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CD Reviews – May 2013

THE TURBOSONICS – THE TURBOSONICS (AmeriSon Records) There isn’t much premium beach space or ocean surf to be found along Pittsburgh’s three rivers, but rip-roaring surf rock erupts from the Steel City courtesy of The Turbosonics. Formed in 2008, The Turbosonics feature drummer Tim Klatte, bassist Keith Caldwell and guitarist Jason Truckenbrod. Their self-titled disc introduces listeners to The Turbosonics’ instrumental surf-rock realm, featuring eight invigorating creations. The group crafts the surf vibe completely, from driving rhythms to instrumental tones and abundant reverb. Each track captures a different mood and variation on the surf theme; the disc-opener “Clambake” immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album with its authentic California beach/surf rock vibe, and that mood also permeates the rowdy shout-along anthem “Lights Out.” “Black Flamenco” mixes a slight Spanish guitar flourish into the proceedings, and “Man’s Woman” stretches out with a lighter, melodic arrangement. “In the Shadows” toys with darker surf flavors, “Zombie-a-Go-Go” is more playful, and “Dragstrip” and the disc-closer “Hattori Hanza” rock harder and with more ferocity. The melody lines are simple and to the point, and The Turbosonics improvise enough along the melodies to keep the listener’s attention through each track. Recorded in complete band takes in the same room, this disc shows that The Turbosonics are tight and together, as the three musicians smoothly weave, complement and play off one another. The mix is clear and full, and the overall sound is smooth yet edgy. Even though this music emanates far from any beach, The Turbosonics’ debut is a fun set that honors the tradition of classic surf rock; this CD should be tucked alongside the surf board or body board before embarking on the next beach vacation. (The CD can be obtained through the website

SHANE SPEAL – TWELVE STONES (no label) Now based in York, Shane Speal built his first cigar box guitar in 1993, and his life changed forever. Speal has built many such guitars since then, and has become a proponent and champion of early blues and roots music. His latest CD, Twelve Stones, introduces listeners to Speal’s unique musical world, where cigar box guitars and other makeshift instruments run wild and free, exploring elements of delta blues, folk, rock and more over a dozen tracks. Speal’s stripped-down song arrangements let these instruments shine in their bare-bones glory, topped by his bold, brassy and rugged voice. Blues is the prominent flavor in the mix, and Speal sets the tone early on the opening track “Mother Leeds,” relating a dark piece of New Jersey folklore. Likewise, “Kill a Man” is darker and angry in tone, with Speal’s surly growl plotting violence against a woman-stealer. With a full-band arrangement, “Tattoo of You” is more Dylan-like in tone, while “Don’t Let Me Get Rich” evolves into a delta gospel-blues sing-, clap- and stomp-along. With a very makeshift instrumental concoction, Speal crafts a traditional-flavored western PA-themed work song in “16 Miles to Saltsburg.” He is also a capable storyteller, proven on what is probably the disc’s most memorable track, “Willie Knows,” an eight-minute-plus study of the life of cigar box guitar-wielding bluesman Blind Willie Johnson. And Speal applies his distinctive cigar box guitar and delta blues flavorings to several covers; especially intriguing is his blues adaptation of Rush’s arena-rock classic “Working Man,” and he also offers a hard blues makeover to R.L. Burnside’s “Coal Black Mattie,” and a folk banjo treatment to Paul Williams’ “The Rainbow Connection” to end the album. The recording is basic but clean, and captures the essence of Speal and his instruments, warts and all. The mix sounds bold and balanced, allowing the moods and personalities of the songs and character of the instruments to fully shine through. Shane Speal defines his unique musical world on Twelve Stones, a captivating album that enables listeners to experience early-styled blues in its most basic, rawest form. (The CD can be obtained through Shane Speal’s website,

