CD Reviews - April 2021
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WAX MEKANIX – MOBOCRACY (Electric Talon Records) Although these days based in Philadelphia, Waxim “Wax” Ulysses Mekanix – Wax Mekanix for short and the creative alias of former area musician Tim Wilson – provided drum thunder and vocals four decades ago for Centre Hall-based heavy-rocking foursome Nitro. As Wax Mekanix, he explores new hard-rocking sonic frontiers while attempting to make sense of today's tumultuous and transformed America over the six tracks of his debut album, Mobocracy. Wax blends classic and contemporary rock elements into a busy-sounding, lively mix, assisted by a dozen musical contributors – among them Brandon Yeagley and Chris Bishop of Crobot, Tommy Conwell, his Nitro bandmate John Hazel and more. Lyrically, Wax cleverly juxtaposes themes of change, divisions, polarization, rage and other aspects of today's American conversation, in the hopes of determining where he – and listeners – fit in the overall scheme of things. The punchy and frantic “All Freaks” lays out the spectrum of current craziness, from political and racial divides to radical movements to cults of personality, establishing that perhaps we all have become nuts from the turmoil. The anthemic “Victorious” touts pride, triumph, conquest and glory, but questions the arrogance and abuses of power used to achieve them. The boisterous album-opener “Blood in My Eyes” questions words, behaviors and the ulterior motives behind them; while the slightly Mediterranean-toned closer “Black” ponders divisions and who ultimately benefits from them. Wax sings and howls his words with vigor and purpose, with various vocal layers and degrees of reverb adding edge and adventure along the way. There's never a dull moment; the songs are captivating and unique, and the performances are action-packed and vibrant. Recorded at several studios in the Philadelphia area, and produced by Wax and Maxim “Lectriq” Laskavy, Mobocracy sounds sharp-edged, fresh and powerful. Wax Mekanix crafts an exciting adventure here; Mobocracy is a hard-hitting set that will make you rock – and think. (The album can be obtained through Wax Mekanix's Bandcamp page.)
VAN WAGNER – FAMILY GUITAR (no label) “Guitars, like people, are beautiful things,” sings Van Wagner on the title track of his latest and 28th album, Family Guitar. The song tells the story of a special 1954 Gibson LG1 acoustic guitar, an instrument gifted from Van's grandfather to his aunt to its current owner, who wrote and recorded all of the album’s dozen songs on this “family guitar.” Like its owner, the guitar serves as a connecting thread through the traditional folk and blues flavors of the album, as Van shares reflections, wisdom and insights about life, work, Pennsylvania, personalities and more. Several songs center on Van's home area of Danville; the song “Montour Ridge” is both autobiographical and historical, as Van – who has logged trees – sings of the ridge behind his home and the hard difficulties of lumbering there. He remembers a local woodcutter with the album-opening ode “Sawhorse Gabe,” celebrates a heralded Danville personality, Larry Gipple, on the song “Mr. Danville,” and recalls a Muncy area railroader on “Johnny Martin.” Having also mined coal in his life, Van muses about coal-mining beliefs, habits and superstitions on “Day of Descension.” In a personal vein, Van shares his aspirations of visiting the ocean during a difficult year on “I'm From the Mountains and I'm Going to the Sea.” He reflects on his secretive woes on “Confidential Blues,” and pays homage to a lost friend on the comforting “It's OK to Cry Now.” In a different twist, Van closes the album with a song he created on the spot as he recorded it; the observational, whimsical and waltz-like “Hupaday Daydingo.” Van sings these songs with a constant sincerity and warmth, like a longtime friend is sharing his personality and soul. He also brings personality through his “family guitar” with his technique and tone. Several guests chime in with backing vocals along the way – including Hannah Bingman-Forshey, Pure Cane Sugar's Kate Anderson Twoey, Regina Wolfe, Haley Berge and Zoey Wagner. Mastered by George Graham, the album sounds crisp, cohesive and full, with Van and his presentation in the forefront. Family Guitar offers a sonic snapshot of a seasoned songsmith and his world; Van Wagner eagerly welcomes us into that world, and the album feels like a get-together with a longtime friend. (The album can be obtained through Van's website, www.vanwagnermusic.com.)
ZACH KING – PEACE OF MIND EP (Tuscarora Records) In this age of digital media – digital .mp3 and .wav files, digital streaming and digital CD’s – it’s refreshing to encounter an artist who champions the “old-school” analog realm to bring his music to life. Perry County-based singer and songwriter Zach King does exactly that with his five-song cassette EP, Peace Of Mind. Sure, you can stream the songs on Spotify, and the digital recording was officially released late last month, but the hard-copy is in cassette form, complete with casing and cassette-styled cover artwork! And the recording is “old-school” analog as well, as Zach recorded the five songs on vintage reel-to-reel equipment at Shaw Ranch Studio in Newville. As the recording technique is traditional, Zach’s musical style is traditional as well, as his passion is traditional country music, rooted especially in the rebel country styles of David Allan Coe and Hank Williams, Jr. With whiskey as a primary connecting thread, Zach sings about life, love and hardships; he decides that family and friends outweigh blue collar life and the 9-to-5 on the EP’s first song, “Ohio,” and he ponders the crossroads between sowing his wild oats and becoming more responsible on “Grow Up.” The title song “Peace Of Mind” seeks solitude and self-assurance amid the constant collisions along life’s busy highway, and Zach extols the comforts of whiskey and tobacco in soothing the day’s pains on “Vice.” On the EP’s closing number, “Whiskey” serves as a pivotal ingredient in Zach’s restless songwriting process. Playing guitar and singing with a bold and gritty voice, Zach’s presentation sounds sincere and edgy, conveying the persona of somebody who lives the life of which he sings. His support cast fleshes out the songs well, from Travis Egnor’s pedal steel, lead guitar and accordion accents to Lindsay Hutchinson’s timely backing voice. The analog recording serves Zach’s music well, giving these songs a full, organic quality and authenticity. Peace Of Mind provides honest country music, as Zach King honors classic rebel country tradition with a heartfelt, sturdy set. (The cassette can be purchased at RecordSmith in Mechanicsburg, and the digital songs can be accessed through Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and other streaming platforms.)
