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Part 1 of 2 of an interview with The Beltways in Rock Beat International, Issue No. 29 – Summer 2007, written by Geoff Cabin | read review [+]

For more than a decade, the Baltimore-based Beltways have been turning out a wonderful brand of pop and roots-oriented rock both in performance and on record. The Beltways originally formed in 1994, with a lineup that consisted of Jay Filippone on vocals and guitar, Pete Kuhn on drums, and John Spokus on bass and vocals. The group's self-titled debut album, released in 1996, was an excellent effort and established the Beltways as a band to watch. Highlights of the album included the catchy pop-rock numbers "Talk to You" and "Death Do Us Part (Tell Me)," the roots-oriented rockers "West Virginia Bound" and "No Regrets," and the gorgeous ballad "Would You Ever." The group's second album, Stella on Mars, was released in 1998 and showed the group making great strides forward and really coming into their own. On "Kissing Time" and "Trans Sister" the band combined catchy pop hooks with rock 'n' roll energy, while "Roller Coaster Girl" had a classic power pop sound, with a wonderful melody and ringing guitar.

Following the release of Stella on Mars, the Beltways experienced a change in lineup, with the departure of bassist John Spokus and his replacement by Billy Patrick. The Beltways also began augmenting the three-member core lineup with additional musicians.

The Beltways recently released their third album, Black and White and...Red All Over, and it's their best album yet. The album showcases Jay Filippone's expertise and continued growth as a songwriter, as well as the band's strength and versatility as a performing unit. "Ellen I Was Only...," "Living Room," and "Time" are instant power pop classics. The band emphasizes the roots-oriented side of their sound with the bluesy "Phone Talkin' Woman," the swampy "Goin' Down to Memphis," and the country oriented "Banana Seat" and "I'll Be Ok." "Something Is Stickin' to My Ribs" is a spooky, atmospheric number with a distorted vocal and dissonant guitar, reminiscent of Tom Waits. The band works similar territory on "Money on the Roof," with atmospheric electric piano and slide guitar. "City Boy Motor Inn" is a raucous rockabilly instrumental, reminiscent of Link Wray. Drummer Pete Kuhn steps forward to take lead vocals on "Fallin' Down Rock," an energetic rocker.

Rock Beat last spoke to the Beltways around the time that their second album was released. (See issues 17 and 18.) Rock Beat caught up with the group recently to talk about their new album and get brought up to date on their other activities.

Since Bill's new, I wanted to start off asking how he first got into music and what bands he played in before he joined the Beltways.

Bill: I got into music when I was probably like four or five. I started out playing piano. The first band I was in, I guess I was about fifteen, fourteen, something like that. I was playing guitar. I moved to bass in that band. Many bands later...(laughs). I was in this band called Mother Jefferson. That's where I know Jay and Pete from, we played gigs together quite a few times. When that disbanded and their old bass player left, Jay gave me a phone call, a couple years ago, and asked me to join. And I wasn't doing nothing, so I said "alright."

How has the change in the lineup...has that changed the sound of the band?

Jay: Soundwise, we've changed probably because we're changing as musicians. But as far as Bill coming in, I would say he's a great bass player, he's a very well-rounded bass player, so if we decide to do something that's got a bluesy feel, Bill has that background and that knowledge and listens to blues. Same thing if we do something that's more along the lines of traditional country or American roots or Americana, it's obvious from when we've worked together, Bill has a good grasp of how that type of music is supposed to sound. And that's what's really great. I find that if I write something, and I have an idea in my head, and I bring it in and I say "this has got this kind of feel," Bill pretty much nails it. I mean, we always fine tune everything down the line, but for the most part he can grasp the idea, he knows his scales, he doesn't stick to one genre, like very rock. He can cover pop, rock, blues, pretty much everything. So the sound, as far as the band, I think we have more variety now.

Pete: We don't have to be as loud and sonic as we used to have to be to feel like we are playing well. We can tone it down a bit, and really work on the small intricacies of the instruments, bring that out, bring out our growth of musicianship as well. So some of the old songs have changed somewhat, we'd like to think for the better. They're maybe not quite as fast as we used to play them. But the whole package is better now, because everyone's playing better, singing better.

Talking about blues and country and roots-oriented music, it seems like you kind of emphasized that a bit on the new album.

Jay: Yeah, you can definitely hear it in a lot of the songs that we're doing now, and songs that we haven't recorded. If you see us live, you can hear very Americana songs, and then there's other stuff that's more in the bluesy range. We're definitely changing. The lineup is much better than it's ever been, our live shows are better. I think we play better than we ever have played. We have other people that play with us, we're not always a three-piece. That's the other thing. We have a guitar player, his name is Gregg Simmons, and he comes in, he plays with us for at least two gigs out of the month. And he's been playing with us for two years. We also have two pedal steel players — two that have played with us in the past, another one that's going to start with us very soon. The guy that played on the latest CD, Chuck Lemasters, he's from West Virginia. So he can't always come out for shows, but he is an option if the schedule works. He plays regularly, he's fantastic, he's great. Big Al Sevilla played with us in the past. He's from Washington, DC. He's had some health problems, so he doesn't play much anymore. And then now we're looking at a new pedal steel player, and she wants to play with us, her name is Sully, and were just in that process of getting her into the mix. We also have played with a keyboard player the past couple years, Freddy Mascaroni, he's no longer playing with us.

Pete: But he has some parts on the album.

Jay: Yeah, he has some parts on the CD. We also are talking with a saxophone player right now that wants to play with us as well. Because we do a lot of oldies, covering new tunes, and our originals have parts that could be done on the saxophone as well. He saw us at a gig and was like, "Yeah, I'd love to play with you." He's retired, he's a veteran. I think he plays with Ruthie and the Wranglers, if I remember correctly. He wants to play with us and we're getting that ball rolling as well.

How did writing and recording this new album compare with your earlier albums?

Jay: The writing for this album was spread out over a long period of time.

