Even eternal punk rockers the Ramones evolved (a little) across their recorded output, a point Lenny Lashley makes when talking about his new album "Illuminator."
On "Illuminator," Lashley covers more ground than he did when singing and playing guitar in Boston's slash-and-burn punk troupe Darkbuster. The new album, out this week via Pirates Press Records and Panic State Records, is a mix of punched-up rockers, contemplative ballads, and wistful memories.
"It's natural to progress as a musician," Lashley says. "Before, I never a wrote a song that was longer than two minutes and thirty seconds. Now I'm letting the songs breathe and go longer."
"Illuminator" follows a three-song 7-inch that introduced Lenny Lashley's Gang of One. The project was intended to be a singer-songwriter vehicle, but then the music simply grew as Lashley's gang did. Pete Steinkopf of the Bouncing Souls produced the 7-inch and the LP, and played guitar and keys on both. Bouncing Souls bassist Bryan Keinlen and Mighty Mighty Bosstones drummer Joe Sirois also played on the three-song and full-length, with "Illuminator" also drawing additional firepower, such as Bouncing Souls drummer Michael McDermott.
"At first I was doing a record with just me on guitar. Then me being the guy I am started adding here and there," Lashley says.
The whole journey to "Illuminator" has taken more than two years, but it does sound like Lashley has arrived to a point as a writer where he doesn't need to fall back on the raw energy and pranks of Darkbuster.
In turning inward, Lashley delivers songs that touch on a range of subjects spanning youthful hooliganism to the afterlife. "Kingston Rocker" starts the record, springing from Lashley's South Shore hometown (with wry references to the Clash's days in Kingston, Jamaica) and reflects on the singer's own fall and rise. In "White Man," Lashley, who suffered a breakdown while on tour in Europe in 2008, weaves a tale of collapse infused with punk-rock iconography. It's all sharp interplay between the personal and the bigger punk universe.
The origins of "Illuminator" can be heard in "Happily," an acoustic song with a country lope that details a broke down relationship. "U.S. Mail" is the other relationship song, this one a full-blown rocker and a bit more hopeful.
"Illuminator's" acoustic underpinnings also come through on "Anti-Christmas," a dour holiday tale Lashley has performed during a Mighty Mighty Bosstones Hometown Throwdown and says was meant to be in the vein of the Kinks' "Father Christmas."
"It's a sad song, and I know some people don't want to hear sad songs, but not everything is always happy," Lashley says.
"Heaven's Gate" is a stark ballad about, well, the meaning of life.
"I played around with that one arrangement wise, but it's something everybody can relate to, that fear of what happens when you're dead. I know it goes through my head," Lashley says.
Lashley wrote the the freewheeling "Hooligans" in the studio, which is something he has never done before. He had the lyrics about growing up a punk rocker in Boston mapped out, but cooked up the music during discussions with McDermott.
And even though he says the tongue-in-cheek humor of Darkbuster is what he used to trade in, you can't help but appreciate it popping up for a minute on the closing track "Re-Covering."
Lashley is assembling a band for a CD-release show slated for July 12 at the Middle East, 472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, with the Have Nots, the Scrapes, and Mung.
And then it's off to Europe with the Street Dogs, as Lashley recently signed on to play guitar with those fellow Boston-bred punks. When the Street Dogs return, Lashley will look for more opportunities to play Gang of One shows, which he's done on punk bills and at roots-rock shows.
"I'll take it wherever they want to hear it," he says.
Here's a sample of "Illuminator," which is up on iTunes or can be ordered through Pirates Press at http://www.piratespressrecords.com/
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