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CD Reviews - October 2021

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A.D. 2020 – LOCKDOWN DIARIES (Sarbic Records) COVID-19 and the troubled year that was 2020 provided the catalyst, opportunity and inspiration for seven musicians to collaborate and pool their talents into the recording project A.D. 2020. The resulting debut album, Lockdown Diaries, offers a mixture of positive-themed, catchy and classic-rooted rock over seven tracks. Initially the brainchild of singer Mark McNelley and drummer/singer Todd Thanhauser, the project began taking shape last year during the COVID-19 lockdown, with more musicians joining the collaboration along the way – including Dan Reed (guitars, keys, vocals, and the album's producer) and Melvin Brannon Jr. (bass and harmonica) of national recording group the Dan Reed Network, Greg Smith (bass and vocals), Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (guitars and vocals) and Derek Sherinian (keys and electronics). Themes of hope drive this album; the opening track “Ricochet” cleverly merges its escalating arrangement with words about weathering life's negatives to advance toward positive ends. “Finding My Faith” addresses the struggle to ignore the voices of hate and ignorance to recognize hopeful threads in humanity, while the anthemic “Undivided” encourages unity and getting past the divisions that have negatively impacted society and the world. Two songs address use and abuse of technology; the disco-toned rocker “Hard Drive” rallies listeners to break free of the internet's chokehold, while the stalwart “Digital Overload” warns of the consequences of not stepping back from digital obsession. A.D. 2020 slows things down on the love-conquers-all ballad “No Regrets,” before a punchy update of War’s 1975 hit song “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” ends the album, reminding listeners that they can look past differences and exist in harmony. The songs are well-constructed and arranged; the melodies connect with smooth vocals to deliver them, and the overall musicianship is solid behind it all. Guitar and synthesizer nuances add to the intrigue of the songs, and help to make this an engaging listen from start to finish. The overall production sounds smooth, full, punchy and polished. A.D. 2020’s Lockdown Diaries provides both a compelling listening experience, as well as lyrical food for thought as society tries to rebound from 2020 and all its challenges. (The album can be obtained through the website www.ad2020music.com, and through all major music platforms.)



ROADKILL – THE FIRST 30 YEARS 1989-2019: WORST MISSES (no label) It was in 1989 that the original inception of Clearfield County-based rockers Roadkill began to introduce the area music world to their go-for-broke, often irreverent brand of “rot and roll.” More than 30 years later, remaining founding member Greg Majewsky and the current edition of Roadkill celebrate three decades of “lousy music, terrible singing and unfunny jokes” with their compilation CD anthology called Worst Misses. The album compiles 19 songs from throughout the group's career, spanning five CD's and one cassette demo. All the essential, decomposed and seasoned Roadkill classics are here...The set launches with one of Roadkill's earliest tunes from the 1991 War on the Road cassette, the three-chord raunch-rocker “Them Blues” – still a favorite at the group's live shows. From the 1996 CD This Would Sound Better, If I Had More Money come the numbers “Not Your Fault” and “Generic Cigarette Blues.” Three songs then follow from the group's 2000 CD Hard Work Ain't Easy and Dry Bread Ain't Greazy – including the group's doom metal ode to cookie-eating bliss that the Cookie Monster wishes he had written, “Hardcoreo,” and their loving musical adoration of a 1990s pop rock queen, “I Want to Be an Ex-Boyfriend of Alanis Morisette.” Six songs appear from Roadkill's 2002 Three Chords and the Truth CD, including the philosophical-aligning-of-life's-challenges-to-Greg's-crappy-golf-game ballad “Lost in the Woods,” the Independence Day drinking anthem “5th on the 4th of July,” the holiday season verbal beatdown of St. Nick, “Santa Claus Is a Big Fat Jerk,” the witchy “Wiccan Blues” and two more long-running Roadkill anthems, their title song and the compilation-closing “The Adam Stomp.” The album includes four songs from Roadkill's 2008 CD The Wreckoning, including Greg's rocking romantic hardship ode “Public Service Announcement from the Anti-Valentine's Day Council,” the twang music wannabe-bashing “Ode to Failed Wannabe Rockstars Who Are Now Wannabe Country Stars,” and one of Roadkill's most serious song creations, the hard-rocking and reverent tribute “The Remaining Days of Zeddska, the Elder Canine.” And Roadkill includes two from their 2019 CD Still Alive and...Well – the album's title song, and their celebration of dysfunctional nationalism, “American Slob.” The compilation's sound mix is consistent from start to end, capturing Roadkill's thunder and jagged edges, Greg's outspoken vocal bluster, attitude, festering warts and all. Perhaps what stands out most when hearing all these tunes in succession on the same album is that through three-plus decades, Greg and Roadkill have developed a uniquely crunchy, witty and self-deprecating identity, and a catalog of rowdy, catchy tunes that still sound bad-ass today. Never mind how much Greg disses on his band and its legacy – Worst Misses is a must-have set if you have enjoyed – or endured – any number of Roadkill shows during the past three decades. Long live Rot and Roll! (The CD can be obtained at Roadkill's live shows.)



