CD Reviews - July 2020
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TED McCLOSKEY – THE LOST SEASON SESSIONS VOL. I – THE BIG PAUSE (no label) “Everybody’s feeling the spring fever/This one’s gonna linger for a while/Everybody’s feeling the spring fever/This one’s gonna last all summer long.” The chorus of “Spring Fever,” the opening track of Ted McCloskey’s latest album, The Lost Season Sessions Vol. 1 – The Big Pause; these words establish the central thread of this set, as Ted channels his experiences, observations and muses stemming from the coronavirus shutdown. As one of State College’s busiest musicians, Ted saw his livelihood of playing out several nights a week come to an abrupt halt in March; he subsequently directed his energies toward creating the 10 songs on this album, plus more new songs for subsequent recordings. Following “Spring Fever,” Ted addresses the tedium of isolation and killing time on the acoustic-geared “To Be Quarantined,” and expresses the agony and frustration of furloughs and financial insecurity on the hard-driving Americana rock of “Nonessential.” The logjam of emotions, confusion and mental wear and tear from the ordeal inform the words of “Bottlenecked,” and Ted seeks levity to disrupt the monotony on the uptempo “Laughter.” Hopes and goals are dealt a rigid reality check on the hard-rocking “Some Things Aren’t Meant to Fly,” while late night demons face the sunrise on the soulful “Up All Night Morning.” Uncertainty and dashed hopes prevail on the melancholy “River of Doubt,” and frustration over blind allegiance boils over on the punchy “Such a Stupid Man.” And for the album’s finale, Ted addresses social distancing, fears of infection, and concerns about the rush back to normalcy on “Till the World Starts Spinning Again.” Ted delivers some of his strongest songwriting here; his words intelligently convey feelings and emotions that he and many people have experienced during the past several months. His melodies and arrangements connect, and his constant nuanced blend of modern and traditional musical flavors keep this album sounding fresh from start to end. Through Ted McCloskey’s words and music, The Lost Season Sessions Vol. I – The Big Pause captures many aspects of the times we have endured since March, and this album effectively presents a musical snapshot of our current-day reality. (The album can be obtained from Ted’s Bandcamp page, as well as iTunes and other online retailers.)
CHIP & THE CHARGE UPS – LIGHTNING IN OUR VEINS (no label) Formed two years ago by singer, guitarist and namesake Chip Dominick and his then-16-year-old daughter Maleena, Chip & the Charge Ups quickly drew attention in the Pittsburgh area and beyond with their invigorating blend of rock, pop and punk flavors. Their third recording, Lightning in Our Veins, offers a showcase of what this band’s sound is all about through nine impressive tracks. Both Chip and Maleena share and swap lead singing duties, with Chip playing lead guitar and Maleena on bass; joined by DJ Carothers on guitar and Jeff DiPerna on drums. Chip & the Charge Ups issue a strong mission statement on the album’s hard-grooving opening track, “Feel Electricity,” to make listeners and audiences feel the musical lightning in their veins. Maleena takes the spotlight on the group’s punk-fueled update of Blondie’s 1980 hit “The Tide Is High,” which steadily increases in intensity toward a glorious fist pump-inspiring finish. Chip addresses poisonous people on the crunchy and anthemic “Toxic Human,” and encourages listeners to live each day with gusto on the fast-firing punk rocker “This Bomb Ain’t Gonna Light Itself.” Known for their mash-ups during live shows, Chip & the Charge Ups wed Ozzy Osbourne and Lady Gaga in musical matrimony with their clever “Bark at the Bad Romance,” with both Chip and Maleena convincing in their respective Ozzy and Gaga singing roles. Maleena provides the album’s mild moment with the catchy and acoustic-geared relationship ballad “Iced Tea and Lemonade.” After two more infectious rockers in the Chip-fronted “Glory” and the Maleena-fronted “Unbreakable,” the album finishes with the punchy holiday season duet rocker “Black and Gold Christmas,” celebrating Christmas Pittsburgh-style with guest singers Liz Berlin (of Rusted Root), Doug Carnahan (of After The Fall), Jen Craven and Char Fields. All things click on this album; the song hooks are contagious and easily memorable, the lyrics are relatable and easy to digest, and both Chip and Maleena sing their words with passion and swagger. The group’s execution is sharp and powerful, and the overall sound is vibrant, balanced, full and edgy. Chip & the Charge Ups connect full flush on Lightning in Our Veins, a fun and exciting album well worthy of being cranked loud on your favorite listening device. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.thechargeups.com.)
