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CD Reviews – March 2017

NEXT TO NONE – A LIGHT IN THE DARK (InsideOut/Century Media) Next to None’s story began in 2013, as four teenagers from the Lehigh Valley joined forces to create a band. One of those teenagers, drummer Max Portnoy, is the son of Mike Portnoy, who achieved fame as the drummer for both Dream Theater and Avenged Sevenfold. The elder Portnoy produced A Light in the Dark, Next to None’s debut album with Century Media Records, and the Dream Theater influence is clearly felt over the disc’s nine tracks. The sound is heavy, aggressive and progressive-geared metal music that incorporates elements of thrash and hardcore. The younger Portnoy demonstrates intricate drum rolls and rudiments, along with fast-firing, pounding beats. Ryland Holland (since replaced by Derrick Schneider) supplies snarling guitar chords, Kris Rank levies sinister-sounding bass lines, and Thomas Cuce sings, snarls and plays keys. A Light in the Dark mixes several lengthy epics with more concise heavy assaults. Clocking in at nearly ten minutes, the disc-opener, “The Edge of Sanity,” provides reminders of Dream Theater with its technical-ecstasy time signatures, tempo shifts and side journeys – including a mid-song break that incorporates sound clips of Pac-Man, chocoholic rants, train horns and more. Also stretching nearly ten minutes, “Control” allows all four band members to show their collective musicality and individual instrumental chops. Meanwhile, “You Are Not Me” throttles with aggressive power-metal fury, while “Runaway” pairs similar aggression with a clever song hook payoff. Next to None shows a milder, shadowy side with the piano-toned ballad “A Lonely Walk” (with guests Neal Morse and Nyke Van Wyk on mellotron and violin respectively) and the brooding “Legacy.” Also interesting is the half-spoken, half-snarled and angst-ridden assault “Social Anxiety.” As already established, the disc’s big highlight is the tightness and instrumental skills demonstrated by this teenage corps; and although the younger Portnoy’s drum exploits get slight prominence in the mix, all four of these young musicians show incredible skills and adventurism. Their vocals and lyrics more obviously reflect their youth and restlessness. The production enables Next to None to sound raw, heavy and full. Next to None’s A Light in the Dark is a good start, and should prompt listeners to imagine just how good this young group may become as they further hone their skills with age. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.nexttonone.net.)

THE CREW OF THE HALF MOON – BLANKET FORT RADIO (no label) Since the 2013 release of their first full-length CD, Automythography, The Crew Of the Half Moon has expanded from a two-person folk entity into a three-piece indie folk-rock group, as percussionist Claire Horvath joins singers/guitarists Dan Oatman and Katie Rhodes. On their second full-length effort, Blanket Fort Radio, The Johnstown-based trio displays an edgier, more experimental angle to their music over the album’s nine tracks. The Crew of the Half Moon explores various sonic textures, from darker and ethereal terrain to harder-rocking salvos and a multitude of flavors in between. They evoke moods ranging from melancholy to hopeful as they convey observational words about life experiences and coming of age. This Crew grabs listener attention from the offset with the cryptic album-opener “U-235,” which establishes tension and mystique through an eerie arrangement, setting the tone for Katie’s introspective words. Similar melancholy mood swings inform “Wasteland,” the bouncing “Fortunes” and the reflective album closer “Nineteen.” Also intriguing is the expansive “Stark Lost Lovers,” which evolves from a tranquil grunge-informed beginning into an unpredictable, multi-chord, multi-tempo rocker. Dan contemplates reality in the hard-rocking “Bumblebird and Hummingbee,” the group uses mandolin to set an Americana flavor on the Katie-led “Luxury,” and they capture a retro 1960s Jefferson Airplane/Mamas & Papas pop flavor on dreamy “Cemetery Cops.” The performances are focused and sincere, and Katie’s stern-yet-subdued croon sells the serious tones of much of the song material. Producer and engineer Jon Beard helped the group bring their visions of these songs to fruition, and the sound is crisp and full. The Crew of the Half Moon’s constant shifting of musical terrain – and their mostly seamless transitions to accomplish those shifts – helps make Blanket Fort Radio a compelling listen from start to end. This album further reveals the inventive persona of this trio, and shows a group that is not afraid to indulge their creativity and take chances. (The vinyl album – as well as a digital download edition – can be obtained through the group’s website, www.thecrewofthehalfmoon.com.)

