CD Reviews – July 2021

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VAN WAGNER – RAP IS FOLK (no label) As explained on the back of the CD cover, “Rap is folk. Folk music is the music of the people. It’s created on porches, in living rooms, around campfires, and wherever people gather and share life experiences as music. Rap is folk.” Inspired by one of his students at Danville Area High School; renowned singer, songwriter and educator Van Wagner steps outside of the box and explores rap and hip-hop frontiers as a form of folk music on his latest CD, Rap Is Folk (which is dedicated to the high school graduating class of 2021). Merging his voice, guitar, banjo, harmonica and mandolin with beats and bass by young colleagues Trace Cassidy and Ethan Weader plus harmony vocals by Haley Berge, Van generates an intriguing blend of rap passages, melodies and beats with traditional American instrumentation over the album’s 11 tracks. The results are not as awkward as some fans of Van’s musical catalog might expect; this is easily listenable and engaging, as the musical merger is smooth-sounding and catchy, and Van’s words are insightful, educational and even amusing. Van explores his premise of rap music’s folk heritage on the title track “Rap Is Folk” which opens the album; this track sets the tone for this unique musical adventure. “One in the Same” promotes unity and connectivity among people, while the soulful “Behind the Mask” references the year of COVID, with masks symbolizing our distancing from not just the world but our own inspirations and aspirations. With accents of banjo blending with digital beats, “Coal Cracker” explores Van’s unique path from working the mines to writing the rhymes. Hinting a slight throwback to Everlast’s 1998 single “What It’s Like,” Van encourages listeners to be themselves on the acoustic-driven “Be Real” with its infectious chorus hook payoff. Van shares the thrills of this latest creative venture on “Wicked House,” weighs in on digital currency with “Crypto,” raps about Susquehanna river rafting on “Roll On,” and even tips his hat to bowling on the album-closer “Set em Up Knock em Down” – because as he muses, “There’s not enough songs about smashing the pins.” Van as a rapper is calm, cool and collective, and his rhymes are clever and intelligible. The beats and backdrops move and groove, and the harmony vocals and several sound effect samples work well with the rhythms and melody lines. The overall sound of the album is crisp and consistent, with all components of this mixture sounding clear and full. Van Wagner’s first foray into rap music provides a fun, interesting listen to the open-minded – Rap Is Folk effectively establishes its premise of rap as part of the folk tradition – and likely also marks the first time that names such as ‘Shickshinny’ and ‘Centralia’ have entered the rap music lexicon. (The album can be purchased through Van’s website,

BAD LUCK LOVER BOYS – LETTERS TO EMILY (no label) First formed in 2017, Bedford-based rockers Bad Luck Lover Boys introduced their fledgling pop-punk rock sound on an initial self-titled EP in 2018. The group has since honed their chops and songwriting skills, leading to their first full-length album, Letters to Emily. Singers and guitarists Chris (Diehl) Scott-Ranson and Matt Godissart, singer and bassist Adam Lingenfelter and drummer and singer Brad Hengst generate 11 infectious, punk-fueled anthems here, chock full of simple and catchy song hooks, punchy performances and often witty lyrics about life, love and parties gone awry. With its “Shut Up”-punctuated choruses, the fast-firing album opener “In One Day” expresses a day’s confusion and chaos, and how a given day can veer off course. The Green Day-toned “Somewhere Girl” adores a gal who has her act together (an acoustic version of the song appears at album’s end as a bonus track), while “Movie Song” celebrates the cinematic qualities of another, and “Cory’s Hangover” documents party misadventures and romances. Adam Lingenfelter’s gruff growl fronts two songs here; “London Fog” and its dress-down of clueless people, and “Internal Monologue” with its mental wanderings about the direction of a relationship. Bad Luck Lover Boys deliver a strong set here; the tunes are catchy and the hooks hang in your cranium long after you hear them. Their instrumental performances are solid and freewheeling in the best pop-punk tradition, while Chris and Adam both show decent voices in their respective fronting roles. The group never takes things too seriously here, and keeps the album fun from start to end. Recorded at Soundwave Studios in Bedford, and mixed and mastered by Cody Hoover, Letters to Emily sounds clean, balanced and full, with everything sounding clear in the mix. Bad Luck Lover Boys provide quality punk-rocking ear candy with Letters to Emily, a fun listen that further establishes this group’s musical turf and shows clear forward momentum. (The album can be obtained through Amazon and other online music platforms.)