THE ARTS – NUMER0LOGY (no label) The latest album by Greensburg-based instrumental duo The Arts, Numer0logy finds musicians Joel Sanders and Chris Vottero again exploring new musical frontiers. With Joel on guitars and mandolin, and Chris on bass, drums, keys and electronics, The Arts again establish their progressive-geared musical territory, exploring and blending rock and jazz soundscapes, with a few twists thrown in along the way. Given its title, Numer0logy’s eight compositions are titled and themed around numbers, providing a connecting thread and a basis for The Arts’ musical adventure. Each number is a unique, self-standing journey unto itself; yet these all fit together into a cohesive and coherent set. The album opener “Two Sides of the Coin” provides a strong start and sets the tone for the rest of the album to follow; blending rock and jazz flavors, the track features guitars and keys playing off one another, plus a midsection side journey. Not related to Dave Brubeck’s iconic jazz number with the same name, “Take Five” follows a more soulful jazz-rock vibe, with Chris’ keys establishing a brassy sound; the result channels a slight Steely Dan flavor. As its name suggests, “Seventh Heaven” soars into the clouds with a more ambient feel, as Chris generates some choral effects with his keys. The title track “Numer0logy” shifts into harder progressive rocking terrain, with its intricate, fast-shifting arrangements, tempo and chord shifts, and side adventures exploring Dream Theater and Yes-like frontiers. “The Eleventh Hour” begins jazzy and brassy before evolving into a more shadowy, progressive arrangement, before “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” takes a surprise progressive Americana-flavored journey, featuring Joel’s mandolin and even a slight Celtic touch along the way. “Cast the First Stone” conjures a mystic and medieval tone, and the album-closer “Third Time Is a Charm” merges a starting blues/funk/jazz groove into a hard progressive-rocking arrangement where guitar and keyboard solos shine. Joel and Chris construct detailed and complete melodic themes to do their instrumental explorations. The performances are precise and clean, yet exciting as the two musicians push their instrumental abilities with fast solo work and dexterity throughout the set. Self-produced, recorded and engineered by both musicians, this album sounds clean, full and consistent from start to finish. The Arts clearly show their art here; Numer0logy offers a busy and intriguing listen, and fans of adventurous musicianship will find plenty to savor here. (The CD can be obtained by emailing Chris at cvottero@comcast.net)



DEVIN SHERMAN – DEVIN SHERMAN DOES A DEMO (no label) Hailing from Bedford, Devin Sherman is a guitarist and teacher who studied classical guitar while attending the University of South Carolina. Also an admirer of bluegrass, early blues and American folk music, Devin blends those influences into his own distinctive style and sound, demonstrated on his first album, Devin Sherman Does a Demo. Through eight songs, Devin bares his personality, thoughts and perspectives as he sings and plays his acoustic guitar. Devin's presentation is quaint and sincere; his guitar accompaniment simple, supportive and to the point. His words are personal and observational, yet with touches of irony and wit. The opening song, “Think Again,” suggests looking into the past to reset the present. The following song, “Normal,” ponders the challenges and logic of trying to conform to 'normalcy,' while the next song, “Let's Get Weird,” suggests that weirdness is a part of everyday normalcy. Devin decides he prefers his own issues to those of a troublesome woman on the 12-bar-blues number “My Own Damn Blues,” but concedes his best isn't good enough for another gal on the wistful “I'm Sorry, My Bad.” And Devin balances establishing his own identity while inherently carrying his dad's stamp on “Just Like My Father.” By exploring the idiosyncrasies of his persona, Devin comes up with relatable wordplays that listeners can identify with. His casual, low-key singing style sells the vulnerability of his words, and the simplicity of his melodies and stripped-down arrangements further enable his soul-baring to connect. Devin Sherman Does a Demo takes listeners into the mind of its creator, presenting an honest portrait of Devin and his unique musical style and vision. (The album can be obtained through Devin's website, www.devinsherman.com.)



