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CD Reviews - May 2019


JOHN VENTO – LOVE, LUST & OTHER WRECKAGE (no label) Pittsburgh’s John Vento has been making music for the better part of two decades, honing his evolving style and sound through his work with groups such as The Businessmen, Nied’s Hotel Band and other projects. His latest album, Love, Lust & Other Wreckage, finds John exploring a variety of rock-based flavors over 13 tracks. John displays a knack for songcraft; each of these songs is different yet catchy, making for an album that stays interesting from start to end. Lyrically, John seems to explore the challenges of juggling life, love and passions and maintaining one’s sanity through it all. “Good Life Made” starts the album off with an upbeat flavor, celebrating life and love in a blue-collar town. John fears impending breakup on the reggae-toned “Let Me Down Easy,” while the wistful, catchy and acoustic-geared “Baby Blues” comes off somewhat pleasant despite its breakup theme. John weaves a tale of barroom infatuation on an unsung album highlight, the folksy “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love.” The harder-rocking and stormy “Just Don’t Care” lets the chips fall where they may as a relationship falls apart. “Eye Candy” and “Humble Way” rock out in the Stones-like vein; the former celebrating the song title’s hypnotic powers, while the latter gives love another try after lessons learned. Collaborating guest singer Cherylann Hawk shines on several numbers here, especially on the optimistic “Rainbows and Lightning,” the infectious choruses of “Only Love Stays Alive,” and dueting with John on the multi-flavored and unpredictable “Follow Your Heart.” John sings his material with a sturdy, convincing voice, conveying the sense of personal investment and soul-searching in his words. The songs are cleverly arranged, and while diverse in flavors and angles, sound consistent and smooth. A number of collaborators help bring these songs to life; including three of Pittsburgh’s renowned Granati Brothers – David, who produced the album and plays guitars, bass and keys; brothers Hermie and Joey, also on keys; and nephew Jules Granati playing drums on four tracks – plus drummers Joffo Simmons and Bob Fetherlin, guitarists Ian Arthurs and Cheryl Rinovato, and Wil E. Tri on harmonica. Recorded and mixed at Maplewood Studio in Ambridge, this album sounds clear and balanced, with details and nuances sounding distinct. Love, Lust & Other Wreckage shows the artistic ingenuity and depth of its creator; John Vento delivers a hearty, catchy and ultimately rewarding set here, well worth checking out. (You can obtain the CD through John’s website, www.johnvento.com.)


IDLE KYLE – TWISTED ATTENTION (no label) Formed in State College but now calling Philadelphia their home base, Idle Kyle’s journey began in 2016. Their debut EP, Twisted Attention, introduces a style and sound that blends a variety of elements, spanning alternative rock, jazz, blues and more. Their songs are inventive and freewheeling, offering detailed and progressing melodies that never stay in one place for long. Playing acoustic guitar and keyboards, singer Nicole June delivers an expressive voice that accents whatever direction the music takes, from softer tones during the more indie-flavored moments to sultry and soulful on the bluesier terrain. She, guitarist Nathan Cutshall, bassist Jesse Wisch and drummer Sebastian Goodridge freely improvise and explore with their instruments through the disc’s entirety, which keeps the listening interesting from start to end. With its theme of life as an open canvas to explore and create from, the disc-opening track “Grounded” evolves from a jazzy and progressive introduction (that even slightly hints at Rush-styled phrasings) to a blues-driven homestretch with layered vocal harmonies. The title track “Twisted Attention” changes between funk, jazz and rock angles while Nicole sings of embracing life’s changes and unpredictability. Themes of faith, loyalty and money underscore the driving disco-funk and rock of “Square One,” while the uptempo “ALTS” suggests that hope exists beyond the depressing narratives shown on the TV set. Improvisational indie and jazz tones on the instrumental passage “Bull Run” set up the abstract closer “Obsession” with its loose lyrical theme suggesting not to overthink love. Each song provides a listening adventure with instrumental explorations, frequent time signature changes and Nicole’s often fast-firing, imaginative wordplays. Produced by Nicole and Sebastian and engineered by Sebastian, this CD sounds crisp, busy and full, with instruments and voices sounding clean and distinct. Twisted Attention should captivate listeners’ attention with its blend of melody, imagination and unpredictability, as Idle Kyle introduces a fresh and vigorous style and sound. (The CD can be obtained through online music retail outlets, or through the group’s website, www.idlekyle.com.)


