CD Reviews – June 2023

Stoneman - Heartbreaks (No Label)
Stoneman – Heartbreaks (No Label)

First founded in 2018, Philipsburg’s StoneMan took their name from the signature stone figures that populate Rockton Mountain near Interstate 80 and Route 322 in Clearfield County. On their seven-song debut CD, “Heartbreaks,” the group demonstrates its stone-solid brand of piano-driven rock. Two keyboard players – singer and pianist Steve Dixon and organist Rich Horton – provide the central keyboard thread of the group’s sound, alongside guitarist Nick Miller and drummer Jason Sopic. Steve and StoneMan’s co-founder, Shawn Inlow, share lead singing and chief songwriting duties. StoneMan’s musical world merges elements of rock, soul, blues, jazz and progressive elements, and the group shows a knack for captivating and intriguing songs. Steve fronts the album’s opening number, the edgy “I Guess You Would Know,” which channels the frustrations and anger of a bad relationship into an intense, unforgiving blues-rocker; Nick’s heated guitar solo work provides the slashing, finishing touches. In a milder vein, “Same Place/Different Time” looks at the passage of time and the wisdom gained through experiences and mistakes. Another blues-rocker, “What’s Good for You,” spits in the face of politician double-speak that professes what’s good for voters while intending the exact opposite; Nick’s heated guitar solos again pack additional sting into the number. “What Would You Do” juxtaposes youthful innocence and accrued wisdom along a relaxed, organ-underscored melody; while “Parkland” juxtaposes an upbeat, country-edged melody with cynical words about how nothing will ever be done about America’s mass shooting problem. StoneMan plays their music with heart and soul; Steve and Shawn pack feeling and expression into each note they sing. The instrumental arrangements support and bolster each melody with just the right blend of taste and edge. Recorded at Shawn’s performance venue (and StoneMan’s home base) The LaunchPad and at OTM Studio, and engineered by Adam Bell, “Heartbreaks” sounds full, balanced and dynamic. “Heartbreaks” provides an invigorating listen from start to finish, as StoneMan provides a potent blend of rock, soul, groove and edge. An excellent first chapter. (The album can be obtained and accessed through the website

FeltSideOut - Confessions EP
FeltSideOut – Confessions EP

From the York area, FeltSideOut’s beginnings date back to 1996. The group evolved its style of heavy metal, and issued a full-length album, “Inertia,” in 2021 through an independent record label. Their latest five-song EP, “Confessions,” shows FeltSideOut’s fierce yet melody-rooted brand of power metal. Lead vocalist and guitarist Jimi McClane, guitarist Tyler McClane, percussionist and keyboardist Gavin McClane, bassist Jimmy Williams and drummer Matt Graziosi (who departed the group in January, since replaced by Jason Hillegas) forge a focused, powerful sound. Jimi deftly shifts his vocal style between singing modes and volatile snarls, backed by a booming, full-force instrumental assault. Lyrically, all five songs are rooted in raw emotions stemming from life’s trials and tribulations, as well as the harsh realities of today’s music industry. Providing the bold and heavy start to the set, “Scrape” delivers the battle cry to fight through life’s obstacles and persevere. With its infectious melody and chorus hook, the rumbling “Broken Crown” dresses down greed and deception, while the heavy-throbbing “Everything” professes that past mistakes can still have consequences. FeltSideOut unleashes the aggression on “Awake,” displaying full velocity, ferocity and anger. The EP concludes with the somber-toned “White Lighter,” lamenting the passing of a trusted elder and maneuvering the world without that person’s guidance. FeltSideOut sounds strong and consistent through it all, solidly establishing their signature. Their melodies are direct and to the point, and the group’s overall firepower drives each song on target. Engineered and produced by John Sambrick and recorded at Thornwall Studio in Lancaster, “Confessions” sounds appropriately powerful, full, balanced and edgy. FeltSideOut convincingly establishes their turf and identity with “Confessions,” serving notice that they are a metal force to be reckoned with. (The EP can be accessed and obtained through digital online platforms.)

Memory Collector - Fear Dreams (No Label)
Memory Collector – Fear Dreams (No Label)

Altoona-based creator Sascha Frost established Memory Collector as his vehicle for exploring electronica and alternative-rooted sounds. He expands into some new musical turf on Memory Collector’s latest album, “Fear Dreams.” He continues along his experimental electronic and ambient path, but also dabbles in modern funk and dance flavors among the album’s 11 tracks. Most of the album is instrumental, with Sascha again composing, arranging and generating electronic-driven soundscapes that evoke moods and visions. The title track “Fear Dreams,” which opens the album, starts with a dark and foreboding sequence, before the rhythm track kicks in and drives the number’s plot forward, with side journeys and nuances surfacing along the way. “Scorpio Rising” picks up with another intriguing sequence and rhythmic backdrop for Sascha to explore. Next is a change of pace on the vocal number “Addicted,” as Toronto-based guest singer Gina Lee sings of the addiction and temptation of love along a punchy key-led funk and pop arrangement. Sascha himself sings on two numbers, his description of dream visuals as an “Upside-Down Mirror Image,” and on “We Drift Deeper,” which incorporates the lyrics of Motorcycle’s 2003 dance hit “As the Rush Comes.” The album’s remaining instrumental tracks all conjure their own sonic mystiques; including the rumbling presence of “Your Eyes Deceive You,” the syncopation of “Time Lord,” the spacey “We’re Already There,” the uptempo and danceable “Black Neon,” the busy and rhythmic “Torrent” and the sinister-toned closer “Bad Mantra.” Many of Sascha’s creations here are responses to his own dreams as he balances the elements of his life; the complexities of his compositions sound more invested, as he ups the ante with more nuances, ranging from melodic side journeys to more layering and busier soundscapes. The overall production and mix sounds crisp, clear and full. Sascha Frost elevates his art and channels his own emotions on Memory Collector’s “Fear Dreams,” delivering a moving and compelling set. (The album can be obtained through Memory Collector’s Bandcamp page, and accessed through online streaming platforms.)