Good Sponge Sampler III Brings Poignant Country Music to South-Eastern CT
by Andrew Kerbs, Sound Waves Magazine April 2015
The third issue of Good Sponge Sampler is finally here for all to enjoy with its adventurous western themes and lament about hard times, including the highs and lows of relationships. This disc features some great guitar work, diverse instrumentation and good singing which I would recommend for anyone interested in country or folk music.
First and foremost, this sampler has plenty of feel-good and blues-laced country music. Sue Menhart has the finest female vocal performance on the bluesy “Can’t Feel the Rain.” Boy can she hit those high notes, and her tune eventually mellows and tapers off with the sultry sounds of a saxophone. Dogbite’s “Senor el Diablo” takes the listener on a western adventure with their twangy vocals, outlaw themed lyrics and tinge of doo-wop. Chris Macaye and the Tone-Shifters’ “Blue Collar Happy Hour” paints a cozy picture of good company and beer at a little downtown shack in VT complete with jazzy squeezebox and twin lead guitars. This tune also closes with sweet doo-wop a cappella. Songs like these make the listener want to get up and have a good time!
The Good Sponge Sampler is full of humorous moments as well. Vince Tuckwood’s “Sheep” features some of the best lyrics on the compilation: “You have a smile nailed to your face … learning your lines” like saying “you’re fine.” Most readers can relate to Vince’s frustration with the wretched conformity of having to put on a happy face or force a fake smile just to placate a loved one or to please a boss as a “team player.”
Good Sponge is not also without its sadder rural themes. Eric Michael Lichter’s song “Hold Me” is probably the most moving song on the album, complete with slow acoustic guitar, harmonica and the sound of a fire crackling in the background. Eric seems to lament a man’s struggle as big business buys up his Daddy’s farm and “steals his heart” by ending the livelihood that for generations had been his family farm. This song is relevant for a lot of today’s farmers struggling to compete against larger corporate farms who can afford the ever-higher prices of seeds, machinery and (yes) digital technology necessary to make a profit. Not since Dan Fogelberg has a man strummed a guitar and sung so sweetly and sincerely as Eric has on this masterpiece.
Laments about relationships are also a big part of the album. The Rivergods reflect on depending on a lover for warmth and security regardless of where the cards might fall over time. Ebin-Rose Trio’s rustic bass and gentle guitar picking on “Pottery” bespeaks the rhythms of life turning like a wheel. However, John Fries clean acoustic guitar, strong lyrics and strong piano chords “On the Inside” make his song the standout cut: “Time and time again you’ve fallen down . . to find a way . . to make sense of your feelings today.” Fries examines the trials of a relationship and the quest to make sense of emotions “stuck in your own mind . . drowning in the sands of time.” Furthermore he closes with a great electric slide guitar and acoustic guitar duet. The Rivergods, John Fries and Ebin-Rose empathize with their listeners as they talk about finding one’s way in relationships as life quickly passes by.
Similarly Anne Castellano and Ravens in the Woods bespeak the possibility of losing someone and the need to persist in relationships through thick and thin. Anne and the Smoke play the tuneful country-rock single “Denial” about not knowing what you are in for on any given day of a relationship even when things are going well. Their switch from major verses to minor choruses parallels the sad uncertainty of this tune: “What you don’t know or see just might reach (or hurt) you.” Ms. Castellano also records “Your Worst Friend” with Hugh Birdsall (formerly of the Reducers) about how no amount of confusion, lies or unkind words can get you any closer to running free of me and “You’ll just have to make the best of it” until the end. Anne speaks of the sacrifices involved in sustaining relationships and trust through thick and thin.
Nancy Parent’s “Lock and Key” and Lauren Agnelli’s “Keep Waving On” are similar to “Your Worst Friend” but more optimistic in their reflection on relationships. Lauren Agnelli (of Ravens in the Woods) seems to suggest empty feelings and mourning that comes with “waving like a goodbye” but also rejoices “taking one’s heart on an exciting ride” before the breakup or after reconciliation. Nancy’s “Lock and Key” seems to be hinting at starting a new relationship or else forgiving her lover and starting with a clean slate with more emotional transparency: “One door closes and the other opens wide . . unlock your heart with me,” she sings along to the steady pulse of rim shot drums. Both Lauren Agnelli and Nancy Parent connect well with their listeners in their singing about relationships.
Between the feel-good humor of Tuckwood, Menhart and Dogbite to the deeper poignancy of Castellano’s and Lichter, this third edition of Southeastern Connecticut’s Good Sponge Sampler is definitely worth buying. Visit your local music store and ask for a copy today!
“Compilation spotlights local Americana acts”
by Brendan Cox, Norwich Bulletin, 3/16/2013
Fans of American roots music in Eastern Connecticut need look no further than their own backyard for a new fix. “The Good Sponge Sampler Vol. II,” released digitally last month on southeastern Connecticut-based Good Sponge Records, features 18 freshly minted cuts performed by artists hailing from the area.
