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CD Reviews – April 2018

MASTER SWORD – SHADOW AND STEEL (no label) Washington, D.C.’s Master Sword first came together in 2013, and issued a 2015 EP called Epoch. Former Lies, Inc. and Nitecast singer Lily (Taylor) Hoy joined the group early last year, and Master Sword has subsequently issued their ambitious first full-length album, Shadow and Steel. Lily, lead guitarist Corey Garst, keyboardist and rhythm guitarist Matt Farkas, bassist Shawn Staub and drummer Andy Stark theme the album around the video game The Legend of Zelda. Music from the game inspires Master Sword’s blend of power and progressive metal music, as well as the lyrical storylines. As such, the lyrics might bewilder those not familiar with Legend of Zelda or its premise. But the album’s musical content and firepower ultimately win the day; lavish, dynamic classical metal song arrangements, topped with Lily’s operatic, powerful and majestic voice. Her presence becomes the focal point, and her ability to vary intensity between tranquil calm and explosive fury keeps the album exciting from start to end. “Behind the Mirror” provides the album’s charging, high-powered opening chapter, informed by the classic power metal traditions of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The anthemic “Let Me Show You The Night” showcases Lily’s escalating vocal intensity and towering vibrato. Master Sword crafts darker, deeper and lengthier opuses with “Tower of Stone,” the Dream Theater-toned “Kiss of the Flame” with its shifting melody and side journeys, “Beneath the Skin” and the funereal closer “Master of the Seas.” “Sanctuary” follows an unconventional, creeping melody that evolves into a powerful climax, and Master Sword gives the Zelda instrumental theme “Hyrule Field” a crunchy metal makeover. This band knows its musical turf, and their dynamic arrangements sound big and mighty, with guitar riffs, rapid fire solo work, booming drum beats and expansive keyboard fills bringing fullness and depth to their sound. The mix is crisp and full, bringing forth Master Sword’s full thunder and edge. Shadow and Steel is an impressive debut, and fans of progressive and power metal – whether Zelda enthusiasts or neophytes – will find plenty to celebrate here. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.masterswordband.com.)

LIZZIE AND THE YEEHAW GANG – ROAD TO HOME (no label) When Bedford County Americana musician Lizzie Yee and her group heard fans cheering “Yee-haw!” during their early performances, the group adopted the name Lizzie and the Yeehaw Gang. Now six “womyn” strong, Lizzie and the Yeehaw Gang have unveiled their first full-length CD, Road to Home, named after their 21-day cross-country performance tour last July which took them to Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. (As of press time, the group is currently wrapping up a west coast tour that has taken them to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.) Lizzie on lead vocals and various stringed instruments, her daughter LiliBird Yee on guitar and stand-up bass, Sally Starflower on vocals, mandolin and hand drum, Jackie Kriner on vocals and guitar, Sandy Howsare on vocals and bass, and Karen Semanek on vocals, fiddle and snare perform a blend of Appalachian and traditional folk and bluegrass over Road to Home’s ten tracks. Two of the songs are originals; the leadoff track “Gypsy Way” celebrates life on the road, while the title track “Road to Home” yearns to get back home from that life on the road. Lizzie and the Yeehaw Gang offer their rustic takes on vocal numbers such as the ever-popular “Wagon Wheel,” as well as traditional folk/bluegrass staples such as “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” “Nine Pound Hammer,” “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Rough and Rocky.” The group also cuts loose on some instrumental numbers, including the traditional “Cripple Creek,” “Lorena” and ‘Dr. Banjo’ Peter Wernick’s “Armadillo Breakdown.” The group’s pacing is gentle and relaxed, resulting in a vibe that feels like a friendly back porch bluegrass jam. Lizzie sings with an authentic, old-timey Appalachian folk style, and the basic song arrangements allow all of these musicians to intertwine and shine on their respective instruments. Recorded, engineered and mixed by Lizzie, Sally and Karen, Road to Home sounds live and in the moment, with all instruments and voices sounding clear in the mix. Lizzie and the Yeehaw Gang celebrate tradition and exude an authentic sound and atmosphere with Road to Home, offering a pleasant, pastoral listen. (The album can be purchased through CD Baby and iTunes.)

LADY – DELIRIUM OF NEGATION (no label) Founded in 2014 by the husband-and-wife tandem of bassist/singer Greg “Mudzo” Mudzinski and singer Alicia Marie Starr, Lady formed as a band spin-off from State College-based theatre company Love & Light Productions. As such, the group incorporates a number of musical theatrical elements into the blistering rock of their debut album, Delirium of Negation. Joining Greg and Alicia are vocalists Julia Wilson and Kylie Bumbarger, guitarist Kevin Patterson and drummer Kyle Haust. Over Delirium’s nine tracks, Lady mixes theatrical song and vocal arrangements with hard-hitting, punk-driven rock – resulting in a feverish, action-packed joyride. Blistering punk rhythms mesh with two and three-part vocal harmonies, Queen-like pseudo-operatic song structures and more, as the album follows darker lyrical themes of breaking rules, living life for broke and resisting a corrupt and evil world. The opening salvo “Take It to the Grave” establishes this theme and sets the tone for the album, with both Greg and Alicia alternating lead singing duties along a hard punk-fueled arrangement that culminates in three-part harmony choruses.  Kevin’s guitar solo fireworks help usher in Lady’s charged ode to Irish mythology, “Morrigan,” while the rapid fire “It’s About Time” serves up a call for action. Lady displays their depth and adventurism on several tracks, including the dynamic “Coffins and Crowbars” with its detailed vocal arrangements, and the shifting tempos and timings of “Hands Up, Chin Down.” The group slows the tempo for the thunderous and anthemic “Lullaby,” and sets an initial acoustic tone for “Body of Work.” Lady goes for broke both vocally and instrumentally, not holding anything back over the album’s duration. The arrangements are fresh and distinctive for each song, keeping this album intriguing from start to end. Lady’s unique blend of punk rock aggression and theatrical vocals and arrangements makes Delirium of Negation a unique and innovative listen. (The CD can be downloaded via the group’s Bandcamp page, or purchased through CDBaby.)

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