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NORMAN NARDINI – NOTORIOUS (no label) With seven decades of life and five decades of music-making under his belt, “Pittsfield, Pennsyltucky” legend Norman Nardini has a lot of stories, memories, thoughts and wisdom to share. He expresses some of them on the ten songs of his latest album, Notorious. Norman is front and center on lead vocals and guitar, helped by his longtime bass player Harry Bottoms, keyboard and sax man Larry Siefers, drummer and percussionist Brice Foster, Bubs McKeg on backing vocals and several guests. Norman offers wisdom about living life to its fullest on the hard-rocking opening track, “Life,” before he celebrates the life and legend of Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente on the Caribbean-toned “Ole Number 21.” Norman takes stock in the world and its beauty on the gentle and soulful “Wonder,” and celebrates the influence and impact of his father on “The Tree,” featuring accordion accompaniment from guest Lamont Samuels. He recalls the poise and integrity of western film hero “Josey Wales” on a rocking ode by that name, and ponders the ingenuity and wisdom of America’s founding fathers on the gospel-edged “What It Is.” Norman displays his lyrical storytelling skills on two numbers, weaving a tale about bad guys on the hard-rocking “The Devil,” and fleeing from a bad gal on the soulful and slinky “Girl With A Gun.” Norman acknowledges his struggle for respect and recognition in his own hometown on “Pittsburgh, PA,” and declares his resolve in the face of naysayers and backstabbers on the album closer “The Horse.” Norman sings his words with gusto and sincerity, and his go-for-broke personality radiates throughout the album. The songs themselves are strong, distinctive and well-executed, and Norman’s seasoned cast of players give sharp performances. Produced by Norman and Brice and recorded at Norman’s East Side Sound, Notorious sounds balanced and solid, edgy and hearty. Notorious is the sound of a seasoned sage and storyteller, and Norman Nardini delivers one of his finest sets of “Real. Manful. Music.” yet. (The CD can be obtained through Norman’s website, www.normannardini.com.)
PIECES OF REASON – BIPOLAR (no label) Philadelphia’s Pieces Of Reason came together when the group’s members – lead singer and guitarist Mike Lang, lead guitarist and singer Pat Rooney, bassist Mark “Dust” Shouldis and drummer Johnny Bowers – tired of playing cover songs. Their attention to original music has resulted in the group’s debut album, Bipolar. The album title is a reference to the range of styles that informs the group’s overall sound. Hard and alternative rock are parts of that equation, as well as funk flourishes and progressive elements. Through the album’s 11 tracks, Pieces Of Reason shows a knack for clever song melodies and structures, busy rhythms, intriguing guitar riffs and stinging solos, all topped with Mike’s varied vocal attack, which can go from mild to wild and intensities in between. Many of the group’s songs are based on personal themes and experiences. The 6-minute-plus opener “Waiting” concerns the cycle of anger and anguish associated with a tumultuous relationship; the song displays a complex arrangement with hints of Avenged Sevenfold and Incubus. The turbulent and circular “Be The Man” examines inner personality battles, while the funk-driven rocker “Sobriety” dissects the inner struggles of substance abuse. The dark and elaborate “The Cost” deals with the gradual loss of a loved one, while the erupting and thunderous “It” ponders the curve balls life throws at us. The driving title song “Bi-Polar” channels a Nirvana flavor, while “And I Know” and “Punk” aggressively rock the album homeward. Pieces Of Reason executes their material well, and their busy song material comes off tight and together. Produced by the band plus engineer Neil Gibbs and recorded at Sunlight Studios in Perkasie, Bipolar sounds sharp and straightforward, with the group’s cutting edge not dulled by studio gloss. The result is a strong album; Pieces Of Reason delivers an impressive opening salvo with Bipolar, and introduces their compelling blend of hard-hitting rock and musical ingenuity. (The album can be obtained through the group’s website, www.piecesofreason.com.)
LITTLE BUDDY – BLUE ZASU (no label) For more than two decades and six albums, Little Buddy has carved his niche in the southeastern PA blues and rock scene. He and his band’s latest CD, Blue Zasu, offers 10 tracks of smoldering blues, blues-rock, funk and other flavors. Little Buddy (a.k.a. Johnstown native Mark Kormanik) sings and slings guitar, assisted by Ken McCoy on saxophone, Tom Webb on drums and Anton Marc Clockson on bass. Blues is the prominent foundation throughout the album, starting with the funky and sassy R&B opener “What You Gonna Do?” Slow blues is the flavor on “Made Up My Mind,” as Little Buddy resolves to embrace love and better times. He laments a relationship going sour on the lowdown bluesy soul of “Lifelong Dream,” and dreads the middle of February on the brooding “(No) Buddy’s Valentine.” Little Buddy devotes himself to a musical love on “Her Name Is the Blues,” and steps up the tempo on the bluesy boogie of “Nelly.” He also fires off hard-edged funk on “All About You,” and dabbles in Caribbean tones with “Reggae Chet,” with Ken’s saxophone and Tom’s varied percussion taking the spotlight. The album also features two instrumental workouts, the rockabilly-driven “Straightaway” and the Texas-styled blues stormer “Dynamite Sandwich.” Little Buddy sings with heart and emotion, and makes listeners feel all the joy and despair he conveys. He dazzles on the guitar strings, and his band executes these songs with optimum groove and swagger. Produced and recorded by Steve Puffer at Parallel Productions in Lancaster, this album sounds crisp and full, with Little Buddy and his sidemen all sounding clean and distinct in the mix. Blue Zasu continues to establish Little Buddy’s strong and feisty brand of blues-based music, and provides a stirring, satisfying listen. (The CD can be obtained through Little Buddy’s website, www.littlebuddy.rocks.)
GARY CARL – THE WHOLE NINE YARDS (no label) A multi-instrumentalist who played in a variety of Scranton area cover bands, Gary Carl developed his songwriting skills along the way. Those skills eventually culminated in three albums with Gary’s original rock band endeavor Jakesway, and more recently in his own solo career. On his third solo CD, The Whole Nine Yards, Gary has forged a distinctive style of country and country-rock over the course of a dozen tracks. His melodies are tight and infectious, and he sings with a sturdy voice as he muses about themes of life, love, music and persistence. Gary reflects on his father’s truck on the album-opening “Ol’ GMC,” setting the rustic tone for the set. Fleshed out with banjo and keys, “Building an Empire” offers wisdom about being humble; while the uptempo hoedown title track “The Whole Nine Yards” offers a lesson on learning from life’s hardships. Gary channels a slight 1950s doo wop flavor on the romantic “Kiss Me in the Morning, and sings of not throwing in the towel on love on “Another One More Try.” On “The Pencil and the Paper,” Gary offers some philosophy on the mystery of song lyrics, and he comes to grips with aging on the disc-ending “Quarter Life Crisis.” Gary’s voice sounds steady and stalwart throughout the album, and his presentation is comfortable and confident. A cast of musical friends contribute various instrumental talents, including guitars, bass, drums, fiddle and keyboards; all nicely fill and color the sound of each track, and lend further consistency to this album as a whole. The arrangements give each song depth and distinction, and each song stands solidly on its own. Recorded, mixed and mastered at SI Studios in Old Forge, this album sounds clean, smooth, balanced and full; Gary’s voice is front and center, and the instrumental contributions sound distinct and work well in the mix. The Whole Nine Yards further establishes Gary Carl’s credentials as a songwriter and country artist, as he demonstrates his gift of crafting melodies, meaningful lyrics and pleasant moods. (The CD can be obtained through Gary’s website, www.garycarl.com, and through online music retailers.)