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CD Reviews – November 2015

JAKESWAY – JAKESWAY (no label) Northeastern PA-based rock group Jakesway continues to hone their mainstream rock sound and song crafting skills on their third, self-titled album. The roster of singer Gary Kaschak, electric guitarist Mark Sutorka, drummer Tom Herbert and bassist Steve Kuna blend catchy song hooks with arrangements that incorporate acoustic, rock, country and pop elements. This band’s strength continues to be its melodies; each of the disc’s eight songs presents an infectious hook, and Jakesway provides the vocal and instrumental chops to make each one work. Melody and harmonies highlight the mild and upbeat disc-opener (and acoustic disc-closer) “Beautiful Distraction.” “Broadcast” builds into an elaborate but alluring rocker, while “Alright That’s Right” rides a punchy, Black Crowes-like funk-rock vibe. The crunchy “Will I Be” examines the mindset of soldiers returning home after a tour of duty. The acoustic prelude “Liv’s Song” leads into “Lost Weekend,” addressing the frustration of wasted opportunities and time. “Broken” laments a love lost, while the acoustic rocker “Hydroplane” seeks forgiveness and a smooth path back to a heart. Gary Kaschak sings with grit and personality, and his consistency provides a thread that ties the whole set together. Instrumentally Jakesway executes solidly, providing hard-rocking punch where needed and subtlety on the disc’s more acoustic-geared moments. Recorded, mixed and mastered at SJ Studios in Old Forge, the disc sounds balanced and full, allowing the band and their music to do the talking with basic arrangements and no studio distractions. Their third outing shows that Jakesway knows their turf, and the group’s knack for strong melodies and tight performances makes their self-titled CD a strong listen well worth checking out. (The CD can be purchased through the group’s Reverbnation website, www.reverbnation.com/jakesway.)

JOHNNY SEARFOSS – JOHNNY SEARFOSS (no label) From northeastern PA, Johnny Searfoss first started playing guitar at age six, and later learned to play bass, drums, saxophone and clarinet during his teen years. When health issues sidelined his interest in pursuing sports, music became his primary passion, and ultimately has led to his first self-titled solo album. Through the disc’s ten tracks, Searfoss demonstrates his guitar, bass and drum talents, does a little singing, and shows his fluency in a number of musical styles. He flexes his capable vocal cords during three of the numbers; the jazzy disc-opener “Roll Me Over,” the hard and electric “Blindsided Blues” and the rowdy boogie rocker “She’s Got Something.” The instrumental numbers allow Searfoss to stretch out and exhibit his arranging and performing skills across several musical flavors. He demonstrates his acoustic chops on the lighter-toned “The Open Road,” crafts a southwestern sagebrush vibe on “The Renegade,” makes his guitar weep the blues on “Crying,” flashes funk on “Taking Flight,” and exudes an ethereal melancholy on “A Love Lost.” Searfoss cuts loose and rocks out on “Cruisin,’” and salutes Santo and Johnny with his update of their hit “Sleepwalk” to end the album. The performances are solid, as Searfoss shows instrumental competence across his spectrum of styles; with drummer Nick Lauro, keyboardist Matt McGasko and harmonica player Joe Bogwist helping to flesh out the sound. The arrangements are effective and nicely frame each track, and the mix and production give the album clarity and consistency from start to end. His self-titled effort provides an impressive overview to Johnny Searfoss’ musical world and performance skills, and it enables listeners to appreciate his expanse of talents. (To obtain the CD, visit the website www.johnnysearfoss.com.)

ADAM ERNST – DIRT ROAD MEMORIES (no label) From a small western PA farming town, Adam Ernst started singing and playing music when he was five years old. As he turned 20, he issued his first full-length CD, Asphalt Dreams, in 2012, and has now issued his second album, Dirt Road Memories. Modern-edged country is the prominent flavor over the disc’s 16 tracks, as Ernst sings and plays every instrument, and produced and engineered the set as well. He sings easy-to-digest words about common country topics such as small town life, love, the outdoors, the highway, good times and making music. Ernst packs a contemporary rocking backdrop behind his twang several times on the disc, setting the tone with the hard-driving disc-opener “Like a Bullet from a Gun,” and serving up more country crunch on such numbers as “Raised in a Farm Town,” “That’s Right,” “Drop It Down Low,” “Right on the Money” and “Country Boy Ride.” Women and love inform the themes of ballads like “Let’s Roll” and “Good Life,” as well as more upbeat numbers like “Bench Seat Kinda’ Thing” and “Tennessee Girl.” He reminisces on more traditional-geared country exercises as “Sunshine and Goodtimes” and the title track “Dirt Road Memories,” yearns for the highway on “Drivin’ Me Crazy,” and celebrates rural values on the disc-closer “Good Lord and John Deere.” Ernst demonstrates a knack for sturdy and catchy song hooks, and he shows a good grasp on song arrangements and how to fit his singing style to serve each number. The disc’s sound is balanced and clear, with Ernst’s vocals and the instruments sounding distinct in the mix. A cavernous bass thunder often underscores the mix, and modern studio touches and effects give seasoning to a few of the tracks as well. With his eyes set on Nashville, Adam Ernst makes a strong case for advancing to that next level on Dirt Road Memories, as he establishes versatility, song hooks, songcrafting chops, and the voice and instrumental skills to pull it all off. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.adamernstmusic.com.)

AFTER THE FALL – MY CONFESSION (no label) Western PA’s After The Fall has been honing their brand of full-throttled hard rock since 2004, and deliver their strongest set yet with their latest CD, My Confession. Their sound borrows from the melody-geared crunch rock of the 1980s and 1990s, but caps it with a decisive contemporary edge and sharpness. The majority of the disc’s 10 tracks display an anthemic quality; defined by catchy hooks, meaty rhythms from the group’s veteran tandem of bassist Steve Craven and drummer Matt Ferrante, snarling guitar riffs from Brandon Cornish (who has since left the group, replaced by Zac Sheppard), and topped by the polecat howl of frontman/guitarist Doug Carnahan. The leadoff track, “Scream,” sets the disc’s tone with a sonic punch to the jaw that hooks the listener in and pays off with Carnahan’s feral, in-your-face chorus. “Call to Arms” is an infectious high-powered rallying cry, the rumbling “For Me” outruns inner demons, and the hard-driving “The Nameless” dresses down a drama queen. With its hip-hop-laced introduction, “You Would Know” takes on a slight Linkin Park flavor while addressing deceit; and the darker-toned title track “My Confession” comes to terms with past mistakes. After The Fall closes the album with the acoustic “Still Here,” a somber lament to a fallen friend inspired by the passing of Skell drummer Keith Kweder earlier this year. After The Fall sounds confident through all of the disc, and carries these tunes with a convincing swagger. Carnahan delivers his words with vigor and vinegar, and the group’s delivery is lean, mean and airtight. Recorded, engineered, mastered and co-produced by Sean Lee at URC Studios in Ohio, this album sounds cohesive, crisp and appropriately abrasive, allowing the band to bare their teeth and sharpness with minimal studio clutter. My Confession should further solidify After The Fall as one of western PA’s top hard rock contenders, as it offers powerful, bare-bones crunch to get pulses racing and fists pumping. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s Reverbnation page, www.reverbnation.com/afterthefallband.)

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