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CD Reviews – July 2018

TIM WOODS – HUMAN RACE (no label) For more than three decades, western PA native Tim Woods journeyed throughout the country and lived in the south, before building a regional music family “dynasty” with sons Derek (Derek Woods Band) and Ryan (Habatat), as well as his own self-named band and the Woods Family Band. Along that journey, Tim soaked in a wide range of musical influences, and those influences and experiences coalesce into his second full-length CD, Human Race. A dozen tracks strong, Human Race finds Tim celebrating life, music, humanity, nature and the planet, and the album follows a loose theme of appreciating and respecting all of these things. Tim’s musical vehicle for this journey combines elements of classic-flavored rock, folk, blues, Americana, jazz and more. As Tim has lived in Macon, Georgia and traveled through the south, southern flavors inform much of the album; the Allman Brothers are channeled through the bluesy love song disc-opener “Can You Feel It” and the self-confident “Every Day,” as well as the life-goes-on ode “Image Is Clear.” Folk, blues and jazz flavors weave together on “Take a Minute,” offering advice to take stock and appreciate the simplicity of love; and Tim tackles harder funk and blues-rock workouts on “Have Mercy” and “Where Did She Go?” respectively. Tim expresses concern for mankind and the planet, evoking a spirited Jim Morrison-like presence on the explosive title track “Human Race,” and urging care for Mother Earth on the jam-fueled disc-closer “Leave the Earth Alone.” Tim also lays down catchy blues and funk grooves on three instrumentals, “Step,” “TW Funk” and “Trixie.” Tim displays personality in his vocal performance, singing with a passionate, versatile voice. Several renowned collaborators help Tim bring these songs to life; including founding Codetalkers member and multi-instrumentalist Bobby Lee Rodgers (who produced the album) and Jerry Garcia Band drummer Pete Lavezzoli, as well as upright bass player Don Coffman and guest drummer William Newell Bate. Recorded at studios in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, Human Race sounds crisp, broad and full, with Tim’s expressive voice front and center in the mix. Tim Woods delivers hearty performances and hopeful messages on Human Race, a strong, blues-infused set that radiates enthusiasm and purpose. (The CD can be bought through CD Baby or Tim’s website, www.timwoodsmusic.com.)

 

THE CROOKED LINE – FAR FROM PERFECT (no label) Founded two years ago, The Crooked Line stamps their signature and creative edge on American string music tradition with their debut album, Far From Perfect. The core of singer/acoustic guitarist Chris Strait, banjo player/singer Bob Baronner and violinist/mandolinist/singer Stephen Buckalew, plus mandolin player Kevin Briggs and bassist Steve Belcher (both who have since departed the group) forged 10 numbers with Nashville’s Doug Forshey; the tunes fuse together catchy melodies, witty lyrics and quality musicianship. The desire for simplicity and an escape from the daily grind inform the lyrics of several tunes, such as the driving opener “Comfort Zone,” where Chris sings of getting back to his happy personal space and state of mind. Borrowing a cue from The Wizard of Oz, Chris sings of getting swept up in the hectic, tornadic life of a college town (such as the group’s home base of State College) on the funky-strutting “Kansas Now,” while building a new home – and perhaps a new life – is the theme of “The Carpenter.” The group channels a Grateful Dead theme on “Song For You,” seeks another chance on “One More Time,” and fears the end result of a tumultuous romance on “Tied to the Tracks” (also the title song of an album jointly recorded by Chris and Doug). The Crooked Line also flexes their musicality and blends string music with elements of Celtic folk, jazz and more on the inventive instrumental/vocal combo, “D Modal Banjo Suite/Do You Ever Really Know?” The performances shine throughout the album; Chris’s voice convincingly conveys the witty edge of the lyrics, and the instrumental talents exhibited here are top notch, as these players showcase clean solo work while blending their skills to suit each song. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Gene Gibson at Winterstream Music in Centre Hall and produced by Gene and the group, Far From Perfect sounds crisp and full, with all elements of the group’s sound balanced clearly. Far From Perfect is catchy and edgy, as The Crooked Line introduces their distinctive, feisty slant on traditional-styled folk and string music, and provides a pleasant, entertaining listen. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s Facebook page.)

ALMOST HOWE – DECEIVED (no label) Almost Howe is the band project brainchild and alter ego of York area-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bill Jones, whose music career spans more than 50 years. Almost Howe’s second CD, Deceived, features 11 tracks displaying a variety of rock-based flavors. 1970s-era hard rock and classic heavy metal comprise the primary foundation here, with many of the songs featuring beefy, thunderous rhythms, chunky guitar chords and Bill’s mid-ranged lead vocal. Never Say Die-era Black Sabbath comes to mind as a reference. Bill angles for intriguing, unpredictable song arrangements several times, including the leadoff track “Dignity” with its oddball chord shifts and twists, “Sea of Dreams” with its Jeckyl-and-Hyde shifts between synth underscores and pulverizing metal thunder, the angry album title stomp “Deceived” and “Mother Bankrupt’s Door.” Almost Howe delves into hard funky rock on the catchy “The Look,” and explores darker blues-rock flavors on “Wounded” and “Speechless Blues.” Bill vents about the country’s dysfunctional two-party political circus on the punk-fueled rant “Party Demise” – complete with mid-song “God Bless America” guitar solo – and generates a speed-metal science lesson finale with “Supercollider.” Bill plays all instruments here, including guitars, bass, drums and keys, and shows solid skills on all of them. Recorded by Bill and mastered by Gene Paul, the album sounds gritty and raw. The mix comes off slightly murky in spots, but sounds clear and balanced more often than not. Bill Jones reveals more of his musical world via Almost Howe’s Deceived, a solid set that reveals a bolder, stronger rock edge and sense of adventure. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.almosthowe.com.)

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