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CD Reviews – February 2017

SHANNON AND THE MERGER – LONG WAY DOWN (no label) Formed in 2012, Shannon and the Merger have honed their stylistic blend of rock, pop, blues and country on southwestern PA stages, culminating in their 11-song debut CD, Long Way Down. Namesake Shannon Watson is front and center, displaying a soaring, punchy voice and delivery; backed by guitarist Bob Giacometti, harmonica player Stanley Mikolajek, bassist Ryan Luko and drummer Murray Perry. The group delivers well-crafted, catchy melodies and arrangements that bring them to life. Each song is unique and reveals different aspects of Shannon and the Merger’s collective musical personality. This group can rock, evidenced by such tracks as the disc-opener “World of Make Believe,” a commentary piece about lies and deception in our current world. The group also fires up harder rock on “Inches,” the title track “Long Way Down” and the punk-fueled “Elemental.” Shannon and the Merger get the funk out on the Bob-fronted “Fast Train to Memphis,” and demonstrate a reggae edge on “Affected.” Blues informs the group’s sound as well, demonstrated on the slinky “Aim to Misbehave,” nicely accented by Stanley’s staccato harmonica riff, and on the retro-geared “Let’s Go” with its reminders of classic Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane. Shannon’s vocal range shines on the acoustic-driven “Blow Up,” and she and the group dabble in country-styled balladry with “Heal It With a Kiss” and the disc-closer “The Only Thing Missing Is You.” The presentation is bright, enthusiastic and fun, and Shannon’s voice lifts and shines throughout the disc. The instrumental performances are strong, with tight rhythms, sturdy guitar work, and unsung hero Stanley providing flavorful harmonica virtuosity at just the right moments. Engineered, mixed and produced by Josh Gerba, this disc sounds crisp and vibrant, with all components of the group’s sound coming through clearly. Long Way Down provides a strong introduction to the musical world of Shannon and the Merger, and reveals a band with fresh song ideas and the skills to bring those ideas to life. (The CD can be obtained through Shannon and the Merger’s website, www.shannonandthemerger.com.)

WINGS THAT BUZZ – EVERY PRETTY THING (no label) Mercersburg-based guitarists Jason Kipe and Klaus Funk formed Wings That Buzz in 2011, and the group has since grown to five members strong with the additions of keyboardist Caitlin Allen, bassist Dave Holzwarth and violinist Scott Matlock. Their third album, Every Pretty Thing demonstrates the group’s acoustic-driven sound, which finds a comfortable middle ground between the classic folk-rock traditions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the more acoustic leanings of 1990s-era alternative rock practitioners like Jane’s Addiction and Blind Melon. Wings That Buzz crafts punchy, concise melodies, and generates warm instrumental and inventive vocal arrangements to bring them to life. Vocal harmonies accent and punctuate the melodies, while Matlock’s violin flourishes, Funk’s occasional electric guitar bursts and Allen’s keyboard fills contribute additional edges and depth to the overall presentation. The prevailing song moods tend toward happy, upbeat and even whimsical at times. A violin prelude ushers in the churning disc-opener “Still Dreamin’” and its loose theme of hope, while moving forward and embracing life’s changes informs “Transition Is the Mission” with its tricky vocal cadence. The rustic “Groundling” embraces more of an Americana flavor, and “Blue Rendezvous” taps a more prominent blues foundation. Two of the more intriguing songs on the album are “Mercy of It All,” which evolves from a dreamy beginning toward a more ethereal finish, and “Hoping to Be Wrong,” which abruptly shifts moods from tranquil to angry during its homestretch. The performances are strong and steady through the disc’s 11 tracks, and the album sounds consistent from start to end. The mix is smooth and balanced, enabling the group’s voices and instrumental layers to fully fill the spaces through each song. Every Pretty Thing exhibits the steady evolution of Wings That Buzz’s unique style and sound, and shows that these wings are soaring progressively higher. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.wingsthatbuzz.com.)

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