Pete: As was the recording.

Jay: And it was sort of a mish mash in the end, because the band had changed drastically from year to year, even month to month at times. After the second CD, Stella on Mars, we said we're going to continue to record, but we're not going to rush, we're not going to put ourselves on any schedule anymore. Because we really beat ourselves to death with the second one. Or I did anyway. But we all did.

Pete: There were a lot of late nights, and we were gigging at the same time.

Jay: Right, we did not stop playing live at all. Or traveling. Or playing with different groups, and expanding and playing with other people, and things like that. So it was stressful. Going into this third one, we said we're just not going to set any schedule, there's no time frame. So it was dragged out over a lot of years. Well, what happened was, there were member changes, the bass player quit, we got a new bass player in, which was great. However, the entire CD or record, whatever you want to call it, was almost completely finished in about 2002. Up to that point, half the record was songs that I had written, and half the record was songs that our old bass player had written, that we had worked on and recorded. Well, when he quit, it was like what are we going to do? We had a band discussion, at the time Gregg Simmons was a full-time member of the band, we took a vote. We said we can't play this stuff live anymore, why should we put it on the CD? We can't promote it, we can't do anything with it. Nobody wanted to spend money to finish it. So then it was like what are we going to do? I didn't want to put more money out, we'd spent a lot of money recording. We just said let's just take what we've got, finish it and move forward. And that's what we did. So the writing did take place over maybe a couple of years, as far as my writing goes. But there were some things that we pulled from the past, some things we had done a long time ago. What else did we put on there?

Pete: One of the things about the album, was that we recorded at different places. Part of the album was recorded at Invisible Sound Studios, where we did the majority of our recording for the first two albums. Part of it was recorded in the basement when the Martians — I don't know if you remember those guys, the band — on loan, they gave us their 16-track board with an ADAT.

Jay: A lot of recording gear we borrowed, and we did a lot of it in my basement.

Pete: Many tracks were actually recorded in Jay's basement, as well as Invisible Sound Studios, and Kurt Deemer from a band called Vulgaria has a studio and did some recording for us as well. So, it was at least three locations mixed together.

Jay: Which was sort of the goal anyway. We've always done that with recording. We usually do recording in three blocks and do five songs at a time maybe, so that we can get a different feel per grouping of songs. Because each studio has a different sound and each engineer has their own way of doing things. However, Dave Nachodski at Invisible Sound Studio did mix the entire CD.

Pete: And master, right?

Jay: Oh yeah, he did the mastering as well. But the basic tracks we like to do in different places with different mikes, different amps, different guitars, different engineers working with us.

Pete: Yeah, the first two albums, when I said Invisible, they were mostly Invisible Sound, but there was another studio for the first two, as well as one basement recording, "My Fiddle," which was mixed into the album as well. So we've always done a little bit of that, but this album was a little more extreme, I think, as far as mixing studios and tracks. Correct me if I'm wrong, there were a few songs where some of the tracks were recorded in the basement and some at Invisible Sound. And some in Kurt Deemer's studio and some at Invisible Sound. So the whole song was pieced together.

Jay: There was a real mix. We would record some tracks to a song in my basement and then take those tracks and take them to another studio and record more tracks there. There was a real mish mash of recording. And it was a constant thing. We were working in my basement for a year, believe it or not. We had the equipment on loan, we were talking about maybe two or three months. And the Martian guys were like, "Oh, we're not using it, just hold onto it." So we just kept going and going and going. You get lazy when you have the equipment in your house. Bill knows because Mother Jefferson used to have recording gear in their basement. You go, "That would be so cool, to have all that gear in the basement, you just walk downstairs and start recording." Well, when it's in your house, it's there, and you keep putting it off. Everybody's so busy these days. But we did have a lot of fun. I spent a lot of time working on recording and engineering myself. One song, "Stickin' to My Ribs," that was me a hundred percent. I had Pete play a drum beat, and I did just about all the other tracks on that, just by myself in the evenings.

Pete: Yeah, when you started that song you wanted this Tom Wait-ish kind of feel...

You definitely got that, it really reminds me of Tom Waits.

Pete: There you go. It was going to be totally different from anything the Beltways had ever done. And all Jay asked me, he had a click track and was strumming the guitar, and said, "Just play along with this for three or four minutes, because I have some ideas for how to create a song out of this." I really like it. We recently are on Apple iTunes, and I was surprised to see "Stickin' to My Ribs" is one of the ones that has been downloaded the most.


ONE TRACK MIND, The Washington City Paper • Review by Joe Dempsey, September 22, 2006 | read review [+]

Black and White and… Red All Over — The Beltways

STANDOUT TRACK: No. 11, "City Boy Motor Inn," a thrashed-out country rocker built around lead singer/guitarist Jay Filippone's scorching Stratocaster lines, Pete "Koon Boy" Kuhn's fiery drumming, former Beltway John Spokus' thumping bass, and a gaggle of "wooos" and "yee-haws." The lyrics pretty much hew to a twangily (and often group-) sung exploitation of the red-state/blue-state rift: "Get on home, city boy!"

"I don't think we've ever had a mosh pit, or anything like that," says Kuhn, 36, but "City Boy" "gets people movin' a little bit."

MUSICAL MOTIVATION: There's a song Filippone, a 40-year-old city boy living in Baltimore, cites as an influence, and appropriately enough, he heard it while passing through a small town ("maybe [in North] Carolina") during a long-ago road trip. The title was something like "Forty Miles of Back Road," he recalls. "[The radio station] didn't say who it was, but it was pretty cool." Later, when reminded of Duane Eddy's "Forty Miles of Bad Road," he says, "I'm almost positive [that's it]. I might even have that somewhere on…vinyl."

