CD Reviews - April 2022
By: Jim Price Want to get your CD Reviewed? SEND YOUR CD to Jim Price at: 1104 South Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602.
BROTHER JACK – BUSTED BANJO (no label) For more than a decade, Brother Jack – the solo performer alter ego of Altoona area musician Jeremy Jack – has been generating his unique brand of “weird folk music and storytelling” in recordings and on area stages. Brother Jack frequently issues singles, EP’s and albums via his Bandcamp page, and presents live-streaming performances almost daily on his Facebook page. On his latest album, Broken Banjo, Brother Jack channels seven of his song creations through – you guessed it – a ‘broken’ banjo. Jack’s collective sound is deeply rooted in traditional folk, blues, gospel and foot-stomping jug band music – all which provide the backdrops for his storytelling and observational words about life, its simplicities and quirkiness. Jack appreciates the simple sounds of life, imperfect as they are, on the album’s opening track, “Joyous Noise on a Busted Banjo,” as he sings and toots some accompanying kazoo. He recalls a favorite breakfast cuisine and the pleasant memories it brings on “Pancakes on a Busted Banjo.” Early back-porch blues informs Brother Jack’s traveling ode “Pedal Down” and “Boom Boom Ticka Ticka.” Critters also inspire Jack – a locust’s exoskeleton and the song of a cricket trigger his contemplations on “Bugs,” and snakes are capable of evil things on the broadcast commentary piece “Snake Ate My Radio” and a dying man’s hallucinations via the album-closer “Valley of Dry Bones.” Brother Jack is front and center here; he sings with passion, intention and personality with his hearty, gritty voice; and he makes that ‘broken banjo’ sing, peppering his soundscape with occasional harmonica, horn and kazoo accompaniment. The songs are simple and catchy, and his arrangements and mix are basic and lo-fi, giving this recording a rootsy, early 20th century aesthetic and vibe. In the process, Busted Banjo opens another door into Brother Jack’s unique musical world, and listeners will experience his entertaining personality and minstrel-like charm. (The album can be obtained through Brother Jack’s Bandcamp page, www.brotherjack.bandcamp.com. Brother Jack also livestreams breakfast performances most weekdays, plus his weekly Tuesday afternoon “Happy Hour” livestream on his Facebook page.)
DAVID J. SHAFFER – AMERICANA DIVIDE (no label) Hollidaysburg native David J. Shaffer cut his teeth on the central PA music scene in the 1980s, and was the frontman and bass player for Altoona area rockers Tight Squeeze. David’s life direction eventually took him to the Portland, Maine area, where he performs as a singer and songwriter. David’s latest album, Americana Divide, introduces listeners to his current musical world. That world is rooted in Americana folk and roots flavors, but stretches into avenues of rock’n’roll and country sounds over the album’s duration. David sings and plays acoustic guitar, assisted by guitarist Nat Bailey, bassist Rick Coakley, drummer Paul J. Shaffer and backing singer Mckenzie Burke, plus several guests. His songs are largely inspired by personal life experiences, from the ins and outs of love to observations about today’s world. David contemplates midlife crisis issues and his own finality on the gentle album opener “The Calling,” and expresses lament over missed moments on the acoustic ode “Home Soon,” with Andy Happel’s violin accompaniment adding heart-tugging emotion to the arrangement. David sings of relationship crossed signals and quirks on the funk-tinged “Crazy on Our Minds,” the harder-driving “Halfway” and the shuffling “Sea of Lost.” The album’s rock-driven title track, “Americana Divide,” ponders divisions in today’s society and how they came to be, while the short and acoustic “Reprise” later on offers hope for compromise and reconciliation. “Fly With Me” sets a gentle, hopeful tone, while the piano-driven “Pillow Talk” displays a Billy Joel-like vibe. David’s son, Jonah D. Shaffer, adds tasty guitar licks to the punchy track “Ghost Towns.” David caps the album with two bonus tracks; the witty social media commentary piece “The Facebook Song” and the humorous cannibal-themed country romp “Beans at Your Bar-B-Que.” David delivers a strong album here; he shows a way with words, and his lyrics present a poetic quality and relatability. He sings it all with a smooth, steady and expressive voice, and fully invests himself in his words. The other musicians and guests all support and serve the melodies here, adding flavor and depth to the presentation. Recorded, mixed and produced by Jason Phelps at Acadia Recording Company in Portland, this album sounds clean and full, with David’s voice and the instruments coming through clear and distinct in the mix. Americana Divide offers a rewarding listen as it immerses us in David J. Shaffer’s musical space, and shows us his strong voice and gift of songcraft. (The album can be obtained through the website www.davidjshaffermusic.com.)
RANDALL PINK – PINKLAND EP (no label) Randall Pink is the original music project alter ego of Johnstown-based musician Randy Penrod, and the five-song EP Pinkland introduces listeners to Randall Pink’s musical world. Randall Pink explores funk, rock and jazz frontiers; often crafting progressive-geared arrangements that experiment with various distortion, effects, reverb and adventures in groove. Randy wrote, sang and performed all the songs, as well as mixed and engineered the recording at Brokedown Chalice in Johnstown. Each number is uniquely different and ventures into a distinct sonic space. Leading off, “Turn Back Time” emerges into a funk-rock workout, with Randy singing reflective words about changing the past while embarking on soaring adventures with his guitar. “Tow the Line” explores a Memphis soul-styled avenue, complete with brassy riffs and organ flourishes to help flesh things out. “She Was Long” then shifts gears, heading into cavernous, distortion-laden, grungy heavy rock. “Black Velvet” follows by offering punchy, driving, melodic funk along a prominent bass line and busy percussion, setting the launching pad for Randy to explore the cosmos with spacy guitar solo work. Closing the set, the title instrumental “Pinkland” melds funk and jazz flavors, with Randy’s guitar singing out the melody line along a keyboard underscore. All five numbers offer excitement and adventure, as Randall Pink pushes the boundaries of his creativity as a songwriter, singer and instrumentalist. His melodies and arrangements captivate, his vocals ride strong and soulful, and his guitar explorations vary, twist and turn, never staying in one place for long. The overall recording quality is clean, full and consistent, with all elements of Randall Pink’s musical blend coming through sharp and clear. Randall Pink’s first journey into Pinkland provides a fun listening adventure, as Randy Penrod explores the parameters of his musical creativity. (The recording can be accessed through YouTube, Apple Music and other online streaming platforms.)