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CD Reviews – June 2017

RAHWAY – UNDEFEATED (no label) Named after the industrial city in northeast New Jersey where they originated, and named by none other than Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, Rahway has been honing their brand of clever, tough-hitting rock. Nine years and two member changes after their first full-length CD, Snitches Get Stitches, Rahway unleashes their latest disc, Undefeated. New frontman Nick Hade and bassist Chigger join founding brethren David Cardenas on guitar and Steve Cardenas on drums. Rahway lays down heavy-hitting rock rooted in 1980s bad boy metal and 1990s grunge; merging tough, chunky guitars and rhythms with captivating melodies and street-savvy lyrics. Opening the album, the title track “Undefeated” sets the table as it celebrates individual survival and personal resolve. With its wall of roaring guitars, “Racecar” also champions surviving against the odds, while the shuffling “Cage the Animal” fights to maintain self-control. Sexual innuendo drives hard and sassy anthems like “War Machine,” “Hot Stuff” and the disc-ending “Drive Me Crazy.” Rahway offers a softer side, too – the hook-driven “Aching” deals with heartache, while the acoustic-driven “Yesterday” yearns to return to the past. Nick delivers a gritty voice and fast-firing sass up front, while the rest of the band backs him with swaggering, abrasive, distortion-edged rhythms. Produced by the band, and engineered, mixed and mastered by singer Nick, Undefeated sounds full and balanced, with the rhythms given ample thunder and a corrosive edge. Rahway delivers infectious, slick, mean and lean rock with Undefeated, a bold set from a hungry band with their sights set on bigger and better things in the music industry. (The CD can be purchased through the group’s website, www.rahwayband.com.)

 

GUN METAL GRAY – ISLAND OF THE DAMNED EP (no label) Since 2011, Harrisburg’s Gun Metal Gray has built their credibility on the live performance stage, and evolved their classic-geared brand of heavy metal music. Their latest CD, Island of the Damned, is a swashbuckling concept EP based on the high seas three centuries ago, and demonstrates the group’s powerful style and sound, rooted in the classic metal tradition of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, with a nod to the aggressive style of modern metal purveyors like Bullet for My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold. Singer David Damone, guitarist Christian Koch, bassist Ed Allison and drummer Jeff Stumpf lay out a hard-hitting, seafaring tale of deceit, vengeance, battles, desolation and more. Rhythms rampage and hammer, guitars slash and shred, and David snarls with vocal range and intensity. The voyage starts with the charging assault “Revenge,” blending metal aggression with instrumental virtuosity. “Cursed for Eternity” pummels with brute force and gang shots, while the power anthem “We Are One” takes listeners into the heart of a sea battle with an infectious shout-along chorus that sticks in your cranium long after the first listen. The brooding “Shipwrecked” then sets up for the explosive title track “Island of the Damned,” which then culminates in the finale, “The Final Battle,” and an uncertain future. David sings his words with range and rage, and the rest of the band executes their roles tightly with all-out aggression. The mix sounds full, balanced and crisp, enabling Gun Metal Gray to fire on all cylinders. Island of the Damned unleashes Gun Metal Gray’s sonic fury and creativity, and displays this group’s quality chops and firepower. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.gmgband.com.)

 

RON RUSSELL – SHADOWS OF ME (Hollywood Dreams Publishing) Huntingdon-based singer/songwriter Ron Russell has been creating music ever since the 1980s, and issued his first solo album, Walk Away Girl, in 1999. His latest album, Shadows Of Me, reveals an artist who has honed his art of pop songcraft to a fine, polished edge. Ron writes or co-writes all of the disc’s dozen tracks, demonstrating tight, concise melodies with bright payoff choruses. The prominent flavors are light rock, pop and country with occasional touches of harder rock and blues. Ron sings these numbers with a clear, sturdy voice and soaring range, assisted by an assortment of studio session players. His lyrics sell loose lyrical themes of life and love; the disc-opening title track, “Shadows Of Me,” ponders the aftermath of a just-ended relationship and what could have been. Offering a slight Steely Dan tone, “Bring the Dream” yearns to turn a “midnight Facebook rendezvous” into something more, while Ron blends Nashville history with a message of giving on the uplifting “The Song Hank Started.” Ron takes things in a punchier direction on “Meant to Be,” and flexes his country-rock muscle on “Still Burning for You” and “Always and in All Ways.” “Pillows and Perfume” offers a mellow romantic theme, while the melancholy “Now That She’s Gone” laments the loss of love. The performances are strong throughout the disc; Ron’s expressive voice convincingly sells each song’s theme, and the arrangements support each song with colorful blends of guitars, keys and rhythms. The overall sound is polished smooth, and any of these songs would sound good on a radio. Having studied songwriting with industry professionals in both Nashville and Los Angeles, Ron Russell shows what he has learned on Shadows Of Me, a set of quality ear candy that provides a pleasant listen. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.ronrussellmusic.com.)

