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CD Reviews - June 2021

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IMAGES OF EDEN – ANGEL BORN (Pavement Entertainment) York-based singer Gordon Tittsworth began his Images Of Eden journey more than two decades ago. Through several incarnations, the group has steadily honed its style of progressive-leaning, hard-hitting metal music, focusing its vision and upping the ante both musically and lyrically through each of their five albums. This progress has resulted in Images Of Eden being signed by prominent rock and metal record label Pavement Entertainment. Their fifth and latest album, Angel Born, sharpens the group’s sound even further, combining detailed melodies and song structures with power metal dynamics. Drummer Steve Dorssom and bassist Eric Mulvaine generate the thundering foundation, while lead guitarist Victor Morell and keyboardist L. Dean Harris color and shape the textures of the group’s attack, setting up for Gordon’s hearty and siren-like voice. Lyrical themes of coping with today's chaotic world, hope and the hereafter converge over Angel Born's 11 original songs; “Autumn Is Burning” begins the album with a sense of foreboding as current times approach a breaking point. As one journey ends, another begins on the title track “Angel Born,” while “The Promise” offers hope in the face of despair. Spiritual conversations comprise both the majestic “Where Dreams Begin” and the slow-building “If?” before “Killing God” brings the album back to troubled current times, and “War Room” promises a healing. Gordon and Images Of Eden rail against media misinformation on “Animation in a Still World,” its mix of sung and spoken commentary slightly reminiscent of Queensryche's “Empire.” The album's climax is its epic finale, the 11-minute-plus magnum opus “In Memory of Me,” an intricately-woven musical vision of crossing the threshold into the next dimension. An additional highlight is the group's lone cover song, their inspired read of Triumph's 1981 hope-themed classic “Fight the Good Fight.” Images Of Eden's arrangements sound thundering and dynamic, with melody, instrumental nuances and firepower blending into a consistent and cohesive presentation from start to end. Gordon's vocal performance exudes heartfelt emotion and intensity; while there are lyrical themes of spirituality and faith present, the words never get preachy or condescending, and a central thread of hope weaves this album together. Produced by Gordon and Steve, and mixed and mastered by Bill Metoyer, Angel Born sounds big, full, crisp and vibrant. Images Of Eden crafts their strongest set yet with Angel Born, again raising the bar on their sonic and thematic vision. Fans of progressive metal firepower need to seek out this album. (The album can be obtained through the group’s website, www.imagesofeden.com.)



TED McCLOSKEY – THE LOST SEASON SESSIONS VOL. 3 – WAITING FOR THE CAVALRY (no label) To refresh your memories, when the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown began in March of last year, the world ground to a quick halt for State College-based working musician Ted McCloskey, whose performance schedule went from multiple gigs per week down to zero. Ted channeled his frustrations inward, and musically documented his thoughts, observations, experiences and feelings pertaining to the pandemic and the other craziness that enveloped our society and world over the past year. The results are The Lost Season Sessions series of albums, with the first two volumes released in June and October of last year. The latest, The Lost Season Sessions Vol. 3 – Waiting for the Cavalry, examines anxieties as people see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel but are running out of patience to get there. The album's six songs show a more wistful tone overall, as Ted takes a more melancholy and minor-key approach. The leadoff track, “Keep Us Afloat,” sets this tone as it describes the weary mindset of people and a world who have endured this ordeal for way too long. “The Night Sky” forecasts a long hangover for those most affected by the past year in terms of lives and livelihoods lost. Both “Wouldn't It Be Great” and “Room to Breathe” ride introspective themes as Ted seeks threads of hope to escape ongoing doubt and uncertainty. The mental toll of the past year's ordeal grows heavier on “This War,” before Ted advises patience and vigilance instead of haste on the closing number “No Spring Skips Its Turn.” Again, Ted masterfully crafts compelling words and music here, and is able to generate a set with a self-contained mood and angle totally separate from the first two Lost Season Session chapters. His attention to guitar tones and instrumentation enhances the overall sense of melancholy here, and his arrangements and production give the set a smooth, consistent sound. The Lost Season Sessions captures Ted McCloskey's observations, emotions and perspectives during this tumultuous and challenging period of history, and the Waiting for the Cavalry chapter translates into music the anxieties and aggravations as he – and we – all wait for the COVID saga to finally get behind us. This series further establishes Ted as a master musical craftsman. (The recording can be obtained through Ted McCloskey's Bandcamp page.)



