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CD Reviews – December 2017

BO MOORE & FRIENDS – A JOHNSTOWN CHRISTMAS (no label) Arriving in time for the 2017 holiday season is A Johnstown Christmas, a 16-track compilation CD featuring Johnstown and Cambria County area musicians performing original holiday compositions and their distinctive versions of time-tested holiday classics. Organized by longtime Johnstown musician and personality Bo Moore, the album features a wide variety of musical flavors, and blends newly-recorded songs (mostly recorded and engineered by Johnny Bayush) with previously-recorded material. Proceeds from the CD’s sales benefit the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat newspaper’s Santa Fund, which helps out needy area children and their families during the holiday season. One of this album’s major highlights is a contribution by former NBC-TV The Voice finalist Josh Gallagher, who eagerly donated his pleasant, folksy rendition of “Silent Night,” which he recently recorded in Nashville. “Silent Night” actually makes two appearances here, as Black Cat Moan offers their unique acoustic blues variation on the holiday classic as well. The Moore Brothers rock and roll with the pleasantly reminiscent “Christmas Time in Johnstown,” complete with a tongue-in-cheek cameo appearance from popular, recently-retired WJAC-TV newsman Marty Radovanic. Also providing a rock’n’roll flavor is Mutual Fun Society with their upbeat musical instruction guide “How to Build a Snowman.” Making another joyous, vibrant sound here is the combo of Johnny Bayush, Rachel Allen, Brandon King, Jessica King and Darlene Seals with their charged gospel/funk number “Jesus, the Light of the World.” Jazz In Your Face offers their bold and brassy 2005 recording of “My Favorite Things,” highlighted by feisty trumpet solo work from the late Larry McGiboney. Adam Mundok and Adam Milkovich’s collaboration, AM2, conjures a playful Andrews Sisters-like vocal arrangement on “Cozy Christmas.” On the more reverent side, Denise Baldwin applies her soaring, potent voice on “His Holy Light,” the duo of Walt (Churchey) & Jackie (Kopco-Shawley) remind listeners to slow down and savor the season on their 2012 number “Take Time,” and with his resonant voice, Michael Facciani relates a heartfelt Christmas remembrance on “The Christmas Road.” Revered longtime Johnstown performers Frank Filia and John Pencola contribute a stripped-down piano rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and Sam Coco recounts Christmas memories with “Windows in the City.” Besides the aforementioned Moore Brothers track, Bo Moore also performs with musical friends on a version of “Little Drummer Boy,” and strums ukulele alongside Rachel Allen on “Winter Lullaby.” The Divided Self shares a thoughtful Christmas season reflection on “A Very Merry Christmas,” while George Lucas croons the country-toned “Anything But Christmas.” These performances are sincere, and listeners can sense the performers’ personal investments into these creations. The album’s organization allows these numbers to flow together smoothly, making for a rewarding, complete listen. With its heartfelt performances and descriptive word paintings, A Johnstown Christmas can be likened to a musical picture postcard set of Johnstown Christmas memories, and as such, presents a joyful, heart-touching listen. (Physical CDs can be purchased at various Johnstown locations or ordered through the website www.tribdemnie.com/johnstown_christmas/; digital copies can be obtained through digital online retailers.)

 

MATT OTIS & THE SOUND – SO IT GOES… (no label) Through his musical output so far – both as a solo performer and with his current group, The Sound – Matt Otis has established himself as a thoughtful and thought-provoking songwriter who likes to explore the nooks and crannies of the human experience and psyche. His latest album with The Sound, So It Goes…, continues that exploration lyrically, thematically and musically. The album rides a loose theme of humanity in the fast-paced technology age, and how modern society is losing touch with its humanity as it becomes more immersed in technology, especially digital communication. Along with Kent Tonkin on bass, Charlie McClanahan on drums and percussion, Harry Pepper on djembe and Alyssa Smith on vocals, Matt explores new musical terrain as well, stretching from his established folk rock/pop foundation to embrace elements of electronica, synth-pop, ambient music and more. The opening number, “Blinds,” asks if our hectic existence has diminished our ability to be compassionate, feeling human beings; a theme also shared on the somber acoustic number “You Ain’t Got No Love.” The upbeat “Frozen Moments” examines our obsession with cell phones and social media, observing that we are often more concerned with capturing a moment in a cell phone photo or video rather than actually living in that moment as it happens. Likewise, “Give Me Something Real” prefers disconnecting from the grid to enjoy the reality of the here and now. Matt also considers the collateral damage of our partisan political age, as the gentle acoustic title track “So It Goes…” questions how much our obsession with politics has divided us and derailed our compassion for one another. Electronica becomes the vehicle to suggest unplugging and escaping from the grid on “Sea of Green,” while the soulful “Melancholia” ultimately suggests we enjoy life and its moments while we can, because tomorrow is never guaranteed. All ten melodies connect in distinctive ways, and Matt’s variety of musical flavors keeps this album interesting from start to end. Recorded, mixed and produced by Michael Ofca at Innovation Studios in Steubenville, Ohio, So It Goes… sounds crisp and detailed, with new nuances shining through with each repeated listen. So It Goes… is the most ambitious and thought-provoking set so far from Matt Otis, as he and the Sound provide compelling questions to encourage listeners to examine their own present-day realities. (The CD can be obtained through Matt Otis’ website, www.mattotismusic.com.)