REGGIE WAYNE MORRIS – DON’T BRING ME DAYLIGHT (Blue Jay Sound) A Virginia native now based in Baltimore, Reggie Wayne Morris has performed his brand of electric blues throughout the Northeast and internationally, and has released three albums to date. His latest, Don’t Bring Me Daylight, presents Morris’ smooth mixture of electric blues and soul over 11 tracks. Citing B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix as primary influences, Morris proudly exhibits touches of both in his own performance style, from his soulful and sassy croon to his fluid and tasteful guitar work throughout the album. Several musicians help him along the way, including his live band cohorts Chuck Fuerte on drums and Harrisburg’s Vinny Hunter on bass, along with drummer Ezell Jones, bass players Pete Kanaras, Chris Sellman and Ray Tilkens, and keyboardists Mark Stevens and Bob Borderman. Contrary to the popular misconception about the genre, Morris’ blues are far from depressing, as the mood of Don’t Bring Me Daylight is delightfully upbeat, with Morris mostly musing about his ups and downs with the opposite sex. He references his upbringing with the proud and punchy disc-opener “Son of a Blues Fan,” which sets the table for the rest of his bluesy offerings. He recalls a devious dame on the 12 bar blues of “Used to Have a Woman,” disses another love interest’s spending habits on a version of Ceophus Palmer’s “Sign My Check,” and suspects two-timing on “Too Many Cooks.” Morris concedes his own mischief on the rolling piano blues of “Another Can of Worms, and basks in amorous glory on the soulful “Meet Me” and the lustful “Ooooo Weeee.” His muse is more downtrodden as he laments lost loves on “Ball & Chain” and “She’s Gone.” Morris closes the album with a reggae flavor and a message of hope on “God Loves You.” Morris and his hired hands bring these songs to life with smooth, tasteful performances that serve each number. Morris delivers his words with confidence, sass and a touch of wit, and he makes his guitar sing with zeal. Produced by Morris and Gerald Robinson, the album sounds full, focused and balanced. For connoisseurs of straightforward electric blues and soul, Reggie Wayne Morris’ Don’t Bring Me Daylight is a strong and proud set well worth checking out. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby or by visiting Reggie Wayne Morris’ website, www.rwmband.com.)

THE WHATLEYS – AMERICAN PARTY (no label) Since 2008, State College foursome The Whatleys have brought punk rock fury to Central PA stages and beyond. After several initial EP’s, the group has unveiled their full-length album, American Party. Singer/bassist Eddie Fraud, singer/guitarist Hiro, guitarist TJ Fadehawk and drummer JLaw crank out unapologetic, classic-flavored punk rock spit and vinegar over the disc’s dozen tracks, with a few surprise twists and some witty humor thrown into the mix. The Whatleys never take themselves too seriously, so their lyrical terrain touches on the glories of punk rock, drinking, concert incidents, more drinking, and other related misadventures. On the disc’s opening track, “Balloon Drops (Over Confetti Falls),” the group pledges allegiance to their punk rock music and lifestyle, conceding that it won’t make them rich, but it keeps them sane. The group muses about coming of age on “Separate,” which shows a slight Social Distortion grunginess, and they celebrate graduating to the drinking lifestyle on the disc closer “Straight Edge Is Fun (Until You’re 21).” The Whatleys show a knack for simple, infectious song hooks throughout the album, especially on the nuclear-fueled romance ode “Bionic Eyes,” and they display a surf-rock direction on the band misadventure story “Broke Down (in Murdertown).” But speed and velocity are the norm here; JLaw’s hyperspeed stickwork becomes the group’s most valuable weapon on this album, propelling short and sweet rants like “Sick,” “Go For Broke,” “13 Black” and the humorous late night eatery misadventure recap “Wig Out at Denny’s,” complete with a feverish drum solo. The Whatleys go for broke on each track, and execute these numbers with exuberance and reckless abandon. Their instrumental work is solid, and while they bark and rant in the best punk rock tradition, they also harmonize well. Recorded by Rik Golden at Golden Studios in Ebensburg, American Party sounds full and balanced, but leaves the appropriate amount of jagged edges to enable The Whatleys to deliver their full bite. American Party is a punk rock party, and provides a fast, furious and fun listen. And what is “CJ Ramone” doing? You’ll have to listen to the CD to find out! (The CD can be obtained at the group’s shows, or digitally through their Bandcamp page, www.whatleys.bandcamp.com.)

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