CD Reviews - June 2022
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KEITH RANDALL – I FEEL IT TOO EP (no label) A Williamsport native now based in Hershey, Keith Randall honed his skills on a variety of instruments and learned music theory, plus became a composer and guitar instructor. After a health scare during the COVID-19 pandemic, Keith decided to concentrate on creating his own music, leading to his first, all-instrumental solo EP called I Feel It Too. Keith composed, recorded, mixed and mastered the EP at his own School House Sound studio in Annville; and he plays guitar, bass, piano and keys, with his wife Sonya playing alto saxophone and violin. Keith explores interesting musical frontiers over the EP’s five tracks, melding together elements of classical, jazz, international, pop, rock and more. Opening the set, “Bacchanal” immediately showcases Keith’s skills at blending musical styles, emerging from its serious-toned acoustic guitar intro into a busier and more boisterous blend of eastern European and jazz flavors with accents of klezmer music; a prominent drum beat and Sonya’s saxophone are driving forces in this composition. Keith indulges his jazz exploration with “Lovers in the Rain,” constructing a Latin-toned melody around an intriguing 13/8 time signature, with classical and Spanish-styled guitar providing the main instrumental flavoring. This leads into the acoustic-driven title track passage, “I Feel It Too,” with guitar melody and nuances riding along a bass and triple drum beat rhythm. “Avalon” steps up the tempo with its merging of jazz and light pop-rock, with Keith’s guitar work busily interacting with Sonya’s sax and strings. The set closes with “The Hook-Up,” which establishes a busy and rhythmic jazz-rock foundation (that reminds me a little of a favorite Jean-Luc Ponty number, “The Art of Happiness”) that then alternates with a gentler side journey punctuated with piano and smooth-sounding saxophone. With his and Sonya’s instruments doing the talking, Keith cleverly evokes a variety of moods throughout I Feel It Too, with his arrangements and instrumental nuances crafting a continuous cavalcade of vibes. The production sounds balanced, crisp and deep, and this set flows along cohesively. Keith Randall’s instrumental experimentations and adventures effectively communicate his moods and feelings on I Feel It Too, a set that will convey to listeners his musical senses and moods as well. (This recording can be obtained through Keith’s website, www.keithrandallmusic.com.)
STRING MACHINE – HALLELUJAH HELL YEAH (no label) String Machine began forming in the Butler area almost a decade ago, and – now seven members strong – has evolved into a prominent name on the Pittsburgh indie-rock scene. Their third album, Hallelujah Hell Yeah offers proof positive as to why this band is a rising name. String Machine merges elements of alternative rock, folk and pop into a captivating stew of sounds; featuring varying arrangements and textures, bright vocals and harmonies, and progressing, unpredictable melodies that make each song a catchy listening adventure. The group’s cast – singer, primary songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Beck (who produced the album), singer Laurel Wain, cellist Katie Morrow, drummer Nic Temple, trumpet player Ian Compton, bassist Mike Law and keyboardist Dylan Kersten – all contribute their various flavors and tones to this musical stew to keep it continually interesting. The primary lyrical theme of the album’s nine songs seems to be rebounding from life’s bumps and bruises, embracing the present and moving forward. Each song addresses a different aspect of that equation; the piano and trumpet-geared album-opener “Places to Hide” expresses fear of emotional pain but realizes the need to confront it, while the gentle-toned “Gales of Worry” describes riding the rough seas of emotion and despair. David cites his father for the inspiration to battle back on “Four Corners,” and the backbeat-driven “Eyes Set 4 Good” sets the course for healing and reconciliation. As emotionally-driven as David's words are, the overall tone of this album is brighter, hopeful and triumphant. The melodies are solid and the arrangements keep things musically busy. The performances are vibrant, with David's and Laurel's harmonies, plus the timely elevation and descent of the instrumental layers all working in tandem to accent key moments in the melodies and lyrics. The overall mix is broad and allows all of the instruments and voices to sound clear and distinct. The result is an engaging, satisfying and ultimately uplifting album; String Machine delivers a strong and focused set with Hallelujah Hell Yeah, and sets the bar high for their art and craftsmanship. (The album can be heard and downloaded from the group's Bandcamp page and other online platforms.)
ABSTENTIOUS – WITHOUT A MORAL COMPASS (no label) Young Altoona area punk rockers Abstentious formed and played their first public show in 2020, and they have since grown a following with all-ages and over-21 audiences alike. Their first full-length album, Without a Moral Compass, demonstrates the group’s youthful energy and tenacity over the course of 14 tracks. Singer and bassist Noah Keller, singer and guitarist Brayden Adams and drummer Jake Hicks slam breakneck-speed punk anthems with enthusiastic reckless abandon and purpose. The guitars are loud and dirty, the drumbeats are high velocity and slamming, and both Noah and Brayden boldly sing and bark out lyrical themes of teenage anxiety, individuality, understanding the opposite sex and more. Adolescent frustrations of not having all the answers inform the words of the pop punk-leaning first song, “14 Weeks (Until March 1), while “Whatever Lets You Sleep at Night” addresses chronic complainers and attention seekers. The fast and furious “Thinkin' for You” and “Just Shut Up” both express individuality; through thinking for oneself and chasing off the noise of others' unwanted advice. Abstentious takes a darker and more serious tone with “Late Night Tokyo,” addressing the frustrations of being misunderstood and not taken seriously. Noah tries to figure out the quandaries of women on “Means Well, Oh Well,” while Brayden ponders the meaning of love on the spoken-word punk poem “Don't Say,” which closes the album. This is exciting, no-holds-barred punk rock – Abstentious is fearless, flooring the accelerator and having fun doing it. They sing and bark with purpose, and their instrumental execution is sharp and on point, even at their fastest tempos. The album's overall production sounds clear and balanced, and gives Abstentious' frenzied attack ample firepower. Abstentious unleashes high-octane punk rock fervor on Without A Moral Compass, and delivers a rowdy, fun and action-packed set. (The album can be obtained and accessed through online digital platforms.)