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CD Reviews

CD Reviews – June 2018

JIM DONOVAN & THE SUN KING WARRIORS – WE SEE THROUGH IT (no label) Former Rusted Root drummer Jim Donovan introduced a fresh new band and a fresh new sound on their 2016 self-titled Sun King Warriors debut CD. Jim and his group – bassist Kent Tonkin, percussionists Harry Pepper and Bryan Fazio, drummer Joe Marini, guitarist Kevin McDonald and multi-instrumentalist Dan Murphy – up the energy and the ante on the follow-up, We See Through It. The group taps into a more vigorous, blues-rocking vein for most of the album’s 10 tracks, while preserving the world music essence of the debut CD and Jim’s work with Rusted Root. The performances are more confident, invested and even agitated, the overall sound is edgier, and the group even vents veiled social commentary. The primary vibe of the album is celebratory; the disc-opener “The Last Dance” is a bouncy, tropical-toned celebration of life’s cycle that offers encouragement to live each moment to its fullest while you can. Jim celebrates family several times on the album; expressing maximum excitement about his wife Tracey on “You Are My Everything,” which starts as a raucous Black Keys-toned romp before exploding into a hyperspeed finish. “Long Lost Friend” and “Love Is Right” both celebrate the realizations of love; the latter explores how love endures through thick and thin, with a heavy-rocking midsection bridging the song’s tranquil start and end. “You In My Arms” is Jim’s joyous ode to daughter Tupelo, who sings backing vocals along with Jim’s other daughter, Ella. Several songs celebrate personal discovery and the moment: “We Have Arrived” appreciates now, “Ahh. Can You Feel It?” revels in arriving in contentment, and the hard-rocking “Hey! Let It Be” applauds the triumph of conscience. Jim and the Sun King Warriors consider the current state of society and the world; the reggae-flavored title track “We See Through It” calls on listeners to ignore the voices that seek to divide, embrace each other and celebrate commonality as a unified people. The disc closes with the percussive “Elephants In The Room,” as Jim, Bryan and Harry bring three-plus minutes of booming, elephantine drum thunder. The performances are enthusiastic, vibrant and invigorating; listeners should immediately sense that this band had a blast putting this album together. The musicians give all here, from the constantly busy rhythms to Kevin’s hot guitar soloing, Dan’s harmonica wails and mandolin nuances to the rowdy gang-shout choruses that ring out in many of the songs. Contributions from notable guests – such as Jim’s aforementioned daughters and son Oliver, plus his former Rusted Root colleagues Liz Berlin and Jenn Wertz – both flesh out and elevate the sound. Produced, mixed and recorded by Sean McDonald at Pittsburgh’s Red Medicine Recording Studios, We See Through It rings out with brightness, fullness and excitement. We See Through It provides a joyous, heartwarming and fulfilling listen from start to end, and deserves to provide a happy soundtrack for summertime drives and outdoor picnics. This is a great-sounding, great-feeling album well worth checking out. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby and other online outlets.)

 

