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Letters to Cleo


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Pop, rock

Status:

Band broke up in 2000, though reunited for a tour in 2008; most recent release is from that tour, From Boston Massachusetts (live, 2013)

See also:

The band's official site

Wikipedia's entry for Letters to Cleo

Singer Kay Hanley's web site

Drummer Stacy Jones' band American Hi-Fi

Comparisons:

The Breeders, that dog., Veruca Salt, Frogpond, Juliana Hatfield

Covers/own material:

Own; occasional covers in studio and in concert

General comments:

Many reviews tend to classify this Boston-based band as alternative, but for the most part their music is straight-ahead radio-friendly but intelligent pop. And while all the musicians are solid rock-n-roll performers individually, the combination plus singer Kay Hanley's girlish soprano is what makes them click as more than just another hit machine. The band's well-crafted hooks give her a good launching platform. There is plenty to like about this band if you're not indifferent to good pop.
     Letters to Cleo put on a much stronger live show than you might expect, based on the balanced performances captured in the studio. Hanley is an energetic, engaging focus for the band's strengths, and made their live shows memorable, bouncing and dancing her way through a set. Her voice holds up well without the studio electronics, too—a downfall of many vocalists live. (Greg Dunn)

Another brilliant Boston band. They play the sort of songs that wouldn't sound out of place in a cavedogs or Heretix or Lemonheads Cd, only they have a female lead singer with an unspectacular, yet thoroughly pleasant voice. (kyrlidis@earthlink.net)

I saw them live, and they were fun. Also compare to Juliana Hatfield. They've had a couple of alternative hits, and a crossover one from the Melrose Place soundtrack, the tounge-twisting "Here and Now". Very cool. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

I find them closer to what Juliana Hatfield is trying for, and just a touch lighter than what most people think of for Veruca Salt. I most closely associate them with Tribe. (dgp@TheWorld.com) Alternarock band in the Veruca Salt mold. (jwermont@sonic.net)

Comments about live performance:

See above—their set at Indy's X-Fest 1995 was a tornado funnelled onto the main stage, raising the temperature well above the ambient 95-degree summer swelter. On a day when many other bands slogged their way through a respectable 30-minute set, the Cleos caught fire. Too bad they broke up, but glad that they're all still making music... (Greg Dunn)

Recommended first album:

Wholesale Meats and Fish for well-written and strong rock performances, or Aurora Gory Alice for less grunge, more pop.

Recordings:


Sister

Release info:

1991—Rebecca Lula Records—cassette
1998—Dot-Rat Records / Wicked Disc—WIC 1010

Availability:

Regional; wide for re-release

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Mike Eisenstein—guitar
Kay Hanley—vocals
Stacy Jones—drums
Pete Whitehead—drums
Ted Garland—drums
Brian Karp—bass
Scott Riebling—bass
Greg McKenna—guitar

Produced by:

Bernard George, Scott Riebling, David Porter

Comments:

The Cleos' first effort, released originally on cassette in 1991 and re-released on CD in 1998 with extra tracks.

Much less heavily produced than even the CherryDisc Aurora Gory Alice; altogether a clean recording with a pleasant sense of optimism about it. Kay's voice is at its most pure, and the band overall sounds fresh and interested in what they're doing. An early version of "I See" starts the album off right, and later we hear not one or two, but three cover tunes that give some hints about the band's early interests. A must for Cleo completists, and not a bad album for its own sake.
     It's easy to see where this band's roots grew; this first "official" release of their premiere album contains the seeds of talent, plus some great cover tunes. (Greg Dunn)


Aurora Gory Alice

Release info:

1993—CherryDisc Records—22896-2
1994—Giant Records—9 24598-2

Availability:

Regional; wide for re-release

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Mike Eisenstein—guitar, backing vocals, piano
Kay Hanley—vocals, guitar
Stacy Jones—drums, lap, guitar
Brian Karp—bass, piano [CherryDisc release]
Scott Riebling—bass [Giant release]
Greg McKenna—Paid Us Money To Put His Name Here [Giant release: Drives The Van And Drinks Beer]
Abe Laboriel—drums [CherryDisc release]
Mary Beth Ramshy—backing vocals [Track 6, Giant release]
Mike Denneen—keyboards

Produced by:

Mike Denneen

Comments:

