CD Reviews – October 2018

BY: Jim Price

THE CHROME HEARTS – OH NO (no label) Formed four years ago, The Chrome Hearts have steadily built a fan base throughout central PA with their blend of country, rock’n’roll and blues. Their first CD, Oh No, shows what this group is all about, as they introduce their hearty, edgy sound. At the front and center of that sound is lead singer Stephanie Onkst, who mixes a soaring voice with a dynamic, sassy singing style. Bob Onkst also sings and plays rhythm guitar, along with (now former member) Chad Buterbaugh on lead guitar, Brian Baum II on bass and Doug Fetter on drums. The Chrome Hearts give the disc a rowdy, psychobilly-flavored start with the title track opener “Oh No,” setting the tone for the Stephanie’s boisterous approach. Stephanie issues a musical ultimatum on the Stones-like rocker “Money,” stands her ground on the defiant “Lookin’ at My Boots,” and addresses the envious on the Hendrix-toned “Jealous of You.” The Chrome Hearts offer a delta blues flavor on “Not the Same Girl,” and tap straightforward country flavors on “Black Sheep” and “Kickin’ Up Dust.” Bob demonstrates his smooth croon on the tongue-in-cheek country-folk ode “Drunkensville, U.S.A.” (partly inspired by the Blair County town of Duncansville) and the howlin’ honky-tonk of “We Got It All Goin’ On.” And The Chrome Hearts update two classic country-rock hits, lending their own flavor to Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Jo” and the disc-ending rendition of Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” The performances are robust and enthusiastic; Stephanie belts out her voice with reckless abandon and ample spunk, and Chad’s bluesy guitar licks are gritty and greasy. Bob, Brian and Doug provide steady rhythms to anchor it all. Produced by Mark Ross, and mixed and mastered by Bill Filer at Audible Images Studio in Port Matilda, Oh No sounds raw, full and punchy, and brings out the Chrome Hearts’ edge and attitude. Oh No is a fun album, and introduces The Chrome Hearts as country rockers with an outlaw bite. (The CD can be obtained at shows and through the group’s website,

PHOBOS ANOMALY – GOOD LUCK OF A GIANT (no label) Adventurous Happy Valley-based rock trio Phobos Anomaly continues their exploration of hard-rocking musical horizons on their sophomore full-length CD, Good Luck of a Giant. Singer/guitarist Jon Spearly, singer/bassist Mark Holland and drummer Damien Page pick up where they left off from last year’s self-titled debut, stretching their fast-firing brand of alternative and progressive rock into new terrain. Although the group’s melodies are busy and complex and their arrangements unpredictable, Phobos Anomaly successfully crafts identifiable song hooks, and executes them with tight instrumental performances and frequent vocal harmonies. This is a colorful album, as each song comes at the listener with a different angle, flavor or dynamic, keeping this set intriguing from start to finish. The album surfs into action with the driving “Guns + Sex,” riding a surf-rock wave that delves into space-rock terrain midway through. They paint a darker texture on the cavernous “Slave to the Grind,” deliver a hard country-flavored footstomper with the sassy breakup number “Catfood Spoon,” and integrate a Latin-styled rhythm into “Dragon Bones.” Perhaps the catchiest and most irresistible track here is the group’s boisterous ode to ill-fated “Sisyphus,” the Greek mythology figure doomed to rolling a stone for eternity. Phobos Anomaly shows their knack for interesting, complex song structures on several numbers, including “The Wings,” “Zerolove,” and the disc-closing update of “Reassembly,” a song dating back to the group’s beginnings a decade ago. And they combine progressive elements into harder rock and metal arrangements on the captivating “The Fun Is On You,” “Earth Is Freezing on Planet Hell,” the galloping “Tropic of Orbit” and the speed rocker “Phrygian Age.” The performances are agitated yet precise, and it’s clear that these three musicians know and understand their turf well. Written, produced and recorded by the group in State College, Good Luck of a Giant sounds urgent and vibrant, with the group unafraid to experiment with tonality, distortion and reverb to keep the sonic angles varied and interesting. Phobos Anomaly expands their adventurism and scope with Good Luck of a Giant, as they boldly push the parameters of their distinctive style and sound. (The album can be obtained digitally via the group’s Bandcamp page, while the CD is available through CD Baby.)