NAG CHAMPIONS MYSTERY BAND – EARTHWORKS (no label) Formed two springs ago by some seasoned musicians from the northern Cambria County music scene, the Nag Champions Mystery Band embarked on a rock music-based mission to “explore infinity while embracing the unknown.” That adventurous spirit permeates the dozen tracks of the group’s second CD, Earthworks. Deriving their name from a brand of incense (Nag Champa), the group’s core of singer, guitarist and harmonica player Derek Gresh, percussionist Ed Hofer and multi-instrumentalist Tim Homerski delivers a freewheeling, often improvisational mixture of sounds, spanning Americana folk and blues to psychedelia, tribal music, space rock, reggae and more. Several musical guests help them along the journey, including bassist Josh Yahner, guitarist C. Leo Bloomfield, and singers Kate Rhodes and Tina Gresh. Every song is different, and the diversity of flavors prevents this album from ever becoming redundant or boring. “Weary Mind’s Eye” starts the album off innocently enough, establishing a gentle, folksy, back porch vibe and words about yearning for tranquility. Guitar distortion then gives way to reggae on “Daylight Apparitions,” followed by straight-ahead rock on “Dust Dancers” and the folksy “Brown River Blues.” Nag Champions sonically explores the cosmos on the Hendrix-toned instrumental “Space Drifter,” and evokes Hawkwind-flavored space rock on “(Stuck On) Dream Time.” They dabble in Stones-geared blues rock on “Stone Hymns,” and lay down some Beatles “Revolution”-toned electric boogie on “Incognito.” “Jokers and Fools” explores mystic native American soundscapes, while the cavernous, percussion and flute-driven instrumental “Lost Mountain” taps shades of Andean tribal folk. The melodies are simple and catchy, and Derek sings the simple lyrical themes with a relaxed, unimposing presence. The instrumental numbers demonstrate plentiful improvisation as Nag Champions and their guests seize the moment and let their muse guide them. Self-produced by the band and recorded at Ed Hofer’s Hoffer Studio in Patton, Earthworks sounds balanced and clear, with instruments and improvisations sounding distinct in the mix. Earthworks reveals musical friends throwing caution to the wind and indulging their whims, resulting in an eclectic, intriguing listen. (The CD can be obtained through Nag Champions Mystery Band’s website, www.nagchampions.com.)

WHISKEY PIE – LIFESTYLES OF THE POOR & LONELY (Ridge Records) From Dubois, Whiskey Pie is the brainchild project of the father-and-son tandem of Paul and Brian McLaughlin. Their CD, Lifestyles of the Poor & Lonely, offers listeners a freewheeling, unpredictable journey that explores elements of delta blues, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, worldbeat and more. Whiskey Pie plus several musical friends jam, improvise, sing, talk and sample their way through eight unique and diverse numbers, letting their muses and imaginations guide the way. Launching the disc, the title track “Lifestyles of the Poor & Lonely” slinks along a creepy keyboard riff, setting the backdrop for spoken and sung passages comparing the have’s and the have-not’s. “The Ode to Jesse Custer” is a boisterous and distortion-laden bluesy tribute to a DC Comics character, a “barroom prophet” who is “saving souls and kicking ass.” Guest DJ Jerzymatic’s beats underscore the hip hop-flavored “Bizness as Usual,” while guests DJ Cramski, guitarist Mike Elementree and percussionist Tony LaConga construct an Afrobeat-flavored exercise on “Sweatshop Funk.” Paul describes the dark-toned blues waltz “Pines” as “Leadbelly on a cold day,” before the disc closes with “You Always Gotta Have the Last Word,” where Paul on flute, Brian on cajon and guest Miki Lynn on drums slowly escalate a cigarette break-inspired improv jam into an expansive, heated instrumental interlude. The performances and presentation are loose and informal, as it becomes clear that Whiskey Pie and their guests are letting hair down and having fun, and never taking this session too seriously. The mixture of styles and sounds – ranging between guitars, bass, drums and percussion, harmonica, flute and samples – makes each number its own self-contained adventure, with new nuances and curios revealed with repeat listens. Self-recorded, the sound quality is basic, varying between smooth and raw and capturing the musicians in the moment without polish or studio bells and whistles. Lifestyles of the Poor & Lonely makes for an interesting listening adventure, as Whiskey Pie and their musical friends throw caution and apprehensions to the wind, and deliver a freewheeling, free form set. (The CD can be obtained through Paul McLaughlin’s Facebook page.)

