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CD Reviews – July 2014

THE BIG TIME – DREAMERS AND BELIEVERS (no label) Since forming in 2009, Altoona-based foursome The Big Time has evolved and honed their brand of energetic power pop/rock, along the way earning support slots with All Time Low, Mayday Parade, Hit The Lights and more. Their latest CD, Dreamers and Believers, captures the group’s explosive blend of punk-infused adrenaline and precision melodies. Erupting rhythms from drummer Aaron Porta and bassist Dylan Auerbeck fuel The Big Time’s hard-driving melodies; underscoring the guitar roar of Brandon Porta and frontman Derek Mrdjenovich. Most of the disc’s eight songs offer hard-hitting odes to the ins and outs of love; the beginning and ending tracks, “Take It to the Floor” and the title song “Dreamers and Believers” are more hopeful in tone, while “Done With It” and the milder “Sick and Tired” lean toward throwing in the towel. “The Drive” offers words of devotion, while “All for You” and “Hard to Get” grow weary of head games and relationship nonsense. The Big Time offers an acoustic update of “Stay Strong,” a somber tribute to a lost loved one. The songs are sharp and to the point, and the group’s melodies are catchy and concise. Mrdjenovich’s voice is strong and drives each song forward, and he effectively varies the intensity for the task at hand on each song. Paul Leavitt’s production and mix are busy, leaving no dead spaces or lulls in the action. The melodies are served, while the group’s edge is sharp throughout. The Big Time sounds tight and polished on Dreamers and Believers, and the group’s steady progress displayed here suggests that they may be ready for the big time in short order. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.thebigtime.bigcartel.com.)

THUNDER VEST – THUNDER VEST (no label) Five buddies bonded by booze and rock’n’roll, Pittsburgh’s Thunder Vest formed two years ago to generate two- and three-chord shout-along punk-rocking anthems. Their self-titled debut CD delivers high-octane, punk-fueled rock’n’roll excitement over eleven tracks; as Thunder Vest blends simple, infectious melodies, gang-shout choruses, and relatable, often funny lyrics. Fast-firing rhythms from drummer Captain Shingles and bassist Phil Irvest couple with the dual snarling guitar tandem of Stevie Novocain and Neil to set the boisterous backdrops for frontman Scott Terzolino’s witty and sassy words. Thunder Vest greets listeners on their disc-leading title track “T-H-U-N-D-E-R VEST!” with suggested uses for the disc (even romantic settings), before “It’s All About Me” follows a more self-centered theme. “Look Ma” proudly shows parents what their kids have become, while “Rad Girls” celebrates ladies at punk shows. Thunder Vest also celebrates smoking women on “Cigarette Girl,” and the joys of full-figured gals on “Fat Chicks.” Libation is also part of Thunder Vest’s equation, as they savor PBR on the drinking anthem “Piss and Vinegar.” The group also offers two covers; their spin on New Bomb Turks’ “Automatic Teller” and the adrenalin-rush disc-closing edition of the Hellacopters’ “Riot on the Rocks,” capped with some furious harmonica wailing. The tempo is fast and go-for-broke, but the execution is tight and on target. Terzolino knows his turf here, and his cadence is clear and keeps with the pace. The action is constant, and just like the group’s live shows, never a dull moment. Mixed and mastered by Eric Wrecker, the disc sounds full and clear, and Thunder Vest’s sharp edge is constant and cutting. Thunder Vest offers short, sweet, to-the-point and fun punk rock on their debut; a disc that will quicken the pulse, and may cause acceleration in vehicles if listened to while driving. (The disc can be obtained through Thunder Vest’s Bandcamp page, www.thundervest.bandcamp.com.)

