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CD Reviews – April 2015

LIZ DE LISE – TO & FRO EP (no label) Philadelphia-based singer and songwriter Liz de Lise turns the stories of nomadic street kids into an engaging, imaginative musical journey on her EP, To & Fro. After spending a summer interviewing and observing street kids that passed through Portland, Oregon, de Lise crafted the six songs of To & Fro, in the process weaving together a colorful musical tapestry that blends elements of Americana, indie pop and folk, jazz and ethnic flavors. The overall sound recalls classic folk artists like Joni Mitchell and Melanie, but also suggests a theatrical edge with frequent asides and side journeys . Additional musicians help flesh out and color the arrangements; including de Lise’s father, Louis, on accordion, marimba, keys and percussion, Allan Slutsky on mandolin, Jess Molan and Steve Beskrone on double bass, Bruce McFarland on banjo, Azeel Bhatti on table, Mirjam Ingolfsson on cello, plus several backing singers. Opening with a gypsy folk flavor, “Ode” recounts the story of a traveling dreamer content with his freedom. The gentle, string-toned “Homeless” offers a loose poetic observation of a street traveler, while the multi-tiered “Pan” relates one traveler’s dreams of someday settling down. With its irresistible chorus hook, “Strangers” finds commonality and community with fellow vagabonds, while the minimalist folk of “Star Fire” juxtaposes street life survival and freedom. Bringing the journey to its close, the multi-flavored “The End” offers a dramatic arrangement with frequent twists and turns, highs and lows, Queen-like choral moments and more. Liz de Lise’s clear, pleasant voice and imaginative songcraft provide strong threads throughout this set, and her captivating arrangements and wordplays keep the listening experience fresh from start to end. Produced and recorded by both de Lise and her father, To & Fro sounds clear, balanced and smooth, with all vocal and instrumental components shining through. Liz de Lise’s imagination and artistry rise to the forefront on To & Fro, an adventurous set sure to open ears and minds for this rising talent. (The EP can be obtained through Liz de Lise’s website, www.lizdelise.com. A portion of the proceeds from EP sales goes to Outside In, an organization that helps homeless youth.)

TAKE 147 – NOTHIN’ TO LOSE (no label) Harrisburg’s Take 147 first formed in 2005, and arrived at their current all-female roster in 2010. Singer/guitarist Gretta Zechman, lead guitarist/singer Rochelle Smith, bassist/singer Amber Grunden and drummer/singer Patty Wilson demonstrate hard-rocking punch, swagger and wit on their first full-length album, Nothin’ to Lose. The group’s base sound is largely rooted in the hard-rocking traditions of classic Lita Ford and Girlschool; blending the melodic edge of the former with the grit and spit of the latter. The disc’s dozen tracks run the gamut from throttling rockers to power ballads, with one novelty curio and a remake thrown in for good measure. Several songs vent the scorn of relationships turned sour; such as the stern disc-opener “You” and the rowdy “Tired Of,” the latter highlighted by gang-shout choruses and Grunden’s fast-firing mid-song rap. Take 147 throws caution to the wind on the uptempo “Hideaway,” and weathers the nine-to-five for their right to party on the crunchy title track “Nothin’ to Lose.” The group turns introspective on the dark-toned “Salvation Ends,” and showcases Zechman’s piano talents on both full group and solo takes of the heart-ripping ballad “Goodbye.” Take 147 fends off amorous advances on the Smith-fronted “Lonely Girl,” and celebrates a booze-laced girls’ night in with “House Party.” The group also lightens up the mood with the Grunden-fronted tongue-in-cheek redneck ode “Caravan Court,” and they give hard-rocking muscle to a version of Alanis Morisette’s mega-hit “You Oughta Know.” The performances here are strong; Zechman sinks emotional capital into her vocal delivery and convincingly sells her range of moods throughout the disc, and the group’s instrumental execution is tight and fearless. Produced by the group and Jason Shaffer, Nothin’ to Lose sounds appropriately full, balanced and edgy. Take 147 states their credentials on Nothin’ to Lose, blending intriguing melodies and hard-edged chops into a loud and proud set. (The CD can be purchased through the group’s website, www.take147.com.)

