4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
There's really no better way to review a new CD by Maybe Pete than by popping open a bottle of cheap Merlot, so here goes...
"Straight to Red" is the second full-length disc by the North Jersey / Jersey Shore rock and roll band. Their first disc took several years and the songs were basically greatest hits for their fans by the time it was released, thankfully this one came out much sooner and fans will even find a few surprises in store for them.
The best news is that the band's songs continue to progress and get better and better. After one show this summer, I told lead singer, Frankie McGrath, that it's rather amazing that the band could put together an insanely good show and NOT even do most of their most popular songs. It's a testament to their songwriting and this CD is a great step forward for the band. Maybe Pete has always been a band that some have felt wore their influences a bit too close to the music; while, one can definitely hear influences by bands like the Rolling Stones, The Replacements, The Ramones, and Bruce Springsteen - this record basically shows a signature songwriting style is emerging. The songs are romantic tales of the city - New York City to be specific - and the lyrics blend with the gritty punk / rock and roll music behind them to form an honest portrayal of the world they see outside their window. With any luck, radio stations from that world may start playing this disc because there's more than enough quality tunes ready for airplay.
The CD kicks off with "Last One Standing" - a track that is a bit of an odd choice in my opinion. I think I get what the band was after (the song could be looked upon almost as a summary of the tales of the city to be found throughout the disc) but I think it probably would have worked better farther into the record rather than leading off. The song doesn't sound anything like what you'd expect from the band and the vocals seem a bit distant. The guitar work is pretty good, but it's not enough to make me appreciate this as the kick off to an otherwise great disc.
The second track is the one I would have led off with - "Another Cigarette". This song not only is an ode to Frankie McGrath's cat but if you listen closely at the beginning you can even hear the cat for a brief moment! Already one of the new favorites of their live show, this has to be considered one of their best songs to date.
"Hideaway" - another regular to their live show - follows and shows hints of Little Steven in the songwriting. It's a great song that showcases the way Maybe Pete is able to blend their NYC punk roots with their love of Jersey Shore tunes.
One of the first surprises on the disc is "Kite", a wonderfully dreamy little love song with lines like:
"Monday morning neon light
I'm still thinking about last night
No matter where you set your sights
I'll be the sky when you fly your kite"
"Someplace We've Never Been" follows with an ode to the carnival/boardwalk life done in an almost country-twinged style, sort of as if The Band wrote a song about spending a night in Asbury Park during the 1970s. There is some brilliant guitar work late in the song.
One of my favorite songs of the disc (and of the Maybe Pete catalog) is next - "This Town". This is a perfect example of the Maybe Pete songwriting style coming into focus. Here's a tremendous story of a couple falling in love in New York City with both each other as well as the city itself.
"There's a sax man up on the corner
playing a sweet soul tune.
I get lost in all the buildings
and how they stretch right up to the moon.
But the way you look across the table
as you put your wine glass down,
that's what I dig most about this town."
Perhaps the best surprise cut on Straight to Red is "Battery Park 3/14/06" - this is simply another beautiful tune that tells the story of an amazing day spent in the city. The songwriting again tells a clear story with wonderful imagery and a solid hook for the chorus that sticks with you and makes you think as well.
"As the mist rises above the harbor,
and absolves all my sins
I wonder, will it ever be like this again?"
The next to last song is "Too Far to Fall" which is a pretty solid rock and roll tune, but nothing special. It sounds good, but might be too slick. Far from filler, but definitely not one of the best tracks on the disc.
Closing out the CD is "Through the Static" which is everything that "Too Far to Fall" is not. This song continues the storytelling style and consistent theme of how wishes, the road and music are somehow all connected. It's a theme that Maybe Pete has looked into before and one in which they seem very comfortable talking about. I could easily see this song becoming a fan favorite. It's also a great way to end the record.
Fans of Maybe Pete will love this record! It's always nice to see a band grow and get better with each new song. Maybe Pete is doing that right now. This record is much better than their first one and that record contained songs they had been playing for years. What that tells me is that the band is starting to hit their stride. Pick up a copy of Straight to Red and see for yourself.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.