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CD Reviews – February 2018

STERLING KOCH – GUITAR & B (Full Force Music) Anyone who has followed his career can attest that Sterling Koch has worked with a variety of musical flavors over the years, including hard rock, blues, blues rock, gospel blues and blues-rock, acoustic music and more. On his latest instrumental album, GuitaR & B, Sterling boldly steps outside his comfort zone to embrace elements of smooth jazz, R&B and even hip-hop flavors over the disc’s eleven tracks. Sterling works with several producers on this album, and experiments with a diverse range of contemporary sounds and rhythms, spanning techno, dub and more. But while his musical environment has changed, Sterling’s guitar prowess embraces that environment, and he shows that he is capable on the jazz guitar front. And while every track presents a different angle and flavor, Sterling maintains tasteful, fluid and precise guitar work that propels each melody forward. The opener “Easy Road” welcomes listeners to this new adventure with its punchy, funky rhythms and Sterling’s flavorful guitar sounding perfectly at home. Sterling’s jazz guitar flourishes blend in well with the dance beat-propelled “Holiday,” and he channels George Benson flavors on “Unconditional” and the dreamy “Another Day.” He demonstrates smooth soul and jazz tones on “Trapped in A Minor” and “Summervibe,” as well as a crisp funkiness on “Enough.” And milder tones prevail on latter numbers on the album such as “How to Love” and the title track disc-closer “GuitaR & B.” The diversity of the arrangements and melodies keeps GuitaR & B sounding fresh throughout, while Sterling’s guitar presence provides the connecting thread and continuity through it all. The mix is clean and full throughout the album, with guitars, beats and other elements sounding balanced and even. Sterling Koch successfully turns to a fresh new musical page with GuitaR & B, embracing a new frontier and delivering a fun and tasteful set. (The CD can be obtained through Sterling’s website, www.sterlingkoch.com.)

 

SILVER SCREEN – INERTIA EP (no label) Featuring members and alumni from Cambria and Somerset County bands such as Van Waylon, Saving Elizabeth, Handicap Parking Lot and A Faster Ride, Johnstown-based foursome Silver Screen formed in 2016 with their mission to “Make America Grunge Again.” Their six-song debut EP, Inertia, introduces a hard-rocking sound rooted in the grunge-rock traditions of Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and early Foo Fighters. Frontman and rhythm guitarist Stephen Platt and lead guitarist Ben Ressler conjure thick and chunky riffage, assisted by pounding, swaggering rhythms from bassist Alex Richardson and drummer Austin Danel. Also the group’s chief songsmith, Stephen delivers a vocal blend of melody, agitation and resignation as he voices lyrical themes of anxiety and unrest. Silver Screen varies the angles of attack here, establishing a go-for-broke pace on the disc-opener “Talk to Me,” and varying the tempo on the hefty rocker “Labelled Off.” The group rocks slower and more expansive on the STP-flavored “Codeine” and the darker-toned “Make Believe,” fires off rowdy boogie on “Bar Swing,” and finishes with a funkier presence on “Cheap Nachos.” All six melodies are sturdy, and Silver Screen executes them with fire and purpose. Recorded and produced in Monroeville by Michael O’Malley, Inertia sounds full and balanced, yet allows the band’s grunginess and abrasive edge to cut through. Inertia provides a strong calling card for Silver Screen, and defines their powerful, ‘90s-inspired hard-rocking foundation. (The EP can be purchased digitally through iTunes and Amazon, and the CD can be obtained through the group’s Reverbnation and Facebook pages.)

 

STEVE BROSKY – STILL (Radiophonic Records) Allentown’s Steve Brosky has established himself as a mainstay of the Lehigh Valley music scene through the past four decades, garnering comparisons to Bruce Springsteen with his brand of edgy, blue-collar rock, folk and blues. His seventh album, Still, offers ten captivating songs that span a variety of styles and angles. As a wordsmith, Steve mixes personal reflections with touches of wit, and delivers those words with a hearty, sandy voice. Fleshing out the songs are guitarists Jimmy Meyer and Ken Sifter, bassists Suavek Zaniesienko and Josh Klein, organist Rich Repsher, drummers Wayne Maura, Josh Kanusky and Tiff Kent, plus horn and string players, backing singers and more. Steve celebrates being himself and not caving in to trends on the punchy disc-opener “Still Ain’t Got a Tattoo,” and acknowledges the power of women in his world on the folk blues of “That’s What She Said.” He seeks redemption on the Van Morrison-flavored “I’ll Find My Way Back to You,” and taps a Louisiana vibe on the sullen “Madame Blue.” The soulful “Johnny Corporation” mocks corporate excess and greed, while the raucous “Jersey Plates” pokes fun at drivers from the Garden State. Perhaps the strongest song on the album – “In Your Arms” – encourages a user’s resistance in a battle against heroin addiction, while the disc-closer “Got to Be More” takes on a gospel-toned gusto. Steve also includes two remakes, offering a funk-edged spin on Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” and a tranquil, string-enhanced read of Stephen Foster’s classic “Oh Suzanna.” Steve’s vocals are sincere and heartfelt, and his associates generate colorful and diverse instrumental backdrops. Produced, mixed and mastered by Wayne Becker, Still sounds vibrant and full, enabling all components of Steve Brosky’s musical mixture to shine. With its lyrical sincerity and stylistic variety, Still is a strong, alluring album that showcases the experience, artistry and personality of its creator, as Steve Brosky shows the skills and savvy of a seasoned songsmith. (The CD can be obtained through Steve Brosky’s website, https://stevebrosky.com.)

JAKE TAVILL – TWISTED IDEOLOGY EP (no label) Hailing from the easternmost coastal tip of New Jersey (Rumson), 21-year-old Jake Tavill has studied music at the Berklee College of Music and the Village East Conservatory, and is currently studying at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. His latest recording, Twisted Ideology, finds Jake blending an intriguing variety of flavors – from vintage 1920s-styled jazz and blues to modern horn-driven funk, soul and indie rock – into seven clever, captivating numbers. Playing keys, Jake demonstrates a crisp, floating voice that can intensify into powerful, soulful interludes and diminish into quieter, pleading tones as each song warrants. Assisting Jake are his Indigo Child Blues Band associates Nick Piescor on guitar and organ, Ben Ley on drums and Casey O’Donnell on bass and synths; along with percussionist Owen Flanagan, a three-piece horn section and three backing singers. Each song is different, and Twisted Ideology doesn’t stay in any one place for too long. For instance, the funky, rowdy and determined opening track, “You’re Gonna Love Me,” veers into a brief mid-song Afro-Cuban jazz break; while Jake and his associates dance between Tin Pan Alley-era jazz and Motown flavors on the darkish and skeptical “It Don’t Matter.” He channels a Sly & the Family Stone-edged twist into the romantic acrobatics of “Legs in a Twist,” and builds into a rollicking, disco-edged rhythm to drive the reflective “Truth.” In a slower vein, Jake addresses mortality and living life to its fullest on the sullen “Why We Run,” and voices relationship pessimism on the darker soul-flavored “One Day Soon.” For the set’s finale, Jake weaves a multi-flavored tale of temptation on “Gold.” Produced by Jake and recorded at Shorefire Recording Studios in Long Branch, New Jersey; Twisted Ideology comes across crisp, balanced and full, with Jake’s vocal dynamics and all instrumental elements sounding clear and distinct. Jake Tavill builds his resume as a bold young artist with a sense of adventure and imagination on Twisted Ideology, and he furthers his credentials as a rising name to keep an ear open for. (The recording can be obtained through Jake’s website, www.jaketavill.com.)

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, https://pensivefear.bandcamp.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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