Boston has a reputable music scene. In the 70’s there was Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, Aerosmith, Boston, Jonathan Richman, The Cars and Billy Squire. As time went by came Juliana Hatfield, Figures on a Beach, some Talking Heads and Pixies. There were tons of alternative rock types, hardcore punk, experimental, new age, jazz and unorthodox fusing of folk (Galaxie 500, Del Fuegos, They Might Be Giants, Tracy Bonham), and a modern big band in The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones.
But, there was never anything roots oriented except perhaps – a little James Taylor and a lot of Bela Fleck. Can’t spite them, Boston’s a college town, good radio, great concerts, music schools, at one time a great mecca of record stores. I think Nuggets, Looney Tunes and Newbury Comics are still in business. Also excellent radio, WBCN-FM among them – at one time for me, second only to New York’s legendary WNEW-FM.
Anyway, there were also the every energetic Dropkick Murphys, Marissa Nadler, the bluesy Susan Tedeschi, Folk Implosion and Paula Kelly. Boston has its rap, hip-hop, R&B and classical scenes. But, the pickings are scatter shot. Not to suggest that Boston doesn’t have great talent but....some who claim to be from Boston are actually relocated college musicians. Graduated from the many fine music schools and became residents. Boston still struggles with its music identity. It’s solid, but it’s not set in stone. When you say Boston music scene – you don’t think in terms of Austin, Nashville, LA, Seattle, Philadelphia or even New York or Atlanta. Some of the foreign artists I have spoken to often cite those cities as targets to start their career – but they seldom mention Boston. Maybe that needs to be looked into and further developed. But at one time, I lived there, so I am partial to its musical importance nonetheless.
And so, along comes someone named Danielle Miraglia and she does have something to say.
The lead off track “Dead End Street,” from Danielle’s 3rd album “Glory Junkies,” – contains ten diversified alt-country-rock tracks. It sounds a little like a dash of Josh Stone crossed with late 60’s Genya Ravan of the band Ten Wheel Drive (“Morning Much Better” off the “Brief Replies” LP). Danielle also has a little nip in her voice that suggests the sexiness of Chi Coltrane (“Thunder and Lightning”). Yes, I know, Danielle probably doesn’t even know who these artists are. But, if anyone takes the time to investigate – the resemblance is valid. It only means that Danielle is following in the footsteps of some wonderful veteran performers. Other reviewers may compare her to more recent artists – but, there’s a chance that somewhere in there – one of those recent artists actually heard the artists I am mentioning and that was the launch site. After all, Amy Winehouse was a big Shangri-Las fan and those female vocalists go back even further than Ravan and Chi.
Danielle sings and plays guitar on the album and on this track there’s also a cool fiddle. It’s ultimately a memorable song. Maybe Boston will start to percolate.
The second track is a powerful tune with an aching viola/cello type sound that pushes its wonderful lyrical story forward on “Coffee Stained Thank You Card.” It sounds like a ballad strained through a blues colander. “You can’t run from yourself....” a standard line, almost a cliche in the rock world, but not as potent as the way Danielle weaves it here and now. Toward the end of the song it takes on something I don’t hear often from Boston – or today or anywhere. Danielle unleashes some strident masterful soul. Yes, soul. And that’s commendable.
She does not sound like she’s experimenting either or using it for affect. She’s using it to her own advantage and to elevate her own material’s importance. As if she knew how to put ingredients together, cook it up tasty and most importantly – serve it. And that's what a great performer does.
There’s a thick nice retro guitar intro that starts the title track and Danielle wisely sings in what I perceive as a different register. The song takes on a different tone than the first two songs. “Glory Junky,” – a steady, snaky, weaving song. The drummer is relentless on the closed high hat and it doesn’t intrude. It drives the song along and while some of Danielle's vocals are reminiscent of other female singers, her lyrical pronunciation is masterful. A brief old-style rock and roll sax break energizes it and the band is as tight as a ball of rubber bands. While the guitar is somewhat intentionally heavy with its notes the presentation is polished. All of the other instruments are razor sharp in contrast and are delightful.
“Carmella,” maintains the soulful narrative with deep velvet vocals and an under current of church organ. The strum of heavy guitar strings on this track is compelling. It has imagination and that’s what makes this song shimmer. The power of the song is actually in its restraint.
On this song, Danielle vocalizes with unique pronunciation to her lyrics. Amy Winehouse often applied her voice in a similar fashion. Sometimes, it’s not the voice alone, not the lyric or melody that propels the interest or makes the song. It’s just the simple application of certain words and how they are pronounced.
