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CD Reviews – March 2014

STEVE BROSKY – GRATEFUL (no label) Lehigh Valley singer, songwriter, institution and self-proclaimed saloon singer Steve Brosky has lived some life and seen some sights during his lengthy music career that began in the 1980s. His observations and experiences distill into the stories and songs crafted on his sixth album, Grateful. Through the disc’s 11 tracks, Brosky brings his musical stories to life with a seasoned, hearty growl; and his blues-rooted style recalls the storytelling traditions of classic Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits, with a touch of Dr. John-flavored N’awlins spice for added edge. Brosky celebrates the musician’s life on the disc-opener “Buck a Man Blues,” telling his tale of selling his soul and paying his dues. He waxes hypochondriac on “Ugly N Personal,” and dishes some streety sass and swagger on the frisky “What Do You Mean By That?” Brosky tells the story of a depressing modern-day gig on the sullen “It’s Not the End of the World,” celebrates the allure of a cool car on the romping “My Coupe Deville,” and laments the root of all evil on the hard-driving “It’s Only Money.” “Fred” displays a country flavor, while the rocking “Jimi on Guitar” reveres a master of the fretboard. In a reverent vein, Brosky salutes a generation of forgotten heroes on the two-part “Vietnam Blues,” ending with a colorful jazz interlude homestretch. The warm and appreciative love song title ode “Grateful” finishes the album. Brosky makes each song ring out with personality and character, and his conversational singing style makes the listener immediately feel like they are swapping stories with a longtime friend. Brosky’s backing corps of guitarist Jimmy Meyer, bassist Suavek Zaniesienko, drummer Jim Ruffi, keyboardist Dan McKinney, trumpeter/flugelhorn player Wayne Dillon, saxophonist Joe Vitale, and backing singers Doug Ashby and Darlene Brotzman add color and depth to the arrangments; and the mix is clean and clear, allowing Brosky’s soul and the various instrumental ingredients to shine through. Grateful is a personable, heartfelt set, where Steve Brosky shows the full scope of his arts of songwriting and storytelling. An excellent listen. (The CD can be obtained from Brosky’s website, www.stevebrosky.com.)

NINA SCARCIA – WASH AWAY (EBS Records) Harrisburg’s Nina Scarcia has been playing and creating music since the age of 6, and she likes shoes. And as her debut CD, Wash Away, clearly proves, she can write songs and sing. The nine-song disc reveals her musical world to be a tasty fusion of folk, blues, jazz, country and pop. With a smooth, soulful voice and cadence, Scarcia’s presentation brings to mind the pop blues flavor of Bonnie Raitt mixing with the sultriness of Norah Jones. Wash Away displays a variety of flavors; “Old Highway” opens the disc with a rural blues vibe, with Nina singing about the need to escape and find herself. “Rollin’ On” shows a bayou swamp funk flavor, and the delta also rings through on the dues-paying ode “Gone” and the gentle “Next Sunday.” The folksy title track “Wash Away” is about rinsing off worries and troubles and moving forward, while Scarcia resolves to be independent on the boisterous blues-funk of “Wrong Kind of Man.” Scarcia offers a country edge on “Real Love” and the disc-ending pastoral ballad “Rise Up,” and dabbles in Latin-flavored jazz on “Leave It Alone.” Scarcia’s voice and personality stand front and center on every song and nicely tie the disc together into a unified set. Her variety of backing musicians tastefully color and shape the mood of each song, and the song arrangements are tight and efficient. The mix is clean, clear and polished, allowing the full scope of Scarcia’s talents to shine through. Wash Away convincingly announces Nina Scarcia’s arrival as a singer and songwriter, and displays her as a shining talent to be reckoned with. (The CD can be obtained from Nina’s website, www.ninascarcia.com.)

