CD Reviews - December 2021
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AUGUST WINTERS – THE LION THE REAPER (no label) The brainchild of State College-based musician Drew Zimmerman, August Winters expands the parameters of its hard-rocking sound with the project's first full-length album, The Lion The Reaper. From the punk/pop/punk foundation established on an initial 2015 EP, Drew explores a wider range of musical terrain over The Lion The Reaper's 11 songs, including nine new creations plus updates of two numbers from the earlier EP. Several edgier numbers provide vehicles for Drew to confront the chaotic current-day world; on the fast-firing “Car Crash Poetry,” he offers solace from the daily barrage of chaos and hatred. Incorporating a Linkin Park-styled, rap-edged modern rock flavor, “The Life & Times of a Salesman” explores how depression and daily grind-induced stress can push someone to the breaking point; guest Coty Stinson of Silver Lights contributes vocals here. The volatile “MMXX” rages against hatred and manipulation as it rallies a generation to wise up, rise up and be heard. With pedal to the floor, the speed burner “Get a Life” offers a musical kick in the pants to get one's life into gear. August Winters also offers some milder tones here; the acoustic-driven “Ghost” follows a reflective theme of revisiting past hopes unfulfilled, “Victoria Drive” channels a Gin Blossoms flavor as it ponders how life's energies could have been better spent, and a cascading prominent guitar riff guides the romantic-themed “Two Trees.” The album's full-bodied title song, “The Lion The Reaper,” is a dedication to Drew's grandfather, a proud man who fought to the end before illness claimed him. The album also revisits two songs from the first August Winters EP, “Clean Out the Closets” and Drew's ode to his girlfriend (now wife) Kenzie, “I Can't Fix This.” Each of the songs establishes a different angle and sounds distinct, with Drew's pop-punk foundation serving as the connecting thread to make all of it into a cohesive set. Helping Drew bring these songs to life are Austin Weaver and Brandon Deamer on drums, Jake Marquardt on bass, Bear Ketchum and Adam Becker on guitars, and the aforementioned Coty Stinson on backing vocals. Playing keys on several tracks is Joe Trojcak, the owner of Progressive Enterprises Sound Studios in Elizabethtown, where the album was recorded and mixed. The album's overall sound is clear, full and balanced; with the edgier moments given sharpness and bite. August Winters' The Lion The Reaper shows Drew Zimmerman's musical growth as a songwriter, as well as his willingness to push beyond his comfort zone and attempt some different angles. This album offers a rocking and satisfying listen. (The album can be obtained through August Winters' website, www.augustwinterspa.com, and other online platforms.)
DEREK WOODS BAND – PICTURE YOURSELF (no label) Establishing their musical foundation in Americana-rooted rock, the Derek Woods Band has constantly explored a variety of musical angles as they forge their style and identity. Their latest full-length album, Picture Yourself, hones that identity further, as the group merges together elements of folk, rock, country and soul into a variety of catchy, fresh songs. Namesake Derek as the songwriter, singer and acoustic guitarist serves as the focal point of that identity, with bassist Chris Schaney and drummer Chris Belin providing the strong rhythmic backdrop. Further defining the group’s unique style is the tandem of sax player Joe Scheller and guitarist Joshua Carns, whose ever-present motifs, solos and accents cement and drive these songs forward. An intro leads into the album’s first number, the hard-rocking “Down,” with Josh’s guitar providing most of the muscle. The next song, “Say Yes,” takes a retro-toned rock’n’soul arc reminiscent of 1960s pop songcraft, as Derek tries to coax an affirmative from a potential dance partner. Country and soul flavors blend on the infectious “Better,” and “Show My Love” shows a slower, jazzier romantic vibe. The Derek Woods Band conveys an upbeat, punchy and playful approach on the catchy “Up in the Air,” before “Happiness” boldly rocks and swaggers in search for its namesake, riding a strong melody line in its quest. The group taps 1960s psychedelia flourishes on “Another Day,” and generates an upbeat country-rock flavor with the captivating “Don’t Look Away.” Finishing the album, the title song “Picture Yourself” steadily builds toward a strong and glorious homestretch. All of the songs are strong and adeptly crafted, with melodies that earworm their way into the cranium, plus uplifting and positive lyrical themes. The group’s musicianship serves to support and build each song, with all components combining to make each number shine. Mixed by Daniel Blake (who also contributes keyboards on several songs), and recorded at The Schoolhouse in Armbrust (south of Greensburg), Picture Yourself sounds clean, balanced and smooth, enabling the melodies and musicianship to radiate to their full potential. Picture Yourself shows a focused and forward-moving group, as the Derek Woods Band delivers their strongest collection of songs so far. (The album can be obtained through the group’s website, www.derekwoodsband.com, and through digital platforms.)