’s lyrics are intelligent. “Six Feet Under” digs at an irresponsible friend via an upright, bright chorus. It’s not all biting and incisive, however — “Little Man” is sweet, even sentimental. “Watching In My Mind” is an extremely welcome surprise of an album from a Portland songwriter that is coming into his own.