CD Reviews - May 2022
By: Jim Price Want to get your CD Reviewed? SEND YOUR CD to Jim Price at: 1104 South Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602.
GABE STILLMAN – JUST SAY THE WORD (Vizztone label group) Williamsport’s Gabe Stillman has enjoyed a successful music journey so far – performing at his first International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee as a teenager in 2012, before making it all the way to the Challenge’s finals in 2019 and winning the prestigious Gibson Guitar Award. The blues world has opened up for Gabe since then; he recorded a 7-song EP, 2020’s Flying High, with Washington D.C. blues legends The Nighthawks, has performed around the country and is rubbing elbows with some of the top names in blues. Gabe’s first full-length album, Just Say the Word, shows Gabe’s development and maturity as a blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. Through 15 tracks – 13 original numbers and two remakes – Gabe shows his fluency in a variety of blues styles, from swaggering electric to soulful to slow to swing-styled blues and more. Among the original songs are updates of three tunes from his 2018 debut EP The Grind – the swaggering album lead-off number “Give Me Some Time,” the rough-and-tough “No Time for Me” and the hard-edged jump blues of “Ain't Gonna Change.” Gabe channels Memphis-styled blues and soul on several numbers, such as the sassy “Let It Go,” the swinging and soulful title track “Just Say the Word,” and the funky and punchy ode to the traumas of war “No Peace for A Soldier.” Some esteemed guests appear on the album – guitarist Anson Funderburgh and Canadian blues lady Sue Foley both contribute guitar (and Sue backing vocals) on the hard and blues-boogying “No Matter What You Wear,” and Greg Izor wails chromatic harmonica to add spice to the jump blues instrumental “Susquehanna 66.” Gabe shows his proficiency on slower tunes as well – capturing a relaxing rural vibe on “Alabama Wildflowers,” and delivering a soothing, mild-mannered flavor on “Heartbreak Makes a Sound.” Gabe takes on two covers here, on a tasteful rendition of Brook Benton's “I'll Take Care of You” with captivating Hammond B3 organ accents and underscoring from Taylor Streiff, and a comfortable update of Bill Withers' “Friend of Mine.” Finishing the album is “See BT Blues,” Gabe's spoken-word piece about taking care of your own house before passing judgment on others. Gabe is front, center and stellar throughout this album; his voice is sturdy and soulful, and his guitar skills radiate throughout the set, serving the songs and not overriding them. His assembled accomplices – the aforementioned Taylor Streiff on piano and keys, Colin Beatty on bass and Ray Hangen on drums – all complement Gabe and his arrangements, and The Texas Horns pepper six of the songs with a flavorful, brassy edge. Produced by Anson Funderburgh and recorded at Wire Recording Studio in Austin, Texas, this album sounds accomplished and full, and allows the soul and grit of Gabe's music to shine brightly. Just Say the Word leaves no doubt that Gabe Stillman is a rising force in the blues world, and that the future of blues music is in good hands. (The album can be obtained through Gabe's website, www.gabestillman.com.)
PIERCE DIPNER – GOIN' BACK (no label) Now 18, Pittsburgh's Pierce Dipner first started playing guitar a decade ago at age 8, and proceeded to learn to play other instruments and discover the blues. He has twice represented the Blues Society of Western PA at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, and returns for his third time in 2022 with his band, Pierce Dipner and the Shades Of Blue. On his first full-length album, Goin' Back, Pierce demonstrates his arrival as a skilled, confident blues artist. Through seven original songs and three covers, Pierce displays a fluency in various styles of blues, spanning classic 12-bar blues variations to soulful blues and swaggering blues rock. Pierce shows mastery on both electric and cigar box guitars, as well as a smooth, soulful singing voice. Assisting him is a seasoned cast of sidemen; including bassist Arnold Stagger, keyboardist Joe Munroe, drummer Blaise Lanzetta, plus the Steeltown Horns contingent of sax player Rick Matt, trumpeter JD Chaisson and trombonist Reggie Watkins. Pierce's original songs are simple and to the point, mostly based on the 12-bar blues framework; the 12-bar album opener, “Fool's Gold,” establishes an energetic, swinging gallop as Pierce vents that his lady is not the treasure he thought she was. Loneliness and a wrecked new car inform the words of the hard-chugging “Empty Bed Blues,” while despair is the driving emotion of the slow breakup blues ode “Tore Us Apart.” Pierce shows a harder, swaggering edge on “Nobody But Myself to Blame,” and delivers driving soul on “We're Not Leaving.” He makes his cover selections his own; giving a jazzy blues makeover to Stevie Wonder's “Higher Ground,” putting a soulful and shuffling spin on Sean Costello's “No Half Steppin,'” and providing a fitting Memphis soul-tinged flavor to Justin Townes Earle's “Memphis in the Rain” to close the album. Pierce's talents shine throughout the album, from his variable tones and nuances on the guitar strings to his steady and soul-driven voice. His musical accomplices provide just the right touches to each song, from the appropriate rhythms to keyboard textures and horn flourishes exactly where needed. Produced and mixed by Dana Cannone at The Church Recording Studio in Pittsburgh and mastered by Garret Haines at Treelady Studios, this album sounds clear, bright, balanced and full. Goin' Back emphatically announces Pierce Dipner's arrival as a fresh and invigorating face in western PA blues, and shows that this artist's future looks bright. (The album can be obtained through Pierce Dipner's website, www.piercedipner.com, and through online retailers.)