RETRO ROCKET – RETRO ROCKET (no label) Formed in northeastern PA in 2006, Retro Rocket establishes their multi-flavored musical turf on their self-titled CD. Featuring Mike Chafin on vocals and various stringed instruments, Jessica Illuzzi on vocals, guitar and piano, bassist Chuck Artim and drummer Jim Davis; Retro Rocket introduces a sound that blends elements of Americana, folk rock, country and – consistent with their name – retro-flavored pop over their disc’s hefty 17 tracks. With Mike and Jessica sharing lead singing duties, Retro Rocket displays a knack for hook-driven melodies and relatable, easy-to-digest lyrics dealing with life, love and the ways of the world. The disc opens up with a tear-in-beer old-school country flavor, as Jessica laments sudden solitude on a rendition of “Lonesome Blues.” She sings the more country and folk-geared numbers on the disc; exploring her Pennsylvania roots on the rustic “Pennsyltucky Wings,” fantasizing about a new source of income on “Money Tree,” and crooning the vocal on a folksy read of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” one of the album’s four remakes. Retro Rocket frequently taps into late ‘60s/early ‘70s folk and pop rock vibes, displayed on such numbers as “One Way Love,” “Jessie” and “One Time Girl.” The group also kicks it into a rowdier early ‘70s Rolling Stones vein with “Bouncy Girl.” The performances are solid throughout the disc; both Mike and Jessica display clear and distinctive voices, and the group’s arrangements and instrumental execution are fresh and tasteful. Self-produced by Mike, the disc sounds clear and vibrant; there is some slight fluctuation between volume levels on tracks through the disc, but for the most part this is a consistent listen. Retro Rocket successfully marries Americana and retro pop flavors on their debut, offering an impressive calling card that welcomes new listeners into their world, and establishing a broad-based musical foundation to expand upon. (The disc can be obtained through the group’s Facebook page.)

 

(VARIOUS ARTISTS) – NOW AND THEN: THE STATE COLLEGE MUSIC SCENE 1968-2012 (Apache Records) With its transient student population, the State College area has hosted many talented and diverse musical acts over the years and up to the present day. State College-based indie record label Apache Records undertook the mission of celebrating Happy Valley’s rich musical heritage with Now and Then: The State College Music Scene 1968-2012, a two-disc set celebrating area music from 1968 to now. Proceeds from sales of the set go to Happy Valley Cares, which helps child abuse victims. The first disc, “Then,” celebrates State College music from 1968 to 1990. The oldest representation is from 1968, the Woolly Thumpers’ playful folk-rock number “Come Closer.” Some of State College’s most legendary band names are represented on this half of the set; including Menagerie’s “Wrong About You,” Cartoon’s “In My Dreams Tonight,” Backseat Van Gogh’s timely 1980 pop anthem “Catch a New Wave,” Tahoka Freeway’s “Light Rain,” Code: Blue’s spirited “(You’re So Busy),” Queen Bee & the Blue Hornet Band’s “Take Your Lies Home to Mama,” Sideshow Bob’s “As She Says” and more. The “Now” disc, of course, spans 1990 to present (2012, the year this set was issued). A few of the acts here have since folded, such as the popular Sona and their 2001 track “Birdsong” and Katsu’s 2001 song “Walkaway.” But many current State College and area performers represent, such as Felix & the Hurricanes with “Grow,” Ted McCloskey’s “Dancing As Fast As I Can,” Triple A Blues Band’s “Call Home Blues,” My Hero Zero’s “Make Some Noise,” The Nightcrawlers’ “Place in the Dark,” Mama Corn’s “Fallen Leaves,” Harold Taddy’s “Buon Giorno,” Pure Cane Sugar’s “My Favorite Song” and others. Produced by Daniel Collins and mastered by Bill Filer at Audible Images Recording, Now and Then sounds consistent throughout, with the best quality brought out of the older recordings, some which were originally issued through prehistoric analog media such as vinyl records and tape. A little more background information on the performers – especially the older groups – might have made this set more complete; but as is, Now and Then still captures a nice chunk of State College area music past and present, and offers a good crash course in the Happy Valley music scene’s heritage to those curious in exploring where it has been and where it is now. (The compilation can be purchased through Apache Records’ website, www.apachemusic.net.)

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