Noisy Neighbors

New sounds from close to home

By Jonathan Perry
Globe Staff / September 2, 2011

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Anyone under the impression that James Keyes, singer-guitarist for veteran Worcester punks the Numbskulls, has taken a mellow folk detour with his second solo album would be sadly (actually, make that gladly) mistaken.

As fellow Massachusetts-born, hardcore-bred rockers like Social Distortion’s Mike Ness will tell you, an acoustic guitar, bracing voice, and an ominous tune or two about sin and salvation can be just as fiery, fierce, and - yes - punk as a louder, faster approach. Just take a listen to Steve Earle or Johnny Cash for proof - or better yet, Woody Guthrie (the dude’s guitar was labeled “This Machine Kills Fascists’’; now really, how much more punk can you get than that?).

With a deft hand and harp to go with a baritone as strong as brewed black coffee (if occasionally a tad too indebted to Eddie Vedder’s overheated vocal mannerisms), Keyes demonstrates an impressive mastery of multifaceted Americana. Over here, we get boot-stompin’ folk-blues (“Wicked Night’’) and gospel-tinged ruminations on finding peace of mind (“The Ones Before’’). Over there, a lived-in set of back-porch jams (the banjo-plucked opener, “Steel Toes and Blue Jeans,’’ is a lively highlight) and sweet, tempered alt-country (“Paper in the Wind’’). The electric hoodoo of “End of the Road,’’ fittingly, closes “Devil’’ at a blues-rock crossroads that’s both brooding and boisterous. (Out now)

James Keyes plays Club Passim’s campfire on Sunday. He’s also at the Plough & Stars on Sept. 14. For details and a list of Keyes’s other area gigs, go to