CD Reviews - November 2021
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TED McCLOSKEY – THE LOST SEASON SESSIONS VOL. 4: LET IT BURN (no label) A refresher: When last year's COVID-19 shutdow
n silenced his live music livelihood, State College's Ted McCloskey began to channel his frustrations over the ordeal into song creations, resulting in The Lost Season Sessions album series. Ted's concept was to release a new album for every season that he wasn't performing live. As society and live music began to re-emerge this past summer, Ted issued the fourth and final installment of the series, Let It Burn. Through the album's 10 tracks, Ted again shares his perceptions and observations, this time about the struggles of getting back up to full speed, both personal and societal. He does so over a musical tapestry of rock and roots rock, blues, soul, folk, and even some Fab Four-flavored flourishes. Ted opens the blinds to a world emerging from shutdown and cabin fever on the title track “Let It Burn,” which channels a soulful Mick Jagger/Stones-styled vibe. But getting back up to speed toward normalcy is not as easy as it seems on “Mess of Myself,” which starts off acoustic-driven but shifts into harder Beatle-esque terrain midway through. A stern-sounding guitar riff fuels “Hardened Tears,” as Ted vents about continued indifference to gun-related violence and deaths. “The Poison Tree” makes the analogy that in society as in nature, bad apples stem from deeper problems in the tree; while another nature analogy, the folk-blues-toned “Bindweeds,” suggests nurturing flowers as they struggle to rise above a bed of strangling weeds. Ted elevates the vitriol toward misguided uber-patriotism on the hard-hitting “Annie Oakley,” and he relates a recent local incident about a bruin to the bigger picture of societal discrimination and ostracism on “Little Black Bear.” And the acoustic closer “The Last Longest Mile” finds Ted trying to make up for lost time, but relenting that with no finish line, that race is in vain. Again, Ted masterfully weaves together intriguing melodies and arrangements, various guitar flavors and tones, and clever, sharp-tongued observations and commentary about the COVID ordeal and a troubled society. Each song sounds distinct and stands out on its own, yet the whole set flows coherently as a cohesive whole. With Ted crafting all music, words, production and even the artwork here, The Lost Season Sessions Vol. 4: Let It Burn slams an emphatic exclamation point on his musical soul-searching adventure. As with the previous three Lost Seasons Sessions episodes, this tuneful "Ted Talk" again delivers a set of invigorating, captivating and thought-provoking music, as well as one more musical snapshot of one man's journey during a challenging time period. (The digital album can be obtained through Ted's Bandcamp page.)
CASEY WALTON – THIS TOWN (no label) Hailing from Lancaster, singer and songwriter Casey Walton spent three years in Nashville honing her songwriting talents, networking and performing, before returning home in 2016. Her full-length debut album, This Town, introduces Casey’s personable style and sound. Country is the prominent flavor here, but Casey also blends in elements of pop and rock as well. The album’s 11 tracks compile songs that Casey created while in Nashville, both solo and with collaborators such as Alisha Lynn Sheely, former NBC “The Voice” contestant Anna Catherine Dehart, Emily Hawkins, Robyn Collins and others. Several songs are themed around love, such as the hard-edged country rock opener “Just Fine,” the punchy “Next to You,” the gentle and rustic “Break My Fall,” and “I Got You” (co-written by Saving Jane lead singer Marti Dodson, who also sings backing vocals here). Two contrasting views of small towns are presented; Casey celebrates the benefits of small town living on “Something About a Small Town,” but realizes the town is too small when dodging a past love interest on the album’s title track “This Town.” Other songs deliver positive messages about embracing life and its possibilities, such as “Wishin’ For,” the country-rocking “Sink or Swim,” and the deeper and lengthier album-closer “Go On,” about moving forward and accepting change. Casey sings it all with a smooth, bold voice, and her words ring out strong and clear. These tunes are catchy, and the arrangements support each song well. Quality musicianship from multi-instrumentalist and album producer Steven Courtney, plus timely backing vocals from Steven and many of Casey’s songwriting collaborators, adds depth and fleshes out the songs. The overall sound of this album is balanced, clean and polished. A pleasant listen; This Town demonstrates Casey Walton’s gifts of songcraft and voice, and establishes her as a regional music name well worthy of attention. (The album can be obtained through Casey’s website, www.caseywalton.net[/ur]l], or through her Bandcamp page.)