MIKE METTALIA & MIDNIGHT SHIFT – MIDNIGHT SUN (Lost World Music) From southeastern PA, Midnight Shift established their raucous blend of roots rock and blues on their first two albums, 2005’s Bullet Proof and 2011’s Rhythm Rockin’ Boogie.. For their third album, Midnight Sun, the group establishes their founder and ringleader with the new handle Mike Mettalia & Midnight Shift, and expands on their roots rock and blues foundation over 14 tracks. The group’s roots base grows to include some Memphis influence, likely inspired by six of the tracks being recorded at Sun Records Studio in Memphis. Elements of honky-tonk, Chuck Berry-flavored early rock’n’roll and Mississippi blues also inform the songs, giving the album a wider yet consistent scope. Singing and wailing harmonica, Mettalia is flanked by guitarist Mike McMillan, bassist Paul Pluta and drummer Tim Smith; and the group is assisted by several esteemed guests such as sax player Jimmy Cavallo, harmonica greats Mikey Junior and Steve Guyger, singer April Mae (of April Mae and the June Bugs) and more. Nine of the songs are Mettalia originals, including punchy blues romps like the disc-opener “Work Don’t Work,” “the 796 (Memphis Route),” “Love Reaction,” “Built for Speed” and the instrumental “Cheat You Fair.” “Calabash” captures a hearty Jerry Lee Lewis early rock’n’roll vibe, while “Heartsick” and a remake of John Nemeth’s “Magic Touch” channel vintage Chuck Berry. Mettalia and Midnight Shift update Hank Williams’ “The Blues Comes Around,” which becomes a playful duet between Metallia and April Mae. The group blends rockabilly and honky-tonk on a rendition of Junior Thompson’s “Mama’s Little Baby,” while the title track “Midnight Sun” offers slow and slinky blues. Capping the album is the bonus track, a live performance of Jimmy Rogers’ “What Have I Done,” performed at the 2011 Lehigh River Blues Jam and featuring Rogers’ longtime harmonica master Steve Guyger. The performances are robust and heartfelt, making it clear that these performers thoroughly enjoyed making this music happen. The overall sound is punchy and full, and Mettalia’s production enables this set to capture the spirit and feel of early rock and blues. Midnight Sun is a rollicking, fun listen that doesn’t just herald roots rock, country and blues, but gives it a nice energetic kick in the pants as well. (The CD can be obtained through Midnight Shift’s website, www.mnightshift.com.)

ROCK STREET PARK – MAKE IT RIGHT (no label) Schuylkill County quintet Rock Street Park has been entertaining audiences and regional dance floors since 2011. The ‘Skook’ rockers have been putting together original songs as well, and the result of those creative endeavors is their 10-song debut CD, Make It Right. Three guitarists strong, Rock Street Park generates straightforward guitar rock anthems and power ballads. Singer/guitarist John Mayernick, guitarists/singers Steve Mayernick and Jack Clifford (who has since departed the group), bassist Ed Hoffman and drummer Pete Smulligan deliver tight melodies with punchy rhythms and a stern wall of guitar sound to power them forward. As with their rock, Rock Street Park’s lyrics are also straightforward and digestible; the disc-opening title track “Make It Right” is about shifting gears in life and moving forward, while the rocking “Time of Our Lives” celebrates living life to its fullest and not lamenting what could have been. The crunchy boogie “Wicked Ways” heralds evil women, “Falling Down” battles inner demons; and tapping an Angel City vein, the angry “Killing Me” vents aggravation and frustration. Rock Street Park can slow it down as well; the acoustic-geared “Ride With Me” proposes a simple escape from the troubles of the day, the piano-underscored “Lost” seeks answers, “Last Year” laments a lost soul, and the orchestrated-leaning “Home” pleads for a safe return. Rock Street Park shows a knack for simple and catchy song hooks that hang in the head after first listen; each of these melodies works. Their instrumental execution is rock solid, and John Mayernick’s voice is on target and in the zone. Produced by Steve Mayernick and recorded and mixed at Riverview Studios in Bloomsburg, Make It Right offers a bare-knuckles sound with only minimal studio bells and whistles; there is no doubt that this is a straight-ahead rock album. Rock Street Park delivers a sturdy set with Make It Right, establishing their foundation of tight, fundamental guitar rock. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s Reverbnation page,www.reverbnation.com/rockstreetpark.)

PSYMATICA – ENVISAGE (Penta Graham) Based in Johnstown, Psymatica is the studio project endeavor of former Twisted & Used guitarist Stevil Graham. Psymatica’s debut CD,Envisage, is a concept album that follows a lifetime process from birth to enlightenment, documenting how individuality and self-realization eventually triumph over societal conditioning and brainwashing. Graham brings this ambitious journey to life through a barrage of intense, progressive metalcore. Composing, performing all instruments and snarling all vocals, Graham launches furious arrangements with hammering, machine gun-like drum rhythms, attacking precision guitarwork, and surging malevolent bass work. The execution is fast, tight and tenacious; and rarely ever lets up over the course of the disc’s dozen tracks. Blasting open the album, “Nurture” examines how the conditioning and brainwashing process begins from practically the moment of birth, through repeated themes of obedience and conformity. The hyperspeed “Flesh for Food” embraces veganism, attacking the morality of killing and consuming other living beings. “Profit$y” slams forth the theme of money as the root of all evil, while “Healthscare” rages against chemical poisoning and mutation of our air, food, water and environment. Closing the disc, the title track “Envisage” is lengthier and more progressive in scope, tying the story together as full realization and control of one’s own ideas is achieved. Engineered, mixed and mastered by Graham, Envisage sounds sharp and clear, with all the instruments defined and balanced. Graham’s vocals are jagged and raw, and the mix enables the full caustic impact of the song material to be achieved. Envisage offers cutting edge, abrasive and creative metalcore, and presents a punishing listen for fans of the extreme side of the heavy rock spectrum. (The album can be downloaded for free via psymatica.bandcamp.com, or the physical CD can be obtained through the Psymatica Reverbnation page, www.reverbnation.com/psymatica.)

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