CD Reviews – April 2019

JESSICA GRAAE – BLUE HEART (no label) Born in the nation’s capital but now calling Philadelphia home, classically-trained singer and songwriter Jessica Graae has evolved her distinctive style of folk-based music over the course of three albums; winning regional music awards and performing at established venues and festivals along the way. Jessica’s latest album, Blue Heart, offers nine acoustic-rooted songs that often explore issues of the heart and soul. Jessica plays acoustic guitar plus mandolin and shruti (an Indian bellow-based instrument), accompanied on several songs by Art Cohen on electric guitar and Michael G. Ronstadt on cello. Her guitar style is graceful yet straightforward, and she sings with a gentle, delicate, siren-like croon. Jessica’s words lean toward thoughtful and reflective themes; the melancholy album-opening title track “Blue Heart” explores issues that weigh heavily on the heart, such as troubling words and past mistakes. The wistful “Winter Is Breaking” juxtaposes the onset of cold weather with cold emotions and issues of the heart. With its cello accent, the story song “The Sailor and the Angel” suggests an English folk ballad feel, while “Keep You Safe” ponders physical and emotional security. The somber “Words on Fire” explores words said and unsaid as an emotional release, while “Not Meant for You” weaves a tale of the tragic consequences of a youth’s curiosity. In a more playful vein, Jessica sings a whimsical story of a barnyard romance on the disc-closer “Chicken Dance.” Jessica generates captivating melodies and song hooks throughout the album, and the simple, stripped-down arrangements allow those melodies to emerge front and center. Produced by Jessica and Art, and recorded at Alpenhof Studio in Media, Blue Heart sounds clear and radiant, enabling Jessica’s pristine voice and gentle guitar tones to shine through. Blue Heart showcases Jessica Graae’s gifts for songcraft and lyrics, and provides a rewarding glimpse into her musical world. (The album can be obtained through online retailers, or through Jessica’s website,

BLACK WATER GREED – CIRCLE OF SIN (no label) Since their beginnings in 2010, York and Lancaster County based group Black Water Greed has evolved a melody-geared hard rock sound, culminating in their first full length CD, Circle of Sin. Currently singer Michael Mundy, drummer J.J. Tyson and guitarist Andy Patzer; Black Water Greed’s sound is rooted in classic-flavored hard rock, featuring effective song hooks, cogent lyrics, and strong vocals and harmonies to bring them across. The group runs the gamut from edgier and aggressive rockers to expressive and heartfelt ballads. The disc-opener “Till Death Do Us Part” shows a driving ‘80s-rock edge reminiscent of Dokken or Def Leppard, while the thundering “Am I Closer” contemplates staying the course against adversity. Black Water Greed displays a knack for power ballads, evidenced by the sullen “One Last Time” with its theme of dealing with personal loss, and “Walk Away” with its words about leaving a toxic relationship situation behind. Perhaps the disc’s strongest highlight is the patriotic-themed “21 Shells ‘Say Goodbye,” saluting America’s fallen soldiers. Black Water Greed tackles angrier social commentary as well, with the title song “Circle of Sin” venting on political corruption, while “Crude Awakening” lashes out at power and greed pushing society to the edge. The performances are energetic and tightly executed, giving the songs a sense of urgency. Michael Mundy displays a solid and rangeful voice, with two and three-part harmonies adding depth and emphasis. Produced by the group and David Mobley, Circle of Sin sounds balanced, crisp and polished, enabling Black Water Greed’s musicality and songwriting chops to fully shine. The result is a strong debut album; Circle of Sin introduces Black Water Greed as a band with the total package of good songs, vocal and instrumental chops, and meaningful lyrics. Fans of strong, melodic hard rock will find plenty to savor here. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby and other online music retailers.)

STEVEE WELLONS BAND – BORN TO BLUES (no label) Pittsburgh’s Stephanie “Stevee” Wellons has been performing for more than 25 years, entertaining audiences from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas. On her self-named band’s latest album, Born to Blues, Stevee and her band run the gamut of blues styles and flavors over seven tracks. Backed and flanked by her Soulful Femme duo partner and guitarist Cheryl Rinovato, keyboardist Steve Binsberger, bassist Jimmy Spears and drummer Allen Muckle; Stevee takes listeners on a freewheeling journey that twists and turns toward joyous and feisty highs, moody lows and multiple vibes and feelings in between. The album starts playfully with the mischievous upbeat blues of “Trouble,” before Stevee gets spunky and sassy on the defiant “Don’t Make You My Boss.” The group turns it slow and somber, ripping at the soul on “Bed and a Bottle,” spotlighted by back-to-back solos from Steve and Cheryl. Another highlight is the title track “Born to Blues,” which steadily evolves into a powerful blues thunderstorm highlighted by Steve’s driving homestretch organ work. The disc closes with two covers, as Stevee and bandmates give a heartfelt rendering of Tony Joe White/Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” before the hard-edged and rowdy finale take on Elmore James’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin.’” Front and center, Stevee leads the show here with her lively voice and singing style, displaying personality, vocal range and swagger. Her band is tight and talented, with Cheryl’s guitar and Steve’s keyboards achieving a nice balance to help drive the sound along Jimmy and Allen’s rhythms. Several guests help along the way, including guitarist Ian Arthurs, bassist George Elliot and drummers Bill Taylor and Joe Pinchotti. Recorded at Corbriwood Studios in Gibsonia and recorded, produced, mastered and mixed by Lee Marks, Born to Blues sounds smooth and full, and the mix allows this group’s heart and soul to radiate brightly from start to finish. Blues and blues-rock connoisseurs should gravitate toward Born to Blues, and experience the musical chops, excitement and attitude of the Steve Wellons Band. (The CD can be obtained through the Stevee Wellons Band’s website,