 

CD Reviews – May 2018

CHRIS BELL 100% BLUES – BAPTIZED BY THE BLUES (Silverbridge Records) “…I learned from the Bible and the belt” is testimony offered up by Chris Bell on the soulful opening song and title track of his latest CD, Baptized By the Blues. After exploring the Americana and country sides of his musical persona on his last album, Bell Countyline, Chris returns to indulge a variety of blues flavors over Baptized By the Blues’ 13 tracks. Blues provides the launching pad for Chris to explore a myriad of styles, and as a result, no two tracks here are the same. Chris explores familiar blues themes as well; struggling to make ends meet on the shadowy shuffle “Paycheck to Paycheck,” showing resilience on the jazzy blues of “Second Wind,” and cautioning about a hard part of town on the hard-rocking “Shantytown.” Alcohol isn’t enough on the folk/country-toned “Whiskey Ain’t Workin,’” life’s burdens overwhelm on the dark slow blues of “Elevator to Heaven,” and Chris states his lovin’ credentials on the Memphis-flavored “I’m Your Man.” Chris sings his words with grit, confidence and swagger, and he displays his string-bending skills prominently throughout the album with scorching solo work and creative use of tones and effects. He displays his dexterity on a broad range of other instruments as well, including bass, mandolin, piano, organs, harmonica, tambourine and drums. His melodies are strong and concise, and his arrangements build, surround and support each melody. Recorded, produced and engineered in State College by Chris, Baptized By the Blues sounds clean, crisp, busy and full. Baptized By the Blues, Chris Bell displays his credentials as a seasoned performer on this album, and delivers a strong, sturdy and edgy set. (This CD can be obtained through Chris’ Reverbnation page and CD Baby.)

ONE ADAM 12 – SOPHOMORE JINX (no label) As the title suggests, Sophomore Jinx is the second full-length album from Cambria County-based rock quintet One Adam 12. Their 2016 debut album, Earworm, introduced One Adam 12’s unique musical world, as the group blended elements of hard rock, metal, punk rock, surf rock, and horror movie-themed soundbytes and lyrics. That blend largely continues on Sophomore Jinx, at an overall faster clip. Punk-fueled rhythms drive many of the songs, courtesy of the powerful tandem of bassist “Mad Dog” Joe Stiles and drummer Brandon Adams. Lead singer Lloyd Rummell and Bill Stiles provide chugging guitar riffs and solo work; and as he did on Earworm, Tony Dostal’s timely use of soundbytes and digital effects add depth and mood to the songs. Lloyd’s distinctive, bold singing voice is front and center on each song; he sings about moving forward and not stagnating on the disc-opener “Stepping Out,” and continues that restless theme on the fast and boisterous “The More Things Change.” Lloyd exudes the joy of being abducted by a UFO on “Walking on the Moon,” and expresses the amorous hopes of Frankenstein’s monster on “Build Me a Bride.” One of the album’s most memorable moments is a tersely-framed montage of Jack Nicholson’s Col. Jessup rant from the film A Few Good Men, leading into the defiantly-themed rocker “Bullet Proof.” Kazoos help set the initial whimsical tone of the punchy “I’ll Wait,” and Lloyd gets inside the head of Jack the Ripper on the album-closer “Legendary.” One Adam 12 again shows their knack for strong, catchy melodies, as many of these tunes are serious threats to ‘earworm’ their way into your cranium after first listen. The performances are energetic and purposeful, and Lloyd’s power, range and clarity make each lyric understandable. With Brandon Adams handling the recording, mixing and mastering, the album sounds crisp and well-balanced, with instruments, voices and soundbytes coming through clearly. One Adam 12 strengthens their resume with Sophomore Jinx, a catchy, clever and captivating set well worth checking out. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s Bandcamp page.)