ANTONIO ANDRADE – LUCKY IN LOVE (Life Shakes Records) More than 45 years of performing experience has shaped Antonio Andrade's passion not just for creating original music as a songwriter, but also for interpreting the music of others. On his latest album, Lucky in Love, the Harrisburg area-based performer invests that passion into renditions of 10 songs from a diverse range of artists, and incorporates his own distinctive style, personality and perspective into each. The lone original song of this set, the title track “Lucky in Love,” opens the album; singing, strumming acoustic guitar and providing an infectious harmonica accent, Antonio weaves a story of hope, trials and tragedy as each love story has its own fate. Antonio next pays homage to fellow central Pennsylvania musician Robert Bobby with a rendition of Robert’s “Ask a Man”; a longtime performer on the state’s stages, Robert passed away in March, 2018. From there, Antonio presents his treatments on a variety of rock, pop and folk classics; he gives the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” a stripped-down, acoustic swamp blues feel, with his rugged voice emoting the hardship expressed in the song’s words. He gives a folksy makeover to the Left Banke’s 1966 hit “Walk Away Renee,” with Americana accents from Pete Damore’s banjo and Crystal Harlu-Damore’s gentle backing vocals. Antonio transforms the Talking Heads’ “And She Was” into a happy-go-lucky, laid-back acoustic vibe. He salutes an influence with a version of Steve Forbert’s “Midsummer Night’s Toast,” which features two of Steve’s former sidemen, guitarist Mark Stuart and bassist Mark Dann. Tying in with the album’s title, Antonio applies his expressive vocal style to Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky,” and evokes his own hopeful tone on a rendition of The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight.” Antonio salutes two more influential singers with his takes on Karla Bonoff’s “Lose Again” and Tom Waits’ “Ice Cream Man,” before closing the album with a nod to folk legend Pete Seeger via an Americana twist on “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” again featuring Pete Damore on banjo and Crystal Harlu-Damore’s duet vocal. Antonio owns each of the cover songs he performs here; his expressive voice, arrangements and nuances allow listeners hear these songs from his own perspective, and experience them in a different light. Recorded at the Green Room in Harrisburg, and co-produced and engineered by Derek Euston (who also contributed guitar, bass, keys and harmony vocals on several tracks), Lucky in Love sounds crisp and full, with Antonio’s emotive voice front and center. This album shows the true beauty and potential of cover music; Antonio Andrade allows us to hear these classics through his own filter, voice and perspective on Lucky in Love, in the process honoring these songs and the artists who influenced him. (The album can be obtained through Antonio’s website, www.lifeshakes.com.)



DREAM HOME – DREAM HOME (Mint 400 Records) Pittsburgh-based rock trio Dream Home came together in 2018, several months after the book closed on former Altoona area musician Jaren Love’s previous band project The Lampshades. Jaren collaborated with musicians Joe Praksti and Sam Winward to form the new group, and their self-titled debut album demonstrates a different slant and direction from The Lampshades. Less agitated and chaotic than The Lampshades’ sound, Dream Home takes a smoother and more streamlined approach with more emphasis on melodies, production and lyrical depth. The group explores psychedelic textures that hint at Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson and Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, as well as a touch of the Flaming Lips' alternative psychedelia; topped with Jaren's familiar wistful vocal style. The words appear to follow a loose theme of loathing and discomfort with domesticated life; Jaren voices uncertainty on the short opening track “A Lot of Times Just Don't Know What to Say.” He regrets the daily grind on “Fixing Tires” and the sullen closer “Go Back Home Son,” and laments the people in his life who have faded into the past on “Forever 22” and “Do It All the Time.” Nocturnal misgivings inform the words of the acoustic-driven “Third Trick” and the Beatle-esque “Late at Night,” while “Carpeted” yearns for hope as life's picture becomes clearer. The melodies are each catchy, and Jaren's former Lampshades bandmate Dane Adelman helps flesh out the sound with layers of slide guitar, keys and trumpet. Engineered, produced and mixed by Steve Donahue, Dream Home's busy arrangements sound sharp and balanced, with Jaren's voice and the instrumental components coming through clear and distinct. Dream Home offers a fresh tapestry for Jaren Love to explore life's ups and downs, and this eponymous debut provides a clear turning of the page. (The album can be obtained through the group's Bandcamp page, www.dreamhomepgh.bandcamp.com.)