RODGER DELANY – BEFORE I LET GO (no label) In 2010, Philadelphia/South New Jersey area musician Rodger Delany decided to step away from the band he was in and explore the solo acoustic performer route, playing shows throughout southeast PA, New Jersey and New York City. He released his first solo album, Moment of Truth, in 2012, before relocating to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas metro area where he now resides and fronts his self-named band. On his latest album, Before I Let Go, Rodger reveals a wide-ranging style that spans hard-edged rock to quieter odes. Creating the words and the music, Rodger takes listeners through an eight-song journey that largely explores the dynamics of escaping a bad relationship situation. The album opens sternly with the hard-edged “You Don't Owe Me,” as Rodger acknowledges that a relationship is too far gone to save, and it's time to move on. Other songs elaborate on this theme – the shadowy “Cold Dark Place” describes the discomfort of the situation, the sullen “Escape” contemplates separation and getting away, and the title track “Before I Let Go” describes the finality of leaving a life mistake behind and moving on. In a milder tone, “The Other Side” offers to help another to escape dark times, while “New” envisions seeking brighter days and a fresh beginning. Rodger sings his words with convincing mood and emotion that matches the darker themes of the songs. The melodies are sturdy, and the variety of arrangements between harder edges and tender moments keeps the album engaging from start to end. The instrumental performances are strong, with several guitar solo highlights and a crisp drum presence on the more rocking tracks. Before I Let Go does an effective job of setting its consistent tone through its entirety, and with its mix of words, moods and musicianship provides a steady and compelling listen. (The album can be obtained through online retailers and platforms.)
PARADIGM – MONOLITH (no label) Formed in Everett (Bedford County) in 2012, Paradigm introduced their scathing brand of heavy metal music via a debut recording in 2014, and has performed at venues throughout several states. The group's second full-length album, Monolith, shows the development of their sound toward a solid power-metal foundation. Frontman Joel Gerber presents the whole vocal package here, ranging from a soaring singing range to maniacal snarling and intense bellowing – backed by the powerhouse tandem of guitarist Art Hollabaugh, bassist Josh Savage and drummer Tyler Hillegass. Paradigm's songs frequently feature changing dynamics, shifting tempos and rhythms, and unpredictable chord changes. From a tolling bell, a sinister-sounding cadence escalates toward the fierce and punishing “Darkest Hour,” as Joel roars and sings about the darkness of anger and hate. Disconnection informs the words of the shadowy “DNB,” which rides a prominent, cycling riff. Paradigm unleashes the aggression on the maniacal “Mindfreak,” before raging for unity on the furious shout-along “One Voice.” The group explores more complex arrangements on “The Illusionist,” as well as the title track “Monolith” with its dialogue-like lyrical structure. Paradigm provides an electonica-meets-metal variation to “Darkest Hour” with “Darkest Paradox” to close the set. The group unleashes the firepower from start to end, and instrumentally executes full fury. Joel's balance of vocal styles and the group's dynamic angles of attack keep Monolith interesting from start to end. Recorded and produced at Pitt Street Studio in Bedford, this album sounds consistently full, sharp and powerful. Paradigm further defines their power-metal territory with Monolith, a strong set that continues to establish them as one of the region's rising metal forces. (The album can be obtained through Paradigm's Bandcamp page and other online platforms.)
DIAMOND REO – DIAMOND REO LIVE AT THE REDEYE '78 (Circumstantial Records) From 1974 to 1979, Diamond Reo emerged from Pittsburgh's bar circuit to become the city's best-known hard-rocking bad boys of that period – along the way signing nationally with Atlantic subsidiary Big Tree and Kama Sutra Records, hitting the pop charts with their hard-nosed 1975 cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar,” releasing three studio albums, and touring with such notable names as Kiss, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, Ian Hunter, Blue Oyster Cult, Kansas and more. Subsequently becoming a legend of the Pittsburgh music scene himself, Norman Nardini – who played bass in Diamond Reo – recently issued Diamond Reo Live at the Redeye '78, featuring 11 songs from the band's performance for Redeye Concerts at the Tri County Event Center in Celina, Ohio on November 21, 1978. This album shows a band at the top of their game and going full-tilt in front of an audience of lively, howling fans. Diamond Reo – at this point lead singer Frank Czuri, guitarist Warren “Kingfish” King, Rob “Beadman” Johns on drums and backing vocals, and Norman on bass and backing vocals – came out loud, strong and rowdy, rocking with reckless abandon and a punkish demeanor. Five of the songs performed on this set – “Bright Lights Big City,” “Heartbeat,” “Rock You,” “Easy Money” and “Hey Mad Dog!” – were new numbers from the group’s just-released third album Ruff Cuts. Opening the set, the rowdy rock’n’rolling cover of The Slickers’ “Johnny Too Bad” was carried by Frank and Warren into their next band endeavor, 1980s new wave and MTV pioneers The Silencers. The song “Rock N’Roll City” has since become a staple of Norman’s current live show. And the set ends with a song off Diamond Reo’s 1976 Dirty Diamonds album, “Bad News,” with Norman singing the lead. Diamond Reo delivered the energy and bad boy nastiness here – Warren’s guitar and Norman’s bass sound feral and ferocious, Frank howled with intensity and authority, and Rob’s drumming drove the urgent pace of this performance. Produced by Norman and mastered by Brice Foster, the mix here sounds appropriately raw and noisy, easily capturing the full vinegar and edge of this performance. Diamond Reo Live at the Redeye ‘78 offers a snapshot of one of Pittsburgh’s legendary rock bands in the heat of live performance, displaying their firepower and wildness, warts and all. (The digital album can be obtained through Norman Nardini’s Bandcamp page.)