TUKURPA – HIDDEN BROKEN PIECES (Canadian American Records) First surfacing from the Harrisburg area a decade ago, Tukurpa has forged an intriguing career and musical approach. Named after a Hopi Indian word for an eternal dream world, Tukurpa blends a variety of musical angles, Hopi Indian philosophy and social commentary on their new full-length CD, Hidden Broken Pieces. The group’s longtime core of bassist Carl “Craig” Hancock, guitarist Matt Kramer and drummer Chris Arnold, plus more recent addition Jamey Reisinger on lead vocals, keys and violin, mix elements of hard rock, progressive, classical, folk and psychedelic rock into a captivating set that never stays in one place for too long. Jamey’s siren-like vocals and distinctive phrasing are front and center for much of the album, and her classical-styled piano frequently provides interesting contrast and counterpoint to Tukurpa’s hard-rocking tendencies. The songs are often elaborate, varying textures, tempos and intensities, and featuring cryptic lyrics, spoken word passages and more. Hard rock provides Tukurpa’s primary foundation, and the group displays their rock thunder on the disc’s opening trio of “Dream of Me,” “Leprechaun” and “Angel.” They generate a hard-rocking waltz on the domestic abuse-themed “Picture Frame,” and conjure a symphonic heavy metal flavor with the stern-toned “Sacrifice.” In a milder tone, Tukurpa worries about the planet’s future on “Wonder Why,” ponders relationship dynamics on “You Change – I Change,” and considers a tough decision on the disc-closing “Circumstance and Evidence.” For some different flavors, the group dabbles in Jewish klezmer music on “Happy Tune,” and channels 1960s-era psychedelia on “Blue Skies.” Tukurpa delivers nuanced performances throughout the album, and their attention to detail – both instrumentally and vocally – becomes apparent with repeated listens. Engineered by Marshall Deasy IV and Ken Matson, the disc sounds deep and clear. And coupled with conceptual sketched artwork on the cover, this album both sonically and visually provides plenty of mystique. Tukurpa demonstrates their unique artistry and vision on Hidden Broken Pieces, in the process establishing themselves as a rock band that defies labeling or convention, and pursues their own distinctive muse. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.tukurpa.com.)

 

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.)

CD Reviews – March 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.)

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.) 

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 CDBaby.com.)

 

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, www.callietomblin.com.)

 

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, www.cdbaby.com.)

 

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, https://fyretheband.bandcamp.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.) 

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.) 

CD Reviews – November 2017

JONAH WHALE – MOBIUS (Adamsapple Records) On the first track to Jonah Whale’s fifth full-length CD, Mobius; the intro to the song “I Put Down My Gun” bears some resemblance to the intro to the original Star Trek television series. Like that show intro beckons, Jonah Whale seeks out new sonic frontiers, and boldly goes where no artist has gone before over Mobius’ dozen tracks. The Bloomsburg-based artist crafts a distinctive, progressive-rooted hard rock sound; defined by booming, cavernous beats, industrial-strength guitar riffs and power chords, and topped by Jonah’s powerful voice and singing style that often channel peak-period David Bowie and Roger Waters. Melodies are key throughout the disc – Jonah shows a knack for captivating song hooks, inventive and tricky rhythms and time signatures, and intriguing lyrics and wordplays. “Break the Silence” uses such wordplays to suggest that science doesn’t have all the answers, and that we should teach future generations to be more open-minded and question what they see and hear. A clever word cadence helps power the message of the tough rocker “Live for Tomorrow,” to “crawl out of the wreckage” and move forward from life’s adversities. “Your Heart You Must Follow” also establishes an intriguing lyrical cadence in its theme of being true to oneself. Jonah generates a Bowie-esque upbeat cut-the-rug exercise with “Dance,” sings praise to all that life offers on “Hale to the King,” and expresses vulnerability on the confessional closer “Not Made of Stone.” Jonah sings this material with intensity and purpose, with vocal layering and harmonies complementing and elevating his presence throughout the set. The arrangements and instrumental execution are tight and precise, and the songs each stand strongly on their own while working together as a cohesive set. Written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Jonah at his Adamsapple Records home studio, Mobius sounds consistent, powerful and clear. Mobius shows that Jonah Whale clearly knows his musical turf, and offers a vibrant, captivating listen. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.jonahwhale.com.)

