Todd Mack & the Star Alternative – Square Peg, Round Hole

Your guitar teacher may never tell you this, but fun is an integral part of musicianship and performing. When you catch a show where the band is obviously enjoying playing, the fun is contagious and almost always spreads to the audience. Fun is a lot easier to convey live, but there are bands who do an exceptional job of spreading fun and joy in their recorded work.

Take Todd Mack, for instance. Todd’s one of those music journeymen that seems to enjoy life unconditionally. From his early work (both solo and with the band The Griswolds) in Atlanta to his current endeavors in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, his music is quirky, catchy and fun. His last album, Yonder The Big Blue Holler, emphasized an alt-country feel and featured some of the finest musicians in Western Mass.

Square Peg, Round Hole, with his band The Star Alternative, is a big shift to the kind of rocking garage music that you can’t help but dance to. The CD kicks off with Tell Me, feedback, distorted chords, Led Zeppelin inspired guitar licks and all, and from there it’s a long fun ride.

Bombs Away demonstrates Todd at his best, taking shots at both romantic and political relationships at once with a deft pen. It starts out with a typical “once there was a time when you and I were lovers” before veering off into the simple yet frightening chorus of “bombs away, it’s easier than talking, bombs away, no compromise…” It’s scary how well this song works on so many levels, and that’s a big nod to Todd’s songwriting talents.

Tracks three and ten, Why You Do This To Me and Mary Go ‘Round, were written by Glenn Foster, a Boston based songwriter and performer. The former, a throw back to sixties pop, though sparsely arranged with lots of space, seems to propel itself along while the backing vocals seem to come from nowhere and carry things along much the Kinks’ early hits. Mary Go ‘Round, on the other hand, is a dense sonic wall reminiscent of the Stones’ best days.

All sorts of musical styles pop up throughout the songs on this album. Him Not Me combines twangy country vocals with roadhouse rock on the verses and percolating ska rhythms on the chorus. And the funky island beat continues on in the Camper Van Beethoven cover Take The Skinheads Bowling. Matt Sermini’s drum work is spot on and his vocal harmonies make you picture him with a huge grin on his face while playing (and if you see these guys live, you’ll see he’s always smiling and having a great time).

True, featuring some very hot lead playing by guitarist James Bill, alternately purrs with a silky R&B groove and a thundering rock chorus. Will Curtiss’ bass work is a textbook example of how a good bass player puts the song before himself. He doesn’t waste a note while displaying a versatility many players only hope for. And all the band’s harmonies are terrific, especially the wonderfully bizarre harmonies of Sweet Tokin’ Mama (another great example of Todd’s talent at turning a phrase), which are a real treat.

If there were any justice in the world, The More You Drink (…”the better we sound…”) would be a mandatory cover for bar bands across the world.

The CD winds down with some interesting variations on styles. The Game once again evokes the Kinks, but this time of the seventies decade. They Say is a wonderful piece of pop writing while Latte gracefully shifts from arty jazz to blue-collar rock depending on the narrator’s viewpoint. The final cut, Take The S, is pure country, although with a stinging lyrical twist.

All in all, Square Peg, Round Hole is a lot of fun. You can order this CD through CD Baby and from Todd Mack’s website.