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CD Reviews – October 2017

TED McCLOSKEY – LAST FLOWER STANDING (Voodoo Cat Records) Ted McCloskey has established himself as one of the state’s most prolific musicians, creating nine albums of original music in 15 years. On his ninth and latest album, Last Flower Standing, he continues to establish himself as a musical chameleon as well, as he mixes multiple flavors into the disc’s 14 tracks, again successfully defying categorization. Delta blues and Beatles-rooted pop provide prominent launching points throughout the disc, with rockabilly, folk, R&B and psychedelic flourishes also incorporated along the way. Ted’s knacks for catchy song hooks and smart lyricism are abundant here; the album follows a loose theme of flowers providing metaphors for lives and souls that bloom, fade, survive and die, and Ted also provides revealing snapshots of his own persona as well. The slow-building disc-opener “How Many More?” finds Ted drinking and smoking away a past memory, while the Americana-infused “The Presence of Your Absence” tries to come to terms with a sudden void, and the anguish of breakup is preferred over continuing a fractured relationship on the punchy “Rather Live with the Heartache.” Ted paints a colorful picture of a worldly woman on the gentle “A Flower in Madrid,” touts the durability of a “Little Rose,” and lets instruments and arrangement paint a sassy personality on the punchy instrumental “Violet Wilds.” Lost hope permeates the vibe on the darker-toned “Where Dreams Go to Die,” hard living renders its impact on the edgy “What Your Love Looks Like,” and trying to crack the codes to Ted’s soul will take some effort on the hard-edged “Bigger Bombs.” The songs are all distinct and compelling, with Ted’s melodies and wordplays providing constant highlights. Guest keyboardist Mark Daubert, fiddle player Daniel Collins and bassist/flute player Bob Hart all effectively color and tone these songs, and backing singer Molly Countermine adds just the right vocal accents to provide emphasis. By now, it’s pretty clear that McCloskey knows what he is doing behind the console, and his production brings his musical innovations and nuances to full fruition. Last Flower Standing offers another captivating snapshot of the musical mind and artistry of its creator, and adds another colorful chapter to Ted McCloskey’s stunning overall body of work. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.tedmccloskey.com.)

JIMMY ADLER – GREASE ALLEY (Sprucewood Records) Pittsburgh’s Jimmy Adler jumps, jives, wails, swings and frolics through the 13 tracks of his latest studio album, Grease Alley. Slinging guitar and singing, Jimmy takes a joyride through a myriad of blues-based styles, spanning New Orleans and swamp blues to jump blues, swing, Texas blues, R&B and more. He tapped the talents of some renowned blues musicians to help bring these original song creations to life; including Norwegian-born guitarist Kid Anderson (of Charlie & the Nightcats), who also recorded, mastered and produced the album at his Greaseland Studios facility in San Jose, California. Also assisting Jimmy are keyboardist Jim Pugh (of the Robert Cray Band), Charlie Musselwhite’s drummer June Core, and – now living in the San Jose area – his former saxophone player, Eric Spaulding. Jimmy sets the tone and honors two influences on the disc opener “Say It Like Magic Sam,” referencing T-Bone Walker and Chicago-based bluesman Magic Sam. Naw’lins is the prominent flavor of the title track “Grease Alley,” complete with Jimmy’s “Saints Go Marching In”-themed mid-song guitar solo. A more swamp-geared southern blues groove drives “Ease Me Down Slow” with its catchy call-and-response choruses, while Texas blues propels the morning after ode “Drank Too Much.” A clear highlight is “No Pain,” which showcases guest singer Chris Cain with his B.B. King-like growl; Cain’s guitar skills shine later on the disc during “What Will You Do.” The album’s most boisterous moments happen on uptempo romps such as the rockabilly-geared “I Can’t Wait,” “Cornbread and Lima Beans,” “Cordelia” and the Texas swing-driven disc-closer “Hoodoo Highway.” Providing the most sullen moment is the darker slow blues of “Love Was Worth These Blues.”And Jimmy taps a Memphis soul flavor on “Nine Behind” and “What I’ve Done.” Jimmy’s enthusiastic vocals and stellar guitar solo work both provide constant highlights through the album, as well as establish a continuous thread to tie this diverse set together. The performances consistently shine, and every song here is strong with no weak links. Kid Anderson’s production and guidance enables Grease Alley to sound vibrant and full, while staying firmly rooted in the traditional blues atmosphere. The result is a fun, uplifting blues album – Grease Alleygrooves and swaggers, and provides a lively listening experience well worth checking out. (The CD can be obtained through Jimmy’s website, www.jimmyadler.com.)

JONATHAN MONUMENT – WONDERKID (no label) Reading-based rock group Jonathan Monument expands the scope of their alternative-rooted rock sound on their third CD, Wonderkid. The group – founding members, singers and guitarists David Fick and Steven Balthaser, bassist/singer Matt Thren and drummer Josh Noel – mixes a variety of flavors into their hard-edged, guitar-driven sound. 1990s-era alternative serves as the foundation from which the group explores adventurous song structures and elements of punk, roots-rock, 1960s/70s pop and more. Jangly rockabilly is the driving force behind the fast-moving disc-opener “Mine,” while the group salutes Japanese surf-rock guitarist Takeshi Terauchi on the stormy surf instrumental “Takeshi.” The group mixes catchy melodies with muscle on punchy rockers like the title track “Wonderkid,” “Ne’er-Do-Wells” and an update of an earlier song, “What Lives in the Lake?” Jonathan Monument plays with intriguing chord structures and unexpected melodic twists and turns on “We Are the Children of Light” and “From the Sky,” and they tap 1960s-styled vocal arrangements on “Suzie’s Got a Shotgun.” The album ends with the expansive “Destroyer,” which begins with a dreamy Beatles-like passage that builds into a hard-rocking instrumental homestretch. The group’s performances are crisp and energetic, and former member and guest Jon Smith’s key accents and backing vocals flesh out the group’s sound in various places through the disc. Produced by the band, Frank Phobia and Mike Radka, Wonderkid sounds brisk and balanced, with the group’s voices, melodies and abrasive guitar edges all prominent. The result is another fresh-sounding effort; Wonderkid offers innovative rock that is edgy yet infectious, and shows Jonathan Monument’s further progression and adventurism. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s Bandcamp web page, jonathanmonument.bandcamp.com.)

 

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