HANNA BARAKAT – SIREN (no label) A Texas native now based in Austin, Hanna Barakat blends elements of Middle Eastern music with hard-driving modern rock on her debut album, Siren. Born to a Lebanese father and American mother, Hanna fuses eastern musical elements and instrumentation with western rock over Siren's ten tracks, as well as incorporating lyrical themes based on her ancestral culture. Hanna sings and plays various instruments throughout the album, with Disturbed bassist John Moyer playing most bass and drum parts and co-producing the album with Hanna. Several guest musicians add Arabic instrumentation such as oud, kanun, frame drum and riqq. The album's title track “Siren” sets the table and introduces listeners to Hanna's musical vision, as a Mediterranean edge merges with a hard-rocking melody. This blend manifests through the hard-driving numbers “Let Go” and “Wildfire,” before Hanna taps a slower and soulful pop vibe with the relationship ode “Leave Your Light On.” Hanna addresses realities of her father's homeland on two numbers – “Cycle” explores the cycle of hate that propels never-ending conflicts in the Middle East, while expressing hope that this cycle can someday be broken; her father, Nasri Barakat, gives a spoken passage expressing that sentiment during the song. And the solemn “Separation” views physical barriers between neighboring nations through the eyes of a child. Altoona's Lisa Fazenbaker provides the drum propulsion behind the album's closing track, “Wanting to Go Home,” As Hanna yearns to connect with the land of her father. Siren is a fascinating album on several levels – Hanna's voice displays a busy, siren-like quality as she smoothly blends Mediterranean and western rock singing styles, and the merger of traditional eastern and hard rock flavors works smoothly and sounds cohesive. The various arrangements and angles of the songs keeps this set interesting and intriguing from start to end, and the production and mix enables all elements of Hanna's diverse musical stew to sound crisp and balanced. Siren provides a compelling listen, as Hanna Barakat and her collaborators deliver a unique, fresh-sounding and hard-rocking adventure. (CD and digital versions of the album can be obtained through Hanna's website, www.hannabarakat.com, or you can purchase the album when Hanna performs at McGarvey's in Altoona on Thursday, June 10.)



MEMORY COLLECTOR – FUTURE EYES (Coronal Mass Recordings) Altoona’s Sascha Damon Frost has been writing and composing music since 2009, and Memory Collector is his creative vehicle for exploring electronica and ambient music frontiers. Memory Collector’s third full-length album, Future Eyes, takes listeners through an intriguing electronic music journey through eight compositions, seven of them instrumentals. Sascha composes, programs and arranges all of the numbers along with playing keys, and sings on one number. He paints elaborate pictures with his instrumental numbers, which display moving and intricate structures that keep things interesting and never stay in one place for long. Sascha stirs moods and images with his creations; generating mystique on the bold opener “Unsolved Mysteries,” a light and airy mood on “Dreamspeak 11:11,” and a caution-laden journey through “Dance Forest.” He explores different dance-beat textures through such exercises as “Bottomless Wishing Well” and “Frozen Shadow,” and investigates the electronica cosmos on “Spacial Distortion” and the album-closer “Dark Photon.” Sascha also shows he can carry a vocal number, evidenced by the catchy “Masque” with its infectious melody and smooth arrangement. Recorded and produced by Sascha in his attic studio, Future Eyes sounds crisp, smooth and consistent throughout, and his sense of musical exploration keeps this set intriguing from start to end. Memory Collector offers a listening escape from the daily grind with Future Eyes, a good headphone album worth indulging when a break from life’s chaos is needed. (The album can be obtained through Memory Collector’s Bandcamp page.)