DILEMMA – OPEN MIND CLOSED MOUTH (no label) Since forming in 2017, Dilemma has emerged as a rising and exciting band on the Altoona area music scene. Their 9-song debut album, Open Mind Closed Mouth, establishes Dilemma's angle of musical attack as a blend of punk, nu-metal, thrash and metalcore elements. Singer and guitarist Micah Button, singer and bassist Devin Conrad and drummer Joel Kyle devise hard-hitting, busy and varying song arrangements. The songs contain tempo and chord shifts, plus explosive breaks and sudden side journeys, while maintaining intensity and forward motion. The contrasting singing and screaming vocal styles between Micah and Devin power forth lyrical themes of troubled times, conflicting emotions, life's uncertainties and more. Setting the tone, the album's opening track, “Tomorrow,” introduces Dilemma's no-holds-barred sound as its words ponder an uncertain future. Devin's bare-bones bass line launches the hard-charging “Fester,” about internal anger; while the fast-firing “King I Hate Myself” ponders self identity. Dilemma angrily rails against people who force their agendas and misinformation on the heavy and brooding “Force Fed,” and lashes out against phony people on the acoustic-tinged “Plasticity.” The high-powered “Manic” explores anxiety and life out of control, while words of determination and resolve close out the album on the acoustic ballad “The Final Nail.” Dilemma delivers velocity and intensity throughout the album; their presentation is go-for-broke and visceral, yet they execute their song material tightly with their vocals and harmonies on target. Recorded by Rik Golden at his Golden Studios, the production is sharp and raw, enabling Dilemma's edge and intensity to cut through prominently and clearly. Open Mind Closed Mouth provides a strong opening chapter for Dilemma, as the group brings forth their intriguing song creations with aggression and vigor. (The CD can be obtained at the group's shows.)
ENDBRINGER – THE VICTIM HAS BEEN CHOSEN (no label) Forming in the midst of the chaotic year 2020, Clearfield's Endbringer unites alumni of area metal and hardcore bands Final Stand, Forever Means Goodbye, Death Rattle and How It Ends. Following an initial self-titled 3-song EP, Endbringer brings brute-force metalcore fury on their first full-length CD, “The Victim Has Been Chosen.” Lead snarler Travis, guitarists Ed and Brad, bassist Kevin and drummer Dave show no mercy here, scorching the earth with intense, bone-jarring firepower over seven scathing assaults. Fierce and explosive rhythms plus caustic chugging guitar riffage serve as the launching pad for Travis' savage bellows, growls and no-holds-barred aggression. The group gets down to business right away on the speed-banging opening track “The Used,” displaying Slayer-like velocity while Travis bellows wisdom about withstanding life's hard knocks. The swaggering “Narcissistic Elite” rages against self-worshipping power brokers and condescending attitudes. The pulverizing “Burn the Past” forcefully advances forward while slamming the door on past mistakes. Endbringer rampages against those pointing fingers on “Judgment,” and stands proud while denying naysayers on the punishing disc-closer “Less Than Perfect.” Endbringer pounds with authority – their instrumental execution sounds ferocious and tight, and Travis vents his vocal rage with clarity and purpose. The production and mix bring out the group's lean, mean rawness and vigor, with sparing and effective uses of soundbytes and cacophony to support the musical maelstrom. Fans of volatile heavy metal and metalcore should savor “The Victim Has Been Chosen,” a furious set that establishes Endbringer's brutal musical world with a convincing exclamation point. (The CD and digital album can be obtained through Endbringer's Bandcamp website.)