CD Reviews – December 2018

TED McCLOSKEY & MOLLY COUNTERMINE – BAGGAGE & BLOODLINES (Voodoo Cat Records) Both Ted McCloskey and Molly Countermine have created and performed on Centre County stages for years; in separate projects, together in Maxwell Strait and often in Ted’s current band, the Hi-Fi’s. On Baggage & Bloodlines, the two musicians pool their songwriting and performance talents into a thoughtful, captivating mixture of folk, rock and blues. The disc’s 11 tracks dig deeply into melancholy themes of personal baggage and darker emotions, particularly surrounding relationships gone awry and their subsequent scars. Ted does the bulk of the songwriting, while Molly’s voice brings a soft-spoken presence and conscience to those words. She expresses emptiness and longing on the blues-toned disc-opener “Really Miss Your Rain,” and yearns to leave her past further behind on “Spitting Image.” Time heals all wounds, but Molly sings of restlessness with the length of that healing process on “Long Live Low Tide,” and longs for an end to lengthy emotional pain and angst on “Whatever God Eases the Pain.” In a slightly more upbeat vein, “Hungry Ghost” expresses the desire for satisfaction and asserting one’s identity. Ted explores emotional pain on two of the songs he voices; questioning someone’s emotional mask on “So Much Later Than Before,” and exploring the psychological scars of an abusive childhood on “Far Too Young.” Two songs hint at current societal pains; “Fly, Fly, Fly” channels a ‘Me Too’ theme of a woman’s escape from abuse and repression, while the bluesy disc-closer “Punch Holes in the Darkness” fights to shatter the dark cloak of hatred, bigotry and ignorance that grips much of our society and world. The songs ride compelling melodies and mostly stripped-down arrangements that enable the words to fully connect. Produced by Ted, the album sounds cohesive and clear, and its stripped-down simplicity lets the performances do the talking. Baggage & Bloodlines is an alluring and relatable album, as Ted and Molly sort through baggage of the soul. (To obtain the CD, visit Ted McCloskey’s website,

SHANE SPEAL & THE SNAKES – STAY PRIMAL (no label) The “King of the Cigar Box Guitar,” York’s Shane Speal, is back with his latest project, Shane Speal & the Snakes. Their album, Stay Primal, stays primal over 11 tracks as it taps into raw, early blues and folk for influence and inspiration. Fronting the group with his hearty growl, Shane wields an assortment of cigar box guitars, along with mandolin, bass, washboard and more. Assisting him are Farmer Jon on washtub bass, Derick Kemper on harmonica and Rick Stepina on percussion and cajon. Most of the songs are written or co-written by Shane, with the lone exception of the disc’s opening track, a spirited rendition of Jimmy Witherspoon’s “Drinkin’ Beer,” which sets a fun tone for the album with rowdy gang shout choruses. The songs are varied, interesting and topical; on the lighthearted “Hard Times and Cigarettes,” Shane likens a relationship to a multitude of connected items, referencing such things as “slipknots, gallow’s poles and broken necks” and “pencils and old cassettes.” With a slight nod to the Rolling Stones, “Miss Treater” spins a tale of domestic revenge, while the stern “Rehmeyer’s Hollow” documents a 1920s York County murder case, using a mixture of spoken narratives. Shane precedes the simple and folksy “Dance” by recalling the unnamed dance-happy York woman who inspired the song, and he laments the aging and domestication that has relegated him to riding a mower, wearing tube socks and driving a family vehicle on the bluesy “Minivan.” And Shane and the Snakes mix gypsy and New Orleans musical flavors on “Everybody Get A Rock,” which incorporates the popular “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The performances come across as sounding loose, fun, and enjoyable for Shane and the Snakes to create, and they never take things too seriously here. Recorded at assorted studios in the York area, Stay Primal sounds stripped down, basic and authentic, capturing the vibe of early back porch-styled blues and roots music. This is a fun listen; Stay Primal mixes jug band dynamics with gusto and wit to yield a satisfying set. (The CD can be obtained through Shane Speal’s website,

AFRAID OF HUMAN – AFRAID OF HUMAN (no label) Formed in 2014, Warren-based quintet Afraid Of Human demonstrates their brute-force, heavy rock/metal sound on their self-titled full-length CD. Lead singer Jimmie Botto, guitarists Brandon Kulp and Michael Key, bassist Dusty Huff and drummer John Grimm channel classic and nu-metal flavors over the album’s 11 tracks, delivering a heavy rocking sound rooted in the power metal traditions of Metallica and Pantera, as well as nu-metal practitioners like Godsmack and Breaking Benjamin. Jimmie provides a strong voice up front that displays range and touches of rage, and the rest of the group renders tight and forceful rhythms. The songs blend a variety of hard-hitting angles, along with alluring hooks, concise rhythms and instrumental precision. The charging disc-opener “Through the Lies” sets the tone with a stern melody, effective vocal harmonies and shredding guitar work. The group shows a Godsmack/Metallica-styled roar and furvor on the rampaging “Gut Check,” and channel a Bullet For My Valentine-geared fury on the haunting “Ghost in the Shadows.” Afraid Of Human unleash all-out aggression on the dark and punishing “Walk With Me” and the thrash-driven “Repercussions of War.” The group explores slower and more melodic terrain on “The One” and “From the Ashes,” and ventures into rowdier turf with the swaggering “Now You Know” and the party-hardy rocker “Livin’ It Up.” Afraid Of Human fires on all cylinders throughout the album and their execution is confident and on target. Produced by Anthony Brown and recorded at Graphite Sound Studio in Warren, this album sounds appropriately thunderous and balanced, and the group’s toughness and sharp edge are clear and prominent. Afraid Of Human delivers an impressive statement with this self-titled album, and establishes themselves as a heavy-hitting force worthy of attention. (The album can be obtained through the group’s website,