The purple setting with bare trees is a classy cover photo for Stains of a Sunflower’s February cd, and interesting as the name of the group is not on the spine, the front cover or the CD. In fact, it’s hidden on the right hand bottom corner of the black back cover, making for a kinda sorta Andy Warhold Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat, tilt it under the fluorescent to see kind of approach. The vocals of the group’s chanteuse, Natalie Renée,are embellished with the electronic guitar of Alex Michael Jones on opener “California Sky” as the two play off of each other in interesting ways, The music is velvet smooth over the 5:57 – almost six minutes – in what is one of eight titles that are more like excursions than songs. The band is simply amazing as they stretch out with Renee painting over Shade Tramp’s steady and sometimes exotic drumming. It’s not easy to get a handle on what they are exactly doing as the songs get dismantled and reassembled throughout the performances.
At 3:06 “Spells” is the shortest tune, the vocalist singing while offering short bursts as Jones’ guitar follows her lead. Dan Soghomonian’s bass keeps pace with them as “Spells” segues in to “September” (not the Earth, Wind and Fire classic, nothing like it!) Five of the eight are one word titles, think Talking Heads 1979 epic Fear of Music with seven of the eleven going the same route. The jam on “September” is eloquent and captivating, contrasted with the folk/acoustic of title track “February” which follows with its gut-wrenching set of questions and mental self-discussion.
Live the quartet recreates this embracing set of sounds, “Pretend” again taking a different turn, as if Nico reprised her days with the Velvet Underground on their quiet third masterpiece. Kaleb Jacks’ clear and precise production/engineering is reminiscent of the late Wayne Wadham who built Berklee’s original studios (and produced Full Circle for Columbia records, along with other major artists. Check out that disc for a comparison,) and complements the band nicely as Natalie’s pathos switch to a John Lennon-styled primal scream. “I Love,” “Dreaming of You” and “Tree Song” are further adventures, the acoustic in “I Love” essential to shift the sounds a bit, “Dreaming of You” slipping in like a sixties classic with “Tree Song” ending like a jazzy Abbey Road conclusion, two of my favorite tracks on this excellent disc coming at the end. The chorus behind Renee is as compelling as it is eloquent. Not your typical Boston area sound, and nicely put together all the way around.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.