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CD Reviews – July 2016

hategrenade2 HATE GRENADE – PULL THE PIN (no label) Altoona’s Hate Grenade first detonated on area stages in 2012, and lobbed their 5-song debut EP Reload in 2014. That EP defined the group’s angry nu-metal sound, rooted in the metal-meets-hip hop dynamics of Limp Bizkit, Korn, Linkin Park and Rage Against the Machine. Hate Grenade’s first full-length CD, Pull the Pin, may well be one of the most pissed-off albums to come along since Pantera roamed the earth. With guitarist Chuck Lavera’s swarming hornet’s nest riffs and the volatile rhythms of manic drummer Mike Powers and (former) bassist Rich Johnson providing the backdrops, frontman Jeff Glace launches venomous tirade after tirade through the disc’s dozen tracks. Glace vents on a variety of topics, such as self-deception on the opening assault “Wake Up,” life’s unpleasant surprises on “Optical,” self-righteous attitudes on “Killjoy,” rejection on “Why” and deceit on “Hypocrite.” Glace abandons the past on “Left Behind,” asserts his own identity on “Alive” and “One of A Kind,” and reaches the breaking point on the disc-closer “Overdose.” Hate Grenade’s performances are fierce and go-for-broke; their arrangements deliver like grenades, with tense pin-pulling riff preludes leading into aggressive sonic detonations. Glace achieves a precarious balance between manic howls and streetwise raps, with his cadence and intensity convincingly piledriving his rants home. Produced by the band, and recorded and mastered by Bill Filer at Audible Images Recording Studio in Port Matilda, Pull the Pin is appropriately jagged and captures Hate Grenade’s all-out ferocity. Bottom line – this is music to bust up furniture to; Hate Grenade’s incendiary metal on Pull the Pin will make moshpits explode. Keep away from fragile objects! (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.hategrenade.com.)

One_Adam_12_1ONE ADAM 12 – EAR WORM (no label) One Adam 12 first surfaced from Nanty Glo (Cambria County) in 2009, and issued an eight-song EP, Persistence Pays, in 2012. Their first full-length CD, Ear Worm, defines One Adam 12’s unique, hard-rocking sound over 13 tracks. Singer/guitarist Lloyd Rummell, guitarist Bill Stiles, bassist Joe Stiles, drummer Brandon Adams and sample/sound effect provider Tony Dostal blend elements of hard, surf, punk rock and metal with a lyrical fascination for horror themes. Rummell’s voice is out front, hearty and robust in the mix; and Dostal is the album’s unsung hero, with his timely samples and sound effects coloring and providing context to One Adam 12’s song themes. His EAS broadcast alert-styled intro and outro to the musical zombie apocalypse bulletin “Alive/Undead” sound convincingly like the real thing. Frankenstein movie clips set the mood during the driving rocker “I Woke Up a Monster,” and FDR backmasking sets a demonic tone for “Devil on My Back.” The punk-driven “Bates Motel” takes its inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the A&E television series of the same name, and the backbeat-powered “Body Snatcher” profiles serial killer Ed Gein. On the eerie “Devil’s Lullaby,” One Adam 12 exudes a Misfits “Saturday Night” flavor. One Adam 12 tackles social themes as well, addressing today’s troubled world on “Battle Cry.” The group includes one cover on the album’s CD edition, offering their impassioned take on the Cranberries’ “Zombie.” The group’s performances are solid here, and the song arrangements and order effectively keep things interesting throughout the disc. Recorded and produced by the group, the mix is clean, with the instruments sounding clear in the mix, and slight emphasis is given to Rummell’s vocals and Dostal’s sound effects and sample. Ear Worm is a strong set and fun listen, and One Adam 12’s distinctive flavor and creative song ideas should corkscrew their way into listeners’ heads. (The album can be obtained through One Adam 12’s Bandcamp page, www.oneadam12.bandcamp.com.)

