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CD Reviews – January 2016

STRAIT & MILLER – STEAL MY SOUL (no label) Chris Strait and Dylan Miller began their songwriting and performing collaboration in 2011 after graduating high school. After issuing the six-song EP Palm of Her Hand in 2013, the Huntingdon-based duo has followed with their first full-length CD, Steal My Soul. This CD introduces listeners to the pair’s slant on acoustic roots-based music and Americana, mixing elements of folk, bluegrass, country and delta blues over eight original songs and two remakes. Both musicians sing, with Strait handling guitar and harmonica duties and Miller wielding mandolin and resonator guitar. A number of noteworthy musical guests help Strait & Miller bring the songs to life, including Chris Lawson (Nobody’s Heroes) on stand-up bass, Daniel Collins on fiddle, Ben Souders and Bobby Baronner on banjo, Johnny Stevens (Mama Corn) on dobro and harmonica, and more. The original songs are simple, catchy and to the point, featuring relatable words about life and its simplicities. The pair prefer the tranquility of small town life to the temptations of the big city on the folksy disc-opener “Alcohol and Pills,” and favor simple pleasures over the rat race on “Just Can’t Afford a Peace of Mind.” The title track “Steal My Soul” likewise prefers the simplicity of homegrown music to the major music industry’s manufactured sounds, with guest Junior Tutwiler adding some electric slide guitar punctuation. Love triumphs over adversity on the bluegrassy “Away From You,” and love is a lifelong sentence on the uptempo “The Very Day You Die.” Strait & Miller honor their blues influences with an update of Gus Cannon’s 1929 banjo blues number “Going to Germany” and the disc-ending delta blues rendering of Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain.” The vocals are spirited and enthusiastic, and the instrumental performances sound smooth and vibrant, suggesting the joy of a back porch jam session. Produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Tom Bone Edmonds, the sound is clean and full, and enables Strait & Miller and their assembled cast to fill the space with a broad, deep presence. Steal My Soul is a quality effort, and should further establish Strait & Miller as a rising force in roots music and Americana. (The CD can be obtained through the duo’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/straitandmiller.)

JACK PYERS – NO ROAD HOME (Sticky Records) Jack Pyers is best known as the bassist for Dirty Looks during their peak years with Atlantic Records, and prior to that, as the guitar player for northeastern PA-based hard rock juggernaut Harpo. With both of those projects now in the rearview mirror, Pyers has embraced acoustic music and folk, and has issued his first acoustic solo album, No Road Home. The album title is symbolic in that Pyers cannot return to either of his previous band situations, so he is forging a new focus and direction over the disc’s nine tracks. Rock is still a component of Pyers’ musical persona, evidenced by the aggressive style of the restless disc-opener “It’s Alright” and the punk-toned “All Night Long.” But Pyers explores other acoustic terrain as well; painting a sagebrush mystique on “Cowboy Song,” crafting a wistful mood with “In This Dream,” delivering an escalating melody and arrangement with “Stay,” and mixing several guitar rhythms and tempos on the energetic “Do You Know.” He looks for release from torment on the somber “Hold My Head,” and ponders loneliness on the thoughtful “Still Be Mine.” His experimentation with varying acoustic guitar styles keeps the disc interesting, and his restrained singing style supports the prevalent song themes of loneliness and longing. Produced and mostly recorded by Bret Alexander at Saturation Acres Studio, the disc sounds clean, basic and stripped down, with Pyers’ voice and guitarwork doing the talking. No Road Home represents a new beginning for Jack Pyers, as he explores new acoustic frontiers and finds his new musical voice. (The CD can be obtained through CDBaby, or through Jack Pyers’ Facebook page, www.facebook.com/JackPyersMusic.)

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