Good Sponge producer Ben Parent said the compilation disc is a way to use “strength in numbers,” draw attention to local musicians and their handiwork and cultivate a sense of community in the local music scene. “It’s as much about pairing up like-minded artists I think will work well together (and will stay in touch and help each other out) as it is providing a great listening experience,” Parent, who also fronts mainstay local band The Rivergods, wrote in an email last week.
Most of the songsmiths featured on the compilation, not all of whom are directly affiliated with Good Sponge but fall under its collaborative “umbrella,” will come together and perform at a CD release party March 29 at the Bulkeley House in New London. Fourteen acts will share the stage between an acoustic-oriented “dinner set” and a more rocking “dessert set.” The event begins at 7 p.m. And the sampler itself, running the gamut from traditional folk to blues-rock and back again, is definitely worth celebrating for the sheer scope of diverse styles it covers so capably.
It’s a goodie bag, really — reach in your hand, and you’re equally likely to pull out the infectious, New-Orleans-jazz influenced “Sunrise City Café” (Sue Menhart Band) as “Boogie Groove” (Carl Franklin), which drips funky, Steely Dan-esque cool with jazz trumpet accents, or “Coyote” (Dogbite), an instrumental that sounds sort of like The Ventures playing Tex-Mex.
Amalgamated Muck delivers a bluegrass-tinged folk sound; Ken Atkins & The Honky Tonk Kind, Dennis Walley and Hannah Fair add alternative country to the mix; Matt Gouette offers up fuzzed-out alt-rock; and singer-songwriter Vince Tuckwood performs a folky ballad in a falsetto with shades of Elliott Smith and Jeff Buckley. I wish I could tell you about all of the songs on the release, but I’m out of space — it will suffice to say there is something for almost everyone.
Good Sponge Records Releases Good Music On New Sampler
JP’s Music Blog 3/11/13
Connecticut music label, Good Sponge Records has recently released their second music sampler. It contains 18 songs from some of Southeastern Connecticut’s best musicians. The first sampler was released over a year ago and is a great way to hear some of these musicians that mostly fly under the radar of the modern music industry.
The “Sampler” mixes different sounds and genres so as to not get bored hearing the same mundane type of music. The release begins with the jazzy Sue Menhart Band performing “Sunrise City Café,” before moving on to the modern alternative rockers, The Rivergods with “When Times Where Good.” Blues artist Josi Davis gets things going with “Ivy Grows” which compliments fellow singer/songwriter Hannah Fair’s acoustic “Hell Tonight.” Funk flies from Carl Franklin on “Boogie Groove” and then the fuzz flies from Matt Gouette’s rocking “Nobody Calls.” Country music gets represented with Ken Atkins & the HonkyTonk Kind on “New Pair Of Shoes” and punk rears its head with the Burnouts From Outer Space’s “Queen of the Angels.”
All the artists on this compilation have, or will be releasing new albums very soon. Also, be sure to check out some of these artists as they perform at this year’s Daffodil Festival in Meriden, CT. For more information on this great sampler and these wonderful artists, please visit goodsponge.com.
Big Takeover Issue (#71):
“Based on 34 years of yeoman service with the same lineup (remarkable), New London, CT institutions/rockers/nice guys The Reducers deserve any tributes, let alone tribute albums. So bassist Steve Kaika’s sad cancer death June 12, 2012—the only thing that could cause the foursome to part—adds layers of poignancy to an already terrific collection. (Additionally, profits go to Kaika’s family.) Like the feted, these 24 bands rambunctiously rock; the originals are such fun, that most (beyond a Mark Mulcahy/Chris Harford project, Birdfeeder) shadow the heroes’ workingman’s R&B/rock/punk/pub rock/power-pop reinvigoration—Americanized, like what Cheap Trick did to The Move. I.e., think of The Reducers as tough New England foils to Ducks Deluxe (whom they covered), Dr. Feelgood, Eddie & the Hotrods, Vibrators, 999, and Raw and Stiff label acts, with the explosiveness of early Ramones, Clash (another cover-ee) and Replacements, whom they opened for—a meeting of the (like-) minds. All these facets are heard here, such as the bluesy harmonica-hop of The Manchurians, the “Tonight We’re Gonna Rock You” tack of Paul Brockett Roadshow, the Ramones-ride of The Rattlers (early contemporaries, with Joey Ramone’s bro Mickey), and raunch ‘n’ roll from old faves, (Teenage Head’s) Dave Rave (& Lauren Agnelli) and Tim Lee 3 (Windbreakers). Everybody got the bug—this music can’t die any more than Chuck Berry’s, and when played with pummel guitars and big-time backbeat, even death can’t stop us from dancing.
Reducers’ Tribute Album Release 9/23/12
by Peter Huoppi and Rick Koster, New London Day
by Ray Hardman, CT Public Radio
by Rick Koster, New London Day
by Chris Arnott, New Haven Advocate/CT.com
by Jim Pasinski, JP’s Music Blog/Journal Record