 

JACK PYERS – DEAD ON THE FLOOR (Sticky Records) Former Harpo and Dirty Looks member Jack Pyers got his acoustic feet wet on his 2015 album No Road Home, as he left his electric past behind and embraced the new frontier of acoustic guitar music. Pyers continues his acoustic journey on Dead on the Floor, and enlists the help of several musical guests to flesh out his song material. Bret Alexander on guitars, mandolin and dobro (he also produced the CD), Jeremy Hummel on drums and percussion, Mario Reggino on bass and Tom Martin on harmonica color and flavor each of the disc’s eight new songs, giving each a different mood and personality. To illustrate the impact of the additional musicians, stripped-down acoustic versions of seven of the songs follow the initial eight tracks on the album. The guests help give the opening track “She Said Okay” a driving country-rock twang, and busy rhythms and instrumentation give an urgent, exotic presence to “The Truth.” Martin’s harmonica accompaniment helps propel the title track “Dead on the Floor” into an uptempo blues-folk ride with an accelerated ending, while an escalating full-band arrangement helps elevate and emphasize the life-cleansing lyrical theme of “Let It Rise.” The anti-suicidal theme of “Can You Help Her” is shaped by a gentler, somber arrangement, while harder rock guides the deceit-born angrier mood of “Lies.” The song quality is stronger overall on Dead on the Floor, as Jack Pyers hones his songwriting skills and evolves more detailed song structures. Likewise, his singing shows more versatility and conveys more emotional impact. Bret Alexander’s production provides just the right touch to each song, enabling each to establish its own presence and stand apart from one another, yet work together as a cohesive entire set. Dead on the Floor displays Jack Pyers’ progress and development as an acoustic artist, and shows his rising comfort level with his current musical path. (The CD can be purchased through Jack Pyers’ website, www.jackpyers.com.)

JON SMITH’S VOYAGES – INDEED (no label) Reading native Jon Paul Smith plays no less than 15 different instruments on Indeed, the debut album from his solo project, Jon Smith’s Voyages. And Jon’s musical roots become quickly apparent over the course of the disc’s 11 tracks; he pretty clearly likes the theatrical and even psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and 1970s, channeling influences from ragtime-toned Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie and peak-era Queen into Jon’s own distinct musical persona. Jon implements guitars, pianos, horns, woodwinds, bass, drums, mandolins, accordions, ukuleles and more to craft his freewheeling sound, topped with a voice positioned somewhere between the theatric side of Bowie and the sarcastic side of John Lennon. Smith’s music is his playground, as he crafts catchy, often intricate melodies with unpredictable twists and turns. Scott Joplin, the Beatles and Queen collide head-on on the playful disc-opener “Excuse Me,” while the soulful side of David Bowie is channeled on “I’ll Get Around To It” with its words about youthful coming of age. Jon crafts a Ziggy Stardust Bowie-flavored acid burn on the hard rocking track “Heard It Over Yonder,” and even channels a Mott the Hoople flavor on “Reginald.” Fab Four-edged pop presides over “I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend,” while ragtime-styled horns merge with retro 1960s-geared songcraft on “Too Hot for Me.” A “Killer Queen”-flavored arrangement informs the delightfully quarky “Absurd,” while a more reserved Bowie vibe serves the suitable finale track, “Nothing Remains.” The song arrangements are clever, with instrumental change-ups keeping each track on edge and offering fresh nuances throughout the disc. Produced, mixed and mastered by Smith, Indeed sounds crisp and balanced, with all the instruments in his musical stew sounding clear and distinct. Jon Smith’s imagination, adventurism and fearless approach to his music makes Indeed a captivating listen, and – indeed – an impressive retro-flavored journey. (The CD can be obtained or digitally downloaded through Jon Smith’s Bandcamp page, https://jonsmithsvoyages.bandcamp.com.)

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, www.cdbaby.com.)

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, https://fyretheband.bandcamp.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/.) 

