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CD Reviews – January 2018

THE DIRTY MOJO BLUES BAND – MADE CENTS AT THE TIME (no label) Formed in 2009 by the father-and-son tandem of Gary and Shawn Strickland, Williamsport’s Dirty Mojo Blues Band serves up a heaping dose of dirty, greasy blues on their first album, Made Cents at the Time. Shawn growls out lead voice and wails some sinister harmonica, while Gary and Al Meck wield guitars, Tim Reinhard plays bass, Mark Peterson beats the drums, and Greg Burgess tinkles the piano keys. Through the album’s 11 tracks, The Dirty Mojo Blues Band merges rock, funk and soul influences into an energetic, swaggering blues sound. Shawn’s rugged growl up front recalls classic George Thorogood, Dr. John and even Louis Armstrong, as he voices wit-tinged lyrics and drops blasts of gritty harmonica in just the right places. A Bo Diddley-like beat propels the cautionary disc-opener “Thin Ice,” and the group cuts loose on the 12-bar booze blooze rant “Too Much Alcohol.” The group cranks jailhouse rock’n’roll on “Morrow County Jail” and tallies up spare change on the raucous title song “Made Cents at the Time.” The group gets somber on the breakup ode “That’s Alright” and becomes suspicious on the lowdown “Papa Bear,” while Shawn evokes a Satchmo flavor on the charming “Honey Bee.” And Dirty Mojo gets funky on the disc-closer “I Gots This.” These melodies are catchy and on the mark, and the Dirty Mojo Blues Band mixes in enough stylistic variety to keep this album interesting throughout. The performances are skillful, strong and enthusiastic, and it sounds like the group had a good time creating this disc. Recorded analog at Holland Sound Studios, Made Cents at the Time sounds raw and gritty, balanced and full. The Dirty Mojo Blues Band knows their blues on Made Cents at the Time, a rowdy debut album that fans of dirty electric blues will savor. (The CD can be obtained through


CALLIE TOMBLIN – CALLIE TOMBLIN (no label) Self-taught performer Callie Tomblin began playing guitar when she was 14 years old, and decided on a musical career path after graduating from the Red Lion Area School District in 2016. Callie’s self-titled debut album introduces listeners to her musical world, as she blends elements of folk, country, blues and rock. Immediately obvious is Callie’s expressive singing style and emotion-packed delivery, phrasing and cadence, with her gentle-toned acoustic guitar strum providing counterpoint, accompanied by some electric and steel guitar. Through the disc’s 10 tracks, Callie crafts simple but alluring melodies and thoughtful, personal and story-based lyrics. The country-flavored opener “Sleep Tonight” finds Callie closing the book on a relationship gone sour, while country-blues provides the musical vehicle for “Miss the Feeling,” where she douses the spark of an old flame. Other songs provide a hopeful tone; the gentle folk-flavored “Hold On” suggests embracing special moments and savoring them while they last, while the bluesy “Open Your Eyes” encourages hope in the eye of the storm, and the tranquil “Beautiful” is about self-respect and being happy in one’s own skin. Callie muses about her career goals on “Famous,” and admires a special guy on the country-rock disc-closer “Heaven’s Baby.” The songs are direct and to the point, and Callie sings them with intent and purpose. Recorded and produced by Jeff Stike, the disc sounds crisp and clean, with the simple arrangements allowing Callie’s voice to radiate in the spotlight. A young talent on the rise, Callie Tomblin brings her singing and songwriting talents to the table on this debut album, which offers a pleasant and upbeat listen. (The CD can be obtained through Callie’s website,


PHOBOS ANOMALY – PHOBOS ANOMALY (no label) The State College-based music anomaly that is Phobos Anomaly has existed off and on since 2005. After resurfacing from dormancy last year, the group – guitarist/singer Jon Spearly, bassist/singer Mark Holland and drummer Damien Page – has issued their 10-track, self-titled CD. Phobos Anomaly’s sound has evolved into a freewheeling mixture of hard, punk-fueled modern rock with touches of psychedelic and progressive rock flourishes. The group’s song arrangements are often charged and high-velocity, and mix various textures and tempos, intriguing melodies and vocal harmonies, often cryptic lyrics and more. Developing from a Spanish guitar-flavored introduction, the disc’s opening track, “7 of Diamonds,” sets the table for the rest of the album with its go-for-broke tempo, chugging guitar riffs and soaring vocal harmonies.  The group maintains a heated tempo on numbers such as “Dollface,” the furious boogie-driven “The Bearded Lady,” the acidic “Skeleton” and the agitated “Breaking in the Tomb of God.” The group experiments with acoustic tones on “Grandfather Clock” and the slower-grooving “Cleaning Dirt,” dabbles in a surf-toned dynamic on “Silent K,” and mixes multiple angles of attack on the inventive “Misfortune Biscuits” and the disc-closer “Celestial Catastrophe.” Phobos Anomaly delivers these tunes with feverish intensity, and constantly stirs the pot for a variety of sonic angles. Jon Spearly’s guitar attack ranges from punk-styled buzz chords to manic, Robert Fripp (King Crimson)-flavored acidic burn. Holland and Page keep the rhythms continually busy and intriguing, and the group’s production implements various studio and vocal effects to keep the mix chaotic and never staying in one place for too long. The end result is an action-packed, moving debut album; Phobos Anomaly establishes the parameters of their sonic turf with this first chapter, and sets a captivating foundation for further exploration and experimentation. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby,