DARK SIDE OF THE MOONING: According to one country boy, the Beltways and their entourage should stay within the city. Several years ago, after a gig in the Harpers Ferry area, some "rowdy" friends came, says Kuhn, and "the next morning, [one] was doing something kind of obscene or being loud." At that point, an "older gentleman was commenting, 'Get on back to the city, boy.'" And what, exactly, raised the old man's ire? "I suppose if you read about it in a crime [blotter]," Kuhn says, "it might say, 'Man exposes buttocks.'" CP


Bruce Brodeen, Not Lame Recording Company, July 2006 | read review [+]

Wow! Last we heard from The Beltways it was another decade and we're heading into the second half of this one, but they are back with a strong, eclectic mix of just downright wickedly cool music. Leading off this 12 track is "Ellen I Was Only..." which, if you heard it blind, you'd swear it was Paul Collins' Beat. Next up is the honky-tonkin' "Phone Talking Woman" followed by the sing-a-along Stones-cum-rootsy-alt-country-bar-pop of "Living Room." What follows is a splendourous mix of varying music styles that all are woven and matched up into one neat, literally and figuratively, album. "The Beltways skillfully combines catchy pop tunes with hard-driving rhythms and a slightly rootsy sound for great results" [Rock Beat International]. Mixing power pop, blues-rock, honky-tonkin' alt-country rock and roots rock, The Beltways pull off 'the hard to imagine' with aplomb, confidence and style.


Ray Gianchetti, Kool Kat Musik, July 2006 | read review [+]

The third release from the Charm City (that's Baltimore, hon) trio finds the band forgoing the hard 'n' fast pop that permeated their earlier releases in favor of a more rootsy, sometimes even swampy, down-home-style pop — and it works just fine! "Phone Talkin' Woman" could be a Dave Edmunds or Rockpile outtake! "They skillfully combine catchy pop tunes with hard-driving rhythms and a slightly rootsy sound with great results" [Rock Beat International]. While they've maintained their knack for writing catchy, pop-leaning songs, it's now all delivered with janglier and twanglier guitars! This is garage-roots-pop at its best! They would fit quite comfortably at Fletcher's on a triple-bill with The Yayhoos and Terry Anderson!


The Beltways appear on the Baltimore Songwriters' Association's "Songs from our Circle — Volume 4" Review by Annette Warner in Coffeehouse Tour, May 2006 | read review [+]

Compilations are probably my favorite of all project types. Especially when they are a double-disc release, and even more so when they make an effort to include a melting pot of styles, genres and moods. This multifarious fourth release of Baltimore's area songwriters satisfies my variety-hungry ears wonderfully with it's eclectic mix of folk, rock, jazz, chick rock, dude rock, theater-style tunes, sing-a-long and harmony driven melodies, including gospel, and back-in-the-day musical protein. Vocal talents on the CD are an interesting variance of 'sound like' influences that really stand out such as; James Taylor in 'Goodnight Best Friend' by Richard Minogue; Bruce Springsteen in 'Stare' by Gerard Thomas Goodenow & Dolly Parton in 'The Great Attraction' by David Reeve, led vocally by Grace Hearn. The project is laden with gifted artists, but the strongest four tracks in my opinion are: The punk-like 'Isn't it Funny' by Karyn Oliver; 'Goin' Down to Memphis' by The Beltways, (though a bit too Rolling Stone-ish to be a totally original sound, it's still a great groove song), the jazzy sweetness and fun of 'Perfect Enough' by Nita Paul and J.P. Graboski's powerful cut, 'Burning Grey'. The production and mastering is excellently done and it's obvious that the team set out to release an outstanding gathering of Maryland talent and succeeded. 29 tunes later we get to hear a wonderful example of the power that can be had in a music community supporting it's own. The final result is something for them all to be proud of. I can't wait for Volume 5. Great job!


Online review — June 26, 2005 | read review [+]

Posted at

"The Beltways started out as a power pop trio in 1994. They released a self titled debut in late 1996 to positive fanzine reviews and international airplay on college and indie radio. A second CD Stella On Mars followed in 1998 and garnered the band more attention and a spot at Los Angeles' International Pop Overthrow festival in July 1999. The Beltways opened for many bigger acts in their area including Jonathan Richman, Mojo Nixon, Gigolo Aunts and Old 97's. The most stable period was 1996-1999, then there were several personnel changes and attempts to add additional instrumentation and expand into alt country, blues and other styles. Nothing new except a limited edition EP of cover tunes in 2001 has been released since Stella and some form of the band continues to gig sporadically without much press."


Online review — "Rating: 5 out of 5 stars — Great Indie Guitar Pop !!!," 2005 | read review [+]

Posted at:

Although The Beltways are mainly considered a power pop band, they are stylistically more diverse than most artists in that genre. This CD, their second,is more in the the power pop vein than the debut which showcased their more rootsy side (Rolling Stones, Rory Gallagher, Chuck Berry)and garage/punk rock tendencies, amid the pop. "Kissing Time", "Rollercoaster Girl", "True Romance", and the cover of the Stones early hit "Tell Me, You're Coming Back" are The Beltways at their pop zenith. The rootsy side is still there; check out the alternative country flavorings of "My Fiddle" and the REM-ish "Don't Remember Her Name", both complete with mandolin and acoustic guitar. The fun country/punk shout-along "Mista Joe" also somewhat belongs in the same category. "Falling Apart" is another side of the group, a piano fueled ballad. "Transistor" is like surf/thrash in 7/8 time. "Off The Cuff" is a retro rocker in the league with Cheap Trick and Kiss. Another thing that sets The Beltways apart from most indie rockers is their playing chops,which feature actual guitar solos,that are tasteful and concise as well to fit modern times. They have two solid singer/ songwriters in the band as well. You won't be disappointed with Stella On Mars.


Online review — "Hot Pop from Baltimore," 2005 | read review [+]

From the opening song 'Kissing Time' to the Stones cover of 'Tell Me' there isn't a wasted moment here. The band cover a lot of ground style wise and in their use of instrumentation — like the mandolin in 'Don't Remember Her Name' and 'My Fiddle', the piano in 'Falling Apart', The guitarist especially cooks on 'Off The Cuff' (my favorite) and he gets a lot of different tones , not a bad song in the lot — great arrangements and production — great hooks — hot !!!


