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CD Reviews – March 2015

HANNAH BINGMAN – LOAM (no label) For more than a decade, Hannah Bingman has honed and refined her distinctive brand of acoustic-based folk music, rooted in traditional folk and Americana. On her latest album, Loam, she expands from that traditional folk music foundation to explore a variety of flavors, spanning jazz, blues, folk-rock and more. Bingman’s songwriting has evolved from the more freewheeling and improvisational approach of her earlier material to more structured and concise melodies on Loam. Her lyrical messages remain direct and assertive, as she celebrates rural heritage, family and her life’s journey. She doesn’t back down from any challenges on the disc-opening “Deep Water,” resolving to ‘swim” and face the elements. That resolve was shaped by her rural upbringing, a theme she recounts in the rustic “Farmer’s Prayer.” She explores rural and traditional values and work ethic on “Hard Times, Our Times,” and considers the plight of the modern farmer on the solemn “Farmer’s Plea.” Introspection is the theme of Bingman’s sturdy folk-rocker “Heart on Fire,” and she sings a hopeful ode for the future on “Mustard Seed (Song for Kathryn Mae).” Bingman’s musical explorations include jazzy terrain on “Hard Hearted Woman,” “Had a Mind, Had a Heart” and the disc-ending “Jericho,” honky-tonk on the barroom-themed “Pennies,” and delta blues on “Stranger.” Several guests help color the arrangements through the album, as Doug McMinn’s clarinet and Nell Hanssen’s trumpet augment the jazzier flavors, Kathryn Johnston’s violin enhances the rustic moods, and Kim Reichley (who co-produced the album with Bingman) adds touches of bass, dobro, mandolin, piano and more. Bingman’s gritty and determined singing style drives her lyrical messages home and provides the cohesive thread that ties this set together, while the varying styles and moods keep the album fresh-sounding and vibrant. Loam clearly shows Hannah Bingman’s growth and maturity as an artist; she adheres to her folk roots, while embracing the adventure of exploring the musical world around her. (The CD can be purchased through Hannah Bingman’s website, www.hannahbingman.com.)

PATRICK McGINNIS – PATRICK McGINNIS (no label) Patrick McGinnis has been involved in making music on central PA stages since the 1970s, as a member of multiple band projects, as a sound engineer, and as a solo performer. He has written numerous songs during his career, and presents eight of them on his first self-titled CD. His general style rooted in the folk singer/songwriter tradition of John Prine, Bob Dylan, Guy Clark and others; McGinnis displays a clear knack for crafting catchy, hook-laden melodies, and also demonstrates excellent skills as a wordsmith with simple, hopeful and heartfelt messages. The disc-opening “Give Your Love Away” mixes spoken narrative and chorus as McGinnis encourages listeners to share the love and take stock in the simple things that provide happiness. The uplifting, clap-along blues of “Winds Of Change” communicates that the only thing constant in life is change. He celebrates the joy and simplicity of quality time with a canine companion on the joyous “Walking My Dog,” and touts the warmth and stability of home on “Shades Of Grey.” Numerous guest musicians help bring McGinnis’ song creations to life; guitarist Mark Ross (Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats) and keyboardist Mark Rossi add punch and swagger to the bluesy “I’ll Cry for You,” while the Hurricanes’ tandem of guitarist Felix Kos and drummer Bobby Watters add muscle to “Sure Feels Like She’s Gone.” Pedal steel player Kim Metzgar and the Pure Cane Sugar vocal harmonies of Natalie Race and Molly Countermine color in the country tones of the tear-in-beer “I’ve Just Killed the Bottle.” (Other guests include guitarists Jason McIntyre and Junior Tutwiler, Daniel Collins on fiddle, Bill Wilgus on mandolin, Tyne Palazzi on banjo, Jack Wilkinson on drums, and Dawn Kinnard on backing vocals.) But perhaps the disc’s most powerful song also features its simplest arrangement, as McGinnis closes the set with a tender and heartfelt acoustic guitar ode to his wife; “Never” features touching words that should bring goose bumps to even the hardest of souls. McGinnis’ voice is strong and constant throughout the set, and the assortment of stringed tones and arrangements from him and his guests help set the atmosphere for each song. The performances are tight, strong and tasteful, and all serve to build and support the song material. The production and mix are balanced and enable McGinnis’ voice and all the instrumental and vocal components to shine. His power of words and simplicity of melodies and arrangements makes Patrick McGinnis’ debut disc a bright, feelgood first chapter, offering a pleasant, heartwarming listening experience. (The CD can be obtained at Pat’s shows, or at Bandman Music in Altoona.)