WILLIAM ROSE – LOVE & REVOLUTION (no label) A western PA native who now calls Kennett Square (Philadelphia area) his home base, William Rose has embarked on a solo direction following stints with such projects as Rose Project, Somerhill and Flying Islands. On his debut album, Love & Revolution, William blends rock, alternative pop, ambient and Americana influences over nine tracks. William sings, plays guitar and piano; assisted by bassist Jason Bafile, backing singer Anita Samis, and The Crew Of the Half Moon contingent of Dan Oatman on guitar, piano and bass plus drummer Jonathan Beard, who also recorded and engineered the album. William explores human feelings, relationships and moments through his lyrics. He recounts relationship mistakes on the powerful album-opener “Chasing Satellites,” with Jonathan's driving drumbeats giving the song added urgency and intensity. William explores life's challenges and confusion on the keyboard-driven, Beatle-esque “Telescope,” and seeks to make sense of the chaos on the alt-country rock-flavored “December.” He searches for adventure and meaning on the darker and ambient “San Juan,” and resolves to pull through when feeling defeated on the ambient alt-pop album closer “Already Broken.” Brighter moments abound on the punchy and melodic love song “Edge of the Earth” and the upbeat and reminiscent “Memory.” William and his cast generate different musical slants for each song, crafting innovative yet catchy melodies and keeping the album sounding fresh throughout. William sounds solid and steady on the vocal end, and instrumentally he and his cohorts sample with different tones and textures. The production gives the album consistent crispness, punch and fullness. Love & Revolution introduces William Rose's intriguing musical vision and creativity, as he skillfully mixes melodies, angles and words into a distinctive flavor all his own. (The album can be obtained or streamed through digital platforms, or through the website www.thewilliamrose.com.)



THE FILTHY LOWDOWN – EL ACCIDENTÉ (No Pants Records) The Filthy Lowdown has been slamming forth their brand of punk rock-flavored aggression from the Pittsburgh scene since 2010. Their second full-length CD, El Accidenté, finds the quintet cranking on all cylinders with their high-velocity, thrash metal-powered punk attack. Lead guitarist Brandon Habera, rhythm guitarist Max Snyder, bassist Charlie Kowalski and drummer Dan Kelly storm forth with reckless abandon rhythms and torrid, snarling guitars, setting the backdrop for frontman Abraham “Abe Like Lincoln” Balestra to sing, snarl and shout his words with vein-popping intensity. After the prelude of a recording studio dispute gone awry, the disc-opening track “Mischief” slams out the gate and sets the album’s torrid pace, with Abe emphatically roaring that mischief is who he is. Party mayhem abounds on the speedster “308,” and dead-end job woes inform Abe's rants on “No Ambition” and “Don't Wear Yourself Thin.” The Filthy Lowdown shows a roots-rock vibe on the south-of-the-border adventure “Tijuana Chronicles,” which sets up for the sequel song, the fast and furious “Somebody Hit Somebody” as all hell breaks loose south of the border. “Sex Owl” and “Cheap Cars Fast Women” celebrate wild people and wild times, while “I Am Rock N'Roll” and “Punk Punch N'Roll” extol the virtues of making music and being oneself. Slamming the album homeward, the radio single “Hydroplane” waxes introspective about life skidding out of control, while “Twisted Minds” ponders others who have lost control and a lot more. Adrenalin carries the day on El Accidenté, as The Filthy Lowdown is pedal-to-the-metal all the way. This band slams for broke, yet keeps it together and on target. Frontman Abe is equal to the task and rages with the best of them. Yet he and band never take themselves too seriously, and coupled with decent song hooks and gang shout choruses, make this a wild yet fun set from start to end. (You can obtain the album through The Filthy Lowdown's Bandcamp page.)

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