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CD Reviews – August 2015

THE ANDY TOLINS REVUE WITH STEVE BUCKALEW – SUE’S RAMBLE (no label) Sue’s Ramble, the latest CD by State College-based folk/bluegrass favorites The Andy Tolins Revue with Steve Buckalew, is dedicated in memory of Tolins’ wife, Susan Kemper-Tolins, a popular and gifted singer and songwriter who passed in 2005. According to the disc’s liner notes by album co-producer Mark Ross, the album was recorded live with the band members – Andy Tolins on vocals, guitar and dobro, Steve Buckalew on vocals and fiddle, Adam Laird on mandolin, Vinny Searfoss on banjo and John “JK” Kennedy on bass – positioned in a circle and using three microphones in a State College living room. Bill Filer, who engineered the recording with assistance from Chris Younken, captured the spontaneity and spirit of the moment. Folk and bluegrass are the primary flavors through the disc’s 10 tracks, as the musicians mix songs and instrumental exercises. The instrumentals include the frisky title track, “Sue’s Ramble,” and the mildly groove-driven “Peat Moss”; both showcasing dazzling musicianship and interplay as the musicians seize the moment. The songs range between traditional-flavored bluegrass hoedowns like the fast-firing “Unclaimed Love” and “Knockin’ on Your Door,” the Texas swing-toned “Georgia Boys,” and the darker story ode “Aaron Kelly.” The group also performs the rustic waltz “Nay Sayers,” displays a gospel flavor on “Moan You Moaners,” and strums folk blues on “Honey Babe Blues.” A 1994 performance by Susan Kemper-Tolins, singing “Careless Love” at Acoustic Brew in Lemont, closes the disc and tribute. The performances are spirited yet laid back, and the set’s mood is uplifting. Andy Tolins’ distinctive baritone is front and center, but all of the musicians get frequent moments to shine during the course of the songs and album. Also helping out are guest backing singers Cory Neidig (Grain), Melanie Morrison (Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats) and Aileen Querry. The recording is clean and crisp, and the mix is balanced and consistent from start to end. Sue’s Ramble is a pleasant listen that nicely pays homage to Susan Kemper-Tolins, and fans of Americana and bluegrass will find plenty to celebrate here. (The CD can be purchased at Webster’s Bookstore in State College.)

ROADSIDE FUNERAL – ROADSIDE FUNERAL (no label) Forming last year from the remnants of Even As We Speak and other previous projects, Roadside Funeral is a power trio that defines their distinctive heavy-geared rock sound on their self-titled CD. Singer/drummer Mr. (Jeremy) Bratton, bassist Mr. Washell and guitarist Mr. Long root their sound in the tradition of early Black Sabbath, with booming beats and crushing power chords driving many of the disc’s 11 tracks. But the group’s songwriting tendencies tap influences from more modern heavy rock purveyors like Faith No More, the Deftones, System Of A Down and others. The songs are short and compact for the most part, with tight riffs that hook the listener in. Roadside Funeral explores topics of life, survival and soul-searching issues with most of the songs; survival of the fittest seems to be the prevailing theme on the Sabbathy “Parliament,” while an intense sexual encounter informs the words to the jazz-informed “Peg.” The creeping arrangement of “To the Worms” ponders equality for mankind as worm food, while the hard-driving “Enjoy the Show” offers a metaphor for living life. The group crafts a multi-tempo exercise with the opening track “Andromeda,” and explores a bluesy riff on “Dried Leaves.” Roadside Funeral sounds tight, enthusiastic and confident on this set, and their execution and fullness often make them sound much bigger than broader than their trio format. Bratton’s vocals are clear and consistent, and fit the group’s style perfectly. Recorded at CobbleSound Studios in Pittsburgh, Roadside Funeral sounds lean and mean, capturing the band’s thunder and jagged edge without excess bells and whistles. This is a strong debut; Roadside Funeral introduces a band with a direction and focus, and provides a sturdy foundation for Roadside Funeral to continue to build and develop upon. (The download or physical CD can be obtained through the group’s Bandcamp website, https://roadsidefuneral.bandcamp.com.)

CELL15 – CHAPTER ONE (no label) Cell15 is the brainchild of Hybrid Ice singer and keyboardist Robert Scott Richardson, and the seven-track debut CD Chapter One presents an expansive musical journey through themes of mistakes, accountability and atonement. Handling lead vocals and most instrumentation, Richardson takes the progressive rock direction of his nine-minute Hybrid Ice original epic “Faith Without Works” off the group’s 2009 Mind’s Eye CD and expands upon it, both in progressive rock flavor and lyrical theme. The result is a detailed, majestic sound rooted in the traditional progressive rock tradition of Styx, Kansas, Yes and Alan Parsons Project; with captivating melodies, dynamic and dramatic twists and turns. Lyrically the story documents life’s errors, their consequences, and the eventual lessons and wisdom learned through two decades of personal recovery. Opening the disc, the title track “Chapter One” ponders the forces of good and evil, light and dark in a person’s life, arriving at how temptation can tip one’s hand as the song reaches its powerful climax. “Man with a Gun” then documents a life-changing mistake and its immediate impact, while the disco-beat powered “Shadow Over Me” addresses the experience’s long-term social stigma. Turning into a slower blues-based direction, “Manny’s Gone Home” examines self-reflection and coming to terms with one’s inner demons, before “Long Way Down” reflects on the fall from grace. In the context of this set, Richardson’s updated edition of “Faith Without Works” then expresses atonement for the mistakes made, but resolves that such mistakes shape what we eventually become as people. The disc-ending exercise “The Messenger” considers common sense and the challenge of listening to the voices of reason within one’s cranium. Richardson’s arrangements are complex and elaborate, incorporating plentiful nuances in tone, intensity and direction. His keyboard wizardry shines throughout the disc, and his vocals sound sincere and impassioned. Recorded in Richardson’s own After 7 Studios,Chapter One sounds appropriately sharp and full, with all components of this lavish musical mix sounding clear and distinct. Cell15’s Chapter One successfully tells an important story and shares a correspondingly important lesson about following common sense, with a masterful musical backdrop to drive it home convincingly. Highly recommended. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.cell15.com.)

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