Recently, because it was August 16th – the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death -- PBS aired his world wide Aloha From Hawaii concert from 1973. Elvis was a master of knowing just how to pronounce certain words in a song to add a desired effect. I noticed this throughout the program. He didn't just sing words -- I was quite impressed with how he pronounced certain lyrics, his mike technique and how he used that to emphasize lyrics. For a closer look at what I’m talking about specifically – go to his 1974 live version of “Trying To Get To You,” off the Memphis live album (on YouTube). The way he pronounced: “When I read your lovin’ letters,” and how he dropped his notes at the end of that stanza: “...it didn’t mean a thing.....hing...” Drove the audience crazy. Then, not stopping there he summoned up all his vocal power and voodoo and sang “there was nothing that could hold me, OR could keep me... away from you.” The emphasis on a simple word like OR was extraordinary. The entire song was a performance in dramatic pronunciation, a singing lesson, a showcase, that exemplified why he was the performer and recording artist he was. This is why this song was spine tingling. My point?
Danielle sounds like she may understand that edge. She absolutely touches it at times – with fingers that hesitate at the rim of the hot boiling musical pot. But she gets closer than most of her contemporaries. This is why I believe she is a special vocalist. It doesn't sound like she is just singing words.
“Left Hand Turn,” is a little more novelty inspired. But, an artist who has a sense of humor is smart. Not every song can be angst, anger, seriousness, true love and anticipation. One must use humor to lighten up the work. It can’t always be dark and matter of fact. This song dabbles with humorous lyrics, prominent aggressive backup female vocalists and a sweet accordion. Despite my word novelty, the song is in no way silly. It has meat on its bones, and Danielle knows when to apply her Bonnie Bramlett growl. (For those who don’t go back that far, Bonnie was part of a great band called Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – that featured "friend" lead guitarist Eric Clapton. It's Bonnie’s soaring backup voice on the classic “Comin’ Home,” and "Free The People," that tugs at me here. Trivia: It's Bonnie’s daughter Bekka who was once a member of Fleetwood Mac).
An effective voice switch again – “Heat of the Win,” has rich lyrical storytelling and a mournful fiddle. Danielle’s voice is higher, with a younger sound. Her poignancy is real – the tale that unfolds is first class alt-country. This does not sound like something that would have sprouted from the musical soil of Boston – but Nashville. Taylor Swift may be considered country today but this is what today’s country music should sound like.
The scorcher on the album begins with a rousing harmonica with acoustic guitar and what sounds like a Resonator guitar. I could be wrong. It unleashes a rollicking vocal attack in a Tracy Nelson & Mother Earth style here (“I Need Your Love So Bad”). Danielle is country-blues personified. This song is like a big bonfire and Danielle just keeps pouring kerosene on it. She has so many big shoes to follow and some she may never have heard of. What makes me respect her approach is that she uses all her natural resources intelligently to ignite a brilliant porch pounding saloon romper in “Tear It Down.” This is the mother lode. Excellent. If one song points this woman in any direction for a career – this is the high water mark.
Danielle gets funky next as she adds some Bar-Kay oriented horns to great effect on“Warning Fair Warning.” This has a nice Muscle Shoals groove. Steve Cropper guitar-inspiration. This is all good, because it means a legendary style can and will be carried into the future by some young people -- who get it. This woman sings country and dabbles in soulful-funk. What more can an aficionado ask for? This is invigorating stuff and it works effectively. It’s another song that will motivate a bar crowd up off their respective asses to dance and boogie. Oh, the band may have to play behind a wire cage (reference the Patrick Swayze film"Road House") -- but so what? This audience appreciates their music with their boilermakers and Mickey’s Big Mouth beers. Danielle’s fiery performance is commendable and very Ten Wheel Drive in spirit and energy.
“Famous For Nothin’,” exemplifies once again why Danielle Miraglia is an interesting artist. This sounds like none of the previous songs. This returns with a fiddle, vocals are like vanilla ice cream with cognac poured over it – and ignited into a blue flame. It drives, is stirring and with its acoustic guitars and bass it sets the mood as it cuts the prairie air like a diesel. It echoes a Rolling Stones country song or Jefferson Starship when Papa John Creach was a member and rosined his bow with them.
An album collection should be a cohesive piece -- start to finish. This album has that. Suggestion? An instrumental fade out of the title track, or all-acoustic mix with no vocals of “Glory Junkies,” would have been better conclusion. It would have ended like a movie.
This Boston album was Produced / Engineered by Tom Bianchi.
All songs were written by Danielle Miraglia. The CD package is a full color die-cut four panel – no lyric booklet, lots of images and many wonderful musicians credited – and deservedly so.
Photography: Caroline Alden
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request.
John Apice / No Depression / August 2015