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CD Reviews – February 2015

CHRIS BELL – BELL COUNTY LINE (Silverbridge Records) A New England native now calling State College his home base, Chris Bell has built a strong resume as an electric bluesman in more than a decade of recording and touring the country. On his latest CD, Bell County Line, Bell expands his roots-based frontier to embrace Americana, country and southern rock flavors. Through the disc’s dozen tracks, Bell applies his hearty singing style to odes about country living and upbringing, bars, booze and blues; while wielding electric and acoustic guitars, dobro, banjo and bass. Several renowned guests assist along the way, including steel guitar master Buzz Evans, fiddler Johnny Potash, Celine Dion keyboard player Yves Frulla and more. The album never stays in one place for long; Bell displays a Lynyrd Skynyrd southern rock flavor on the rowdy disc-opener “No Big Deal,” and dabbles with a milder Allman Brothers tone later with “Pearly Gates.” Evans’ steel guitar drives the tear-in-beer ballad “Too Much to Drink,” as well as the traditional honky-tonk exercise “Daddy Plays Steel Guitar.” Bell tackles hard-edged new country as well on the dance floor anthem “(That’s How) Country Girls Do It,” the backwoodsy “Down in the Holler,” the ambition-themed “Get Back Home” and the bar-brawling “Take It Outside.” Swamp blues informs the title track “Bell Countyline,” and Bell closes the disc with the rural folk touch of “Carrie Mae.” Bell sinks passion and intensity into his performances throughout the disc, and his gritty growl is front and center; it’s clear from the listening that he is having fun exploring these new musical frontiers. The musicianship is strong throughout, and the guest musicians and singers successfully fill, accent and bring out the moods of each piece. The production is full and balanced, allowing Bell and his players to carry the show with minimal studio polish, bells or whistles. After the initial shock of Chris Bell’s seismic stylistic expansion wears off, Bell County Line is ultimately a fun listen, as listeners will hear an artist having fun, with Americana music as his newly-discovered playground. (The CD can be obtained at CD Baby or through Bell’s Reverbnation page,www.reverbnation.com/chrisbellband.)

NEW DAY DAWN – RISE ABOVE THIS EP (Botti Parts Music) Northern New Jersey’s New Day Dawn introduced their melody-laden, emotion-packed brand of hard modern rock with their 2008 full-length CD The Company We Keep, and has since expanded their scope nationwide to open for national acts and perform at prestigious events such as the South By Southwest Music Festival (SXSW). On their latest five-song EP, Rise Above This, New Day Dawn continues to hone their melody-based sound, while enabling the group’s focal point – singer, guitarist and songwriter Dawn Botti – to reaffirm her drive to move forward following changes in her career path. Botti still knows how to craft a catchy song hook and anthemic chorus; and along with drummer/husband Gary Szczecina and guitarist Patrick Angeloni, knows how to pack power and authority behind her song creations. The disc launches with the upbeat tone of the appreciative “You Are My Everything,” and offers comfort and hope after the fall with the escalating arrangement of “Lay Your Head.” The hard-driving “Life Impossible” addresses forward movement after a difficult life decision, while the darker-toned “Whatever It Takes” pledges devotion and determination to the path ahead. The stern disc-closer “Runaway” touts confronting situations rather than fleeing them. Botti again establishes her powerful presence with her impassioned, soaring delivery, and the group’s backing vocals drive the anthemic chorus hooks home. Several notable guests assist along the way, including 3 Doors Down drummer Greg Upchurch, .38 Special keyboardist Bobby Capps, and Disturbed’s John Moyer on additional guitar and keys. The musicianship is rock solid and tight, packing authoritative thunder behind the melodies to seal the deal. Rise Above This demonstrates New Day Dawn’s musical focus moving forward, and offers the sound of a determined, hard-working band. (The EP can be obtained through CD Baby or through the group’s website, www.newdaydawn.info.)

LUCKY LAD GREEN – LUCKY LAD GREEN EP (no label) Lucky Lad Green came together two years ago, as five Johnstown area musicians merged punk, metal and hardcore backgrounds into a new Celtic punk rock endeavor. The group’s self-titled four-song EP introduces listeners to their boisterous brand of Irish-infused punk rock. Bassist Jim Berkin and drummer Bret Berk power the group’s sound with a variety of high-velocity rhythms, while guitarist Steve Boyle and multi-instrumentalist Ryan McDonald generate hard-driving walls of sound; all setting the backdrop for singer Eric Smay to howl and bark out relatable, easy-to-digest words of Irish heritage, solidarity and drinking. Lucky Lad Green opens the sampler with a hard-hitting seafaring ode, “Tale of a Sailor,” spinning a tale of temptation, a woman and revenge. “Lead Sled” salutes a favorite form of transportation, “Irish Pride” celebrates blue-collar, hard-working, hard-drinking Irish tradition and solidarity, and the disc closes with the alcohol-laden, brawling anthem “Bar Fight.” Lucky Lad Green’s presentation is rowdy and no-holds-barred, as they deliver their songs with groove and swagger. Smay belts out his words with purpose and enthusiasm, and his bandmates respond with raucous gang shots and count-offs. The mix is basic and to the point, capturing the group’s jagged edge and spontaneous approach, warts and all. This is a fun sampler that quickly informs listeners on what Lucky Lad Green is about, and should successfully entice new fans to experience the group’s live show and hoist some grog. (The EP can be obtained through Lucky Lad Green’s Reverbnation page, www.reverbnation.com/luckyladgreen.)

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