RODEO SERENADE – AMERICAN ROOTS (no label) Formed early last year, State College’s Rodeo Serenade celebrates 1950’s-era roots sounds on their first CD, American Roots. Lead singer Kristi Branstetter, singer/rhythm guitarist Susan Burlingame, lead guitarist Steve Branstetter, bassist Phil Burlingame and drummer Kyle Haust celebrate and recreate the “era when Hank, Patsy, Lefty, and Elvis ruled the honky tonks, vinyl records and AM radio airwaves” over American Roots’ seven tracks. Rockabilly, honky-tonk and Texas swing music serve as the primary ingredients of Rodeo Serenade’s musical scope. Several songs come – at least partly – from the Patsy Cline catalog. Kristi – whose past resume includes portraying the famous singer in Always…Patsy Cline – applies her bright singing style to Cline hits such as 1959’s “Gotta Lotta Rhythm” and 1962’s “She’s Got You,” as well as Cline’s posthumous 1968 single “Anytime,” which opens the disc. Kristi and Rodeo Serenade also take on Texas swing with their version of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys’ “San Antonio Rose” and Pee Wee King/Redd Stewart’s “Tennessee Waltz” – both also sung by Patsy Cline. Providing another highlight is the group’s rollicking merger of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” with the Elvis-popularized “That’s Alright.” And for a bonus track, Rodeo Serenade gives their rootsy treatment to Bobby Helms’ 1957 holiday season hit “Jingle Bell Rock.” Rodeo Serenade sounds quite at home with their vintage roots specialty, and listeners will quickly sense the group’s enthusiasm for this era throughout the CD. The performances are bright and punchy, and the production and mix gives these songs an authentic feel, often capped with classic 1950s-era reverb. Fans of vintage rock’n’roll, honky tonk and Sun Records rockabilly should savor Rodeo Serenade’s American Roots, a pleasant listen sure to get toes tapping. (The CD can be obtained at shows or through the group’s website,

THE LAMPSHADES – ASTROLOGY (Mint 400 Records) Native Blair Countians now based in Pittsburgh, The Lampshades have forged their own unique and distinctive musical niche over the course of five albums. Their fifth album, Astrology, pulls all the stops as the trio – singer/guitarist Jaren Love, bassist Chris Kibler and drummer Dane Adelman – blend and intensify the various flavors they have established over their earlier recordings. The group’s base sound continues to mix the geek pop/rock tendencies of Weezer with the eccentric adventurism of the Flaming Lips and the grunge/punk dirtiness of Nirvana. On Astrology, the Lampshades filter that base sound through production tricks and techniques similar to those used by George Martin, Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. The result is a brash, low-fi presentation channeled through a wide assortment of mixes, distortion, feedback, and a cavalcade of instruments including strings, saxophones, an accordion and even a power drill contributed by various guests. But chaotic and crazy as it looks on paper (or a computer screen), this works; the melodies sound quirky yet catchy, with Jaren’s wistful voice selling the album’s loose theme of coming to terms with failed adolescent love. The opening number, “Hope on a Rope,” sets the tone as Jaren pines over lost teenage love; the song slowly drifts into a layered, dreamy cacophony of strings, synths, horns and cavernous drum thunder. Jaren concedes his self-pity on the fuzz-guitar rocker “I Always Felt Bad for Myself,” leading to the title track sequence “Astrology,” a four-part reminiscence that culminates in an accordion dirge about rejection. Jaren ponders the meaning of it all on “Civilization and Its Discontents” and “Stories and Idiosyncrasies,” suggests appreciating love while it lasts on the acoustic “Always On,” and yearns for closure and contentment on the disc-closer “Feel Okay,” which ends in a deluge of Beatle-esque psychedelia. The Lampshades balance grandiose songs and arrangements with punk-like reckless abandon, and this sonic dichotomy keeps Astrology interesting from start to end. Make no mistake about it, haphazard as this sounds at times, The Lampshades know exactly what they are doing, from Jaren’s detuned guitar riffs, to the unexpected instrumental flourishes and backdrops, to the varied mixes given to Dane’s drumbeats. It is all brought forth with a jagged yet broad-sounding mix that captures instrumental nuances and acid burn. Simply put, Astrology is something totally different, a compelling listen and easily the Lampshades’ most ambitious hour yet. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website,

NEGAN – BURNT PAGES EP (no label) Former Hi-Tyde drummer Mike Davis assembled northern Cambria County heavy rockers Negan last year. Inspired by the Walking Dead character of the same name, Negan – Mike on lead vocals, the Driving Sideways alumni contingent of guitarist Bob Gray, bassist Josh Yahner and drummer Damien Falatek, plus former Dim guitarist Jeremy Ashurst – introduce a stern, heavy rock/metal sound on their four-song debut offering Burnt Pages. Negan’s sound is inspired by classic 1980s metal from Judas Priest, as well as 1990s hard rock influences such as Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Tool. All four songs take on darker themes; inspired by a Twilight Zone episode , the disc-opener “Obsolete” launches with a trial verdict opening as it imagines a dystopian future where the written word and religion are rendered obsolete by technology, punctuated with gang-chant choruses of “Burn down the library/Burn down the church.” The hard-driving “Where Do We Go From Here” explores outspoken viewpoints and their consequences, while the aggressive assault “The Devil’s Coming” looks at the evil results of greed, addiction and more. And for the finale, the groove-based “We” surmises that ‘we’ all face a finality, no matter our background or stature in life. The songs are all infectious and engaging, and Negan delivers them with ample power and purpose. Mike’s vocals show a variety of angles, from stern and direct to high-soaring, to anger and aggression. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Rik Golden at Golden Records, this EP sounds clear and thunderous, letting Negan’s firepower render its full brunt. Burnt Pages introduces listeners to Negan’s full-force brand of classic-rooted heavy rock, and this debut salvo should whet appetites for more of what this band has to offer (such as their full-length CD, expected out by year’s end). (The CD can be obtained at shows or through Negan’s Facebook page.)