CD Reviews – September 2018

THE CLARKS – MADLY IN LOVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Clarkhouse Entertainment) For 30-plus years, the core roster of singer/guitarist Scott Blasey, bassist/singer Greg Joseph, guitarist/mandolinist/singer Rob James and drummer Dave Minarik, Jr. have created American rock’n’roll as The Clarks. Their 11th studio album of original music, Madly in Love at the End of the World, explores life, death, love and where it all fits in the context of today’s volatile world and times. The Clarks continue their lean toward a more Americana-based sound, and country tones permeate many of the album’s 11 songs. Part of The Clarks’ extended touring family, Gary Jacob’s pedal steel and 12-string electric guitar help to flesh out the group’s rural edge, along with keyboardist/guitarist Skip Sanders and Dave’s son, Noah, on additional guitars. The album opens on a happy and upbeat vibe; watching a daughter grow up provides the lyrical spark to the disc-opener “She’s on Fire,” and the punchy “The Longest One Night Stand” celebrates a bar-bred match made in heaven. However, love doesn’t work out so well on the ensuing two numbers, “Witness to a Crime” and “Roses.” The rustic-flavored “What Do You Do” ponders the dynamics of love separated by life on the road, while the bluesy “Keep Your Eyes on the Road” offers a mantra for living life and staying the course. On the more serious side, the Greg-penned “Dying to Live” documents a dad’s cancer battle and its impending finality, while Scott’s “Summer Setting Sun” waxes philosophical after a father’s passing. The hardest-rocking moment on the album, the fast-paced “In Blood” explores the human cost of terrorism. But perhaps the most powerful track on the album is the most simply-arranged one, the album-ending title track “Madly in Love at the End of the World,” Scott’s poetic observation on maintaining one’s love, passion, humanity and integrity in a world seemingly teetering on the brink; Scott’s acoustic guitar and soaring voice are nicely supported by guest Simon Cummings’ cello accompaniment. Madly in Love at the End of the World is the work of a seasoned band who is comfortable in their own skin; the songs are honest, heartfelt and relatable. The melodies and words connect, and the performances are confident and steady. Produced by Dave Hidek and the band, and engineered and mixed by Hidek at The Church Recording Studio in Pittsburgh, the album sounds balanced and full, and – in the tradition of previous Clarks recordings – the production is consistent and uncluttered, letting the songs and performances do the talking. After three decades of doing this, The Clarks cannot make a bad album – and Madly in Love at the End of the World shows the artistry, poetic lyricism, confidence and wisdom of musicians who have been at this for a little while. This ranks up there with their best works to date. (You can obtain this CD through The Clarks’ website,

ANDY MOWATT’S STEELY JAM – VOL. 1: ROCK.HARD.FUNK (no label) Several years ago, Lancaster-based guitar adventurer Andy Mowatt toyed with a suggestion from some former Lebanon Valley College roommates, and started developing some new arrangements on Steely Dan songs. The resulting band project was Steely Jam, and Andy included a reworking of Steely Dan’s “Bodhisattva” on his 2014 solo album An End to the Means. But Andy and his Steely Jam colleagues wanted to explore creating original music, resulting in the first Steely Jam full-length CD, Vol. 1: Rock.Hard.Funk (as well as the recent and subsequent rebranding of the band project to the monicker Andy Mowatt’s Frequency Movement). Andy and his cast of musical friends deliver just what the album title advertises, an energetic mixture of hard-hitting funky grooves, jazz-styled improvisation and instrumental fireworks galore. Each tune is a different, self-contained adventure where Andy and his associates – keyboardist Aaron Trasatt, bassist Quinn Slonaker, drummers Jaren Angud and Taylor Wade, sax men Logan Kurtek, Max Swan and Chris Smucker, trumpeters John Maurer and Michael Burton, and woodwind player Jason Mescia – cut loose, match musical wits, blend, solo and give listeners an exhilarating joy ride. Most of the dozen tracks are instrumentals; the disc-opener “Jello Molds” sets the table with hard-edged funk, driven by big beats and displaying tasty synth, guitar and sax nuances. There are feisty improvisational exercises like “Mainline” and the driving “The Extra Dank,” heated funky displays like the strutting “Funkyland” and “Full Blouse,” and an atmospheric interlude with “Heavy on the Juice.” The group lays down the fusion on “UTZ (Part 1)” and generates a disco groove on “UTZ (Part 2).” Two songs are vocals; Tuck Ryan shows a clear, soulful croon on the catchy “Not the Only One,” while keyboardist Aaron sings on the merging of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” with Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is.” The performances are exciting and sharp; you can tell this cast had a blast generating this groove fest! Produced and arranged by Andy, and recorded, mixed and mastered by Michael Washkevich, this album sounds clean and vibrant, with the instruments sounding balanced and present, and the performances doing the talking without clutter or unneeded bells and whistles. Vol. 1: Rock.Hard.Funk shows talented musical cats throwing caution to the wind, experimenting and having fun; and it whets the appetite for whatever musical adventures Andy Mowatt’s Frequency Movement has in store in the months ahead. (The CD can be obtained through Andy’s website,

