The Boston Phoenix
January 6 - 13, 2000
Great guitar players don't need fingerprints. They can be identified by their tone -- the distinctive qualities of the sounds they pick, pluck, pull, and push from their instruments. The most dedicated players spend their musical lives looking for a tone, a voice within their guitar that's truly their own. Some find it and stop searching; others never do.
MASCARA ON MASCARA
Another compelling local CD fueled by hell-fire guitar is Mascara's debut, Cellar Door (Mascara Records). This four-piece are led by guitarist/singer Chris Mascara. And by Chris's gut emotions. From the opening scream of Tim Kelly's lap steel guitar on "Carnival" to the menacing tritone chords that hang beneath the verses of "Sweet Anne" to the droning deadpan string strikes and prickly leads that emerge everywhere, guitars touch the raw nerves of Mascara songs. Which are very raw. The sanatorium chaos of "Carnival" is based on Chris Mascara's own post-breakdown stay at McLean Hospital. The mix of melody and fury in "Electrode" plumbs the numbing effect of shock therapy. "JesusSatan" picks at the scabby edges of human nature and the conflicts of religious dogma and morality. And all the time the guitars of Mascara and Kelly do their thing, covering turf that ranges from the grinding distortion of the Velvet Underground to the angular wailing of Pere Ubu and Gang of Four.
"I came up through the ranks as a supporting player, a lead guitar in somebody else's band," says Mascara, whose credits include Nineteen, Box Car Betty, his own Rootlock, and the pit band for Boston Rock Opera (where in addition he understudied Gary Cherone as the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar). "Also, when I was a young kid, I studied classical organ, so I play chords that only a classical organist would love. A lot of the weirdness in question comes from the altered tunings I use. I enjoy making up a song where I'm relying on my ears and not muscle memory or rock formula."
To that end, Chris has developed his own variations on open tunings, and he douses his sound with effects like vintage phase shifters and an Electric Mistress. "A lot of the songs on Cellar Door were among the first bunch of songs I wrote about eight years ago, but when it came time to record, of the 100 or so I've got in my repertoire we felt like those really hung together nicely because of their confessional nature."