BETTY JO ROCKWELL – ALL FOR LOVE (Canadian American International Music) A western PA native who now calls Shepherdstown, West Virginia her home base, singer and songwriter Betty Jo Rockwell explores rock, bluegrass, country and folk music frontiers on her latest album, All for Love. Betty Jo created the words and music, plus sings and plays guitar and accordion; accompanied by her husband, Scott Rockwell on guitars, bass, drums and banjo; and guitarist John Turner. She sings with clarity and a frequent vibrato, her style providing a connecting thread between the songs' diverse range of flavors. Vocal layers and harmonies from backing singers Gena Rockwell and Jade Tremba help give the uptempo album-opener “East Coast Drifter” a B-52s flavor. Several songs ride a retro vibe; the rocking title track “All for Love” shows an early 1970s flavor both with its sound and words about unity through love. “Disappear's” hard edge hints Crazy Horse-era Neil Young, while “Earth Healing Sound” channels a Woodstock tone with its theme of love and connectivity with the planet. Betty Jo shares some personal reflections as well; the bluegrass-driven “Restless Soul” recalls her father and his arrival on American soil, while the Appalachian-flavored “Clifftop” celebrates a favorite southern West Virginia location. Other highlights include the bold country rock-toned love song “Symphony” with its infectious melody, the uptempo and roots-driven “Oracle” with its mystic narrative about a fortune teller, and the folksy and reminiscent closer “Love Letters.” Betty Jo has a way with melodies here, as each song is catchy and captivating, and the mixture of styles and arrangements keeps the album sounding fresh from start to end. Her voice sounds spirited and inspired. Produced and recorded by Scott Rockwell, All for Love maintains clarity and crispness throughout, and keeps Betty Jo's voice front and center in the mix. Betty Jo Rockwell broadens her musical frontier on All for Love, a satisfying listen that brings her artistry and style to the forefront. (The album can be obtained online through Amazon and other digital platforms.)



ALMOST HONEST – SEICHES AND SIRENS (Electric Talon Records) Since 2013, Harrisburg area trio Almost Honest has been forging their unique doom rock-based identity. On their second full-length album, Seiches and Sirens, Almost Honest indulges their imaginations and creativity over 10 hard-hitting tracks. Singer and guitarist Shayne Reed, bassist Seth Jackson and drummer Quinten Spangler craft swaggering, heavy-rocking melodies with captivating twists and turns, merging Sabbathy doom metal dynamics with elements of funk, thrash and eccentric psychedelia. An explosive thrash-geared introduction ushers in the album's opening track, the rumbling “Fools Gold Flesh,” with Seth's sinister bass line anchoring the song's winding groove. Interesting chord progressions power the melody of “Keystone,” while Shayne's intensifying vocal growl escalates the edge on “Interstellar Executive.” Almost Honest indulges their imaginations and adventurism several times here; blending an unpredictable melody with spoken sagely passages on “Dancing Shaman and the Psychedelic Cactus,” conversing with mountain spirits on “Stonecutter,” and warning of a sinister siren on the riff-laden and ominous “Jenny Greenteeth.” All three musicians cut loose and go-for-broke here; the performances are enthusiastic and delivered with attitude and swagger. The group rocks hard, but never takes themselves too seriously, keeping this album a fun listen along the way. The production and mix give this set heaviness, balance and edge, enabling Almost Honest's presentation to hit full force. The result is a strong, well-done album; Almost Honest raises the bar on their creativity and further defines their heavy-rocking world on Seiches and Sirens. Fans of 1970s-period Black Sabbath, Clutch, Mastodon and Monster Magnet will likely find common ground with what this group brings to the table; Seiches and Sirens offers an exciting, hard-hitting, fresh-sounding musical adventure. (The album can be obtained through the group's website, www.almosthonestofficial.com or their Bandcamp page.)

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