DYLAN E. MILLER – CARRION EP (no label) A fifth generation musician, Huntingdon-based singer and songwriter Dylan E. Miller began playing music at an early age, and has dabbled in a diverse range of musical styles so far in his young career. That diversity quickly becomes apparent on his five-song EP, Carrion, as Dylan teams with a number of guest musicians to indulge various creative musical flavors. The result is a fresh-sounding set with captivating melodies and lush sonic backdrops. Flamenco and European-styled folk informs the romantic disc-opening ode “I’ll Go,” while Arti Funero’s keys and concertina gently guide the soaring “Your Smile.” Powered by Chris Rattie’s drumbeats, “Three Crows” takes a faster, rock-edged direction. Dylan teams with guest singer Olivia Jones to provide a potent duet on the hauntingly beautiful “Favorite Distraction,” while Johnny Stevens’ harmonica punctuates the playful country-meets-funk instrumental disc-closer “I Cried.” Playing acoustic guitar and mandolin, Dylan sings his material with a calm, unimposing approach, with the arrangements and instrumentation surrounding and supporting his voice. His cast of guests shines, including the aforementioned Olivia Jones, Chris Rattie, Johnny Stevens and multi-instrumentalist and co-arranger Arti Funero, plus Daniel Collins on fiddle and Junior Tutwiler on slide guitar. All perform for the songs, and the fleshed-out arrangements give each song a full, layered and deep presence. Produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Tom “Bone” Edmonds (who also assists on percussion), Carrion sounds clear, balanced and broad. And even though the musical styles presented here are diverse, the EP flows smoothly and sounds like a cohesive whole. Dylan E. Miller’s eager and uninhibited approach to musical variety makes Carrion an engaging, pleasant listen, and represents Dylan as a musical explorer whose adventure is just beginning. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby.)

MATT AQUILINE & THE DEAD END STREETS – COMING HOME EP (no label) A Pittsburgh native who lived and performed music in the nation’s capital for nearly two decades, Matt Aquiline relocated back to his hometown in 2013, and subsequently formed his current group, the Dead End Streets. Their debut EP, Coming Home, brings together flavors of folk, blues, Americana, rock and soul into a tasty mixture. Matt plays guitar and mandolin, and he and Heather Catley share lead singing duties. Neil Carr plays guitar, along with Evan Cvejkus on drums, Stefan Rodriguez on bass and Bill Maruca on keys, accordion and slide guitar. The sound is spirited and sassy, yet cordial and pleasant; yielding hints and reminders of classic roots rock artists like The Band and Neil Young. Consistent with the EP title, Matt addresses the concept of travel and returning home on a couple of the songs; the disc-opener “Dead End Streets” touts preferring the harder dead-end road over the easy highway and benefiting from the lessons learned from that path, while the contemplative “The Break” reflects on coming home from the realization of an erroneous decision. Matt ultimately celebrates the inspiration and liberation derived from being back in his home state on the pleasant disc-closer “Pennsylvania,” with guest Rob James of The Clarks fleshing out the song’s rustic mood on mandolin. Meanwhile, Heather ponders whether to take a chance on love on “Survivable,” and Matt shares observations on dysfunctional people on the short, simple and quarky “I Know (Some Crazy People).” The presentation here is relaxed and sincere, as Matt and Heather sing the words with comfort, heart and conviction. The instrumentation meshes well, creating a warm, full and smooth backdrop to carry these songs. Produced by Matt and Dana Cannone, and recorded and mixed at The Church Recording Studio in Pittsburgh, Coming Home sounds crisp, balanced and uncluttered, allowing the power of the songs and performances to carry the day. Matt Aquiline & the Dead End Streets craft a warm, rustic set with Coming Home, a happy and thoughtful musical homecoming which provides a treat for the ears. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby,

MFG – IS THERE LIFE AFTER ROCK? (no label) The group name MFG is an acronym of the last names of the project’s three core collaborators – guitarist and singer John McKelvey, drummer Skip Fisher and singer Bobby Gates. The group follows up their 2015 debut CD, Don’t Kill the Moment, with a new six-song EP, Is There Life After Rock? The group’s sound remains consistent with the first album; straight-ahead hard rock’n’roll with slight hints of 1980s-era pop, punk and alternative. John wrote/co-wrote most of the songs, all which present different angles of attack and hook-laden melodies. The title track “Is There Life After Rock?” is a shadowy, introspective number about stepping away from the live band stage and reflecting on the gift of being able to perform music to fans and audiences. Written by Bobby, “Lucas and Me” is a playful number celebrating the joy of a grandson and being a new grandfather. Guest Lane Williamson – John’s bandmate in the late-1970s Altoona-based hard rock band Piranha – sings stern lead vocals on the crunchy, heavy-rocking “Back on the Streets. The disc also contains another hard-rocker, the erotic-toned “Naked Truth,” as well as the upbeat disc-opening groupie ode “Brighton Girls” and the ocean-themed relationship number “Starfish.” MFG’s performances are solid and inspired; Bobby sings with range and clarity, and John displays the guitar fireworks that have earned him legendary status on the Altoona area music scene. Skip provides the steady beats, with Steve Campbell tying it together with fluid bass lines. Produced by the band, and recorded and engineered by Rick Claar, this CD sounds basic and lets the performances do the talking. Is There Life After Rock? answers its own question, showing that these elder-statesmen of the Altoona area music scene still have fuel in the tank and can generate strong rocking anthems. (To obtain a copy of the CD, email