joenewtzJOE NEWTZ – CROSSING OVER (Rhythm of the Earth Music) Hailing from Beaver (northwest of Pittsburgh), self-trained musician and singer Joe Newtz has been writing songs for more than two decades, and recently issued his first full-length solo CD, Crossing Over. The disc’s 15 songs are mostly acoustic-driven, but layered with keyboards, electric and bass guitars, percussion and drum beats. The base sound draws from a number of influences; Toad the Wet Sprocket serves as Joe’s self-admitted primary launching point, but hints of Genesis, Incubus, Pearl Jam and Peter Gabriel all surface as well. Joe shows an undeniable knack for catchy song hooks; melodies here frequently feature set-ups building to payoff choruses that deliver. Every track on this disc stands well on its own, and different songs will snare listeners’ attentions through repeated listens; Joe’s mild-mannered vocals and easy-to-digest arrangements nicely tie this set into a cohesive whole. Lyrically, Joe sings words based on his life experiences and feelings; his personal journeys underscore numbers such as the welcoming disc-opener “Follow Me” and the ethereal “Open Road.” Other songs are more contemplative, such as the answer-seeking “Falling In,” highlighted by a fiery lead guitar solo; also the spiritual ballad “Don’t Look Back,” the yearning “Save Me” and the punchy “Breakdown.” Joe also delivers strong hard-rocking displays with “One More Day,” the garage rock-toned “Superstition” and “Just A Game”; shows a psychedelic flavor on “Losing Again,” and provides a Peter Gabriel-like modernistic approach on the disc-closer “Boomerang.” The performances are inspired, with Joe sinking his soul into his vocal presentation, and his soaring vocal range carrying several songs to the stratosphere. Produced, recorded and mixed by John Goberish at Basement Universe, this album sounds clean and clear, with vocals, digital flourishes and instrumental components coming through crisp and balanced. Joe Newtz showcases his creative musical world on Crossing Over, and his variety of acoustic rock-based ear candy will hook listeners’ ears and keep them coming back for more. A very strong and complete debut. (The CD can be obtained through Joe Newtz’s website, www.joenewtz.com.)

donhoffmanbluzDON HOFFMAN BLUZ – UNFINISHED BUSINESS (Cat House Recordings) Unfinished Business isn’t just the title of Lehigh Valley guitarist, singer and bluesman Don Hoffman’s latest CD under the monicker Don Hoffman Bluz; it’s the culmination of a journey he started more than three decades ago. Hoffman was inspired to pick up a guitar as a child, and played in bands through the early 1990s, before career and family duties sidelined his musical pursuits. His passion for music rekindled during Bethlehem’s annual Musikfest event in 2008, Hoffman again picked up his Telecaster and shook off the rust, formed a self-named band, and generated the song material that populates Unfinished Business’ ten tracks. The style is boisterous blues rock, rooted in the traditions of Roy Buchanan, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Delbert McClinton. Hoffman’s guitar fireworks and soulful vocals step front and center throughout the disc, and he delivers his music with strut and swagger; assisted along the way by bassists Brad VanEtten, Scott Ward and Brian Bortz, drummers Pat Allen and Brian Berlonda, organist Karl Frick, blues harp man Jansen Kelchner and backing singer Jenn McCracken. Hoffman celebrates the day he was first inspired to pick up a guitar on the disc-opener “I Remember the Day.” He expresses his admiration for freewheeling women on “Tomboy,” even referencing 1970s TV tomboy Mary Ellen Walton from The Waltons. Kelchner’s eponymous harp solo “Boogie” ushers in the rowdy and soulful “Howlin’ at the Moon,” which returns to Hoffman’s inspiration for picking up his guitar. Hoffman taps a Stevie Ray Texas blues flavor on “Damned If I Do” and “Don’t Know Why,” and exercises slower blues on “If I Were to Lose You” and the disc-ending title song “Unfinished Business.” Hoffman’s performances are clearly inspired, as he makes his guitar sing out with clean and fiery lead work, and his soulful croon and cadence are strong and steady. His cast of sidemen fulfill their roles well, and producer/engineer B.U. Thomas helps Hoffman bring his song creations to life with a full, balanced mix. Don Hoffman’s musical mission reaches full fruition on Unfinished Business, and Don Hoffman Bluz delivers hearty, heartfelt, top-notch blues rock. (The CD can be obtained through Hoffman’s website, www.donhoffmanbluz.com.)