CD Reviews – October 2017

TED McCLOSKEY – LAST FLOWER STANDING (Voodoo Cat Records) Ted McCloskey has established himself as one of the state’s most prolific musicians, creating nine albums of original music in 15 years. On his ninth and latest album, Last Flower Standing, he continues to establish himself as a musical chameleon as well, as he mixes multiple flavors into the disc’s 14 tracks, again successfully defying categorization. Delta blues and Beatles-rooted pop provide prominent launching points throughout the disc, with rockabilly, folk, R&B and psychedelic flourishes also incorporated along the way. Ted’s knacks for catchy song hooks and smart lyricism are abundant here; the album follows a loose theme of flowers providing metaphors for lives and souls that bloom, fade, survive and die, and Ted also provides revealing snapshots of his own persona as well. The slow-building disc-opener “How Many More?” finds Ted drinking and smoking away a past memory, while the Americana-infused “The Presence of Your Absence” tries to come to terms with a sudden void, and the anguish of breakup is preferred over continuing a fractured relationship on the punchy “Rather Live with the Heartache.” Ted paints a colorful picture of a worldly woman on the gentle “A Flower in Madrid,” touts the durability of a “Little Rose,” and lets instruments and arrangement paint a sassy personality on the punchy instrumental “Violet Wilds.” Lost hope permeates the vibe on the darker-toned “Where Dreams Go to Die,” hard living renders its impact on the edgy “What Your Love Looks Like,” and trying to crack the codes to Ted’s soul will take some effort on the hard-edged “Bigger Bombs.” The songs are all distinct and compelling, with Ted’s melodies and wordplays providing constant highlights. Guest keyboardist Mark Daubert, fiddle player Daniel Collins and bassist/flute player Bob Hart all effectively color and tone these songs, and backing singer Molly Countermine adds just the right vocal accents to provide emphasis. By now, it’s pretty clear that McCloskey knows what he is doing behind the console, and his production brings his musical innovations and nuances to full fruition. Last Flower Standing offers another captivating snapshot of the musical mind and artistry of its creator, and adds another colorful chapter to Ted McCloskey’s stunning overall body of work. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.tedmccloskey.com.)

JIMMY ADLER – GREASE ALLEY (Sprucewood Records) Pittsburgh’s Jimmy Adler jumps, jives, wails, swings and frolics through the 13 tracks of his latest studio album, Grease Alley. Slinging guitar and singing, Jimmy takes a joyride through a myriad of blues-based styles, spanning New Orleans and swamp blues to jump blues, swing, Texas blues, R&B and more. He tapped the talents of some renowned blues musicians to help bring these original song creations to life; including Norwegian-born guitarist Kid Anderson (of Charlie & the Nightcats), who also recorded, mastered and produced the album at his Greaseland Studios facility in San Jose, California. Also assisting Jimmy are keyboardist Jim Pugh (of the Robert Cray Band), Charlie Musselwhite’s drummer June Core, and – now living in the San Jose area – his former saxophone player, Eric Spaulding. Jimmy sets the tone and honors two influences on the disc opener “Say It Like Magic Sam,” referencing T-Bone Walker and Chicago-based bluesman Magic Sam. Naw’lins is the prominent flavor of the title track “Grease Alley,” complete with Jimmy’s “Saints Go Marching In”-themed mid-song guitar solo. A more swamp-geared southern blues groove drives “Ease Me Down Slow” with its catchy call-and-response choruses, while Texas blues propels the morning after ode “Drank Too Much.” A clear highlight is “No Pain,” which showcases guest singer Chris Cain with his B.B. King-like growl; Cain’s guitar skills shine later on the disc during “What Will You Do.” The album’s most boisterous moments happen on uptempo romps such as the rockabilly-geared “I Can’t Wait,” “Cornbread and Lima Beans,” “Cordelia” and the Texas swing-driven disc-closer “Hoodoo Highway.” Providing the most sullen moment is the darker slow blues of “Love Was Worth These Blues.”And Jimmy taps a Memphis soul flavor on “Nine Behind” and “What I’ve Done.” Jimmy’s enthusiastic vocals and stellar guitar solo work both provide constant highlights through the album, as well as establish a continuous thread to tie this diverse set together. The performances consistently shine, and every song here is strong with no weak links. Kid Anderson’s production and guidance enables Grease Alley to sound vibrant and full, while staying firmly rooted in the traditional blues atmosphere. The result is a fun, uplifting blues album – Grease Alleygrooves and swaggers, and provides a lively listening experience well worth checking out. (The CD can be obtained through Jimmy’s website, www.jimmyadler.com.)

