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CD Reviews – November 2014

PA Musician November 2014 CD Reviews

MICHI – “CASTLES IN THE AIR” (Candygirl Music) Now calling the Big Apple her home base, Williamsport area native Michiko “Michi” Egger continues to hone and mature her songwriting craft on her latest CD, “Castles in the Air”. Loosely a theme album, Michi explores the dynamics, ups and downs of a first-love relationship that never reached its full potential over the disc’s 13 tracks. With her uniquely dynamic singing style, she shares her feelings, observations, celebrations and defeats over a colorful musical backdrop that blends flavors of rock, pop, R&B, folk and country. Helping her bring the songs to fruition are her father, Todd Egger, on drums; bassist Tim Breon; and (former) Badlees multi-instrumentalist Bret Alexander, who plays keys and guitar; plus recorded, mixed and mastered the album at his Saturation Acres studio. The album begins with the disillusionment following the breakup on “Too Close,” as Michi licks her wounds and diagnoses what went wrong, and she lashes out at an apathetic friend on “Dear Best Friend.” Times are happier on the playfully upbeat “Take Me Home,” where she coos the bliss and anticipation of a budding relationship, the gentle and hopeful “Everything,” and the soulful “Stay,” where she extends her heart. What could have been is the thrust of the reflective “Nine Years” and the driving, harder-edged “You Could Be the One.” Michi acknowledges stormy relationship conditions on “Hurricane,” recalls the moment where it came crashing down on “Come Monday,” and moves forward to bigger and better pastures on the country-flavored “Tumbleweed.” Conflicted emotions of regret and spite are dealt with on “Worlds Away” and the punchy “Standstill,” before Michi closes the disc with the happier romantic sentiment of her voice and acoustic guitar ode “Endlessly.” Through the songs, Michi weaves a cohesive theme of innocence, love and love lost; with her voice evoking the appropriate emotions of glee, hope, worry, despair and anger. The arrangements support the songs and their moods, giving appropriate excitement and tranquility where needed. “Castles in the Air” shows Michi moving forward with her artistry, as her gift of songcraft enables her to weave a collective story, share happiness and sorrow, and practice a little self-therapy. (The CD can be purchased from Michi’s website, www.musicbymichi.com.) —Reviewed by Jim Price

STERLING KOCH TRIO – “PLACE YOUR BETS” (Full Force Music) Nobody can ever accuse Sterling Koch of staying in one place too long when it comes to his various musical projects or recordings, as one look at his vast discography so far clearly proves. A side project from his current electric blues-rock group, Koch’s self-named trio explores the acoustic side of the blues spectrum on “Place Your Bets”. Koch sings, plays acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, dobro, and percussion, backed by bassist Gene Babula and harmonica player Jack Kulp. The group offers their interpretations on a variety of classic and modern blues and blues-rock classics plus one original song over the disc’s 11 tracks; not only showing what they can do in this unique acoustic setting, but in some cases stripping these songs back to their basic blues foundations and rebuilding them. Case in point is the update of ZZ Top’s early 1980s classic rock staple “Tubesnake Boogie,” which gets stripped back to its basic blues roots and made over into a happy-go-lucky clap-along. Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s more recent “Blue on Black” becomes a tasty duet between Koch and guest backing singer Jennifer Dierwechter. The disc starts off with a rowdy acoustic rendering of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “House Is Rockin,’” and ends with Koch’s strong update of Peter Green and early Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” The classic blues masters are recalled and honored through the Koch Trio’s slinky updates of Jimmy Reed’s “Dizzy” and John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples,” along with rollicking versions of Hound Dog Taylor’s “It’s Alright” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Checkin’ Up on My Baby,” and a stern take on Albert King’s “Down Don’t Bother Me.” Also included are a spin on Otis Rush’s “My Baby (She’s a Good ‘Un)” and Koch’s original “Nothin’ But the Blues.” Koch convincingly reprises his “Slide Ruler” nickname, demonstrating constant and masterful slide work throughout the disc, and he delivers a hearty voice to go with it. Likewise, Kulp’s masterful harmonica wail shines and colors each song. Produced, recorded and mixed by Koch, “Place Your Bets” sounds crisp and bold, and the performances do the talking with minimal studio bells and whistles. “Place Your Bets” is yet another strong and inventive Sterling Koch outing, and listeners can place their bets that Koch will continue to devise more creative outlets to explore and showcase his vast guitar and steel guitar talents. (The CD can be obtained through Sterling Koch’s website, www.sterlingkoch.com.)

