Though for the majority of their existence Brown Bird was based in Providence, RI, the band’s Maine connection was always strong — late frontman Dave Lamb lived in Portland for several years, and the band were regular performers in the state, right up until Lamb’s leukemia diagnosis in Spring 2013 and eventual far-too-early passing in April 2014. Now “Axis Mundi,” the final statement from Brown Bird, is out, written and recorded just before Lamb’s diagnosis and during his sadly temporary remission in 2013. Lamb’s bandmate and longtime partner, MorganEve Swain, put out their final album a few weeks ago, capping a body of work that drew on a wide array of influences — Eastern European music, alt-folk, indie rock, blues. “Axis Mundi” is, at times, utterly heartbreaking. Opening track “Focus” deals directly with the reality of illness and the specter of death, and Lamb, an eloquent songwriter, does not shy away from the awful truth. The album is bookended by the equally heartbreaking “Tortured Boy,” a love song in every sense of the word, bravely sung by Swain. In between these moments of grief, however, there are songs that are as mesmerizing and even joyful as anything Brown Bird ever released, like the stark, bluesy “Adolescence” or the groovy rocker “Pale and Paralyzed.” “Axis Mundi” is a fitting final statement from one of the best New England bands of the past decade.
I’m glad Earth Person exists. I’m glad that a talented weirdo lives in the woods of Waldo County, composing and recording strange but irresistible electronic music in a solar-powered, off-the-grid cabin. Earth Person, aka Devon Cole, is, despite his lack of connected-ness, a busy young man, having released three EPs and a split single over the course of two years, and “Aura Hills” is at once his progressive and his most stripped down and homegrown. There’s almost no lyrics on the album, with Cole focusing solely on his own brand of pastoral electronic music — this is music meant more for the barn and the field, and not for the club, though “Everything Changes” and “Hawaii II” could be remixed into seriously explosive dance floor bangers. It aligns him more closely with the styles popularized by Pittsburgh electro collective Black Moth Super Rainbow, or with the grandaddies of IDM, Boards of Canada. “Aura Hills” is a pleasurable summertime listen; a perfect soundtrack to being outdoors in Maine.
The Juke Rockets are true believers in the blues. The Waldo County-based four piece — powerhouse vocalist Carlene Thornton, guitarist Ron Casillo, bassist Steve Mellor and drummer/manager Tim Woitowitz — have been plying their trade for nearly a decade, most of that with Thornton, who got her start singing Janis Joplin karaoke before moving on to front the band. Now, finally, after eight years as a band and five with Thornton, the Juke Rockets have released their first proper album, “Hungry Soul,” which features nine all original songs and just one cover. There’s a reason the band has won the Road to Memphis competition twice now: they are very good musicians and songwriters, with a natural sense of the blues. Listening to “Hungry Soul,” you get the sense that these songs are just itching to be played live, where they truly live and thrive. And that’s where the Juke Rockets are meant to be, whether it’s in a bar, a club, an outdoor venue or a festival. Thornton, a charismatic front person, pairs beautifully with Casillo’s guitar licks and the super-tight rhythmic foundation of Mellor and Woitowitz. If you’re a blues fan in Maine, you definitely should give this a listen.