By: Jim Price
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THE SNIPPED – TALES FROM THE WORKBENCH (Allegedly Records) Self-described “old guys playing punk rock music,” Altoona-based “dadcore” rockers The Snipped deliver more fire and fury on their second album, Tales From the Workbench. Now signed with independent record label Allegedly Records, The Snipped’s cast of singer and guitarist Mike Wax, lead guitarist Jeff Reid, bassist Frank Conrad and drummer Justin Burket churn out ten tracks of unapologetic, fast-firing, punk-driven rock. Concise melodies, go-for-broke playing and Mike’s gruff-edged howl abound as The Snipped tackles themes of current events, societal ills, reminiscence and fatherly advice. The disc-opener “Goddamn Shame” vents about today’s angry times and the circumstances that fuel them, while “Screens” rails against too much modern-day life wasted within computers and smartphones. These dads celebrate fatherhood with the hard-charging “The Mine,” which reveres fatherly sacrifice to provide a better life for a son. Several songs concern establishing one’s individuality and direction, such as the get-out-of-town rant “Distant,” the high-powered “No Direction” and the ignore-the-critics sentiment of “Be That Way.” The fast and furious disc-closer “Back in the Day” weighs past memories versus the present. The Snipped also includes one cover song, offering their slamming, crowd-pleasing update of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” This album provides constant action, as The Snipped keeps pedal to the metal; the pace is fast and the performances hearty and all-out. The song hooks snare your attention, and Mike’s vocals and the group’s harmonies consistently hit the bullseye. Mostly recorded by Andy Mathias at CatTree Studios (with drums recorded by Steve Holtz at RackBall Records), this set sounds sharp, balanced and full. These dads again school the young’uns on how punk rock is done; Tales From the Workbench shows that The Snipped’s brand of “dadcore” slams vibrant rock and rancor. (The CD can be purchased at the group’s shows, through their Bandcamp page and other online platforms.)
DON’T PANIC – DARK HORSE (no label) Founded in the Pocono Mountains in 2019, Don’t Panic has quickly gained popularity with their vibrant blend of pop, punk and rock’n’roll, strongly demonstrated on their second album, Dark Horse. Lead singer and guitarist Ted Felicetti wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s dozen tracks; flanking him are AJ Larsen on guitar, Keith Slader on bass and Anthony Paesano on drums. Channeling influences such as Bayside, Lit and Foo Fighters, Don’t Panic shows their own knack for catchy, quick-hitting song hooks, tight and energetic playing, and clear and crisp vocals and vocal harmonies. Setting the table is the album’s opening track, the boisterous relationship-in-trouble rocker “Watership Down,” co-written by Ted and Bowling For Soup frontman Jaret Reddick. Don’t Panic rocks with backbeat-driven numbers such as “Woe I” and “I Wish You Well,” and fast-firing rants such as “Fire Walk With Me,” the title track “Dark Horse” and “Final Thread.” Other serious earworm threats after first listen include the winding melody of “Ramona” and the driving “Broken” with its slight hints of classic Goo Goo Dolls. This album is all killer and no filler – these songs are direct and to the point, the arrangements are lean and mean, and Don’t Panic’s vocals and harmonies drive the arrow to the bullseye on each one. Engineered, mixed and mastered by AJ Larsen at Soundmine Recording Studio in East Stroudsburg, Dark Horse sounds sharp and full, allowing this band and their songs to achieve full punch. It’s easy to hear why Don’t Panic is a band on the rise – this group nicely bridges the gap between pop punk and straight-up-the-gut rock’n’roll here, and Dark Horse’s infectious variety of hard-rocking ear candy will make fans of high-powered rock’n’roll want to go back for more. (The album can be obtained through the group’s website, www.dontpanicofficial.com, and through their Bandcamp page.)
BOB RANDALL – THUNDERBIRD (Randall Productions) Based near Selinsgrove, Bob Randall has been creating country music for most of his life, and spent recent years exploring and experiencing the country scene in Nashville before returning to PA in 2019. Bob further defines his classic outlaw country style and sound through the 11 tracks of his seventh and latest album, Thunderbird. A multi-instrumentalist who plays acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo and fiddle; Bob frequently sings numbers about relationships gone sour and the ins and outs of love. Bob croons a sarcastic tone on the album-opener “Don’t Blame It On Me” with its message of reaping what you sow. He weaves a few tear-in-beer odes along the way; including his mission to soothe a broken heart on “Never Told Her Goodbye” (which resurfaces later in the album as “Telling Me Goodbye”), his story of a romance doomed by booze on “Fallen Angel,” his ballad of unrequited romance in “One Sided Love,” and his remembrance of love that could have been on “Throw It Away.” The album also has its brighter moments, such as the frisky title track “Thunderbird” and its story of mischievous young romance, the playful and observational “Girls,” Bob’s Johnny Cash and June Carter-flavored duet with Marla Kane called “Flames of Love,” and the whiskey-soaked love song album-closer “Whiskey Love Thing.” Bob also muses about the rigors of aging and the road life on “Little at a Time.” Bob sings his songs with a smooth voice and cadence, and he sounds confident and comfortable through it all. Helping flesh out the songs are steel guitar and electric guitar player Forrest Kerstetter, steel guitarist Reggie Duncan, bassist Tim Latshaw, drummer Styx Hooper, and bassist and guitarist Alexander Paul, who also engineered the recording. Produced by Bob and recorded at Double A Productions in Elysburg, Thunderbird captures Bob’s traditional country vibe, with his voice front and center in the mix and the various instrumentation providing strong support behind his melodies. It’s easy to hear that Bob Randall is in his wheelhouse on Thunderbird, and fans of old-school outlaw country will find this album a strong and rewarding listen. (The album can be obtained through Bob’s website, www.bobscountrymusic.com.)
BREE GEARHART – CAMP LIGHTS (no label) Hollidaysburg’s Bree Gearhart first surfaced on central PA stages a decade ago as a guitarist and backing singer with the band Rain Must Fall. But as the group eventually separated, Bree emerged as a prolific songwriter and solo artist; releasing seven albums since 2015 plus various EP’s and singles, and sharing her music on stages from throughout Pennsylvania to Florida. Her latest album, Camp Lights, shows Bree’s obvious gift of songcraft over seven original compositions. Recorded both at her home studio and under camp lights at her camper in Schellsburg, Camp Lights was developed as Bree weathered the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic and its shutdown, and the album’s songs follow themes of hope, personal growth, love and matters of the heart. With its layered vocal harmonies, “Cabin on Clark” begins a lyrical journey toward hope and leaving emotional baggage behind. That journey sets into motion on “So Long for This Ride,” and Bree resolves to take stock and make the best of rainy days on “Dark Cloud.” Going from the isolation of COVID life to the tranquility of being alone in nature, the songs “On Your Sleeve” and “I Just Want You to Know” thoughtfully express the pleasure of personal space while still feeling love and connection. Also thoughtful, “Closer to the Edge” embraces new possibilities while leaving limitations behind. And the album closer “Reasons” realizes that there are methods to life’s madness, and time can reveal life’s silver linings. Bree’s clear, soaring and expressive voice makes these songs shine, and her cadence comfortably works along her crisp and solid acoustic guitar accompaniment. The simplicity of her guitar-and-voice arrangements allows the hearts of these songs to radiate, and her production is clean, full and direct. Camp Lights shows Bree Gearhart’s continued growth as a songwriter, singer and artist; and her heartfelt presentation and thoughtful themes make this a rewarding listen. (The album can be purchased through Amazon, and accessed through other online platforms.)