JONATHAN MONUMENT – WONDERKID (no label) Reading-based rock group Jonathan Monument expands the scope of their alternative-rooted rock sound on their third CD, Wonderkid. The group – founding members, singers and guitarists David Fick and Steven Balthaser, bassist/singer Matt Thren and drummer Josh Noel – mixes a variety of flavors into their hard-edged, guitar-driven sound. 1990s-era alternative serves as the foundation from which the group explores adventurous song structures and elements of punk, roots-rock, 1960s/70s pop and more. Jangly rockabilly is the driving force behind the fast-moving disc-opener “Mine,” while the group salutes Japanese surf-rock guitarist Takeshi Terauchi on the stormy surf instrumental “Takeshi.” The group mixes catchy melodies with muscle on punchy rockers like the title track “Wonderkid,” “Ne’er-Do-Wells” and an update of an earlier song, “What Lives in the Lake?” Jonathan Monument plays with intriguing chord structures and unexpected melodic twists and turns on “We Are the Children of Light” and “From the Sky,” and they tap 1960s-styled vocal arrangements on “Suzie’s Got a Shotgun.” The album ends with the expansive “Destroyer,” which begins with a dreamy Beatles-like passage that builds into a hard-rocking instrumental homestretch. The group’s performances are crisp and energetic, and former member and guest Jon Smith’s key accents and backing vocals flesh out the group’s sound in various places through the disc. Produced by the band, Frank Phobia and Mike Radka, Wonderkid sounds brisk and balanced, with the group’s voices, melodies and abrasive guitar edges all prominent. The result is another fresh-sounding effort; Wonderkid offers innovative rock that is edgy yet infectious, and shows Jonathan Monument’s further progression and adventurism. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s Bandcamp web page, jonathanmonument.bandcamp.com.)

 

CD Reviews – September 2017

BILL DEASY – TIMELESS THINGS (no label) Best known as the singer for Pittsburgh-based former national recording group The Gathering Field, Bill Deasy has built an impressive resume as not just a solo artist, but as a novelist as well. On his ninth solo studio album, Timeless Things, Bill again proves his ability to weave melodies, emotions and stories together into a captivating and listenable set. Bill taps the familiar American heartland folk-rock style, and applies his own personality and nuances to make that style his. Assisting Bill in this trek are the album’s producer, songwriter and Donora member Jake Hanner, who co-wrote several of the songs and plays drums; and guest performers Rob James of The Clarks on electric guitar, Noah Minarik (son of Clarks drummer Dave Minarik) on guitar, Anton DeFade on bass, and Clarks frontman Scott Blasey, Maia Sharp and Clark Slater on backing vocals. Opening the album, the vibrant title song “Timeless Things” celebrates the things in life that stay steady and constant while times and trends change. Darker in tone, “The Night Before” reflects on a farewell , while “Blood Red Moon” blends thoughtful observations about love with a shadowy sonic setting. Bill strikes reflective tones on the slower numbers “Then December” and the cavernous lament “I Stood Still.” Bill positions himself as a gambler in the acoustic-driven “Crapshoot,” and does some homecoming reminiscing on “1970s.” Layered guitars give a slight U2 vibe to “After All,” while the disc-closing “End of the Record Song” recalls Jackson Browne in tone, as Bill acknowledges the shifting of his creative mindset over the years. Consistent with his previous body of work, Timeless Things again reveals Bill’s thoughtful and literary lyrical style, and his ability to build deep and full-bodied arrangements to carry those words. His voice is warm and sincere, and he and his assembled cast of musicians give layers and textures to the songs. The album sounds consistent and cohesive, and flows like a steady brook. Timeless Things is yet another testimony to Bill Deasy’s songcrafting art, and is an album that reveals its depth and thoughtfulness over repeat listens. (The CD can be obtained through Bill Deasy’s website, www.billdeasy.com.)