rogerhammerROGER HAMMER – UP IN THE AIR (no label) A Nebraska native now based in Harrisburg, self-declared ‘eclectic kind of Renaissance guy’ Roger Hammer has handcrafted his own distinctive slant on folk-based rock, and he demonstrates his unique blend and style on his third solo album, Up in the Air. Singing and wielding acoustic and electric guitars, Hammer and guitarist John Drudul show an eclectic variety through the disc’s thirteen tracks. Folk rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s appears to be a driving influence here, with songs offering subtle stylistic tippings of the hat to names like the Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful, Traffic and America. Hammer has a way with words, delivering wit-edged, personal observations about people, the world and life’s journey. The bouncy, disc-opening roots rocker “Tomorrow” provides catchy lyrical advice to “Get up off your past and move ahead.” Riding a country-flavored folk-rock vibe, “Where (You’ll Never Know)” explores life’s destinations, while the more folk-toned “Doin’ Here” ponders purposes in life through various stages of its journey. Other album highlights include the uptempo and regretful “Missing You” with its bursts of flute, the romping regional river ode “Allegheny,” the rampaging reconciliation rocker “Walk Away,” the punchy and harder-rocking “Simple Man,” and the intensifying disc-closer “Written in Your Mind.” Hammer delivers his material with a sturdy voice, and the instrumental performances are solid. The song arrangements are simple and to the point; and the recording is basic and balanced, letting the performances do the talking with minimal studio polish or gloss. Roger Hammer reveals more of his musical personality on Up in the Air, and listeners will get a better sense of this artist’s influences and foundation. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.rogerhammer.com.)

Jonathan_Monument_1JONATHAN MONUMENT – SEARCH FOR TRAPS (no label) Starting out as an acoustic project a few years ago, Reading-based quintet Jonathan Monument evolved their indie-based, garage rock-rooted sound, and takes it into interesting and adventurous terrain on their CD Search for Traps. Comprised of rhythm guitarist Steven Balthaser, lead guitarist David Fick, bassist Matt Thren, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Jon Smith and drummer Josh Noel; Jonathan Monument blends elements of punk and grunge with touches of retro pop and psychedelia over the disc’s fourteen tracks. Nirvana informs their sound, which also hints of 1960s-era Who, Beatles and Monkees. Jonathan Monument shows a knack for quirky yet catchy song hooks and imaginative song arrangements, executed with drive and urgency to keep the disc exciting throughout. Some songs are edgier, such as the driving surf-flavored disc-opener “Adaline,” the punk-rocking title track “Search for Traps” with its distortion-crazed midsection,” the hard-driving “Clean Escape,” “Another You” and the disc-closer “Dadfight.” “Flip the Tables” takes a more playful ska-driven direction, “The Mouse That Ate A Snake” bares the group’s Beatlesque side, and “Alley Cat Afterlife” displays a modern rockabilly flavor. And the group shows an acoustic-driven flavor on “Autumn Crept Slowly” and “Ghosts Get Bored.” Jonathan Monument’s melodies are clever, and their arrangements enable each song to sound vibrant and fresh. The performances are strong, from solid vocals to caution-to-the-wind instrumental execution. Produced by the band and Frank Phobia, Search for Traps sounds edgy and clean, with distortion and effects working to sharpen the group’s cutting edge. Jonathan Monument presents an interesting stew of modern and retro influences on Search for Traps, and defines a fresh and exciting sound well worth discovering. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s Bandcamp and Soundcloud websites.)

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