Back to the future: jukebox hits with modern twist

by Beacon Staff • April 11, 2007

Little pop ditties with sunshine harmonies or ballsy bar bands singing about God may seem like things of the past, but here are two Boston bands steeped in rock's history. They sound like days gone by, but they're leading the pack in the local rock scene.

The Silver Lining

The Silver Lining stands apart from everything else in Boston's rock landscape. "We're like the Switzerland of the scene," said singer Matt Rhodes in an interview with The Beacon. "We're totally neutral."

"Neutrality" is an interesting way to describe the band. The Silver Lining doesn't sound angry; the members are not indie hipsters or making space-age funk rock. What the band excels at making are delightful pop nuggets that sound straight out of the '60s.

"I wouldn't say we're the most worldly band. We're like hula hoops in L.A. in 1966, playing Bar Mitzvahs next weekend," said Rhodes, describing the band's sound, which wouldn't be totally out of place at a backyard barbecue in Laurel Canyon.

The Silver Lining doesn't sound out of place in Boston, either.

The band features dueling male/female lead vocals, from the husband-and-wife team of Rhodes and Anna Price. The sound on the Silver Lining's debut album, Well Dressed Blues, is similar to '60s psychedelic and sunshine pop along the lines of the Turtles and The Mamas the Papas.

It's quite obvious the band is on a mission to expose listeners to the singing styles and old-school harmonies from its pop and soul influences.

"Matt and I really lament the loss of what we saw as really good singing and lots of melodies and we both really love a lot of '60s and '70s music for that reason," Price said.

With her welcoming smile and heavyset frame, Price is a dead-ringer for Mama Cass, but she's got the pipes to back it up, too.

On songs like the title track, Price commands a slow-moving bluesy number full of psychedelic guitar fills. Rhodes takes the lead vocals on "Cemented Steps," an upbeat, poppy nugget that sounds like it will suddenly turn into The Turtles' "Happy Together" halfway through.

The Silver Lining plays tomorrow at Harpers Ferry as part of the WBCN Rock 'N' Roll Rumble semi-finals.

The Brakemen

The spirit of roots rock 'n' roll is alive and well in Boston thanks to The Brakemen, a group that sounds as if The Last Waltz never happened and The Band was still alive and kicking in the Hub.

Frontman Loren Francis sounds like a combination of Rick Danko and Richard Manuel on songs like "Dancing Down a Fine Line" and "Blue Skies" from the band's forthcoming EP, but essentially the Brakemen are an old-school bar-band, singing about lost lovers, open roads and lapsed faith.

This is most obvious on tracks like "Of All the Things," where Francis sounds like '70s Bob Seger and delivers love-gone-bad lines like "Back on the seas / a woman's face forms the plank I walk."

Although The Brakemen's debut EP doesn't drop until May 29, the band has six songs streaming on its Web site, thebrakemen.com.

The stand-out track here is "Flaming Cross," in which Francis paints a convincing picture of crying martyrs, angels and the crumbling walls of Jerusalem over a steady backbeat from drummer Rick Rosa. Francis's plaintive wail gives the song an epic feel, but it's still surprisingly easy to sing along, which is the best attribute any bar band can hope for.

On "Karaoke Bars," Francis complains "I'm tired of singing / cause them karaoke bars don't play the good stuff no more."

Throw The Brakemen in the jukebox and you'll have the whole bar singing in no time.

The Brakemen plays Tommy Doyle's in Cambridge on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.