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Different strokes
Ex-Bosstone Nate Albert comes out playing

BY TED DROZDOWSKI

"Iím gonna go get a sandwich," engineer David Minehan tells the musicians in his studioís control room. And as he walks away Nate Albert, former guitarist for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, slips into the chair behind the recording console.

Albert stabs a few buttons and starts sliding faders up as the brutal crunch of guitars pounds the air. Itís the sound of a little ball of fire called "The Good Life," one of the songs from Albertís first post-Bosstones recording project. Bassist Johnny Rioux sits back quietly and bobs his head. Out in the hall former Weezer member Mikey Welch, the other bass player on these sessions, laughs as Albertís best Steven Tyler "auw" slips out of the speakers. And Bosstones drummer Joe Sirois, sitting on a desk behind Albert in Boylston Streetís Wooly Mammoth Studios, leans into the head-ripping music.

"Iím tracking just two guitars, resisting doing the Bob Mould thing, so it keeps them really present, like AC/DC," Albert shouts as he cranks the volume a little more.

Suddenly the sound cuts in half.

"Oh my God," says Albert, "I blew the speakers." He looks around, slightly wide-eyed, and slides the faders back down.

"Dude, those are like $3000 speakers!", Sirois injects.

"Was it loud?", Albert asks, a bit sheepishly.

Thereís a long, pregnant silence.

"Naw," Rioux finally deadpans. "That was usual studio volume." Then both speakers start making sounds again as the mechanism that keeps them from frying when theyíre punished shuts off. False alarm.

A half-hour earlier, Albert had been cutting lead vocals, something heíd never done with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And as the tapes spun and he stood in his socks singing in an isolation booth, crisp pop songs sailed by, echoing the punchy, tuneful writing and arrangements of the Pixies, the Replacements, Guided by Voices, the Clash, and even Van Halen and Aerosmith more than the hardcore thrum, ska up-ticks, and punk-vibed balladry that have been the Mighty Mighty Bosstonesí mien since Albert helped start the band more than a decade ago.

"I always knew that Nate had this in him," Sirois offers as more of Albertís tight pop rumbles by in two-and-a-half-minute bursts. "Itís just that with the Bosstones, other people have their fingers in the pie." Heís referring to that Boston institutionís amiable singer and bassist, Dicky Barrett and Joe Gittleman, who along with Albertís replacement, Lawrence Katz, are currently penning tunes for the next Mighty Mighty disc.

"The Bosstones have been off the road for three months, and after six weeks I was ready to go back," Sirois adds. "Nate is feeding my hunger to rock right now, and it feels great because we played together for so long that itís natural for us to lock on. Plus, I canít believe it when I look over as weíre laying down the basic tracks and this fucker is standing there playing next to me" ó he nods toward Welch. "Mikey, me, and Nate came up jamming together, and itís so unbelievably cool to be together again after all these years."

"Itís actually fun to just be playing in the studio without some major-label idiot standing over your shoulder," Welch chimes in.

A few weeks later, Albert and I regroup in Harvard Squareís Café Algiers over strong coffee. He has now finished the tracks he was cutting at Wooly Mammoth, and heís produced a debut album for the Lost City Angels, a new band whose members straddle Boston and Connecticut. And it appears that what he started as a solo project is evolving into a band. Which is okay with Nate.

"Iím much more interested in making music with other people and seeing what comes from it. When I was recording my first batch of songs with [drummer] Paul Buckley and [bassist] David Aronoff, those guys really pulled things out of me I didnít expect." Those songs were almost Albertís solo debut, an EP heíd planned to release in early October under the name the Plastics that clocked 10 numbers in just 24 minutes and 11 seconds. But because of complications in the schedule of Albertís manager, ex-Bosstones wrangler Ami Bennitt, the release was pushed back to January. That gave him license to record more of the tunes heíd been writing, and the project began to take on its own life. Now he plans to begin performing as regularly as possible with his own band after the year turns ó and after he figures out who will be in that band, whom heís calling the Brakes.

Albert began writing songs for himself before the Mighty Mighty Bosstones released their platinum-selling smash Letís Face It (Mercury), in 1997. "They just werenít right for the Bosstones, so in between touring cycles for Letís Face It Iíd book studio time and record," he recounts. "I started playing them for friends and they got really stoked, which encouraged me."