Music Monthly, March 2004, Volume 21, Number 3, Issue #2
"One Night Stands: Myracle Brah, The Frauds, Jones Falls, The Beltways Live at The Mojo" February 20, 2004, written by Joanne
| read review [+]

Ahh, The Mojo. Who would have thunk that the old Café Tattoo, would turn into the new ultimate place to see live music where you can lounge between sets in the plush spiral heaven above. I love this club too much. This night I was going to have a menu of 4 bands that I wanted to hear. I had virgin ears for the Beltway[s], Jones Falls & The Frauds, but had seen Myracle Brah once before and was an instant fan. I asked someone there how could I describe Myracle Brah, they simply said "Myracle Brah? – GREAT!" You are correct, sir. They ARE great. They rock! If you want to pure rock-n-roll, with great hooks & amazing musicians…you must check them out! See them again? But of course, I always search for dates they play. *Ask the drummer to tell his "bat story" – what a delivery that guy has.

When I got there, The Beltways had already started playing. I've wanted to see them for too many years now. For some reason or another, I had this perception that I was going to get a Rolling Stones groove, after all the guitar player is a Richards/Berry fan. I thought wrong. The set they played tonight was a country rock flavor with dash of Bluesy Rock-n-Roll. They even had a few fun hoe-downs. Each Musician was superb. They are a 3-piece band, consisting of Jay Filippone on guitar, Pete Kuhn-drums and an awesome bass player (whose name was not listed on the band's website). Bottom line, would I see them again? Yes.

Jones Falls played after The Beltways. (What a great Baltimore band name eh?) When they started playing, it got me up from my cushy chair in my spiral heaven to go down and watch. Good band – infectious and entertaining. Was it me or did something feel a little Phishy? Bottom line…would I see Jones Falls again? Yes.

The Frauds played right before Myracle Brah who ended the show. A voice blend that harmonizes well is always a plus for me. The Frauds are: Rick bowman on guitar; Eric Emerson-bass; EJ Emerson-Drums; Brice Hickey-guitar. I stole this next line [from] The Frauds website, very fitting for the CD I bought. "The Frauds features 13 tracks of unapologetic, in-your-face rock-n-roll. The album's sound is raw enough to appeal to truly devout indie rock fans, yet its subtle pop essence opens the door to mainstream ears as well." I predict you'll see their name a lot more in 2004! Bottom line on The Frauds — would I see them again? Absolutely.


June 2003 show review by Dirk Johansen, audience member | read review [+]

I too enjoyed the Beltways. I personally liked the song that the bass player sung that sounded kind of like Elvis Costello. When I heard that song I felt like that pretentious beatnic from the 1959 Roger Corman classic, A Bucket of Blood [], when he first saw Strangled Woman and said something to the effect of, "I am honored to have known you," only I don't know these guys so I guess I was just happy to be at the show. Unfortunate that the Red Bull & vodka was mediocre.


June 2003 show review by PedroSwaggly, audience member | read review [+]

I enjoyed watching The Beltways. Most of their songs had some spark to them and they kept me interested enough to want to hear what they were going to play next. I found the switching of instruments between the guitar and bass player to be an added treat for the audience. I'll definitely be giving these guys another listen.


Baltimore City Rock and Roll Chronicles, June 24, 2003, by Buk Roberts | read review [+]

Posted on website
I've spent the better part of my workday trying to come up with a witty or funny title to this review, and I can't seem to get "Its hip to be square" out of my mind. Yes I'm lame, and yes I almost, in true lame fashion, spent the night in on Friday night, but I didn't. I went to the Ottobar to go see the collection of bands and tell everyone about it. The Beltways were one of those bands.

So from the look of things they seemed kind of like a crazy band. Not Greasy crazy (greasy is a term used by Dirk Johansen to describe a band that has antics and attitude, also known as drunken buffoonery) just interesting/dorky crazy. I tend to like both kinds in the right context. Either way this band doesn't appear like a lot of bands unfortunately do. We either see people gaudy or overdressed, or like they just put on the same backwards hat and t-shirt they wear every day (and I personally think if you want to help yourself out as a band you should dress to impress, whether it's a positive impression or not).

Let me get to the music now. It was essentially rock/pop music. I thought the band was pretty tight for the most part; no one person really overshadowed another. The drummer did overdo things a couple times in my opinion and the songs would waver from their foundation in pop, then the more the groove of the song would fluctuate. Not to say the drummer wasn't good, because he was, but when I listen to the Beltways I hear a pretty good Pop/Rock band, which is better at Pop than Rock. The drummer wanted to do more rock it seemed. Also If I had my way I would like to hear them with another guitar player, like a token rhythm guitar player troll you can keep in the back of the stage, or a keyboard player. Just something to fill it out just a little more.

The vocals were good, both the lead men played guitar and bass (they alternated instruments for a short time in the set). Their songs were pretty enjoyable overall, there was not a time when I was completely bored or had lost interest because of the songs. As a matter of fact, the last song, something about "walking like zombies" was a damn good song.

I would definitely say people should go see this band, but you might want to see them at a different venue, I see they had a show at the Tattoo a week earlier. That would have been a better place to go. The band would definitely benefit from being heard at a place where the vocals come through real well, and Friday at the Ottobar, that didn't happen. However I had a good time, and what the hell do I know? Go out and give them a listen Damn it!


Baltirock Celebrates Local Music Scene, Baltimore City Paper, May 10, 2001 | read review [+]

Who: A rowdy and ragtag crew of local musicians and music-lovers, led almost fearlessly by Jay "Beltway" Filippone. Bands include: The Put-Outs, the Barn Burners, the Beltways, Vulgaria, the Swiv-O-Matics, June Star, the Alice Despard Group, Circle 9, and Vestal Vermin. Many more to be announced.