GELATINOUS CUBE – TECHNICOLOR DREAMS (no label) Since their inception several years ago, State College-based foursome Gelatinous Cube has steadily evolved their uniquely eclectic style of original rock; issuing a self-produced and titled 2016 studio set, and last year’s live Here and Now set. The group’s latest album, Technicolor Dreams, continues their explorations as they mix elements of hard, progressive and alternative rock with jazz and jam components over a dozen tracks. Guitarist and singer Tom Harper, guitarist Graham Colby, bassist Ed Colby, and drummer and singer Z. Rozzi freely mingle these musical elements together into detailed melodies, peppered with improvisation-laden instrumental passages, plus tempo, chord and texture shifts. The short instrumental passage “Lucky 13” leads into the album’s title track, “Technicolor Dreams,” with an alluring melody plus words exploring dreams and the memories and mysteries contained within. Tom’s synth underscore helps generate a 1960s psychedelic rock vibe on “Ocean of Blood,” pondering the millions of lives sacrificed throughout mankind’s history on the path to today’s world. Gelatinous Cube displays progressive rock tendencies on the mostly-instrumental “The Divide” and the improvisational instrumental “Alone,” and flexes heavy metal muscle on the forceful conquest-themed assault “Dominator.” The group presents milder rock tones as well; including reflective odes such as “All Used Up” and “Nothing More,” the romantic “Carry It Along” and the mournful “Claudia.” Gelatinous Cube’s detailed song arrangements and instrumental interaction keep the album busy and interesting throughout. Tom sings with clarity and vocal agility, and the guitar players show capable tone, coordination and precision. Recorded in State College, with production and primary engineering by Tom, Technicolor Dreams sounds clear, balanced, full and cohesive. This album further defines Gelatinous Cube’s distinctive musical identity; Technicolor Dreams shows the group’s evolution as song creators and adventurers. (The album can be obtained through Gelatinous Cube’s Bandcamp page.)
OFFENSIVE – INHABITANTS OF PURGATORY (no label) Guitarist Leon Sohail founded Baltimore area heavy metal rockers Offensive in November, 2015, and the group has since evolved its brand of progressive-geared power, thrash and speed metal. After several demos and EP's, Offensive presents their first full-length CD, Inhabitants of Purgatory. Providing well over an hour of intense, hard-hitting music over 11 tracks, Offensive shows fierce, forceful and tenacious song arrangements with brute-force rhythms courtesy of drummer Brett Bronstein and bassist Chris Coleman, and searing, snarling guitar work courtesy of Leon and Ryan Mullen. But Offensive also shows a sense of adventure, with experimental song constructions, interesting tempo variations, spoken word passages and more. Lyrically, Inhabitants of Purgatory provides an abridged summary of a story from Leon's 2006 novel “Kings of the Underworld,” dealing with themes of mythology, warriors, religion, mankind's destiny and more. Offensive brings the firepower from the get-go, with the album-opening “Kings of the Underworld” erupting into a scorcher with full-force battering ram rhythms and Leon's go-for-broke vocal howl. Offensive continues the assault with the bold and brash “Tales of a Fallen” and the hammering speed/thrash metal rampage “No Speed Limit.” The group starts to show its folds and layers with “Life in the Attic,” with gang chorus vocals and lyrical wordplays that work both along and counterpoint to the rhythms. With its frequently shifting tempos and chords, “Offensive Mob” brings full-thrashing fury punctuated by spoken-word passages and narration. The album's most elaborate display is the nearly 10-minute epic “Azrael's Reaping,” mixing torrid metal barrages with narrative interludes, unpredictable twists and turns, and instrumental precision and detail. Offensive is up to the challenge throughout the album, and their performances are constantly feverish, tight and intense. Leon fully invests in his creations, emphatically howling, barking and reciting his words and themes with emotion and passion. The recording, mixing and production result in an album that sounds consistently sharp, balanced, focused and cohesive. Fans of Metallica-like ferocity, Slayer-like brutality and Iron Maiden-like progression and adventurism will find plenty to celebrate on Inhabitants of Purgatory, as Offensive sets the bar high for both their firepower and creativity. This is impressive thinking man's heavy metal with lyrical and sonic nuances to be discovered through repeat listens. (The album can be obtained through the group's website, www.offensiveband.com.)