GRACES DOWNFALL – CHANGE. ADJUST. CONTINUE (Saturation Acres) In the time that has transpired since their last CD, 2012’s Resplendent Indignity, Scranton-based rockers Graces Downfall have undergone a transformation, implementing the new rhythm section of bassist Grant Williams and drummer Jamey Fisk. Some band members have undergone tumultuous transformations in their personal lives as well, setting the tone for the group’s third and latest CD, Change. Adjust. Continue. The new blood plus group mainstays Kenneth Norton on vocals and Mark Yanish on guitar reboot their brand of grunge-edged alternative rock and metal through the disc’s ten tracks, weaving together captivating riffs and melodies, topped with lyrics addressing the state of their lives, loves and society. A nasty custody battle appears to inform the words of several tracks, including the terse disc-opener “Fight” and the thunderous courtroom drama ode “Drop the Case,” both firing angry allegations of perjury and manipulation. The hard-driving “Letter to Lainey” and the gentler “Lost Time” address the collateral damage stemming from such a battle. “Jesus Crutch” dresses down pomposity and hypocrisy from behind the pulpit, “Strumpets” warns of the evils of band-chasing bar vixens, and “Scranton” paints a bleak picture of the current state of the band’s home base. Graces Downfall is capable of more pleasant moments; the upbeat “Let’s Grow Old” offers a hard-rocking theme of love and devotion, while the disc-ending acoustic ballad “Leah” celebrates an infant daughter. Graces Downfall executes the song material with sharpness and precision, and the arrangements are tight and focused. Norton’s voice and phrasing command attention, and he sings his words with a refreshing clarity. Produced by the band and engineered by Bret Alexander at Saturation Acres Recording Studio, Change. Adjust. Continue. sounds crisp, punchy and balanced, enabling this music to ring out with appropriate thunder and bite. Graces Downfall’s reboot is a successful one, and Change. Adjust. Continue. is a strong set that establishes that after speed bumps in band and in life, this group has refocused their direction and is moving forward. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.gracesdownfall.net.)

STARCHILD – VOLUME 3 (no label) Starting out as a Kiss tribute band, Harrisburg’s StarChild celebrated and emulated the sound of early Kiss on their first two discs,Volume 1 and Volume 2, along the way evolving an original sound rooted in Kiss’ mid-1970s glory period. While that ‘kiss’ still graces the group’s sound on their latest effort,Volume 3, StarChild steps forward with a more aggressive, heavier and edgier slant. Singer, guitarist and group ringleader Jerry Martin howls with more intensity and reckless abandon; and assisted by wife/bassist Sharon Starr and guitarist X-Bomb, drives the majority of the disc’s ten songs forward at a more urgent clip. The leadoff anthem “Come Back for More” slams the door open to welcome listeners back for the third round, while “Heart Of Stone” drops a Motley Crue-like engine into their Kiss-rooted chassis. StarChild ramps up the velocity with two burners in “Slave (Chained to Love)” and the disc-closer “Urban Blight.” They craft a sturdy melodic rocker with “Anytime (Waiting on Your Call),” and effectively decelerate as well with two power ballads, the breakup-themed “Unfriend” and the rockstar dream ode “Alive.” As they did on the first two discs, StarChild pays homage to their main influence, but this time taps one song apiece from Kiss’ 1980s and 1990s catalogs with remakes of “Tears Are Falling” and “Psycho Circus” respectively. And reprising her first lead vocal appearance from Volume 2, Starr steps up her vocal aggression as well with her feisty read of Joan Jett’s hit “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” The performances are brisk and bold, and StarChild delivers their originals and remakes with ample heart and enthusiasm. Produced by Martin and again engineered by Derek Euston at Harrisburg’s Green Room Studio, Volume 3 sounds appropriately powerful and vibrant, blending the group’s edge with smoothness and fullness. As StarChild continues to tip their hats to their influences on Volume 3, they also proceed to edge their original sound forward, and proudly pound out a path of their own. (The CD can be obtained through StarChild’s Reverbnation page, www.reverbnation.com/StarChildBand.)

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