What: Baltirock 2001, a bigger, louder, better incarnation of the Baltipop festival of yore

When: June 7-10

Where: Five different venues, plus a Sunday wrap-up party at a local music studio.

How much: A mere $6, plus $1 extra to travel to a second venue on Thursday and Friday

Why: Ah, yes, that is the question. Read on...

For the past two years, this city has been treated to a weekend-long pop-rock extravaganza called "Baltipop." But organizational problems had hobbled the festival in the past, and it wasn't certain if there would be a third incarnation of it. Enter Jay "Beltway" Filippone, a local musician who decided to not only take on the mind-numbing task of organizing Baltipop, but also expand it to include more venues, more bands, and more variety. In honor of that last element, he renamed the festival Baltirock. This year, Baltirock will be held at two separate venues during its first two nights: The Ottobar and Sidebar on Thursday, Mum's and the 8X10 on Friday. (Saturday's show, which will include local acts the Barn Burners, Beltways, and Put-Outs, will be held at one venue, the location of which will be announced shortly.) This means a huge amount of work, juggling bands and venues and equipment. But Filippone is convinced it's worth it to get Baltimoreans to recognize how vital their music scene really is. "We have a better music scene than a lot of the East Coast," he says. "Nine out of ten times, we play with other bands from out of town saying, 'Man, I wish we had a scene like that!'" "There's been a collective inferiority complex in this city's music scene," adds co-organizer and guitarist Kate Tallent. "There's a feeling that people feel like they have to leave Baltimore to make it big. And this is to show that that's not true." To that end, Baltirock this year will not only feature local bands, but also out-of-town acts whose members have been impressed by the Baltimore scene. "This is a whole Baltimore scene event," says Filippone. "We're celebrating its diversity — that's why we have a variety of band with diverse appeal. And we're celebrating the venues, too.



Screaming Apple Records, Germany, March 2000 | read review [+]

German review, 2000


From Towson Times "Lifetimes" section, December 15, 1999 by Geoffrey Himes | read review [+]

Best local album [1999]: The Beltways' "Stella on Mars" (Sawng Manufacturing). This Baltimore County power-pop trio knows how to write outrageously contagious chorus melodies and knows how to slam them home with a galloping beat.


From the 2nd Annual "International Pop Overthrow Festival Official Program, Los Angeles, 1999 by David Bash, event organizer | read review [+]

"A strong Baltimore power pop band who have gotten down that Cheap Trick technique of being able to combine power with melody. Check out their latest CD, Stella on Mars, and you'll hear what I mean!!"


Liner Notes, June/July 1999 by Scott Deckman —
The Beltways: Stella on Mars (Rating = 3 out of 5 Records) | read review [+]

Does pop matter?

That's a question that Charm City Rollers The Beltways try to answer in the affirmative on their new album, Stella On Mars. This album slaps you in the face pretty early on and for the most part the sting never really fades. The second song, "Trans Sister," trades on a big riff and repeats the self-titled chorus ad infinitum. Both "Off The Cuff" and "Mista Joe" come close to pilfering a riff from Kiss' "Detroit Rock City," but the songs here are dressed up in a pop soiree any Cheap Trick fan will groove to. "The Put Outs" reminds one of Sex Pistols lite with impressive riffs circa '77, and homage is paid to the 'Stones with a nifty cover of "Tell Me." "Breakup," arguably the album's best song, is a lazy drone with a slow riff ensconced in a gorgeous ahh!!!! chorus — it even features a nifty bridge. The song's message; when the tough get dumped, the dumped start drinkin'. It's a solid effort so drink it in...Maybe pop does matter


From Towson Times "Lifetimes" section and other local Baltimore metropolitan papers, May 19, 1999
by Geoffrey Himes — "Beltways' Power-Pop Is Hard to Beat"
| read review [+]

Mum's is a Federal Hill row house whose entire first floor has been turned into a bar. At the back end of the long but narrow room is a bare wooden floor where local bands plug in their amplifiers and play.

Earlier this month, the Beltways found themselves there, struggling with an uncooperative sound system and an indifferent crowd. Somehow the Timonium trio persevered and put on as good a rock'n'roll show as one is likely to see in Maryland these days.

Singer-guitarist Jay Filippone and bassist John Spokus wore matching gray vests with white shirts and skinny-ties. This is the uniform of power-pop, that glorious 1970s-'80s movement of bands like Cheap Trick, the Raspberries, Big Star and the Flamin' Groovies, who followed the example of the Beatles and tried to play chiming melodies as fast and as hard as they could. Back on the drums at Mum's sat Pete Kuhn, who wore a spiffy tan military shirt, a variation on the uniform.

Like their illustrious predecessors, the Beltways begin almost every song with a two-chord, noisy guitar riff that immediately sinks its hook in one's ear. The riff is the cue for the bass and drums to jump on board for a galloping charge through verses about the frustrations of your typical young American loser.

The accelerating thrust is aimed squarely at the chorus, where the payoff is an irresistibly catchy pop-rock melody. As the three-part harmony vocals join the jangly guitar figure and the undiminished momentum, all those frustrations are magically transformed into renewed hopes.

The Beltways, who have enlisted in the "Battle of the Bands" at Mars Music in Parkville this Sunday, mostly played their own compositions from their two albums, 1996's "The Beltways" and last winter's "Stella on Mars" (Sawng Mfg.). The debut was an appealing disc, full of ear-grabbing melodies, rambunctious energy and down-to-earth lyrics. But the follow-up marks an impressive leap forward.

Filippone's singing is more confident and his guitar figures are more sharply defined. The backing vocals by Spokus and Kuhn are much truer, allowing the attractive melodies to blossom into wonderfully full harmonies.

The new album is full of contagiously catchy power-pop. "True Romance" opens with a delightful ringing, two-measure guitar figure and builds to an infectious chorus about a couple trying to find true love in the unlikely setting of a rundown Baltimore row house. "Break Up" is a Paul Westerberg-like drinking lament, while "Days Gone By" is a look back at more innocent, more foolish days of music. The Beltways haven't finished growing yet. Filippone's lyrics could be more ambitious, and the rhythm section could be tighter. But they've already mastered the most difficult part — writing choruses that grab your attention, sound fresh and capture a genuine feeling.