BASTARD BEARDED IRISHMEN – RISE OF THE BASTARD (no label) Originally formed as a side-project in 2008, Pittsburgh’s Bastard Bearded Irishmen have become a regional favorite with their brand of amped-up Celtic rock and punk sounds, and have even captured the attention of Rolling Stone Magazine as a band to watch for. Their latest CD, Rise of the Bastard, gets its Irish up with raucous music perfect for lifting pints and shot glasses to over 15 tracks. Most of the songs are originals, and most are rowdy odes to drinking, rebellion, drinking, fighting, drinking, devious women, and did we say drinking? Fast and furious fare like “Switchblade Molly,” “Paddy O’Shea,” “Heidi Ho,” “Bastard Blarney,” “Bartender’s Friend” and “Whiskey, Rum, Bourbon, Beer” should trigger plentiful moshpit jigging, while “Tomorrow” and “Land of the Free” slam with socially-conscious themes. Although Irish and Celtic are the prominent flavors, Gypsy music informs the frenzied disc-opener “Mama.” while surf flavors drive the dark-themed “Red.” Bastard Bearded Irishmen show that they can slow it down with the somber liver damage lament “Last Drink.” The group also honors pub and folk song tradition with updates of “All for Me Grog,” “Tell Me Ma” and “Three Drunken Maidens.” These Bastard Bearded Irishmen – singer/guitarist/banjoist Jimmy Bastard, guitarist/tin whistler Jon Pitcher, mandolinist/pianist Danny Rectenwald, fiddler Paul Dvorchak, bassist Ben Jaber and drummer Dan Stocker – go for broke on much of the album, quickly accelerating their material to a feverish pitch while keeping the execution tight and the melodies intact. Jimmy sings and howls with adrenaline and enthusiasm, delivering the balance of range, rage and edge. Recorded and mixed by Alex Herd, and produced by both Herd and the band, Rise of the Bastard sounds clean, full and sharp, allowing the group to deliver its full Celtic-flavored sting. Rise of the Bastard provides a feverish joyride from start to end, and provides clear testimony as to why Bastard Bearded Irishmen indeed are on the rise. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website,www.bastardbeardedirishmen.com.)

SHANE SPEAL’S SNAKE OIL BAND – HOLLER! (C.B. Gitty Records) York’s “King of the Cigar Box Guitar,” Shane Speal, envisioned his dream band when he formed his Snake Oil Band two years ago, once describing the project as a “heavy-metal jug band.” The group’s debut CD, Holler!, offers rip-roaring roots and delta-styled blues with a heavy-hitting twist, created with mostly homemade and handmade instruments. Speal’s full-throated growl, grungy cigar box guitar chords, slide work and stomp box rhythms anchor the sound; assisted and supported by harmonica player and guitarist Aaron Lewis, washboard scratcher and percussionist Ronn Benway and washtub bassist Farmer Jon Sprenkle. Speal and his Snake Oil Band blend original compositions, amped-up traditional blues and prison yard shouts over Holler!’s 17 tracks. Opening the disc, “49 Years” boisterously plots revenge from within four walls, highlighted by Speal’s sinister snarl, guest guitarist Don Belch’s scorching midsong solo and some well-placed gunshots. Also criminally catchy is the excellently-titled “Strung Out, Drunk and Busted (and There’s a Body in the Trunk),” a dark ode to a nocturnal burial run that slowly builds with Lewis’ slinky harmonica flourishes, intensifying percussion echoes and more. Lust inspires several tunes such as “Big Leg Woman/Swing the Hammer,” the rockabilly-ish “Judy Got a Booty,” the playful “When She Gets Drunk, She Gets Horny,” the testimonial “A Fat Man Will Love You (Like No Skinny Boy Can)” and an ode to surgically-enhanced beauty “Simulated Sadie.” The group gets lowdown with “How Long Will You Make Me Suffer,” condemns demon alcohol on “Whiskey Blues” and promises more revenge on “Six Feet in the Hole.” Speal’s Snake Oil Band honors traditional blues with the rousing “Holler!” medley, and gives a subdued blues makeover to the King of Pop’s popular hit “Billie Jean.” The performances are inspired and spirited, and it quickly becomes clear that these musicians had a blast recording this set. Speal growls for keeps here; his blend of raw emotion and wit sells each song. The band is rowdy and jubilant, and the production is full and appropriately jagged, allowing the rawness of this back-to-basics instrumentation to fully shine, warts and all. Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band doesn’t just revisit raw roots blues on Holler! – they drop a big rig engine into them and make the blues roar in their own refreshingly distinctive way. (The CD can be obtained through Shane Speal’s website, www.shanespeal.com.)

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