BIG ATLANTIC – BIG ATLANTIC (no label) Formed five years ago, Pittsburgh’s Big Atlantic forges a melody-based modern/progressive rock-geared sound on their self-titled debut CD. Lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist Lee Caruso Jr., bassist Benjamin Hull (since replaced by Jeff Brinkhus) and drummer Tom Gascon craft a sound rooted in the progressive-leaning musical turf of Incubus, Soundgarden, modern-day Rush and Queensryche. Their songs are tight and compact, yet implement detailed melody plot lines, instrumental detail, soaring vocals and hopeful lyrics. Big Atlantic reveals many nuances throughout the disc’s dozen tracks, giving each song its own distinct angle and flavor. All three musicians display continuous versatility and adventure, through arrangements that enable them to improvise and weave around each other; likewise, Caruso is a versatile frontman who displays impressive range and expressive emotion throughout the album. Caruso’s Edge-like guitar work punctuates the disc opener “Verdict,” and his jazz-informed mid-song solo throws an interesting curve ball into the harder-edged “Change.” Big Atlantic displays Incubus/Rush-like technical ecstasy on such numbers as “Open Up,” “Mad House,” “Elocation” and “Born in the Wind,” and they flex their metal-edged muscles on the more Queensryche/Soundgarden-leaning exercises like “Luminosity,” “New Beginning” and “Still Waiting.” While the group’s lyrical themes are hopeful and positive in tone, Big Atlantic does offer some rebellious social commentary on the harder-edged “Say Hello to the World.” Recorded in studios in Pittsburgh and New Jersey and produced by the band and Bob Freeman, Big Atlantic’s debut sounds balanced and clear. Caruso’s vocals are prominent but not overbearing, and the group’s instrumental detail and virtuosity shines through. Big Atlantic should win some attention with this debut, as their blend of melody and technically impressive chops will satisfy fans of detail across the modern and classic rock spectrums. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website,

JOEY WELZ – STILL ROCKIN’ AROUND THE CLOCK (Canadian American Records) Joey Welz has been making rock and roll music since the beginning of rock and roll music, as one of the genre’s first singing piano players and as a featured pianist with Bill Haley and the Comets. Now a recording artist, producer and owner of Caprice International Records, rock and roll is still at the heart of Haley’s world, as he proudly proclaims on his latest CD, Still Rockin’ Around the Clock. The disc is a 25-song scrapbook of music from various points of Welz’s career, and includes many of his numerous boogie-woogie rock-and-roll original songs and several heartfelt covers of time-tested classics. Roots rock, rockabilly, honky-tonk and boogie-woogie flavors provide the foundation for the vast majority of Welz’s music here. He doesn’t shy away from his major claim to fame, celebrating the Bill Haley years right off the bat on the disc-opening title track “Still Rockin’ Around the Clock,” and paying homage to Haley and all the other early rock-and-rollers on “Rock & Roll Survivor.” Welz celebrates “The Killer,” Jerry Lee Lewis with a rollicking rendition of “Whole Lotta Shakin,” one of several remakes on the album; he also gives hearty boogie updates to Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right,” Lieber & Stoller’s “Kansas City,” the Wilson Pickett classics “Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally,” and more. Welz tips the hat to several other legendary and influential rock-and-rollers, saluting Bruce Springsteen on “He’s the Boss” and remembering Link Wray on “Ballad; Link Wray.” Welz also dabbles in screaming soul on “Rippen’ ‘Em Off,” and hard rock in “Rockin’ In America.” The disc captures a broad expanse of Welz and his work, and listeners will get a better appreciation of Welz’s foundation in vintage rock’n’roll. His voice is front and center in the mix, and his robust personality and fun-loving spirit shines throughout the disc. As it is a compilation of work from throughout Welz’s career, the sound quality overall is rough and uneven; “Turn on to Sunshine” is faint and barely audible. Despite its flaws, Still Rockin’ Around the Clock is a capable representation of Joey Welz and his rock and roll life, and offers an entry point for newcomers to explore his story and musical world. (The CD can be obtained through the website

Touch the Stone’s , “Miss Olivia” was produced by Doug Forshey and Nicholas Nagel. Recorded at Holland Sound Studios. Vocals, Guitars, Doug Forshey; Drums, Nicholas Nagel; Keyboards; Tony Sequin; Bass, Donnie Suders.

   “Miss Olivia” is a 9 song release in the American Folk/ Rock genre. Songs based on the life and times of the songwriters themselves. Each song tells a story backed by the talented and gifted musicians in Touch the Stone. This music is music you can enjoy while doing anything. The songs are done in such a way that they weave the sound and story around you as you listen.

   ‘Destination Unkown’ begins us on our journey of life’s twist and turns. ‘I’ll Turn Your Head Again’ about the excitement of love in the beginning, then growing dim and coming back to an even deeper love. ‘Gold Mine Woman’ is about one’s life that has trouble but when you get into the arms of your woman, you have struck gold. Each song delivers a talke sung with that folk music sound with the musicians moving in by their talent between, folk, rock and country. ‘Turnin’ A Good Time Down’ is my personal favorite. The songwriting flows and the lyrics speak a truth of making a hard decision. ‘Miss Olivia’ the title song is about Doug’s feeling of his newborn baby girl, a very touching and inspiring ballad. Touch the Stone is a group of musicians with talent that is displayed throughout this CD. You can give the song a ‘Miss Olivia’ a listen on You Tube and you can buy the cd on CDBaby,com/Miss Olivia Touch the Stone.

                                                    —Reviewed by Robin Noll

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