CD Reviews – Oct. 2019

BOB RANDALL – OUTLAW (Double D Productions) Based along the Susquehanna River south of Selinsgrove, Bob Randall has been writing country songs since his youth. Now 74, Bob follows the country outlaw tradition on his latest CD. Outlaw. Bob crafts simple, catchy and relatable numbers with a style rooted firmly in country’s old school greats such as Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. Bob plays guitars and dobro, while singing with a rugged yet rustic voice. Several musical friends help him along the way; among them Alexander Paul (who co-produced the album with Bob), Forrest Kerstetter, Tim Latshaw, Jeff Mamett, Todd Fogle, Steve Adams, fiddlers Jessie Morgan and Dan Hess, harmonica player John Sweeney, and several backing singers. Ups and downs of the heart provide themes to some of the songs; a breakup sets a sullen tone on the album’s opening track, “Exactly What I’m Gonna Do,” while social statuses doom a relationship on “Cold Kentucky Rain.” Love grows from a bar conversation on the more upbeat “She Handed Me a Beer,” and Bob sings of the perils of bar gigs and angry husbands on “Gettin’ Gone.” Bob references his ‘good ol’ boy’ heroes such as Charlie Daniels, Bocephus (Hank Williams, Jr.), Kris Kristofferson and others as he defines his country outlaw turf on the song “Outlaw Country,” and ponders the fates of past outlaws on the darker “The Ghost of All the Outlaws.” Bob enjoys the pleasures of life on “Don’t Mean to Brag,” two versions which appear on the album; and he also enjoys the pleasures of good drink on “A Drinkin’ Thing.” Bob’s country twang is genuine; he sounds relaxed and confident throughout the album, and his support cast of musicians flesh out the rural flavors of the set with their contributions. The production and engineering give the album a balanced, basic sound that allows the simplicity of the melodies and Bob’s earnest singing delivery to shine through. Outlaw provides a satisfying listen, as Bob Randall carries the torch for traditional, rootsy outlaw country music. (The CD can be obtained through the website, or through CD Baby and other online retailers.)

WHITE WITCH – WHITE WITCH (no label) White Witch frontman Jeff Pittinger established his mantra “Never Dies the Dream” as the title of the group’s last CD 11 years ago. That dream – of creating music and getting it out to the masses – continues to drive Jeff and White Witch on their latest, self-titled offering. White Witch – Jeff, guitarist Doug Lehman, bass players Jimmy Lovcik and Jack Death, and drummer Carl Berry – introduce several hard-rocking new songs and update two previously-recorded numbers through the album’s eight tracks. While their sound remains rooted in the classic 1970s/80s hard rock tradition, White Witch dabbles in some power-metal dynamics here, evidenced by the chunkier, ominous-toned riffs that power some of the new material. After the dark guitar prelude “Serenata” opens the album, “Psycho Sister” forcefully chugs into action, with Jeff playing a lyrical tug-of-war with a temptress while Doug crafts some scorching guitar solo work in the tune’s latter stages. Perhaps the group’s new manifesto, “Changes Coming” steps on the gas pedal as Jeff reboots the group’s mission of invading towns and rocking faces. Jeff becomes more introspective on “Running with Scissors,” realizing that his creative muse is the tonic that helps him deal with life’s daily hassles. White Witch reboots two earlier numbers, giving a sterner treatment to their Salem witch trial ode “Slaughter in Salem,” and reworking the first song Jeff ever penned – “The Seed” – which lays out his dream and his undying quest to make it happen despite critics and naysayers. The song’s new incarnation stretches out the closing homestretch, allowing Doug to go full shred on the guitar strings. Near album’s end, White Witch indulges horror-metal turf with the savage, thrash-powered “Log Splitter,” as Jeff taps his inner Ozzy with psychotic fervor. The band’s instrumental execution sounds tight and on mark through the set, with Doug delivering guitar solo precision and the rhythm section bringing ample thunder to drive the songs forward. Vocally, Jeff understands the dynamics of his voice, knowing where it can and cannot go, so his singing sounds strong and steady. Produced by Jeff and the band; and recorded, mixed and mastered by Bret Alexander and Paul Smith at Eight Days A Week Studios in Northumberland; White Witch sounds, clean, balanced and full. Thirty-five years after their inception, White Witch still packs a hard-rocking punch with this self-titled album, as never dies their dream, and never dies their rock. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby and other online outlets.)