POSTSEASON – POSTSEASON (Know Hope Records) Postseason first surfaced at all ages shows around the Altoona area in 2012, and has toured coast to coast while releasing several singles and EP’s along the way. Their latest recording, a self-titled, full-length CD, introduces Postseason’s boisterous brand of pop punk sounds. Singer Dan Tippery, guitarists Bryan Thanh and Canyon Gargon, bassist Chuck Bernard and drummer Conor McNamara combine catchy song hooks with brisk, fast-driving punk rock velocity over the disc’s 10 tracks. The lyrics follow a loose theme of youth angst, as Dan often sings self-deprecating words as well as acidic words of wisdom to peers with their own issues. The explosive disc-opener “Long Shot, Lost Cause” finds Dan assessing an underdog role, fighting for survival while weathering the barbs of naysayers. “Numb to This” is about struggling to be a better person and asking for patience from others, while “Never Tell Me the Odds” tires of discouraging words from doubters and critics. In an interesting twist, “One More Song About the Sea” uses nautical prose to describe relationship struggles, while Dan finds the breaking point on the rampaging “Backroads” and walks away from a bad situation. The performances are tight, intense and emotional. Dan pours heart and soul into each word, making the listener feel his frustrations and disdain, with vocal harmonies accenting and fleshing out the song hooks. Instrumentally, Postseason goes for broke and pushes full tilt on each song, delivering abundant velocity and passion. Recorded and produced by Paul Leavitt, this album sounds clear, balanced and edgy, letting Postseason’s forceful delivery ring out loud and proud. Postseason’s self-titled album captures an intensity similar to the all-out explosiveness of the group’s live shows, and provides a strong representation of the unbridled energy that this group is all about. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.knowhoperecords.com.)


CHUCK OWSTON – BLUE STEEL BLUES (Nite Owl Records) A singer, songwriter, guitarist, pastor and Rockabilly Hall Of Fame member based in the Pittsburgh area, Chuck Owston’s story dates back to the late 1950s when he first picked up a guitar, influenced by early rock’n’roll and rockabilly pioneers. He soon began to explore blues and roots music, and learned slide and resonator guitar along the way. His latest CD, Blue Steel Blues, is a collection of songs that Chuck has recorded from 1981 to present, spanning a dozen studio and four bonus live performance tracks. Working a multitude of guitars and harmonica, plus singing with a crisp, bold voice; Chuck explores frontiers of vintage folk, country and blues, while indulging his fascination with songs about railroads, trains and hobos. Recorded in 1981, the title track – an update of Texas country pioneer Ted Daffan’s “Blue Steel Blues” – features Chuck playing four different resonator guitars. His version of Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues” captures a vintage blues feel with its theme of departed train and departed love. Citing Jimmie Rodgers as an influence, Chuck includes some of Jimmie’s songs here; including a studio version of “California Blues,” a live version of “Brakeman’s Blues,” and studio and live renditions of “T for Texas,” the latter recorded in New Mexico in 2005 with Chuck assisted by the Hot Club of Santa Fe. Chuck also includes studio and live versions of “Wreck of the Old 97,” a 1986 recording of Rodd Willings’ “New Morning Train,” a live performance of Bukka White’s “Panama Limited,” traditional and spiritual numbers such as “KC Train,” “Midnight Train” and “Morning Train,” plus a take on Goebel Reeves’ “Hobo’s Lullabye” (popularized by Woody and Arlo Guthrie). Chuck’s son, Chris, wrote the lyrics to “Ghost Train,” and the 2005 recording here features both Chuck and Chris on slide guitars. And from 1981, Chuck’s original song “Wilmerding Blues” was inspired by a labor dispute at Westinghouse Air Brake in Wilmerding (outside Pittsburgh). Chuck’s performances sound inspired and authentic, as he strives to capture the vintage atmosphere and feel on each song through his mixture of instrumentation. The recording sounds crisp and cohesive from start to finish. Listeners to Blue Steel Blues will gain an appreciation of railroad-inspired roots music and blues, as Chuck Owston makes his mixture of original tunes and remakes all his own. (For information on obtaining this album, contact Chuck through his Facebook or Reverbnation pages.)


JOEY WELZ – THE WELZ COMET M.C. – LIVIN’ IN A HIP HOP WORLD (Canadian American Records) Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Longtime rock’n’roller Joey Welz – whose career includes a three-year stint playing piano with Bill Haley and the Comets in the 1960s – tries his hand at hip hop music with his album, The Welz Comet M.C. – Livin’ in a Hip Hop World. Welz explores hip hop and electronica styles over the disc’s 20 tracks, conjuring his own rhymes and raps along the way. Joey traverses a variety of hip hop angles and styles, spanning rap-geared escapades to electronica, trip-hop and modern soul-geared numbers. Some of the album finds Welz lampooning the genre as he comes to grips with the transition from old-school rock’n’roll to new-school hip hop – the prevailing theme of the album’s title track “Livin’ in a Hip Hop World,” with Welz rapping in a movie narrative style. Bewildered, Welz questions the new age on the electronica-driven numbers “What’s It All About” and “What’s Up With That.” He has some fun along the way, conjuring a tale of a date gone awry on “Skeletons in the Closet,” complete with timely female shrieks along the way. He tries his hand at getting slow and sexy with his raps on “F R E A K Y,” “Latino Lover” and “Hip Hop Love.” The album’s finale – and perhaps Welz’s ultimate sign of surrender to the new school – is his hip hop update of that Bill Haley & the Comets iconic rock’n’roll classic, “Rock Around the Clock Forever,” which ends the album. Welz’s rapping skills are what they are, and his wit and touches of humor along the way provide comic relief as he narrates his way through this new school hip hop world. The production quality here is uneven, with Welz’s voice sometimes coming off murky and muddy in the mix. Taken as a satirical album, Joey Welz’s The Welz Comet M.C. – Livin’ in a Hip Hop World may make some hip hop connoisseurs cringe, but will bring laughs to other listeners as this longtime rock’n’roller comes to terms with a changing musical world. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby and other online music retailers.) (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby and other online music retailers.)

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