By the time he left the Bosstones ó in December 1999, after that yearís series of annual holiday "Hometown Throwdown" shows ó he had dozens of recorded songs stockpiled and no particular design for them. Instead, he resolved to stay home after a decade on the road so he could spend more time with his mother, who is ill, and obtain a degree in political theory from Brown University. He earned that degree this spring, upon completing his thesis on John Stuart Millís nervous breakdown and the formulation of liberal politics. Afterward he celebrated by rocking out as a member of Evan Dandoís re-formed Lemonheads for a string of dates.

Albertís enthusiasm for the liberal agenda (as general as that term may be) is something he and his fellow Bosstones were awakened to by the Clash, the Specials, and other white-flag-waving bands from the punk era ó "In the days when we would hang out and get drunk and listen to records together," as he puts it. As the Mighty Mighty Bosstones blossomed, so did opportunities to bring members of anti-racism organizations and other human-rights interest groups on tour to help educate their fans. Social concerns also became a bigger part of the bandís songwriting around the time of Letís Face It. That title track and "Numbered Days" ponder the irrationality of racism. "The Impression That I Get" is a reaction to the mid-í90s gunshot murders at two Brookline abortion clinics.

Albert is no less passionate about the state of the worldís affairs; he intends to pursue an advanced degree in political studies and perhaps eventually teach. But so far the songs heís gathering for his debut seem blissfully apolitical, often inspired by the rowdy spirit of the Replacementsí 1984 smart-ass American punk manifesto, Let It Be. Thereís "Black & Blue," a dirty gem thatís all vocal and guitar hooks coated in hard-assed heartache, with its bloody-knuckled love story. Albert salutes the raw spirit of 1976 in "Diamonds to Ashes," and he dives into pure pop for "Fake in Love." He even orchestrates touches of pedal steel guitar (played by Rich Gilbert) into the ballad "Crash and Burn," and he delivers a zephyr version of Blondieís "Hanging on the Telephone."

Whether any of these make the final cut is, of course, his call. The one striking absence from these new recordings is the sort of loud íní clean ska chord he perfected, through artfully precise fret-hand muting, with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. "I decided Ďno skaí on this record," he explains. "Iím not ruling anything out for the future, but for now I want to work in an area apart from what I did with the Bosstones."

For a guy whoís just turned 30, which is typically an age of reassessment as well as the last possible year in which he can ever be trusted, Albert seems to be in a very comfortable place. "I came to the realization while I was at school that I was doing exactly what I wanted, which is music and study. When youíre in the cycle of major-label recording and touring, thereís only one thing really demanded of you, which is to be there to write the records, do video shoots, and concerts. But youíre forced to neglect other parts of yourself and your family and friends. Studying and songwriting are both a part of me. Iíd never want to consign myself to the academy and not rock. So my goal is to bring the two together as much as possible."

UNDERGROUND DISCS. Local-music fixture Mr. Curt, a veteran of Pastiche, Urban Ambience, and the Camaraderie Music label, has a new three-song single on Low Budget Records. "Springtime All Around" is cheery, old-school psychedelic pop. "Too Much History" teams him with fellow area veteran Ray Mason: the two songwriters harmonize on a tongue-in-cheek lament about being aging rockers. The disc finishes with a tripped-out take on the Beatlesí "Iím Only Sleeping." Proceeds go to the Mikey Dee Benefit Trust Fund. For more info on this and other Low Budget releases, go to www.lowbudgetrecords.com . . . And the Boston Blues Society has finally released the local compilation itís been promising for two years. The aptly named Blues from the Hub offers 16 tracks from as many artists and a nice short essay on the vitality and durability of the scene by journalist Art Tipaldi. Soul-blues lion Mighty Sam McClain steals the show, of course, with his opening "Thank You," but Ricky "King" Russell, Sugar Ray & Little Anthony, the Racky Thomas Band, Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, and Two Bones and Pick also offer dynamic performances. The cash goes to the society, which is a non-profit organization. More info? Go to www.bostonblues.com.

Issue Date: November 1 - 8, 2001