The Beltways saved "Kissing Time" from "Stella on Mars" for the end of their set at Mum's. With its racing chords and the breathless excitement of its lyrics describing the sheer giddiness of new romance, it's hard to think of a better late '90s power-pop song.


Shake It Up, May 1999 — "The Beltways: Stella On Mars" by Claudio Sossi | read review [+]

Now this is what I call "power pop"! Taking their cue from the likes of Cheap Trick and late 70's/early 80's artists like The Plimsouls and The Knack, The Beltways offer a mix of devastating hooks and pure rock and roll excitement. The opening "Kissing Time" is classic power pop all the way, right down to the vocal that falls somewhere between Stamey and Holsapple. Heavy hooks appear, and thankfully reappear, throughout the proceedings with "The Put Outs" and "Tran Sister" leading the way with hooks that even Rick Neilsen would envy. This isn't just by-the-book pop by any means. The band explore a more roots-based sound on "Don't Remember Her Name" and "My Fiddle" — both successful experiments. Paul Krysiak of Splitsville delivers a fine piano on "Falling Apart" and the band even take a turn at the Stones' classic "Tell Me (You're Coming Back)" with terrific results. In a word — exciting! (**** out of 5)


Liner Notes, April 15, 1999 — Local Scene by Scott Deckman
Beltways' March 6, 1999 CD Release Party
| read review [+]

Do ya love the rock?

That was the question presented to the audience at IMP lackey Fletcher's on the 6th of March on a cold, rainy night. Though the presentation of the query may have been a little different, judging from the size of the crowd and varied goings-on, how's "kinda" sound?

Fletcher's hosted a three-bill pop extravaganza with Mobtown's very own The Beltways headlining. Kicking off the show in the upstairs establishment was surf-rock goofballs Garage Sale. Imagine Dick Dale with a Kids In The Hall sense of humor and ya might catch the tsunami the boys surfed to: an undertow all their own. With matching red bowling shirts(you know, the kind replete with racy white racing stripe) and one guy with the goofiest wig this side of BOHO, the guys brushed up on their rockinalia replete with overwrought Pete Townsend arm twirls and floor swimming madness; they topped off Cheap Trick with a shout-out to Mr. Bun E. Carlos on the drums. This was one ensemble that was as fun to look at as to watch play. The band played supercharged retro surf rock with the enthusiasm of well-bred amateurs. Singing duties were equally distributed to bassist Daniel and guitarists' Pat and Dave, while local legend and film amateur Skizz Cyzyk kept it steady from behind the drums. God knows how the ever-busy Skizz can keep it straight, what with running the MicroCineFest every year and playing in what seems like (at least to him) a baker's dozen bands all seemingly going nowhere. But I'm sure it's fine with him, 'cause like the rest of his many bandmates, I'm sure ole Edge lookalike Skizz is in it for the art, fella.

The best band on the bill was up next, the obnoxious Put Outs. These f@#kers had rock'n'roll pasted all over them, with the cocksure bassist Tim, retro-noir singer/guitarist John and hell I can't even remember what the hell their drummer Rodney looked like and I don't care, I just loved the way they sounded. If ya like The Replacements and pure power-pop, than you'd have to give it up for these beautiful losers. Bands like this are a special find in the music world these days, a pop music graveyard where mainstream alt-rock radio deems fit to Third Eye Blind ya to death until the only Creed you believe is that the Dave Matthews Band is pure Bush league.

This band is too good to get noticed.

Cheap Trick may have gotten called out by the previous band, but they were better emulated here, as were the aforementioned Paul Westerberg-Replacements. They played the best when the tempo was juiced, but even the dreaded rock-ballad wasn't making me nauseous, a sure sign that the band is on to something. A shout-out of their own to the recently departed George Jones brought a tear to my beer, but thankfully all Country pretensions were squashed as the band ripped into another pop song. Look for their 7 inch, The Sky Is Falling.

The Beltways are probably the second-best known pop band currently playing their trade in Charm City (the omnivorous Splitsville's got'em beat there), and much of their success, just like Splits, is due to seamless vocal harmonies. Simply put, the guys can sing. The music ain't bad either. Promoting their new self-release, Stella On Mars, The Beltways played mid-tempo power-pop that didn't remind me too much of drummer Pete's listing of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones as major influences — in fact, I couldn't think of exactly who they sounded like but maybe that's a good thing. Sporting kitschy lounge suits and generally bad hair, the band employed varied arrangements and harmonies to weave crafted, if at times rote, pop styling. Not to say that they didn't hit some high notes: the niftily lazy Blondie beat, the much-aforementioned Replacements and Cheap Trick sound-alikes, covering Berlin's "Metro" [Webmasters' note: Deckman confused The Beltways with The Put Outs here...] and, help me God yes, even the occasional Beatles and Stones purveyings. And it must be credited to them that the longer they played, the better they got. Too bad much of the crowd had exited stage left, to a cold, wintry March night when Baltimore failed to answer affirmatively whether or not they loved the rock.


Baltimore City Paper — Decibel, April 1999 by Lee Gardner| read review [+]

As the name indicates, the members of this scrappy trio are no downtown hipsters. Their three-minute AM-radio aesthetic and their we're-a-band-so-we-dress-alike look puts them squarely on the Beatles/Knack pop continuum. Their music shows they have good taste in great, smart outsider bands — Creedence, NRBQ, Kiss, and Cheap Trick. Ordinarily all this might add up to little more than a decent cover band, but vocalist/guitarist Jay Filippone just might be the most under-rated classic-pop songwriter in Greater Baltimore. And that makes just about any trip with the Beltways worth taking.