 

13 SAINTS – CRUSHING COPPER (no label) Roaring out of Pittsburgh in 2016, 13 Saints delivers punch-in-the-jaw, unapologetic hard rock’n’roll on their 11-song debut album, Crushing Copper. Merging Rolling Stones bad-boy attitude with 1970s punk agitation, 13 Saints fire off fast, feisty, fist-raising, compact numbers with rebellious, reckless abandon lyrics. Guitarists Dave Buzard and Ernie Dirt and bassist Creep Newholland all share in singing duties, while drummer Chuck Shoulders (since replaced by Eric Corbin) provides the driving beats behind the songs. Smacking listeners in the mouth is the group’s calling card, the disc-opener “Deep,” which proclaims that this band is straightforward with their music and message, and doesn’t do deep song meanings. The group rebels against parents, authority and other control freaks on “Mother May I,” resolving to do things their own way. The high-powered “Evel Knievel” celebrates hard living, hard rocking and going for broke, while “Genius” proudly supports the rock’n’roll lifestyle and the ups and downs that come with it. In a bluesier vein, “Smile” tells listeners to take stock in being above ground each day instead of six feet below it, while “In My Head” gives a nod to southern rock tradition with some Allman Brothers-flavored guitar harmonies. The group updates the defiant rant “The Pledge,” which first appeared with Dave Buzard’s previous project, We Came From Space. 13 Saints delivers these songs with constant go-for-broke velocity; their execution is tight and their vocals appropriately edgy. Produced by the group, Crushing Copper sounds crisp and balanced, yet allows this band’s abrasiveness to radiate. The result is a satisfying, action-packed debut; 13 Saints’ Crushing Copper delivers a rowdy listen, and provides a suitable soundtrack for raising hell on a Saturday night. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.13saintsrock.com.)

MEDUSA’S DISCO – RIPE (ThoughtRock Records) It only takes a few seconds into “State of Mind,” the opening track to Medusa’s Disco’s third full-length CD, Ripe, to realize that this Lancaster-based foursome is anything but routine. Formed five years ago, Medusa’s Disco taps psychedelic-era hard and progressive rock roots and throws caution to the wind over Ripe’s nine tracks. The group – singers/guitarists Wynton Huddle and Hunter Root, bassist Ty Smith (recently replaced by Jason Shearer) and drummer Alex Aument – craft elaborate, adventurous and unpredictable musical adventures, and deliver them with feverish, go-for-broke intensity. Their tempo and chord shifts, variations in distortion and reverb, and often abstract lyrical themes bring to mind psychedelic stoner rock contemporaries like Queens of the Stone Age, classic rock adventurers like Led Zeppelin and Wishbone Ash, the quarkiness of Primus, and modern-day progressive rock adventurers like Porcupine Tree. Each track is its own journey, from the psychoanalytical ”State Of Mind” with its ever-changing intensities and nuances, to the erupting joyride “Twisted Dentist (Novocaine)” with its dental and mental metaphor, and the western tumbleweed-laced “Otherwise.” The group explores a 21st century schizoid King Crimson dynamic on “Atomic 7,” kicks up some surf with “Ode to SEEDS,” and gets their led out with the expansive ten-minute-plus finale “Beautiful Creature.” All four musicians show imagination and precision, yet boldly fire on all cylinders and hammer these compositions for all they’re worth. Huddle’s vocals never stay in one spot, intensifying from mild to hysterical without warning. While complex and busy, the melody lines of the compositions are solid and catchy. Produced by Huddle and David Patterson II, Ripe sounds balanced, crisp and deep, with creative use of reverb and distortion to supplement this group’s prominent retro vibe. This is a captivating, volatile musical adventure – Medusa’s Disco pushes their creativity to the brink with Ripe, resulting in an exciting joyride that will put listeners at the edge of their seats. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.medusasdisco.com.)