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CD Reviews – March 2016

andymowatt1ANDY MOWATT – AN END TO THE MEANS (no label) From Lancaster, Andy Mowatt has honed his guitar talents for the past decade, joining Harrisburg jam-based rockers Herbie in 2006, playing in production shows at Lancaster’s American Music Theatre, and recently forming a Steely Dan-inspired ensemble called Andy Mowatt’s Steely Jam. Jazz and fusion strongly inform Mowatt’s latest all-instrumental album, An End To The Means. Through the album’s ten tracks, Mowatt demonstrates guitar mastery and arranging versatility as he and his cast of sidemen explore a colorful array of jazz-rooted flavors. Among those sidemen are Mowatt’s Herbie and Steely Jam associate Aaron Trasatt on keys, as well as Steely Jam bandmates Gabe Staznik on drums and Mike Wittrien on bass, plus pianist Andy Roberts, bassist Andy Alonso and several horn players. Eight of the compositions are original, and each conveys a different mood and atmosphere. With drums and horns setting the initial vibe, the disc-opener “Shoeless Groove” is a jumpy, fun romp where Mowatt, saxophonist Dave Yinger and Roberts seize the moment and ride the melody with dazzling solo work. “Highlands” sets a quieter but equally colorful jazzy groove, while Trasatt’s Rhodes keyboard powers and underscores the driving fusion rocker “Gloria.” Mowatt and mates merge Dixieland and European folk flavors on “Gypsyland,” explore tropical Brazilian samba tones on “Songo,” and fuse jazz with slow blues on the disc-closer “Omniblues.” Mowatt and friends improvise on two instrumental remakes; a jazz-funk reboot of Beyonce’s hit “Love On Top,” and a playful and tasty update of Steely Dan’s “Bodhisattva.” Mostly recorded live with some overdubs, the performances on An End To The Means are dazzling, as Mowatt shares the spotlight with his hired guns and allows their talents to shine as well. The musicianship is consistently stellar, and Mowatt’s bright arrangements keep things sounding fresh from start to end. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Michael Washkevich at MDW Productions in Harrisburg, this disc sounds clean, full and polished. An End To The Means provides an uplifting listen, as Andy Mowatt and his cast of players give their chops a workout and have a blast doing so. (The CD can be obtained through Mowatt’s website, www.andymowatt.com.)

sherrimullen3SHERRI MULLEN – SHADOWS (no label) Through her discography and career to date, Middletown-based singer/songwriter Sherri Mullen has established herself as an acoustic artist and rock performer. But on her latest CD, Shadows, she spotlights her piano skills and strips down her sound to voice and keys over the disc’s ten tracks. And while Mullen’s previous song output leaned toward uptempo and upbeat creations, Shadows finds her exploring darker and more introspective terrain. Her prevailing theme is struggle and encountering personal adversity, and finding the faith and strength to rebound and move forward. Using a dramatic arrangement, Mullen immediately bares her soul for the world to hear on the stern disc-opener “No Apology.” The melancholy title track “Shadows” plunges into the abyss of despair over what used to be, while the somber “Sad Clown” reveals that a happy outer persona can hide a suffering inner persona. With a theatrical style slightly reminiscent of Queen’s operatic tones, “Streets of Strange” reflects on happier and more blissful times. On a more hopeful front, the piano waltz “Unconditional” professes devotion out of loneliness, “It’s Okay” shares an internal pep talk to pick up the pieces and move forward, before “Begin Again” gathers the determination to put the shadowy past behind, and the disc-closer “Exposed” resolves to not surrender to blind despair again. Mullen excels with her song material here; her expressive voice, intensity and powerful vocal range sell the sincerity of her words, while her strong piano mastery provides the stalwart foundation beneath it all. Self-produced and recorded, Shadows sounds clear and prominent, with Mullen’s performances bold and in your face. With her solemn, stripped-down approach, Sherri Mullen faces off against emotional darkness and ultimately triumphs on Shadows, sharing the message that healing and hope begin from within the soul. (The CD can be obtained through Sherri Mullen’s website, www.sherrimullen.com.)

Habatat1HABATAT – HABATAT (no label) Habatat’s story began in 2012, when singer/guitarist Ryan Woods and bassist/percussionist Kris Lupher began to collaborate on songs and forge their musical foundation. The western PA-based group evolved into a quartet with the additions of drummer Justin Banks and rhythm/lead guitarist Cory Mickinak. Habatat’s self-titled debut album introduces listeners to familiar-sounding musical terrain, featuring an emphasis on blues and funk-rooted jam rock. Through the disc’s 13 tracks, Habatat lays down a variety of catchy and intriguing grooves; often crafting experimental song arrangements that ebb and wane, strut and shift gears. The musicianship and performances are strong throughout the album, as Habatat has fun working the nuances and riffs of their groove fest. The guitars and bass pulse and probe, and Banks’ knack for gear-shifting drum rhythms helps each song smoothly move forward. As frontman, Woods belts with a prominent soulful and gritty growl that gives the overall presentation added edge. Classic blues-rock informs the disc-opener “Avenue Blues” and “Fallacy,” while Habatat engages funkier terrain with “Dank Hoss,” “Show You Everything,” “To Be Announced” and the disc-closer “Trans-Atlantic Paper Airplane.” “Gold” rides a slower funk-rock groove as Woods growls a warning of rough times ahead, and “Goodbye” taps into a more southern rock/funk flavor reminiscent of the Black Crowes and Allman Brothers. Habatat generates a fiery funk groove with the highway-themed “Roadwork,” and weave three distinctive grooves into a cohesive epic in “Three Prong Song.” Three of the tracks are instrumental workouts; the punchy “Mick the Mack,” the slinky and improvisational “Octaver” and the distortion-funk exercise “Spaghetti Water.” Produced by Jay Vega and recorded at Wilderness Recording Studio, Habatat’s first foray sounds strong and consistent from start to end, with the instruments and vocals doing the talking without unnecessary bells and whistles. Habatat’s first chapter lays the groundwork for what this group is all about, and fans of classic groove, southern rock and funk will find plenty to celebrate here. (The CD can be obtained by emailing the group at habatat.band@gmail.com.)

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