Rock Beat International, Spring 1999 — The Beltways "Stella On Mars" by Geoff Cabin | read review [+]

A couple of years ago, the Beltways released a very promising debut album that marked them as a band to watch. I doubt that anyone, however, expected the band to deliver such a great second album as Stella on Mars. With this album the band has made a giant leap forward and really come into their own.

The Beltways are a three-piece band that consists of Jay Filippone on guitar and vocals, John Spokus on bass and vocals and Pete Kuhn on drums and vocals. The band plays a catchy brand of guitar-based pop rock that contains elements of power pop, punk rock and roots rock.

The album kicks off with "Kissing Time," a typically catchy and energetic rocker. "Trans Sister" is one minute and 47 second blast of pop hooks and rock'n'roll energy. "Pop Dreams" is a song to which all pop fans will relate. On "Breakup," the band changes pace with a slow, country-tinged lament. "Falling Apart" is another strong ballad. "Roller Coaster Girl" showcases the band at its poppiest, with a catchy tune and ringing guitar. "I Can't Remember Your Name" has a melancholy quality that is reminiscent of early REM. The album closes with a killer version of the Rolling Stones "Tell Me."

Stella on Mars is a fantastic album that firmly establishes the Beltways as one of the best bands on the indie pip scene. With a few breaks, these guys could really go far.


Baltimore City Paper, March 3-10, 1999 — NO COVER: "Know Your Product" by Lee Gardner, review of "Stella on Mars" | read review [+]

"When Jay Filippone plucks the right lyric and the right melody out of the air and John Spokus and Pete Kuhn put the right beat under it, they do more than just ape the classic guitar-pop canon; they add to it."

Jay Filippone is the kind of guy who can sing "Little pop dreams/Sweet pop dreams" without a breath of irony. As lead singer/main songwriter/guitarist for Timonium-based trio the Beltways, he has proven himself a diehard partisan of radio-ready three-minute rock 'n' roll thrills-Beatles, Stones, Creedence, NRBQ, the Knack, and so on. Thus when Filippone, bassist John Spokus, and drummer Pete Kuhn bring out a new CD — in this case, Stella on Mars (Sawng Mfg. Records) — you can rest assured they haven't added a DJ or booked the Cockeysville Philharmonic for a session.

Produced by Filippone and engineer Dave Nachodsky, Stella on Mars reaches for a bigger, fuller sound than the band's self-titled 1996 debut. Filippone's arrangements are a little more ambitious, from the "ooh-la-la-la" coda tacked onto "Breakup" to the driving, piano-stoked epic "Falling Apart." But the band's stock-in-trade is still whomping, hum-along power pop — "Trans Sister" and "Off the Cuff" could be outtakes from Cheap Trick's Heaven Tonight. If anything mars Stella on Mars, it's the fact that Filippone and Co. pitch a few too many fastballs straight across the plate. A whole raft of songs flash by mid-album without much of an impression before Spokus perks thing up with the countrified "Don't Remember Her Name."

But when Filippone plucks the right lyric and the right melody out of the air and Spokus and Kuhn put the right beat under it, they do more than just ape the classic guitar-pop canon; they add to it in their own small way. Despite some lackluster moments, Stella on Mars announces that the Beltways are likely to keep on adding on.


Yeah Yeah Yeah Magazine, Issue #14, 1999, Editor: Pat Pierson, review of "Stella on Mars" | read review [+]

Genre: White US male indie power pop.

Brings to mind: The Montgomery Cliffs and 1979 (the year when bands who sounded like this were rife).

Quote: Highly improved over the last disc they sent my way. Tighter, harder driving, and better produced hook-filled bar-band pop. Could give those bands on Big Deal (Splitsville, Gladhands, Barely Pink) a run for their money.

Secret weapon: rhythm guitar

Grade: B


Not Lame Catalog, 1999 — The Beltways "Stella On Mars" | read review [+]

Brand new CD, their second and one which blows away their very fine debut. Pounding forth out of the gate, the first song explodes with the energy of Paul Collins Beat or Plimsouls pop fury. The rest of the way you get more of the same and more....strong dashes of Cheap Trick-meets-Kiss flash guitar heroics, pumping vocals that sound like Tommy Keene or Peter Case, nifty, fresh as new morning harmonies. The production is unimaginative, but more than perfunctory and after three listens to this the past few weeks I find this ditty to be a lot more than a ephemeral bit of pop 'n' roll. The spirit fills me with glee and a desire to invite my High School friends over for a battle of who's got the best new band to listen to! Re-live 1980 and feel proud — as these guys should! Very Highly Recommended.


Jem, Japanese Fanzine, Summer 1997 issue, by Mutsua Watanabe | read review [+]

Japanese review


You Sank My Battleship Fanzine, October 1998, "Dusty's Corner" by Dusty of Splitsville — review of "Stella on Mars" | read review [+]

Remember when Paul Westerberg rocked? Remember how cool The Stones were before they were secretly replaced with product-hawking robots? The forthcoming CD by Baltimore's The Beltways was made for those who got a little teary-eyed answering "yes" to those questions. For years these guys have been unassuming champions of Mobtown's growing pop-rock minority, bravely wearing the mantle of skinny-tie band in a white funk/hairspray metal town. They also had the good taste to let me play piano on the album's second to last track. Opening with "Kissing Time" pretty much tells the story here — wonderfully raucous guitars married to raw yet sugary vocal lines. "Transister" absolutely rips (in a nearly glam sorta way) and foreshadows a set that crams the blender with The Mats, The Kinks, The Knack, Jagger-Richards and T-Rex and then presses "puree." Bubblegum and garage all at once, The Beltways are a treat.