FELIX & THE HURRICANES – ALL ROADS LEAD TO CRESSON (no label) Recently passing the 30-year milestone as a band, Felix & the Hurricanes have long established themselves as an institution on the west-central PA music scene and beyond. Seventeen years after the release of their last studio album, 2003’s Travelers Not Forgotten, the group has released a limited-edition, two-CD live set called All Roads Lead to Cresson. Recorded during a performance at the R-Bar in Pittsburgh, the long-running Hurricanes roster of singer and guitarist Felix Kos, bassist and singer Jeff Clapper, and drummer and singer Bob Watters demonstrate their performance chemistry and energy over the set’s 19 tracks, playing six original songs and 13 of their most popular and unique covers. Two of the original songs have not appeared on CD before; their feisty surf rock/rockabilly-informed instrumental “Whirlwind” and the upbeat “Beale Street,” where Jeff sings the story of the group’s happy experience at the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Also included are the group’s popular rock’n’rolling original song “The Lonely One,” the sullen “On the Bottom,” the hard-driving “Keep on Rockin’” and the R&B-driven “Walkin’ A Straight Line.” Of the cover material, The Hurricanes embrace their southern rock roots with powerful renditions of The Outlaws’ “There Goes Another Love Song” (which opens the first disc), ZZ Top’s “Heard It on the X” and Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” They also deliver three different Allman Brothers favorites: their fiery takes on “Whipping Post” and “Dreams,” plus the tender “Melissa”; and they unleash full fury on one of their frequent jaw-dropping favorites, a 10-minute rendering of The Outlaws’ “Green Grass and High Tides.” Other highlights include their take on John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change,” Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the group pushing pedal to the metal on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Rude Mood,” and a thunderous version of Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda da Vida.” The Hurricanes’ musical fireworks and enthusiasm shine constantly; Felix and Jeff both deliver hearty and heartfelt performances on the vocal end. Instrumentally, Felix wrings out every ounce of emotion as he makes his guitar sing, Jeff’s bass rumbles with authority, and Bob’s drum beats pack steady power to drive the songs forward. The recording and mix sound balanced and full, and capture the raw essence and energy of the Hurricanes’ live show, as well as Felix’s occasional quips and the audience’s constant appreciation. For seasoned longtime “Hurricaniacs,” All Roads Lead to Cresson is a fine representation of what Felix & the Hurricanes bring to the live stage, and for first-time listeners, this set offers an enticing introduction and entry point into this group’s Category 5 musical storm. (The CD is available in limited quantity at the group’s shows.)
ARTE TEDESCO – LIGHTNING STRIKES! (no label) Pittsburgh’s Arte Tedesco has been making music for a half-century, and his vast career has taken him to Florida, Hollywood, and elsewhere around the country. His fifth album overall and first in 10 years, Lightning Strikes!, offers a mixture of musical flavors, as well as thoughts, reflections and wisdom from an artist who has done some living. The album’s eight tracks blend elements of rock, blues, jazz, folk and reggae into an engaging mix with no two numbers the same. Arte sings and plays guitar, joined by David Granati on lead guitar, Joey Granati on bass and keys, and Greg McIltrot on drums and percussion. Relationships inform many of these songs; on the playful and slinky album-opener, “Ole Lion,” Arte asserts himself as the seasoned and wily king of his domain as he stalks romantic prey. He envisions his dream lady on the gentle and acoustic-driven “Sweet Baby of My Dreams,” ponders the mystery of relationships on the jazz-toned “Wonderin,’” and considers the finality of relationships on the reggae-edged “The Last Word.” The two hardest-rocking songs on the album both place first impressions in weather-related contexts; the title track “Lightning Strikes” compares a shot of lightning with that first encounter with a game-changing woman, while “Hurricane” warns of the building storm of love and what it may entail. Arte pays homage to his hometown and what brings him back to it on the pleasant-toned “Pittsburgh,” and he offers some self-reflection on the hearty and album-ending “Who I Am.” Arte’s voice exudes personality and spirit throughout the album, and his presentation is honest and heartfelt. The overall musicianship is solid and steady, with the performances coloring and supporting the melodies. Produced by Arte, recorded at Dave’s World Studios in Ambridge and mixed at John Blanche Audio in Orlando, Lightning Strikes! sounds straightforward and smooth. Arte’s voice comes through strong and clean, and the mix sounds balanced with all components represented clearly. This album offers a musical snapshot of Arte Tedesco in the moment; Lightning Strikes! provides a pleasant listen and touches of life wisdom from an artist who has experienced life and love, and lived to tell about both. (The CD can be obtained through Arte’s website, www.artetedesco.com.)
RIK GOLDEN – HOLD ON (Golden Records) Rik Golden has been a mainstay of the west-central PA rock and punk scene for the past two decades, and has played with such bands as The Marauders, Keystone All Stars, and more recently, The Snipped and his eponymous Rik Golden Band. Almost 15 years after releasing his self-titled debut album in 2005, Rik has issued his latest CD, Hold On. Through 13 tracks, Rik generates high-powered rock’n’roll, tapping influences spanning punk rock, the Rolling Stones and roots music. Singing and playing bass, Rik introduces seven new songs and updates six numbers from the 2005 album, assisted along the way by Todd Harshbarger on drums, guitarists Rick Ramsey and Greg Larrimore, and his son Rick III on percussion. Rik sets the tone with the introductory track, a high-octane update of the punk-driven breakup song “Alone.” Punk adrenaline also powers the title track “Hold On,” as well as the Ramones-ish “What They Say.” Rik channels Rolling Stones-styled bad boy rock on several songs, including “Another Round,” “Illusion” and an update of “Still Sittin’ Home.” Rik taps roots sounds as well, dabbling in country twang on the cigarette habit-kicking ode “His Last One,” and displaying a surf-rock edge on “Let You Go” and an update of his surfabilly instrumental “Cresson Gutter Bums” (inspired by an adventure of surfing storm drain torrents following a thunderstorm in the Cambria County town of Cresson). Rik also gives sharp-edged updates to three more of his popular earlier tunes, “Brown Eye Mary,” “Gig Is Up” and the album-closing “Something Else (In Mind).” The performances are energized and hearty, as Rik sinks go-for-broke enthusiasm into his singing and driving bass lines. His cast of musical accomplices deliver that same edge, as the guitar riffs chug, the guitar solos sting, and Todd’s drumbeats pack punch and velocity. Recorded and produced at Rik’s own Golden Studios, Hold On hits hard, sounds mean and lean, and displays edginess and bite throughout. Rik Golden amps up the rock and roll on Hold On, a freewheeling set sure to win new listeners and fans. (The CD can be obtained at Rik’s shows, and the digital album is available through Amazon.)