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CD Reviews – December 2014

CHRIS RATTIE – ALL THESE THINGS (no label) With his previous band, State College Americana-rock favorites The Rustlanders, Chris Rattie experienced the ups – and eventually, downs – of the major music industry. He leaves that chapter of his career in the rearview mirror on his first solo disc, All These Things. Recorded with his present band, The Brush Valley Rumblers, Rattie explores life’s ups and downs over the disc’s eleven tracks; contemplating his recent journey and the state of the world around him. Rattie’s collective style adheres to his Americana roots of country, blues and rock, but stretches into grittier and edgier territory. Change is a strong theme on the album; the opening track, “So Long!” is Rattie accepting change, bidding farewell to his previous journey and moving forward. The country-toned “Hotel by the Highway” assesses that journey, pondering the emotional investment against the disappointing return. The bluesy “The Way It’s Got to Be” also acknowledges change and when it’s time to pick up and move on. Demonstrating a Dire Straits flavor, “Hard Heart” addresses the personal grit needed to stay above water when times get tough, and the acoustic title track, “All These Things,” resolves that there is a tomorrow and that nothing lasts forever. Rattie gets angry on the album; contemplating pent-up anger on the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-inspired “3am,” and venting about the current world’s state of affairs on the incendiary “Burn Em’ Down,” which culminates in a distortion-laden Beatlesque helter-skelter ending. Rattie sinks heart and soul into these creations, singing with confidence, tenacity and grit; and his guitar work matches that emotion, ranging from the melancholy meow on “Feelin’ Bad” to grungy Neil Young-like fury on the disc’s hardest moments. His Brush Valley Rumblers flesh out the song arrangements with appropriate backdrops that range from smooth and rustic to coarse and agitated. With All These Things, Chris Rattie moves forward and embraces his own musical path, and delivers a personal album about perseverance when dreams fall apart. (The CD can be obtained through Chris Rattie’s website, www.chrisrattie.com.)

CAROLINE REESE & THE DRIFTING FIFTH – THE ELECTRIC YEAR EP (no label) Reading native Caroline Reese started making music at an early age, and recorded her first album, the folk-geared Indian River, in 2010. She expanded her horizons into bluegrass, country and alternative with her 2013 follow-up, Slow Code, and joined with several college associates to form her band, The Drifting Fifth. Their latest seven-song EP, The Electric Year, reveals a solid blend of alternative folk, country and rock flavors. Reese’s soaring, emotive voice and acoustic guitar remain front and center; now flanked by electric guitarist Mark Watters, bassist Alice Terrett and drummer Tom Markham. Her songs each display compelling melodies as she sings themes of life, love, struggle and adversity. The rustic-flavored disc-opener “What I Did” asks for forgiveness, while the country-driven “Before I Go” looks for inspiration and encouragement. Showing more of the alternative flavors, the dark “Child Of War” sings of devotion through hard times, while the disc-closing duet “50 Wasted Years” ponders the passage of time. In a harder vein, the angrier “Fightin’ Side” is a breakup song, while “On the Highway” revels about love and misadventures. Recorded live at Kettle Pot Tracks near Philadelphia, The Electric Years captures the inspiration of the moment, as Reese conveys her words with spontaneous heart and soul, and her bandmates support her voice with solid and tasteful backdrops. With its heartfelt and robust display of edgy folk and Americana, The Electric Years clearly illustrates why Caroline Reese & the Drifting Fifth are garnering attention and opening slots for several major performers, and it will leave listeners eager to hear where this group’s journey heads next. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby, or through the website www.carolinereesemusic.com.)

Xs FOR EYES – Xs FOR EYES (no label) Altoona’s Xs For Eyes formed four years ago, uniting four seasoned performers from the central PA punk and rock scene. Guitarists Tim Mort and Tom Noel worked together previously in Chapter 5 with Mort fronting; this time out, the roles are reversed, as Noel sings most lead vocals. Bassist Gary “Oob” Frisco and drummer Justin Fair comprise the group’s rhythm section. Xs For Eyes’ self-titled CD provides no-holds-barred punk-rocking aggression and attitude over its ten tracks. The rhythms charge at high velocity, the guitars snarl, and Noel barks and howls with tenacity and intensity; yet the melodies are solid and distinguishable. Xs For Eyes vents on personal themes of day-to-day living and survival through the disc. The opening and closing tracks, “Up All Night” and “Not the One,” both address deceit, while “No Way Out” feels four walls closing in. “Bullets” is about reaping what you sow, “All for Nothing” touts accountability, and the dual-speed “Don’t Let Go” fights against all odds. Noel celebrates home on “Orchard Street,” while the anthemic “Under Flames” lives life full fury to the ultimate blaze of glory. The performances are spirited and go-for-broke, as Xs for Eyes takes each number, floors the accelerator and never looks back. Recorded by Larry Luther at Mr. Smalls Studio in Pittsburgh, the sound is lean, mean and full; with the band baring teeth, spitting vinegar and roaring at full power. For those who have seen this group live, Xs For Eyes delivers a similar adrenaline and fury. It is a CD designed to be cranked at full volume; furniture and fragile objects be forewarned. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby.)

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