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CD Reviews – November 2016

chris-vipond-trinkets-and-time-travelersCHRIS VIPOND AND THE STANLEY STREET BAND – TRINKETS AND TIME TRAVELERS (no label) On their 2009 debut album, I, Altoona’s Chris Vipond and the Stanley Street Band went for the jugular and warned listeners of the evils of corporate media, government surveillance and other nefarious behaviors of societal and world power-brokers. By contrast, the group’s second album, 2011’s Tupelo Tree, presented a more laid-back approach musically and lyrically, providing listeners solace from the storm. But on the group’s new album, Trinkets and Time Travelers, Vipond and his cast again observe the dangers of media mind control, paranoia over governmental intrusions and a media world gone mad, while reminding listeners that they control their own destiny and fulfillment. Through the disc’s ten tracks, the group crafts invigorating and inventive funk-laden hooks and grooves, while demonstrating tasteful arrangements and stunning musicality. Highlights are everywhere, starting with the disco-beat disc-opener “Everybody Else” with its bright vibe and message of being comfortable in one’s own skin. With its rollicking, tropical-flavored rhythm, “Lonely Cells” offers a similar positive theme of finding ourselves, while the more gradual “Love Is Loud” proclaims that love conquers all. But the group is wary about today’s bizarre, violent, media circus-driven world on “Weird Angry Hard,” expresses paranoia over the intrusive ‘government man’ on “Never Again,” and encourages listeners to think for themselves while ignoring social media pundits on “Armchair Preachers.” The disc closes with “Smile,” a stripped-down ode to life’s journey, crooned by Vipond along a simple four-note progression. Performing on several instruments, Vipond sings his poetic words with a soulful style and cadence that makes the messages connect. C’Jay Castello shines with frequently dazzling and flavorful lead guitar solos, while keyboardist Nathan Beatty colors and complements the songs with tasteful fills and nuances. Driving the music are the inventive rhythms and rudiments of drummer Randy Servello and newly-acquired bass man Bill Smith. Recorded and produced by the band, Trinkets and Time Travelers sounds continually vibrant and balanced, with all components shining through clearly, and occasional vocal effects providing accent and emphasis. This group’s artistry seems to grow with each release – Trinkets and Time Travelers offers a colorful, compelling listen as Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band stretch their musical boundaries while encouraging listeners to think. (The CD can be purchased through the website www.chrisvipond.com.)

ravenandthewrenRAVEN AND THE WREN – FRIEND OF FAILURE (no label) Based in State College, Raven and the Wren officially came together early last year, stemming from the acoustic collaboration of singer NattyLou Race and guitarist Jason “Junior” Tutwiler, and expanding to include Jason’s former Rustlanders cohort Chris Rattie on drums, and Brooklyn transplant Bob Hart on bass. Raven and the Wren’s debut album, Friend of Failure, introduces a sound rooted in Americana, blending elements of folk, country and blues over nine tracks. Immediately obvious is the group’s knack for alluring arrangements, catchy melodic and lyrical hooks. NattyLou’s emotion-packed voice is front and center in the mix, as she expresses themes of soul-searching, self-realization, atonement and growth. Her words tackle dark corners of the soul, addressing past mistakes, plus love lost and squandered. The sullen disc-opener “Nobody Wins” accepts responsibility for things gone wrong and abandons the broken relationship blame game. The minor-key ode “Sinking” observes a soul descending into despair, while the slow ballad “One Stone” attempts the first step to rebuild something damaged. Other songs are more hopeful in tone; the stripped-down guitar and voice number “The Valley” contemplates change and embracing new frontiers, while the stern bluesy ballad “All or Nothing” seeks meaning and purpose in life’s directions. The album’s centerpiece, though, is the brisk and scornful “Lost and Found,” as NattyLou vents relationship vitriol, building to a stormy homestretch where Tutwiler’s guitar and slidework take center stage, and Rattie and Hart’s driving rhythms go for broke. The performances are vibrant and heartfelt, as all four band members invest heart and soul into each piece. Recorded with the intention of capturing a spontaneous, live feel, Friend of Failure sounds authentic and in-your-face, yet smooth and accomplished as each instrumental and vocal component is tastefully executed and supports the total song. Friend of Failure is a strong debut by four musicians who understand their turf. Raven and the Wren confront dark corners of the soul and seek truth from the encounters, making this album a compelling listen. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.ravenandthewren.com.)

embersfall1EMBER’S FALL – CESSATION (no label) Ember’s Fall formed in early 2014 as a collaboration of former members of regional underground rockers A Dawn Becoming, From the Depths and Scathe. Their debut CD, Cessation, introduces a terse, volatile brand of scathing metalcore over its 13 tracks. Ember’s Fall’s sound is defined by hyperactive, battering rhythms, swarming guitar riffs and solos, and the half-sung, half-snarled vocal maelstrom of frontman Dennis Gee. The song arrangements are detailed, and informed with elements of classical and even jazz. Mostly written by Gee, the lyrics explore themes of hope and despair, and healing the soul and the world. The dark piano title track prelude, “Cessation,” leads into the complex assault “Logan’s Fire,” featuring frequent tempo shifts, layered guitars and effects. The rampaging “The Choice” considers charity and helping one’s fellow man, while “Loyalty” addresses the current corrupt state of the world and challenges the listener to do something about it. Ember’s Fall profiles their own musical journey on “A New Beginning,” and explores inner insecurities on the introspective “A Ghost Immortal.” The performances are intense and full-throttle, with beats and guitars pummeling nonstop. Lead guitarist Jairo Cerritos demonstrates technical speed and skill with his solo work, and Dennis maintains a brutal vocal intensity throughout. Recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by John Burke at Vibe Studios in Cleveland, Cessation sounds clean, full and raw, with Ember’s Fall able to display their full metalcore ferocity. For fans of brute-force, modern metal and metalcore, Ember’s Fall delivers the goods with Cessation, an album that sternly sets the foundation of what this group is about, while revealing nuances and possibilities for their future development. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.embersfall.com.)

 

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