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CD Reviews – July 2017

MISS MELANIE & THE VALLEY RATS – TWELVE THIRTY ONE (no label) After first hearing Twelve Thirty One, the fourth offering from Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats (or any of their other CD’s for that matter), it is hard not to conclude that group namesake and singer “Miss Melanie” Morrison Zeigler is the happiest woman in the world (or at least the PA music scene). Nobody exudes as much pure joy through their singing as Melanie does on many of Twelve Thirty One’s dozen tracks. Her voice freely lifts, soars, intensifies and relaxes; revealing the flavor of her soul at any given moment. She seizes the moment and refuses to let go of it on the disc-opening original song “You Ain’t Gonna Steal My Shine,” one of several tracks recorded live during a performance at Franco’s Lounge in Williamsport. The group’s romping shuffle rhythm provides the launching pad for Melanie to musically proclaim her preferences from the male half of the species on “What I Need,” and she heartily gives the heave-ho to someone who wronged her on “The End of You.” Melanie can be tender as well, evidenced by her calmer tones on “Don’t You Ever Untie This Knot,” her pleas for another chance on the title track “Twelve Thirty One” and her reflective mood on “I Lost the Best Thing.” Each of the Valley Rats shines as well – Mark Ross’ guitar work is tasteful and clean throughout the album, perfectly complementing and supporting each piece. Rev James Harton displays stellar work on keyboards, with his prominent accordion work especially fleshing out and adding mood to several numbers. And drummer Chris Coyne gently propels the numbers along with just the right rhythmic push. A surprise highlight of the album is when the group reboots the Beatles double-shot of “Help” and “Oh Darling” into slow, smooth soul pieces; the group also offers a samba-tinged read of Robert Cray’s “Phone Booth.” The recording and mix capture the radiance of the group’s performances, enabling each to shine brightly and seize the moment. Twelve Thirty One further establishes Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats as a truly special force on the Keystone State music scene, and the performances here will leave listeners awestruck and amazed. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.missmelanieandthevalleyrats.com.)

YOUNG LUNGS – RESET (no label) Young Lungs’ story began in 2015, when three musicians from central PA relocated to Pittsburgh to create music and advance their music career. After some initial singles and an EP, Young Lungs has released their first full-length album, Reset. The group – singer, pianist and ukulelist Meg Wills, guitarist Ty Miller and bassist Scott Ciambotti – crafts concise, punchy and catchy songs that blend components of punk, pop and indie rock over Reset’s 11 tracks. The riffs and melodies are infectious, and the group’s delivery is tight and precise. Meg’s performance is front and center; her voice rings with smoothness, power and clarity, as she sings well-constructed lyrical themes about life, love and hope. From her strummed ukulele lead-in, Meg expresses the desire for harmony and happiness on the disc-opener “Killin’ Me.” She explores her own personality on “Forget Today,” while encouraging others to dig for their own truth on the high-powered “Scream It Out.” Meg also reflects on past mistakes on “False Promises” and “Battle Cry,” addresses youthful restlessness on “Break Me,” and diagnoses her own life’s direction on “Reality” and the title track “Reset. Restart.” And she crafts a tender piano ballad of devotion on “Stay the Night.” The song arrangements are simple yet clever, with Ty’s forceful riffs driving the melodies along and setting the table for Meg’s potent vocal delivery. Recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by Anthony Santonocito at Westfall Recording Company in Austin, Texas, Reset sounds crisp and concise; letting the performances shine and win the day with minimal studio bells and whistles. The end result is a strong, catchy and action-packed album; Reset establishes Young Lungs as a band with a focus and fresh direction, and offers punchy, infectious rock that will hook and hold listeners. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.younglungs.net.)

 

GRANATI BROTHERS – THE SHOW (Atomic Records) Four decades ago, Pittsburgh’s Granati Brothers made it to the major leagues, signing with and recording an album with A&M Records, touring in support of Van Halen, and opening concerts for Heart, Peter Frampton and Boston. They also went on to sign and record an album with Atlantic Records in the mid-1980s. Although mainstream superstardom ultimately eluded them, the Granati Brothers have continued to enjoy regional popularity and success, and have issued their first studio album in 13 years, The Show. The brothers – Hermie Granati on vocals and keys, Joe Granati on vocals, bass and keys, and David Granati on vocals and guitar – worked with Grammy-winning producer Jimmy Hoyson and famed drummer Gregg Bissonette on the album. The Show finds the brothers continuing to generate the catchy blend of classic-styled rock and pop that first earned them national attention. The songs are tight and concise with punchy melodies, strong vocals and harmonies, guitar and keyboard solo highlights and more. Leading off the album, the title track “The Show” touts the joys of live performing in front of a crowd, and builds to a fast-charging finish where David and Hermie trade off guitar and organ solos. “Shake It Up” goes for the gusto and fires up the group’s funkier side, fueled by Hermie’s strong organ riffs. On the milder side, Hermie encourages listeners to keep the faith on the acoustic-geared “Keep Hope Alive,” while David sings a tender ode to his son on the George Harrison-rooted “My Heart.” The Granati Brothers upgrade some former numbers – giving a broader mix to “It Was You,” which appeared on their 1979 G-Force album with A&M; and reprising the disco-tinged “I Like It Like That.” The group rocks hard on “Are You Listening” and “You Can’t Get Me Down,” and pleads to keep the nation’s young people off the battlefields on the disc-closer “The Only War.” The performances are solid; all three Granatis can still capably carry a tune, and their vocal and instrumental chops are as sharp as ever. Recorded, mixed and produced at David Granati’s Maplewood Studios, The Show sounds clean and polished, allowing the songs and performances to shine brightly. The Show shows that the Granati Brothers still have the spark to create catchy, vibrant rock music, and the album should appeal to a broad spectrum of listening tastes. (The album can be obtained through CD Baby, www.cdbaby.com.)

(CORRECTION: In last month’s review of Black Cat Moan’s The Saint, the Munk & the Moan, I mistakenly reported that the group represented the Blues Society of Western PA in the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. They actually represented the Blues Society of Northern West Virginia.)

 

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