 

GENE THE WEREWOLF – THE LONER (no label) Pittsburgh’s Gene the Werewolf has been cranking out howl-icious rock and roll on western PA stages and beyond since 2007, and packs hard-rocking punch on their latest CD, The Loner. Gene the Werewolf’s style and sound are unapologetically rooted in rowdy classic hard guitar rock of the 1970s and 80s, with the bad boy rock of AC/DC, Guns’n’Roses, Poison and the Rolling Stones all coming to mind over the disc’s ten tracks. Group namesake Gene belts out a gritty howl up front with ample power and range while playing guitar and keys; flanked by guitarist Drew Donegan, bassist Tim Schultz, drummer Nick Reval and keyboard player Aaron Mediate. The Loner struts and swaggers from the get-go and never lets up. The opening salvo, the zombie apocalypse-themed “Walking Dead,” features guest guitar work from Pittsburgh native Reb Beach of Winger and Whitesnake fame. “Boogeyman” rides a romping boogie beat, while fiery harmonica helps power the uptempo “Too Kool for Skool.” The title track “The Loner” is a bluesy Stones-like rocker that has garnered Gene the Werewolf prominent Pittsburgh radio airplay, while “Let It Loose” channels high-powered AC/DC-styled raunch rock. The group stomps hard on “Fame and Fortune” with gang shouts of “F-A-M-E,” charges on the galloping “Easy Woman,” and rolling honky-tonk piano from guest Randy Baumann helps power the Stones-flavored disc-closer “The Best I Can.” Gene the Werewolf’s song hooks are simple and to the point, connect fully to the cranium and stick in the mind. The performances are enthusiastic and hearty, and Gene and his bandmates sound fully invested in their rocking song material; all components of this group click together well as a unit. Produced by Sean McDonald at Pittsburgh’s Red Medicine Studios, The Loner sounds busy, full and action-packed. Gene the Werewolf delivers a howlin’ good-time set with The Loner, a sturdy set of classic-flavored guitar rock that deserves to be cranked up loud and proud. (The CD can be obtained through Gene the Werewolf’s website, www.genethewerewolf.com.)

ANATOMY OF THE SACRED – ASHES TO ASHES (no label) Anatomy of the Sacred’s story began in 2011, when multi-instrumentalist Shane Krout began to collaborate with singer Brenda Michelle Robinson toward his symphonic metal-geared project. Anatomy of the Sacred’s debut recording, Ashes to Ashes, introduces a lavish, multi-dimensional style and sound that blends classic-styled progressive hard rock and metal with classical song structures and operatic vocals. The group channels modern influences such as Tran-Siberian Orchestra and Evanescence, but also recalls the medieval vibe of Renaissance and the classic rock firepower of peak-era Heart. Brenda’s voice provides an immediate focal point, as she displays potent vocal range, power and clarity. Handling bass, rhythm and lead guitars, keys and programming, Shane provides much of the deep and dramatic instrumental backdrop for Brenda to launch her vocal acrobatics. The songs explore human themes of love, hate, death, fear, hope and more. The explosive disc-opener “Narcissi” explores self-obsession at the expense of love, while Brenda yearns for a positive outcome on the operatic “Hope Holds On.” Anatomy of the Scared sets an ethereal tone with the darker “Just One Night,” while guest vocalist Clinton Washington sees hope slip away on the somber piano ballad “Farewell to the Light” to close the set. The melodies are detailed but alluring, and draw and hold attention. The combination of Brenda’s siren-like voice and Shane’s layered arrangements give these songs a deep, haunting presence. The sound quality is deep, full and majestic. Ashes to Ashes provides an impressive opening chapter into the sophisticated musical world of Anatomy of the Sacred, and fans of orchestral-flavored, adventurous hard rock will find this well worth exploring. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.anatomyofthesacred.com.)

TRIPLE DOSE – BROTHERHOOD (no label) Emerging from the Milton area, Triple Dose delivers a hard-hitting wallop on their debut CD, Brotherhood. The lineup of lead singer Clint Rishel, lead guitarist Terry Cressman, rhythm guitarist/pianist Jason Budman, bassist Zach Lenig and drummer Matt Taylor blend elements of hard-driving classic, southern rock and country over Brotherhood’s 13 tracks. The album title represents the group’s solidarity with the nation’s armed forces and emergency responders, as well as personal themes of love, family and faith. The hard-hitting opening track, “Never Give Back,” champions the Second Amendment and the tradition of a strong military, while “Daddy’s Gun” offers rowdy, gun-toting southern-flavored rock. The uptempo “Hold on to Your Dreams” promotes a positive message of faith and staying the course, while the edgy “Tooth and Nail” fights to hold on to love. Other tracks are slower and more introspective, such as the piano-driven power ballad “Yesterday” and its message of a new beginning, “I Cry Alone” with its depiction of emotional pain, and “Finally Found Me” and its confrontation with the man in the mirror. The songwriting is solid, with effective song hooks and sturdy melodies. The performances are hearty and inspired; Clint sings the words with passion and purpose, and the rest of Triple Dose provides the appropriate hard rock thunder behind him. Produced and engineered by Tom Troutman, Brotherhood sounds crisp, deep and full, and allows the group’s sharp edge to be displayed prominently. Triple Dose yields a hearty dose of hard rock on Brotherhood, a strong and heartfelt debut that deserves to be played loud. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.tripledoserocks.com.) 

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