CD Reviews - January 2020
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BUSHMASTER feat. GARY BROWN – DANCING IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST (no label) Born in Washington, D.C. but now calling Carlisle his home base, Gary Brown formed his electric blues project Bushmaster in 1992, and has become established throughout the mid-Atlantic region for his heartfelt, passionate blues and fiery guitar skills. Gary’s latest album, Dancing in the Belly of the Beast, blends good-time electric blues, blues-rock and funk with sharp social commentary as he addresses issues of inequality and stigmatization. Gary’s blues becomes a most effective vehicle for communicating his concerns, as several of the album’s 14 songs address racial issues. The opening track, “Profile,” confronts the issue of racial targeting by law enforcement, but does so with a punchy, soulful groove and suggestions for a better outcome. Riding a march-styled rhythm, “Song for Freddie Grey” advocates empathy for victims of injustice and social fear; while the full-bodied, Texas-styled blues of “Nowhere to Run” expresses desperation with gun violence and inequality in today’s society. The Funkadelic-flavored “Pressure Cooker” vents against racism and societal indifference to it, while the funk-driven “Profit from Pain” targets power brokers who exploit others for their own personal gain. Other songs address relationship friction, such as the extended funky jam “Ajax and Hot Wax,” the Hendrix-flavored “Mushroom” and the slow blues of “Jekyll and Hyde.” Gary and Bushmaster offer happier themes as well, celebrating a passion for “The Blues,” admiring eye candy on “Miss Sexy Fine” and offering a soulful love song with “Army Of Two.” Gary reflects on lessons learned on the uptempo “40 Acres and a Mule,” warns that what goes around comes around on “Elevator,” and ends the set with a folksy, hopeful tone on “Thing Back Home.” Each song offers a captivating melody, is distinctive and stands apart from the others, but the album flows along smoothly as a unified set. The performances are strong and inspired; Gary sings with emotion and purpose, and his wide array of guitar skills and tones adds to the variety and colors of this album. His Bushmaster cast of bassist Justin Kimball, drummer Justin Pinkney, keyboardist Tim McDonald, slide guitarist Daniel Weston Cohen, and backing singers Tracy Nelson and Vickie Carrico sound sharp and flesh out these songs to deliver full impact. Produced by Geoff Wilbourn and recorded at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville, this album sounds punchy, edgy and vibrant, and all components of Bushmaster’s presentation come through clean and balanced in the mix. Gary Brown and Bushmaster channel their passions for the blues and addressing societal ills on Dancing in the Belly of the Beast, an album that strives to change society for the better, one groove at a time. (This CD can be obtained through Bushmaster’s website, www.bushmasterblues.com, and through CD Baby and other online retailers.)
DARKNESS ON THE RADIO – DARKNESS ON THE RADIO II: SNAKE EYES (no label) In late 2018, Johnstown’s Darkness On The Radio (DOTR) dropped their first calling card, the EP New Murders, Old Crows, a stiff power-metal punch to the jaw that introduced listeners to the group’s brute-force firepower. One year later, the group’s second recording, Darkness On The Radio II: Snake Eyes, retains the group’s leviathan crunch, but introduces some groove and swagger to the mix. Lead snarler and guitarist Jason Straw, guitarist Jay Snider, bassist Greg Hatch and drummer Jason “Kirch” Kirchner craft six powerful song assaults (and two instrumental pieces that begin and close the album), each with distinguishable melody plots, varying dynamics and cleverly sinister and sardonic lyrics. After the intense rifferama prelude “Last Now First…” recasts DOTR’s brutal sonic mission statement, the disc’s title track, “Snake Eyes (Watching You),” establishes a primal, thundering groove to underscore cautions about the eyes of technology watching our every move. Riding a punishing rhythm, “Excommunicado” observes social spheres and subtle exclusions from them, while the rumbling “Heavenless” explores outcasts and purgatory. A wicked, greasy and blues-tinged groove drives the malevolent “Heretic,” and DOTR blends metal grind with punk attitude on “Piss and Venom.” With Jay helping to bellow out the lead vocal, “They” ponders the primal mindset of raw hate, before the bleak epilogue “…First Now Last” brings this storm to its conclusion. Darkness On The Radio reveals more nuances to their punishing brand of metal here; these songs breathe and pulse, and Jason Straw’s vicious snarl exposes more emotion and grit. The group’s wall of metal sound remains tenacious and huge; the guitars roar, Kirch’s drumbeats pummel, and Greg’s bowel-destabilizing basslines cement the menacing backbone behind it all. Recorded by Rik Golden at his studio and co-produced by Rik and the band, this album sounds rigid and fierce, with all components of DOTR’s attack baring full teeth and cutting edge. Snake Eyes shows Darkness On The Radio’s forward motion and growth, while retaining their distinctive mode of all-out power-metal ferocity. (The album can be obtained through CD Baby and other online music platforms.)
SHANNON MARSYADA – OCEANS (no label) Shannon Marsyada has the gift. And that gift is revealed in all its glory on Shannon’s latest album, Oceans. That gift is an incredible singing voice that radiates throughout the album’s dozen songs. Developing her voice and songwriting skills since she was a teenager in the early 1990s, the Hazleton-based singer and pianist displays a clear, ever-moving, dynamic voice packed with feeling on the album’s blend of thoughtful ballads and mild-mannered, upbeat pop-rock pieces. The slow-building album-opener “The Message” relays an uplifting message that everyone has a purpose, and Shannon’s voice soars to intense heights as the song reaches its crescendo. On the piano ballad title track, “Oceans,” Shannon likens life to an ocean where waves lift, fall, flow and crash, and she tells listeners to ride the tide and not give up when waters become difficult. Strings help underscore the breakup ode “A Love That Doesn’t Hurt,” while in a similar vein, the piano ballad “Words” examines words as hurtful weapons – highlighted by Shannon’s voice alternating between octaves during the song’s homestretch. The album has its punchier moments, too; hints of Adele and Amy Winehouse flavor the uptempo and exotic-toned “Caught Falling,” and Shannon celebrates the joy of love on the faster-paced, acoustic guitar-driven “You Take Me Away.” Another highlight of the album is Shannon’s duet with featured guest singer Matt Dame, “Worth Their Fight,” a country-toned salute to service men and women. The album closes on a hopeful note with the modern-toned “Little Bit of Heaven,” assuring calm after life’s storms, and light after darkness. Shannon’s voice is stellar throughout the album, and her melodies and words are captivating and relatable. The song arrangements support Shannon’s voice and help color the emotional tones of her song material. Recorded using several studios and partially produced by Shannon’s husband, Mike Marsyada, Oceans sounds clear, full and consistent from start to end, and the mix and arrangements enable the beauty of Shannon’s voice to fully radiate. Oceans is a beautiful album with thoughtful, heartfelt themes, and it shows Shannon Marsyada as a shining talent reaching her full stride; here’s hoping this album propels her talents toward a broader listenership. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby and other online platforms.)