JEFF WEBB AND THE DELECTABLE SOUND – CROSSROADS (no label) Influenced by a wide range of musicians and genres, Jeff Webb became an Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ), and subsequently formed The Delectable Sound in 2014 as his vehicle to present original music inspired from his influences. Jeff Webb and the Delectable Sound’s six-song debut EP, Crossroads, introduces listeners to a sound rooted in classic 1960s and 1970s soul and funk, accented with flourishes of blues and rock. Jeff sings, plays keys and percussion; flanked by Josh Covert on guitar and trumpet, Jim Bilitski on guitar and saxophones, Scott Jeffreys on bass, Dominick Peruso, Jr. on drums and percussion, and backing singers Kelly Mednis and Chloe Wieczorek. The disc varies between upbeat numbers, bluesy and soulful ballads, with Jeff’s smooth and soulful voice front and center through it all. Channeling 1970s-era funk and soul influences, the feisty and funky “Can’t Take the Heat” introduces a determined Jeff warning the world to stay out of his way as he follows his muse and brings his dreams to life. The rhythms groove and swagger here, the backing singers offer sassy support behind Jeff’s vocal lead, and the horns provide timely riffs and accents to help drive the song along. Also reminiscent of that 1970s soul vibe, “Running ‘Round in Circles” explores the trap of the modern-day 9-to-5 cycle, and how it delays and derails dreams and ambitions. Tapping a 1960s Memphis soul flavor, Jeff celebrates a lady with seductive footwear on “Bad Ass Boots,” with horns proudly powering the song forward. In a slower vein, the bluesy and shadowy “We’ve Only Got Tonight” provides an urgent call to romance. Driven by Jeff’s piano and voice, the reflective title number “Crossroads” examines a fork in the road and the soul-searching on which way to proceed. And the closing number, “Feels Like Rain,” demonstrates a slower Allman Brothers-like flavor as Jeff warns of stormy relationship weather ahead. Jeff carries these tunes, singing with clarity and authority, displaying sturdy vocal range and heartfelt passion on each song. The Delectable Sound delivers the goods as well, as the horns pack punch, the guitars dazzle, the backing harmonies are tight and tasteful, and the rhythm section struts, styles and profiles. Recorded by Daniel Blake at The Schoolhouse studio in Greensburg, Crossroads sounds crisp, balanced and clean, with every component of this group’s presentation sounding delectable and pristine. Crossroads provides an impressive introduction into Jeff Webb and the Delectable Sound’s soulful world, and offers a vibrant and pleasant listening experience. (The CD can be obtained through the website, as well as through CD Baby and other online music retailers.)

AFRO N’AT – AFRO N’AT EP (no label) Launched two years ago. Johnstown’s Afro N’at has fast become popular throughout western and central PA with their hot fusion of funk, jazz and African musical flavors. The group’s self-titled, all-instrumental, four-song EP gives listeners a lively introduction into their musical world. Afro N’at is led by the powerful horn section of sax man Alec Zander Redd, trombone and euphonium player Mere Kae Redd, trombonist Tom Buchko and trumpet player Rich Williams; with Matt Partsch playing guitar, Randy Penrod on bass and Elias Ghantous on drums and percussion. The group lays down captivating, infectious grooves that quickly hook listener attention, and build into vigorous blends of horn, guitar and percussion savvy. The disc-opener “Fuzzy Pharaoh” starts out with a reserved Latin flair, before escalating into a busy groove of full horns, drums and hand percussion. “Cannon” and “The Wind-Up” provide energetic funk-jazz workouts that mix broad group passages with instrumental solo highlights. The disc-finisher “Remedo” quickly establishes a tricky time signature, and escalates this cadence toward a soaring climax; the cycle then repeats, with interesting solo highlights and a well-placed stoppage keeping this musical journey compelling throughout. Enthusiasm and fun permeate all four tracks, and it’s easy to sense the happy and adventurous vibes Afro N’at bring throughout the set. The talent level and coordination are strong, and the solo displays are ambitious and heartfelt. Produced by Daniel Blake at Schoolhouse Recording Studio in Greensburg, this EP sounds full, balanced and vibrant throughout, with each instrument well represented in the mix. This EP provides a fun listen, and a strong introductory glimpse into Afro N’at’s moving and grooving musical world. (The EP can be obtained at the group’s shows, also through CD Baby and other online platforms.)