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[Cellars]
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Strong suits
The year in local rock
BY BRETT MILANO

Consonant (Fenway Recordings). Yes, this year’s Mission of Burma reunion was/is a blast and a half. But that’s only tangentially related to this terrific album, which finds Burma member Clint Conley returning to songwriting after two decades and pretty much picking up where he left off. Still, working with a notably different line-up (double guitars; Fuzzy member Winston Braman playing bass instead of Conley; Chris Brokaw displaying a very non-Burma guitar style) brings a lot of freshness to the mix. Conley’s new songs hit on all levels — they’re cerebral, emotional, and aggressive. And there are still enough hooks to remind you it’s the same guy who wrote "Academy Fight Song.

Mary Timony, The Golden Dove (Matador). It turned out to be a dream-pop kind of year, and nobody in Boston is dreamier or poppier than this fairy-tale heroine. She goes warm and melodic this time, haunted less by specters than by Phil Spector.

The Gentlemen, Blondes Prefer the Gentlemen (Soda Pop). Pure, loud raucous fun for the hair shaker in all of us. The well-crafted tunes are a holdover from the members’ other bands, the Figgs and the Gravel Pit, and they prove that it takes a smart band to make a great dumb record. The words "rock and roll" turn up in two song titles; they could just as easily have been in all of ’em.

Seana Carmody, Struts & Shocks (Kimchee). She’s done a lot of good and diverse music over the years — rough pop with the Swirlies, prog-rock with Syrup USA, dreamy tunes at acoustic gigs. As a solo debut should, this one allows her to stretch out in all those areas, putting forward the wide-eyed charm that she’s always had as a singer.

Peter Wolf, Sleepless (Artemis). On his three solo albums over the past decade, Wolf has been growing out of his Woofa Goofa persona and letting his guard down. This is his solo peak, a deep-blue and soul-drenched album that shows how overlooked he’s been as a songwriter. It’s also the best new album that Mick Jagger has appeared on in at least a decade.

Mr. Airplane Man, Moanin’ (Sympathy for the Record Industry). Less Delta blues and more garage rock, the duo’s third disc has their first real ballad, slightly cleaner production, occasional harmonies (more of those, please), and "Very Bad Feeling," a stone classic in the Nuggets/Pebbles mode. Add some cheap beer and you have a hot night at the Abbey.

Tanya Donelly, Beautysleep (4AD). This should have been her commercial comeback; instead it was her creative one. It was fine to hear her try out a relatively straight-ahead rock sound over the past few years, but strange beauty is still what Donelly does best. And that’s what she does here, on her best set since Belly’s debut. The voice and the melodies soar, and the songs are framed by some of the most out-there parts that guitar hero Rich Gilbert has ever played.

27, Animal Life (Kimchee). Long-time partners Maria Christopher and Ayal Naor have a voracious appetite for musical ideas, and they love a drum-machine groove as much as a cut-loose guitar solo. The second 27 album has a hazy, late-night mood that heightens the torch ballads, the twisted blues finale, and even the five minutes of crickets.

Avoid One Thing (Side One Dummy). Moonlighting Bosstone Joe Gittleman is as qualified as anyone to pay homage to old-school, song-driven punk. But even though the band are fronted by a bass player, what really kicks is the killer guitar sound (by Amy Griffin and Paul Delano). It’s a souped-up version of the classic Sex Pistols guitar sound, otherwise known as the classic Ramones sound with real solos.

Blake Hazard, Little Airplane (Kimchee). Good Lord, it’s another Kimchee release featuring a smart, intriguing female singer. This one’s no surprise, however — it’s been clear for years that Hazard’s had some fine pop up her sleeve. Working with partner John Dragonetti, she’s gotten into an electronic setting that suits her songs perfectly; this is a couple who know how to amplify each other’s strengths.

Issue Date: December 26, 2002 - January 2, 2003
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