Ernie & The Automatics “Low Expectations”
Open E Records
The music on Low Expectations is an unexpected pleasure from producer/ vocalist/ keyboardist Brian Maes, bassist Tim Archibald, drummer Sib Hashian, rhythm guitarist Ernie Boch Jr. and Michael Antunes on saxophone and vocals. To quote the Oracle from the film The Matrix “Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way: Hashian and Goudreau were part of the band Boston’s first multi-platinum self-titled masterpiece with Barry G joining Orion The Hunter and bringing Brian Maes (of Brian Maes and The Memory) on board to tour.
When RTZ formed and released their 1991 album it featured Barry Goudreau, Tim Archibald and Brian Maes. So the adding of Sib Hashian from the original band Boston, Michael “Tunes” Antunes” from John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band and Berklee musician Ernie Boch Jr rounds out the next chapter, Ernie & The Autormatics.
The result? No Expectations is a smooth exercise in pop/blues/rock with seasoned veterans who take their musical chops and head in a new direction. If what the fan base knows of the high energy past and what Maes has produced at Longview Farm seems – on the surface – like a duality, well, it is, but not in the way that one expects. Perhaps that’s the reason for the title. Some will immediately feel it is RTZ morphing from arena rock to the world of B.B. King and Buddy Guy, but that’s not entirely true, especially with the brilliant “Fly In The Milk”, the final track composed solely by Maes which reflects Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die era and middle period Steely Dan.
The jazz rock sound is enormous and is not only the album’s most satisfying track, it could be an indicator of Brian Maes, The Producer, forging a new chapter in his deep portfolio. The sound placement and the feeling generated by the guitars, sax and keyboards is simply out of this world. A true diamond by veterans who, if they follow this path, could be up for some long-deserved Grammy recognition.
“Ya can’t have it your way/ya can’t change the past” Maes sings in his co-write with Goudreau, the opener “The Good Times (Never Last)” which could very well be a tip of the hat sideways to Tom Scholz. The hook is perfect, but the sound veers somewhere between Z.Z.Top and Molly Hatchet by way of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “What’s Your Name”. Title track Low Expectations merges the Steely Dan sax with the “Easy Evil” groove that Genya Ravan put into Alan O’Day’s classic. It slithers and crawls through the speakers with songwriter Maes never sounding as bluesy as he does here. “If I’d A Let You” has Tim Archibald’s distinctive bass from the band New Man with the horn section of Joe Klimek and Willie Archibald. It’s an elegant piece with a superb instrumental break.
An interesting aside is to go to BrianMaes.com and give an ear to “You Can’t Go Wrong” by the Brian Maes band, it gives a perspective on his voice on lighter and poppier material and helps the listener get a focus on what Ernie & The Automatics is all about. The package is stunning, a sixteen page booklet with a wonderful color scheme and a “new” Boston band taking things into a direction that those familiar with their work apart from this might need some adjusting to. “All About You” on Brian Maes.com is that Emmit Rhodes 60’s pop with a highly commercial edge while ( perhaps the best indicator on “Low Expectations”)
Maes takes his own biggest hit, “Until Your Love Comes Back Around”, the Top 30 song from 1992 on RTZ’s debut album, and stretches it into something unique, compelling and different entirely. With Dave Edmunds vocal-stylings and sound effects taken almost directly from “I Hear You Knocking” the tune is unrecognizable from its original incarnation, re-titled “Back Around”, it emerges like this band itself, these fellows putting their own stamp on the material with their mission statement direct and most heavy.
It’s remarkable, actually, that these risk-taking musicians are taking yet another big leap/risk on their terms. “Low Expectations” is a satisfying project with some telling moments, and a disc that – unlike many acts in this new millennium – makes the next episode something to look forward to.