Rock Beat International, Issue 13, Spring 1998 by Geoff Cabin| read review [+]

This is the debut album by the Baltimore-based Beltways and it's a very promising debut. The band consists of Jay Filippone on lead vocals and guitar, John Spokus on bass and vocals, and Pete Kuhn on drums and vocals. There's nothing earth-shattering or particularly original on the album, but there's plenty of solid, tuneful guitar pop. The opening track, "West Virginia Bound," is a rocker with a slightly rootsy feel, along the lines of early Flamin' Groovies. "Talk to You" and "Death Do Us Part (Tell Me)" are nicely catchy power pop numbers. On "No Regret," the band adds an element of raucous, bar-band boogie to its pop sound. Perhaps the highlight of the album is "Would You Ever," a powerful ballad with a gorgeous melody. With a solid debut album to their credit, the Beltways show a lot of potential for the future.


Not Lame, 1998 by Bruce Brodeen | read review [+]

Following a strong love, I suspect, of The Ramones the band does not sound anything like them, but the energy and simple pump it out and up spirit shines all over the disc. They have a sound not unlike the late great The Raveups or a more pop influenced Georgia Satellites. While the vocals won't make too many knees weak, the happy new wavey elements of their brand of pop break are so likable and enjoyable that you'll find yourself humming along with ease.


Go Metric, Winter 1997 by Mike Faloon | read review [+]

They rock. The pop. You, the listener, enjoy! Great power pop in the Big Star tradition. Ten bucks well spent. Speak with your financial consultant. She'll tell what a deal this is!"


Towson Times, February 1997 by Geoffrey Himes | read review [+]

"The Timonium trio, The Beltways, has just released one of the best local albums of the '90s, a power-pop gem called "The Beltways" (Sawng Mfg.). Combining Cheap Trick and the Replacements in winning ways, the dozen songs are chock full of hooks and power chords."


Yellow Pills, Issue #8, 1997, Editor: Jordan Oakes | read review [+]

"At first the tough 'n' ready songs purveyed by this Baltimore band sound like your typical garage-punk-pop. A few more listens, however, reveal a special band. The Move-ing "Christine" is a highlight, as is the lively, harmony-laden "Death Do Us part (Tell Me)," which sounds like something from the Romantics' Bomp sessions. "Trashman" has momentum-gathering Raspberries-ish "C'mon"s; and "Would You Ever" snatches the verse from Big Star's "13," but it's not an unlucky move — the band uses that melody to launch into a chorus of Blow Pops/Gigolo Aunts harmonies. The Beltways look super-cool on the back cover — donned in matching suits, each stands stationary before his microphone and guitar, polite-looking but bursting with pop power. You know — like the Raspberries."


Baltimore City Paper, December 4-11, 1996, NO COVER: "Know Your Product" by Lee Gardner — "Beltways' Powerful Pop" | read review [+]

Everybody knows where the line between cool and uncool is traditionally drawn: the city limits. Downtown is hip and the suburbs are nowhere, or at least so the conventional wisdom runs. Well, Jay Filippone, John Spokus, and Pete Kuhn are onto that old saw, and have chosen a band name that beats any potential detractors to the punch: the Beltways. Listening to the Timonium-based band's fine new self-titled CD, the suburbs may deserve another look as a source for quality tunes.

The Beltways certainly aren't working the downtown hipster vibe. There isn't a twinge of punk rock 'tude or world-funk-folk jam-readiness to the band: they sound like the Flamin' Groovies, fer chrissakes. But there's something about the way the trio plays together, the classic lines of their no-frills power-pop rock, and the canny songwriting savvy of guitarist/lead vocalist Filippone (who wrote or co-wrote all but two of the 12 numbers) that compel in a way that consciously contemporary rock music rarely does.

Right from the git, it's obvious where these guys are coming from: The high-octane choogle of "West Virginia Bound" sounds (from the title on down) like it could have come off albums of any number of classicist, rockin', melody lovers stretching back to the late 60s — the post-hippie rockabillies such as Commander Cody, British pub rock, the Beserkley Records crew, late-70s/early-80s power pop, even the mighty Cheap Trick.

For the most part, the band sticks to the eternal verities. Churning blues-based riffs and solos do their work over rock-solid rhythm with plenty of over-excited flash, while Filippone's bawling (but deadly melodic) lead vocals get smoothed over by the occasional winning harmonies. The material sticks to the basics — aka gurls — too. Filippones's songs (and bassist/vocalist Spokus' forlorn "Would You Ever") take new looks at classic posses: the besotted loverboy ("Talk to You"), the sardonic, weary spouse ("Death Do Us Part [Tell Me]"), the eternal screwup ("Hour Too Late"). Not all the classic subjects work: "Man of the 90s" is the kind of satire that gets overdone in every decade, and Spokus' devout "Christine" wobbles on its gushy sentiment and tippytoe high harmonies. But for the most part it's jake head-shake and "ooh"-a-long music.

The most classic thing about The Beltways, however, is the hang-dog, regular-Joe vibe to Filippone's best songs — from the guy who's getting ready to get himself in hot water at a party with a "Nicotine Girl" to the schlemiel with the barely rolling lemon who's starting to figure out why that cute girl keeps wanting to catch a lift from him in "My Car." The Beltways may not sound much like anything currently on WHFS (or the Colt), but I'll bet you that these songs will sound just as good as they do now in another 10 years or so


Letter to The Beltways from Musician Magazine, July 8, 1996 | read review [+]

Dear Jay:

Congratulations! THE BELTWAYS has been selected as a semifinalist in the 1996 Musician Magazine Best Unsigned Band Competition. Recognized as a unique and outstanding performance, your tape was chosen from thousands of entries, and will now go on to the final round of judging by Jimmy Jam, Stone Gossard, Steve Winwood, Juliana Hatfield, Adrian Belew, Pat Metheny, and Matthew Sweet.

Check out page 93 of the September issue of Musician magazine for your mention as a semifinalist, and keep looking in future issues for more information on the competition. Expect finalists to be announced in the October issue (on sale in August).

Again, congratulations from all of us at Musician magazine, the player's choice for twenty years. Keep up the good work!


The B.U.B. Crew
Billboard Music Group
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036

The Beltways & Sawng Mfg. Records •102 Belfast Road • Timonium, MD 21093 • USA
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