WRATH OF TYPHON – “SPEAK FROM THE FIRE” (no label) Since early 2009, York’s Wrath Of Typhon has been stirring up fury on regional stages with their no-holds-barred brand of heavy metal. Their debut CD, “Speak from the Fire”, reveals influences from classic, thrash and speed metal over its 11 tracks. Guitarist Bill Miskowitz, drummer Dave Miskowitz and (now former) bassist Reese Harlacker construct rampaging, thunderous and uncompromising rhythms, setting the foundation for frontman “Crazy J” Jason Robison, whose feral and unpredictable vocal delivery runs the gamut from high-soaring polecat howls to raw-voiced barks and screams. Various angles of attack unfold throughout the album; the disc-opener “Rise King Rise” offers piledriving thrash metal that punches listeners in the jaw and grabs attention, while “Graverobber” taps classic metal roots. Rooted in Black Sabbath-like doom metal, “Avenger” establishes a psychotic-themed furvor, and doom also powers the intriguing “Consisting of or Adjacent to” and the tense “Angela.” The forceful “Loaded Dice” exudes a strong Motorhead-like presence, while the disc-closing title track “Speak from the Fire” demonstrates a strong Slayer flavor. The performances are appropriately brash and brute-force, with Crazy J’s freewheeling singing style keeping the set volatile while tying it into a unified whole. The mix is sharp and full-throttled, allowing Wrath Of Typhon to bare their teeth and savagery with little polish or gloss. Fans of no-nonsense old and new school power metal will find plenty to celebrate here; Wrath Of Typhon provides an exciting introductory set with “Speak from the Fire”, and leaves open a myriad of possibilities for how their attack will evolve on future offerings.(Available at www.reverbnation.com/wrathoftyphon)

                                                —Reviewed by Jim Price

TED McCLOSKEY – SEA FOAM GREEN (Voodoo Cat Records) Now eight albums in, State College musical institution Ted McCloskey again defies pigeonholing and keeps listeners guessing with his latest release, “Sea Foam Green.” While his last album, 2012’s “The Last of the Pin-Up Girls,” explored new musical turf through geographic cues via a sonic cross-country journey, “Sea Foam Green’s” 18 songs reference a variety of past flavors spanning ‘60s era surf rock to ‘70s funk and soul to Beatlesque pop; all integrated into McCloskey’s distinctive style. This eclectic musical mix serves as a launching pad for McCloskey to wax lyrically about the recent life and times of a not-so-happy valley in turmoil. Recent news headlines seem to inform the media circus observations of the rampant “Cameras and Microphones” and the incessant muckraking feeding frenzy of the uptempo “The More I Keep Digging.” McCloskey also examines the hopes, dreams, idealism and naivete of a college town environment on “Just Enough Rope” and the observational “This Town.” He heralds the enthusiasm of teenagers conquering that scene on the raucous “Let’s Be Nineteen,” but also savors the value of stealth on “Anonymous.” Other vignettes dig into personal psyche, such as the plight of dreamers and visionaries as mainstream outcasts on the reggae-tinged “Flying Too Close to the Sun,” a brain on autopilot on the short samba “Running on a Loop in My Brain,” and the reassuring “Painting Hearts on My Sleeve.” McCloskey sings and plays most instruments, with Mark Daubert contributing his keyboard prowess on 12 of the tracks and Molly Countermine adding depth to the vocals. McCloskey’s knacks for song hooks and fresh arrangements keep “Sea Foam Green” compelling and intriguing from start to end, while his wordplays connect on a cerebral level beyond the lure of those hooks. Produced by McCloskey, the disc is continually busy with never a dull moment. Ted McCloskey has long since defined his turf as a skilled songsmith and lyricist; on Sea Foam Green, he stirs the pot both stylistically and lyrically, and delivers yet another compelling and clever set. (Available at, www.tedmccloskey.com)

                                             —Reviewed by Jim Price

DIRT CHEAP has arrived! The York based band, with a foundation of AC/DC influence has released their first effort “No Cents.” An album consisting of five powerful chord driven songs with a commanding screaming scowl. Thundering songs that keep rock ‘n’ roll in its truest form of fantastic simplicity and minimalism. Dirt Cheap makes things sound easy, which are actually quite difficult. Songs that have a clear sense of space and restraint. A guitar sound that crashes but is in complete control. A great band concept to limit their covers to only the Bon Scott era of AC/DC. Central PA may remember Dirt Cheap members from past bands. Drummer Christian Thompson was a member of Sacred Nation. Guitarist Russ Brooks has played with Parallax Project and Tony Ryder. Bassist Larry Buggs of the popular Cry Tuff. And singer Mike Guerrini (as well as Russ & Buggs) were all in 90’s band Easy Mickey. The greatest surprise of Dirt Cheap is the voice of Guerrini, a guitarist for years but never a vocalist. A single preview of opening track “She Wants Money” will have you wanting more Dirt Cheap and less money.

                                                   —Reviewed by Eric Hoffman

 

 

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