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January 2013 CD Reviews

MARTY RAKACZEWSKI – KICKIN’ IT OLD SCHOOL (no label) Connoisseurs of guitar-shredding have something new to celebrate with the latest instrumental disc from Wilkes-Barre axe-master Marty Rakaczewski, Kickin’ It Old School. Over the course of the disc’s nine tracks, Rakaczewski puts on a clinic with his guitar, showcasing his skills and versatility through a wide range of hard-rocking flavors. The predominant flavor is blistering hard rock, with Rakaczewski’s rapid fire fretboard pyrotechnics front and center. Setting the tone for the album, the leadoff composition “Summertime” recalls Joe Satriani’s classic anthem “Summer Song,” offering a similar driving melody with Rakaczewski’s finger work doing the talking. It sets the table for hard rocking exercises later on the album such as the ensuing “Ghoul School” and the rampaging “Freight Train.” “Groovin’” finds Rakaczewski finding a blues-rooted pocket and riding it for all it’s worth, while “Simon’s Castle” explores moodier and more sullen terrain. “Implosion” is Rakaczewski’s solo shred ‘eruption,’ before “Sahara” takes guitarist and listener into a heavy Middle Eastern vibe. The closer, “Werewolves in Paradise,” taps into a Halloween theme as full guitar shred envelops wolf howls and other effects. Rakaczewski excels at what he does throughout the album, leaving no doubt in the listener’s mind that he knows his way up, down and all around a guitar fretboard. His tone is clear and strong, and his arrangements and production provide the sturdy platforms for him to carry out his mission. Kickin’ It Old School provides all the excitement of the classic shred guitar rock album, and six-string fans especially will find this a worthy addition to the collection. (The CD can be obtained through the CDBaby website, www.cdbaby.com.)

JOHN “JT” THOMPSON – THIS WAY THAT WAY Happy Valley music mainstay and keyboard wizard John “JT” Thompson introduced listeners to his talents and musical world on his 2010 solo debut CD Chase Away Your Blues. On his follow-up effort, This Way That Way, Thompson strikes up the band, welcoming a multitude of musical cohorts from the State College and Williamsport music scenes to help bring his latest set to life. This cavalcade of musical talent fleshes out Thompson’s wide, blues-rooted assortment of sounds over the disc’s dozen tracks. Powered by his Maxwell Strait sidemen Ted McCloskey on guitar, Rene Witzke on bass and Jack Wilkinson on drums; Thompson launches the disc with the rollicking roll’n’rock of “Why Can’t You Be True?” The combo of Thompson, Wilkinson, bassman Peter Jogo, guitarist Andy Tolins and saxman Doug McMinn generate a jazzier Steely Dan vibe with “Can’t Keep Me From Loving You.” The Zeropoint Horns chime in with their distinctive brassy tones to color the schmaltzy Tony Bennett mood of Thompson’s “Summer in the Wintertime,” and add fire to the passionate blues of “She’s My Baby.” The lush harmonies of Pure Cane Sugar bolster the joyous gospel flavor of “Just Over That Wall,” join Zeropoint’s horns to supplement the big band feel of “Dance Little Sister Dance,” and help Thompson pull all the stops on his autobiographical title track closer “This Way That Way.” Thompson’s own talents shine front and center throughout the album as well; his driving piano work on the boisterous boogie-woogie “Last Night” recalls early 11-17-70-era Elton John, and he fully cuts loose on the playful instrumental “Down at Daniel’s,” an ode to a Bellefonte watering hole leveled by fire a few years ago. Thompson and his hired help play for keeps throughout the disc; the performances are inspired and bright, radiating the fun and spirit frequently displayed when Thompson and these musicians converge on Happy Valley live stages. Recorded in various studios and mixed in Thompson’s own Phydeau’s Place studio in Bellefonte, This Way That Way sounds balanced, busy and vibrant; with the variety of arrangements, styles and instrumental interplay keeping things fresh throughout. This is a fun album that further reveals the playful musical world of its creator; This Way That Way not only showcases John “JT” Thompson’s multiple talents, but leaves listeners wanting to experience this performer and his network of musical associates in person. (The CD can be obtained through Thompson’s website, www.jtblues.com.)