FŸRE – III GHOSTS (no label) Heavy-hitting sextet Fÿre started igniting on Altoona area stages in 2014, introducing their blend of original classic, progressive and power metal. A concept album, Fÿre’s debut CD, III Ghosts, explores a Faustian theme of a protagonist who sells his soul to the Devil to save a loved one’s life, and the body count and chaos that ensue from that decision. Influences spanning Iron Maiden to King Diamond/Mercyful Fate to Ghost BC inform Fÿre’s sound, with the group incorporating elements of power, death metal and hardcore at various points through the disc’s seven tracks. Anchoring Fÿre’s attack are the battering rhythms of drummer Tanner Kaurudar and bassist Joe Earnest, with the battery of lead guitarist Zach Kensinger and rhythm guitarist Sean Stringer providing forceful riffs and searing solos. Singer Matt Stoyanoff displays a siren-like wail and dramatic singing style that sells the album’s story line, with Denise Stoyanoff providing backing vocals. From its Maiden-ish intro, “Madness” sets the music and story in motion with a stern, forceful rumble. The sullen power ballad “Memo” introduces the story’s Faustian angle as it intensifies, and the body count begins with the hammering “Doctor Doctor.” “Doorbell” is informed by a lead guitar door chime and pulsing hardcore-like bass surges, while Kaurudar’s double-kick drum thunder powers “Thy Will Be Done.” “No Remorse” steps up the aggression with some Slayer-like guitar fireworks, before the tense title track “3 Ghosts” storms toward a death metal-infused finale. Fÿre develops intriguing melodies and angles of attack throughout the disc, executing their song material with tightness and purpose. The music and plot are cohesive from start to end, and the production and mix sound balanced, crisp and full. III Ghosts establishes Fÿre as a creative and innovative metal-geared force, and provides a strong, ambitious opening chapter. (The CD and digital album can be obtained through the group’s Bandcamp page,


PENSIVE FEAR – THE AWAKENING (Scarifide Records) Longtime Altoona-based guitarist Tom Brown started his original heavy metal studio project Pensive Fear in 1996. After recording various EP’s and single songs through the years, Tom has issued Pensive Fear’s first full-length album, The Awakening. Tom wrote the music and words for all 11 tracks, and plays lead guitar and keys on the album. Also appearing are Tom’s son Shawn on lead guitar, Fÿre frontman Matt Stoyanoff on lead vocals, Bob Gailey on bass and Dan Way on drums. Pensive Fear’s sound is rooted in the ‘80s-era classical heavy metal tradition of Yngwie Malmsteen, and is also informed by the progressive and power metal adventurism of Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Queensryche and Judas Priest. The songs feature complex melodies and arrangements with frequent tempo and chord changes, highlighted by Brown’s arpeggio-laced guitar pyrotechnics and Stoyanoff’s powerful, high-soaring vibrato. Lyrically, the songs ride loose themes of good vs. evil, absolution vs. condemnation, facing fear, and decisions and their consequences. From its sinister, horror movie-like beginning, the title track “The Awakening” opens the album with warning of a day of reckoning. Life’s crossroads and the quest for truth permeate the words of the terse “Where the Answer Lies” and “The Wrong Path,” while internal pain drives the hammering assault “The Anguish and Betrayal.” Brown’s composition and guitar skills take the forefront on the instrumental track “A Nightmare of Sorrow.” The performances and instrumental execution are tight and focused, and the album maintains a steady consistency throughout. Stoyanoff’s strong vocals reach incredible, majestic highs while sounding clear and distinctive throughout. The frequent changes and shifts in the arrangements keep the songs interesting and unpredictable. Recorded, mixed and produced by Brown, The Awakening sounds busy and cavernous, deep and thunderous. Tom Brown’s creative vision culminates in Pensive Fear’s The Awakening, an adventurous set that should provide intrigue to fans of classic and progressive metal. (The CD and digital album can be obtained through the Pensive Fear Bandcamp page,


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, 

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