SHINE DELPHI – IN THE MORNING… (Delphi Records) Born in Pennsylvania and raised in California, Shine Delphi is the modern-day traveling minstrel, journeying around the country with a resonator guitar and sharing his music with anyone who will listen. Now based in Harrisburg, Shine shares his musical world and outlook on In The Morning…, a set of happy-go-lucky acoustic folk, bluegrass and blues, informed by New Orleans and Tin Pan Alley-era flavors. Singing, playing guitar, harmonica and tambourine, Shine sings upbeat odes to life and living, with viola player Free Feral, violinist Walter Prettyman and upright bassist Taylor Smith fleshing out the sound. The disc-opening title track “In the Morning…” sets the tone, establishing a theme of embracing each new day and appreciating life’s simple pleasures. “Breathe” offers encouragement to keep trying and not give up when times are rough. The whimsically-toned “Tiny Little Seed” nurtures positivity and cooperation to make the world a better place. Other songs offer more serious tones; “Untitled” warns to choose words wisely or reap what you sow, “Brother” contemplates forgiveness, and the dual-toned disc-closer “Mine to Be” ponders life’s exit strategy. The melodies are sturdy and catchy, and the arrangements are simple and serve each melody. Shine sings his words with a rugged, raspy and spirited delivery, and his personality and enthusiasm shine through each song. The overall sound is crisp and balanced, with Shine’s words and the varied instrumentation sounding clear and clean in the mix. In the Morning… offers a feelgood, uplifting listening experience, and welcomes listeners into Shine Delphi’s optimistic, hopeful musical world. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.shinedelphi.com.)

 

BLACK CAT MOAN – THE SAINT, THE MUNK & THE MOAN (no label) Since 2011, Johnstown-based trio Black Cat Moan has been evolving their brand of “New Vintage Blues” and spreading it to stages across western PA and beyond; even representing the Blues Society of Western PA in the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. On their first full-length album, The Saint, the Munk & the Moan, Black Cat Moan showcases their distinctive blues-rooted sound. Early recorded blues informs their music, establishing the platform from which singer/harmonica player T.K. Mundok, guitarist and resonator player George Byich and drummer Zach Bodolosky explore folk, jazz, funk flavors and more. George’s prominent slide guitar and finger picking blend with Zach’s jazz-rooted drumming style, establishing the backdrops for T.K. to express and emote. His voice can quickly dart from subdued moans to soaring howls to fast-firing James Brown-flavored rants; lending a touch of unpredictability into Black Cat Moan’s blues turf. The CD features 11 originals and two covers. Delta-styled blues drives the disc-opening number “Is What It Is,” “Burns Like Hell” and “Catfish Blues.” Black Cat Moan shows a rockabilly flare on “Any Day,” gentle folk tones on “Feelin’ Free,” a blues-rock stomp on “Medicine Man,” and delta-driven funk on “Ballad of Anna Lee.” The group takes the classic “House of the Rising Sun” for a jazzy spin, and offers a folk blues take on “Statesboro Blues.” And they have fun with two instrumental tracks, the slide guitar-fueled “Messin’ ‘Round” and the country-toned romp “Stoney Creek Rag.” Black Cat Moan’s arrangements are stripped-down and basic, letting the talents of all three musicians take front and center throughout the disc. The performances are bright and inspired, and listeners can tell by the group’s freewheeling approach that they had fun creating this set. Recorded by Ray Calfo at Studiophonix in Mount Pleasant, the CD sounds clean, full, straightforward and uncluttered. The Saint, the Munk & the Moan offers a comprehensive introduction into Black Cat Moan’s bluesy landscape, and shows why their unique approach to the blues is gaining more and more attention. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.blackcatmoan.org.)

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