There are two issues of this album; the first, on CherryDisc Records, was a small pressing and contains alternate performances/mixes of "Rim Shak" and "Here & Now". The next pressing was on Giant Records, and is the more commonly seen CD. There are numerous visual differences on the artwork, but the CDs are quite similar at first glance.
     The Cleos' first CD is not overproduced, and therefore may sound a little "thin" compared to the consistently too-loud, compressed albums flooding the airwaves in the mid-90s. This album (both releases) is well-structured pop, with Kay's lyrics covering the range from wistful teen introspection to cynical social commentary. (Greg Dunn)

A concise, pithy exercise in the pop genre, from the continually frustrated Boston milieu, and the bit where she sings real fast is cool. yeh, heh heh, it rules. watch this: "thecomfortofaknowledgeofariseabovetheskyabovecouldneverparallel thechallengeofanaquisitioninthe here and now here and now." heh heh, that was cool. (bossert@suddensound.com)


Wholesale Meats and Fish

Release info:

1995—Giant Records—9 24613-2

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Mike Eisenstein—guitar, vocals
Kay Hanley—vocals, guitar
Stacy Jones—drums, vocals
Scott Riebling—bass, vocals
Greg McKenna—guitar, vocals
Dave Gibbs—backing vocals on "Pizza Cutter"
Newt Haven—organ on "Pizza Cutter" and "Acid Jed"
Mike Denneen—organ on "I Could Sleep"
Ellen Hanley—backing vocals on "Jennifer"

Produced by:

Mike Denneen

Comments:

Crunchy rock, with lots of can't-miss hooks and intriguing chord progressions. Hanley's voice takes a turn for the edge here, often just as sweet but with more grit and texture on the louder tunes. This album is the must-have for Cleo fans; the band really connects on the majority of the album; there are no "off" tracks. The lyrics show signs of maturity too. Much more heavily produced than its predecessor, but overall a good sound which preserves the band's musicality. (Greg Dunn)

Don't you hate it when you get an infectious musical hook in your mind from some new song you've only heard once or twice? The new Letters To Cleo song, "Awake", has been doing it to me for the past couple of days, after the alternative stations here started playing it. So I grabbed the CD today, and I actually like pretty much all of it. Now, I'm a big Juliana Hatfield fan, and this album has a lot of that Juliana feel. Maybe it's no coincidence they're both from around Boston...I don't know if they have anything to do with each other, but could this be a trend from that area?
     Letters To Cleo is a 5-piece band by the way, 2 girls and 3 guys. 3 members are guitarists, including lead singer Kay Hanley. The other female member is the drummer, and all 5 contribute vocal harmonies. I liked the song "Here And Now" from their last CD, but not enough to buy it, so I don't know how similar this album is. This one is power-chord alternative pop at its best though. Kay Hanley's delivery is sweet, young and playful, without any hint of vibrato or other professional vocal techniques, but she's dead on key throughout. Like Juliana Hatfield, Letters sets some bitter lyrics over sickeningly happy, hooky upbeat melodies. There's only one really slow-tempo track on here, a cool '60s-type number that features Kay's vocal very close-miked and solo. I like it because it highlights the innocent quality of her voice. The rest of the songs are simple, catchy mid- to up-tempo numbers with varying degrees of layered vocal harmonies. Nothing innovative, progressive or meaningful, and it might sit completely forgotten in my CD rack a few months from now...but for now it's a cool, fun disc. If you like Juliana Hatfield, Veruca Salt, etc., check this one out. (carnivore@bigfoot.com)


Go!

Release info:

1997—Revolution Records—9 24688-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Mike Eisenstein—guitar, vocals, keyboards
Kay Hanley—vocals
Tom Polce—drums, vocals
Scott Riebling—bass, vocals
Greg McKenna—guitar, vocals
Greg Hawkes—synthesizer on "Anchor", "I Got Time"
Jed Parish—organ on "Go!", "Sparklegirl" and "Find You Dead"
Ellen Hanley—backing vocals on "I'm A Fool"
Jim Horn—baritone sax
Barry Green—trombone
Sam Levine—tenor sax
Steve Patrick—trumpet

Comments:

Continues the strong rock showing that started in Wholesale Meats and Fish, though with a little more lyrical progress and somewhat fewer hook-laden melodies. A very mature album, but somehow not so much fun to listen to as its predecessor. (Greg Dunn)

Further info:

The band's official site hasn't been updated in a while; best to check Kay's site for new music in the same vein, and occasionally some news about the others.


Thanks to Greg Dunn for work on this entry.

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