CD Reviews - January 2022
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ANTONIO ANDRADE – JINGLE ALL THE WAY (Life Shakes Records) When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Antonio Andrade from singing his Christmas cover songs to live audiences last holiday season, he decided instead to spend that season having fun with several of those holiday classics in the recording studio. The result is Jingle All the Way, Antonio’s seventh full-length album and first holiday-themed set. Antonio selected eight time-tested holiday season favorites written between 1934 and 1962, and – considering that these have over time evolved into seasonal folk songs – he presents them in his own distinctive, folksy style. Antonio sings and plays harmonica, along with some acoustic guitar, ukulele, piano and percussion. Derek Euston – who co-produced the album with Antonio and recorded it at The Green Room in Harrisburg – plays bass throughout the album, along with guitars, keys and bells. And Amma Johnson provides bright and supportive backing vocals. Antonio establishes a joyful and gentle tone on his album-opening rendition of “Winter Wonderland,” a song whose lyrics were inspired by a Pennsylvania winter scene. His clean harmonica tone leads into “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and he applies a 4/4 time treatment to “Silver Bells.” Antonio's version of “Let It Snow” lifts and builds into a gleeful celebration of indoor coziness, and soft drumming from Ed Lesser helps set the relaxing pace of “Jingle Bell Rock.” A comfy mood permeates Antonio's rendition of “The Christmas Song,” before the album picks up the pace in the homestretch with happy-going versions of “Sleigh Ride” and the album-closing “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” This album captures a cordial, pleasant vibe from start to end. Antonio makes these seasonal staples his own; his clear voice shows sincerity, heart and warmth, and you can tell he enjoys these songs and the holiday season that inspired them. The simple arrangements preserve the songs' folksy presence, and allow the performances of Antonio and his cohorts to shine. Jingle All the Way is what a Christmas season album should be, as Antonio Andrade's latest effort provides a perfect accompaniment for decorating the Christmas tree. (The album can be obtained through Antonio's website, www.lifeshakes.com.)
DOCTOR SMOKE – DREAMERS AND THE DEAD (Ripple Music) Formed in 2012 and based in the Steubenville, Ohio-Weirton, West Virginia region just west of the PA border, Doctor Smoke awakened the regional heavy metal world with their 2014 debut album The Witching Hour, introducing a powerful sound rooted in the 1970s doom-rock tradition of early Black Sabbath. The group has returned with a new and tenacious follow-up, Dreamers and the Dead. The cast of singer and guitarist Matt Tluchowski, lead guitarist Steve Lehocky, bassist Jeff Young and drummer Cody Cooke have crafted ten strong, distinctive and dark-toned numbers, each displaying captivating riffs and memorable song hooks, progressive-edged shifting tempos and rhythms, precision lead guitar work, and lyrical themes of death, finality, dreams, visions and the spirit world. Matt as frontman offers a blend of melody, vocal range and grit, along with a convincingly sinister demeanor. The opening track, “Reborn into Darkness,” sets the album’s tone with its busy rhythms, alluring song hook, and words pondering life’s ending and what lies beyond. Riding a distinctive riff, “These Horrid Things” explores paranoia and hidden fear, while the rampaging “Waking Dreams” studies nightmares. The multi-tempo “Out of Time” reflects on life’s wasted time and impending finality, and “Been Here Forever” presents a face-off with one’s soul. The thrash-edged title track “Dreamers and the Dead” again explores dream visions and finality, the driving “The Rope” considers a suicide solution, and the brooding album-closer “This Hallowed Ground” envisions the dirt bath. The performances are powerful and tight, and Doctor Smoke executes these songs with authority. Their delivery is consistent, and although each song stands well on its own, these numbers gel into a cohesive, steady set. Recorded at studios in the Steubenville vicinity and mastered in Sweden, Dreamers and the Dead sounds balanced, sharp and thundering, with all vocals and instrumental components identifiable and clear in the mix. Doctor Smoke raises the bar on their brand of dark metal music with Dreamers and the Dead, an all-killer, no-filler set that should resonate with classic-styled metal fans and elevate this group’s following and profile. (The album can be obtained through Doctor Smoke’s Bandcamp page.)