ERIC VAL – 3 YEAR STRUGGLE (Green Valley Recording) Citing modern and classic rock influences, Williamsport-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Eric Val explores a wide and expansive rock frontier on his first full-length CD, 3 Year Struggle. Val’s primary musical realm is hard rock, which he uses as a launching pad to explore a myriad of other musical frontiers and side journeys over the disc’s 13 tracks. His songs frequently feature unexpected chord shifts, acoustic interludes, unorthodox melodies and sequences, experimental vocal arrangements and more. Assisting Val on his journey are Alex Boyce and Richard Rupert on guitars and bass, Joseph Hauserman and 44Mag’s Jesse Roedts on drums. Val’s words explore humanity, emotions, self-contemplation, relationships and more. He contemplates human frailties and shortcomings on the hard-driving rocker “Eyes Of Man,” and ponders relationship obstacles on the weighty “Signs.” He and his support cast flex maximum metal muscle on assaults like “Sympathy,” “For You” and “Anymore.” He explores tribal and Eastern-flavored frontiers on “Yesterday (Tribal Version),” and strikes up an intriguing cadence on “Misery.” Val also dabbles in acoustic flavors on the softer “Miss You Everyday,” the mystic-toned “Face” and the 8-minute-plus epic closer “Into the End.” Val’s eclectic musical personality and experimental hard-rocking style keep this album interesting throughout. The unpredictability of the melodies and arrangements, Val’s vocal phrasings and the hard-hitting performances prevent this set from sounding routine. The production and mix are crisp and balanced, giving the harder-rocking moments bite and the gentler moments smoothness and delicacy. Eric Val shares his distinctive musical personality on 3 Year Struggle, defining his sonic turf and establishing his identity. (The CD can be obtained through Eric Val’s website, www.ericvalmusic.com.)

SEVEN2TEN – ON PAROLE (no label) Beech Creek-based quintet Seven2Ten unleash bold and boisterous rock’n’roll on their debut disc,On Parole. The group features the father-and-son tandem of singer Jerry Johnston and lead guitarist Bradley Johnston; flanked by guitarist/keyboardist Dale Powers, bassist Brian Condo and drummer Dan Bryan (since replaced by Mike Hohnka). Through On Parole’s eight tracks, Seven2Ten mixes rowdy, guitar-driven rockers with a few sullen ballads; as they celebrate relatable lyrical themes of life, love and good times. On the rowdier side, “Golden One” gets the disc off to a hard-rocking start, the playful rock’n’roller “Shotgun Wedding” goes from a romp on the ground to a jaunt down the aisle in zero to three minutes, and “Fat Mamma” offers up some blues-based roadhouse boogie. Seven2Ten uses the funkier direction of “Body” to ogle a babe in a convenience store, and they indulge the darker sides of their musical personality on the sullen “No Resolution” and harder-edged “Thoughts of You.” Seven2Ten plays with fire and enthusiasm; the vocals are rowdy and impassioned, and the instrumental execution is mostly solid and on target. On the minus side, the occasional awkward vocal moment, minor instrumental warts or blemish surface; and the production is basic and no frills. On Parole nonetheless establishes Seven2Ten as a fun-loving, rowdy rock’n’roll band, and this disc makes a fun soundtrack for some Saturday night rabble-rousing. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Seven2Ten.)

CLOSE TO CONSIDERATION – “NOT GOING FAR” (Recorded at Watercourse Sound) Trace Morgan – vocals, guitar and bass; Chad Wright – vocals, guitar, and bass; Austin Weaver – drums, and vocals. Written and recorded when the three of them were in high school. 13 songs obviously chosen from several that have been written in their young lives. Songs about love, love lost, growing pains of life as a teen in the 21st Century.  First song, “I’m Not Going Far” starts off with fingers going up and down on the frets with a solid beat. One can feel the boys are moving and dancing around as they are delivering the sounds that establishes them as Close to Consideration. “What Love Meant”  starts off with a drumbeat that permeates the entire song, very well done. “16” a song about the rebellious period in one’s life. Playing all instruments with a passion that adds to the lyrics and makes the song. One song that stood out  was the “Irish Song”, the boys start it off with a slow rift than all of a sudden they stop and you faintly hear, “1,2,3 4”… than they rock it out with a very poppin’ and rockin’ tune. Lyrics include, ‘I was born to be a sailor, I was raised to be a wife, I learned to earn my blessing, for my entire life.’

   The entire CD is crystal clear, lyrics are distinct and the execution of the music is delivered with a constant and distinct dance beat by all instruments. One can feel that all three musicians were born to create music and have been blessed with a family that totally supports their musical genius and has helped them developed it over the years. Close to Consideration will continue to evolve and deliver their own unique sound for years to come. You can get their CD at a live show or at Reverbnationcom/ctcnation. Available now is a free download of their lastest release, “Just an EP”. Follow CTC on Twitter@tweetctc  —Reviewed by Robin Noll

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