ANDY MOWATT’S FREQUENCY MOVEMENT – SYMPHONIC FUNK BOX (no label) Lancaster-based guitarist, singer, bandleader and musical adventurer Andy Mowatt continues to explore musical frontiers with his latest project, Andy Mowatt’s Frequency Movement (AMFM). With a roster of 24 musicians including 12-person string contingent, AMFM’s latest album, Symphonic Funk Box, blends together symphonic elements with funk, jazz and rock flavors over 11 tracks. The majority of the album is instrumental, as Andy and his cast craft catchy melodies, punchy tempos and rhythms, inventive blending of instruments and more. Drums and a cowbell rudiment lead off the album-introducing passage “Booth Yazz,” generating a retro-like jazz-funk vibe. One of three vocal numbers, “Back It Up” establishes a punchy groove and infectious chorus hook right off the bat, accented with Andy’s talkbox effects along the way. Symphonic strings usher in the slower jazz-funk exercise “Mainline,” followed by the guitar and key-propelled vocal jazz-rock number “Time.” “Pounder” delivers a robust, funk-driven rock groove, while the horn section gets a workout on the punchy funk of “Good Luck With That.” AMFM indulges their explorative side with “Power Outlet,” shifting between varying rhythms and instrumental textures, before the group steps up the tempo on “Prove It.” Perhaps the most intriguing number here is “Golden Hour,” which builds from a symphonic-flavored beginning into a slow and strong vocal number with horns, keys, strings and guitar establishing depth, before the number resolves back to a string section ending. Also included is one cover song, as Andy’s gentle guitar melody evolves into a symphonic-backed instrumental version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” Produced and arranged by Andy, the music of Symphonic Funk Box radiates from start to end. The instrumental arrangements and execution are dazzling, and these numbers exude bright tones and virtuosity. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Mike Washkevich at MDW Productions in Harrisburg and Bobby Gentilo at Right Coast Recording in Columbia, this album sounds crisp and vibrant, with the various instrumental colors shining brightly throughout the set. This is a fun album – AMFM’s Symphonic Funk Box provides a rousing listen that will get you grooving in your seat, and likely rising from that seat to establish your own ‘frequency movements’ throughout the room. Good stuff! (The album can be obtained through Andy’s website,, his Bandcamp page and other digital platforms.)

THE FILTHY LOWDOWN – EL ACCIDENTÉ (No Pants Records) The Filthy Lowdown has been slamming forth their brand of punk rock-flavored aggression from the Pittsburgh scene since 2010. Their second full-length CD, El Accidenté, finds the quintet cranking on all cylinders with their high-velocity, thrash metal-powered punk attack. Lead guitarist Brandon Habera, rhythm guitarist Max Snyder, bassist Charlie Kowalski and drummer Dan Kelly storm forth with reckless abandon rhythms and torrid, snarling guitars, setting the backdrop for frontman Abraham “Abe Like Lincoln” Balestra to sing, snarl and shout his words with vein-popping intensity. After the prelude of a recording studio dispute gone awry, the disc-opening track “Mischief” slams out the gate and sets the album’s torrid pace, with Abe emphatically roaring that mischief is who he is. Party mayhem abounds on the speedster “308,” and dead-end job woes inform Abe’s rants on “No Ambition” and “Don’t Wear Yourself Thin.” The Filthy Lowdown shows a roots-rock vibe on the south-of-the-border adventure “Tijuana Chronicles,” which sets up for the sequel song, the fast and furious “Somebody Hit Somebody” as all hell breaks loose south of the border. “Sex Owl” and “Cheap Cars Fast Women” celebrate wild people and wild times, while “I Am Rock N’Roll” and “Punk Punch N’Roll” extol the virtues of making music and being oneself. Slamming the album homeward, the radio single “Hydroplane” waxes introspective about life skidding out of control, while “Twisted Minds” ponders others who have lost control and a lot more. Adrenalin carries the day on El Accidenté, as The Filthy Lowdown is pedal-to-the-metal all the way. This band slams for broke, yet keeps it together and on target. Frontman Abe is equal to the task and rages with the best of them. Yet he and band never take themselves too seriously, and coupled with decent song hooks and gang shout choruses, make this a wild yet fun set from start to end. (You can obtain the album through The Filthy Lowdown’s Bandcamp page.)