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CD Reviews - March 2019


MISS MELANIE & THE VALLEY RATS – MISS MELANIE & THE VALLEY RATS (no label) For their fifth CD, Happy Valley blues, soul and groove favorites Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats have gone for broke and made a 23-track, 75-minute-plus self-titled album. The group mixes it up between old and new songs, and live and studio tracks, along the way introducing a few new original numbers plus live takes and updated arrangements on many established tunes from their prior albums. Front and center continues to be “Miss Melanie” Morrison Zeigler, who radiates constant joy through her potent, soaring voice. Her singing again lifts listeners as she displays her soulful and dynamic range between reserved and quiet soul-searching to boisterous, sky-reaching bursts of glee. Guitar master Mark Ross provides tasteful licks throughout the album, while Rev James Harton fleshes out the sound with flavorful organ and accordion fills. Chris Coyne delivers just the right drum touch behind it all, and even shows his kazoo skills on the group’s live rendition of Stevie Wonder’s hit “For Once In My Life,” just one of many highlights here. Among the new original songs are two social commentary pieces, “I’ll Be Damned” and “Demons,” which both address issues of racism and prejudice. The Rev’s creeping organ backdrop adds a sinister touch to the shadowy mood on the live new original track “Witch & She-Devil.” Other highlights include the group’s treatments of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love,” British soul singer James Hunter’s “’Til Your Fool Comes Home” and Charles Bradley’s “Strictly Reserved for You.” And Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats offer new live versions on past favorites such as the playful opener “Whiskey & Me,” “Shine,” “Let’s Ride,” “If I Had My Druthers,” “Tell Me Where It’s At,” “You’re All I Got,” plus new renditions of Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart,” the Beatles’ “Help” and another reverent take on “Amazing Grace” to nicely cap the album. The performances from Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats plus special guests Rene Witzke on bass and Matt Zelenz on drums exude quality, skill and feeling. All of the musicians serve the songs with their contributions, never becoming self-indulgent or overplaying their respective roles; thus helping this album to flow smoothly and seamlessly from start to end. The result is an album jam-packed with top-notch, blues-rooted music, which offers a perfect primer for those who have never explored Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats before. (The CD can be obtained through online music retailers, or through the group’s website, www.missmelanieandthevalleyrats.com.)


THE SNIPPED – #dadcore (no label) What happens when four longtime stalwarts of the west-central PA punk rock scene – who happen to be dads – get together to make music? They create “dadcore,” which is the title of the first full-length album for Altoona area punk-rocking patriarchs The Snipped. Singer/guitarist (Mikey) Wax, lead guitarist/singer Jeff Reid, bassist/singer Rik Golden (with additional bass contributions from Brock Holland) and drummer Justin Burket fire off ten swift, high-velocity punk-fueled anthems, while contemplating a few issues of modern-day fatherhood. The rhythms explode, crash and slam, and Wax sings, barks and snarls with ample spit and rage. With its extended intro, the leadoff barrage “Along These Streets” is a statement of survival and perseverance through this thing called life, setting the table for the rest of the album. The group rants about appreciation, respect and standing one’s ground on “Hand That Feeds” and the speedbanger “Smug,” makes sense of today’s crazy world on “All We Know,” and weathers life’s daily pressures on “Weight of the World.” This group of dads unleashes musical rush-hour road rage at frequent-stopping school buses on “Bus.” And they offer reflection on two numbers, resolving to live every moment and give all on “Waste My Time,” and pondering carefree younger years and the passage of time on the album-closing “Friday Night.” Recorded, mixed and mastered by Rik at his own Golden Records, #dadcore sounds full and forceful, and lets the group’s velocity, vigor and vinegar do the talking. While other dads mow the lawn or clean out the basement to unwind from the rigors of domesticated life, The Snipped create vibrant punk rock, and #dadcore offers exciting, pedal-to-the-metal aggression and attitude. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby and other online retailers.)


COLEMAN RIGG – COLEMAN RIGG EP (no label) A Bellefonte native who now calls Philadelphia his home base, Coleman Rigg mixes elements of old and new on his six-song, self-titled debut EP. Displaying a powerful, clear singing voice with authority and range, Coleman crafts a sound that blends early rock’n’roll and rockabilly flavors with an alternative and indie-rock edge. His bold singing style at times hints at classic Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, while his raw, grungy guitar tones and beefy arrangements sound contemporary and edgy. Coleman sings of personal and relationship themes; on the rockabilly-driven disc-opener “Just a Man,” he struggles to define himself in a world where breadwinner duties compete with individuality, and he questions a woman’s confusing perceptions on “Puzzled at Your Door.” “Block” suggests that the real individual is concealed behind the face that others see. Worries about another suitor provide the theme of the gradually-building rocker “Goodnight,” while absence makes the heart grow fonder on the stripped-down ballad “Missed You Tonight.” And Coleman sings of pride before the fall on the disc-closing “All Smiles.” With Jesse Hall providing drums and backing vocals, Coleman’s voice shines front and center throughout the disc, and his guitar and bass accompaniment provide continuity throughout the set. Recorded and mixed by Coleman at his home in Philadelphia, this EP sounds balanced and full, with a cavernous echo evoking a 1950s early rock’n’roll mood. Coleman Rigg displays his unique sound and musical world on his self-titled EP, introducing himself as an innovative singer and songwriter worth keeping an eye on. (The CD can be obtained through Coleman Rigg’s website, www.colemanrigg.com.)


STEVEE WELLONS BAND – BORN TO BLUES (no label) Pittsburgh’s Stephanie “Stevee” Wellons has been performing for more than 25 years, entertaining audiences from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas. On her self-named band’s latest album, Born to Blues, Stevee and her band run the gamut of blues styles and flavors over seven tracks. Backed and flanked by her Soulful Femme duo partner and guitarist Cheryl Rinovato, keyboardist Steve Binsberger, bassist Jimmy Spears and drummer Allen Muckle; Stevee takes listeners on a freewheeling journey that twists and turns toward joyous and feisty highs, moody lows and multiple vibes and feelings in between. The album starts playfully with the mischievous upbeat blues of “Trouble,” before Stevee gets spunky and sassy on the defiant “Don’t Make You My Boss.” The group turns it slow and somber, ripping at the soul on “Bed and a Bottle,” spotlighted by back-to-back solos from Steve and Cheryl. Another highlight is the title track “Born to Blues,” which steadily evolves into a powerful blues thunderstorm highlighted by Steve’s driving homestretch organ work. The disc closes with two covers, as Stevee and bandmates give a heartfelt rendering of Tony Joe White/Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” before the hard-edged and rowdy finale take on Elmore James’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin.’” Front and center, Stevee leads the show here with her lively voice and singing style, displaying personality, vocal range and swagger. Her band is tight and talented, with Cheryl’s guitar and Steve’s keyboards achieving a nice balance to help drive the sound along Jimmy and Allen’s rhythms. Several guests help along the way, including guitarist Ian Arthurs, bassist George Elliot and drummers Bill Taylor and Joe Pinchotti. Recorded at Corbriwood Studios in Gibsonia and recorded, produced, mastered and mixed by Lee Marks, Born to Blues sounds smooth and full, and the mix allows this group’s heart and soul to radiate brightly from start to finish. Blues and blues-rock connoisseurs should gravitate toward Born to Blues, and experience the musical chops, excitement and attitude of the Steve Wellons Band. (The CD can be obtained through the Stevee Wellons Band’s website, www.swbrocks.com.)

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