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FINAL CUT REVIEWS & CHICANERY: JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2008
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Jim Price
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Joined: 07 Dec 2002
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Location: Altoona, PA

 Post Posted: Saturday Mar 01, 2008 
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FINAL CUT REVIEWS & CHICANERY: JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2008

CHOOSING A LEADER

I usually refrain from talking about politics, and stay out of the spirited political debates that happen on Rockpage. But there has been something bothering me during this Presidential election year that I need to get off of my chest.

As I type this in February, the official primary and caucus campaign isn’t even two months old, and we’re already down to essentially three candidates with a legitimate shot at the presidency. On the Republican side, it’s down to John McCain; everybody else has either pulled out of the race, or is way behind McCain in the delegate count with very little hope of ever catching up. On the Democratic side, it has slimmed down to a two horse race, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

What bothers me is that Pennsylvania’s primary election doesn’t happen until April 22, after most other states have whittled down the field of candidates. So we in Pennsylvania don’t really get to pick who runs for the White House; by April 22, our primary essentially rubber stamps whoever is left standing after everybody else’s primary! I’m not saying I would have necessarily voted for any of the candidates who have already withdrawn from the race; but I would have liked to have had their options available to consider by the time my vote gets cast.

Following the 2004 presidential election, legislation was introduced in Harrisburg to move the date of Pennsylvania’s primary up to early in the campaign so that Pennsylvanians would have more of a say in the Presidential selection process. But the legislation stalled and never got passed, so we’re again stuck late in the primary process, having to pick from what candidates states like New Hampshire, Nevada, Idaho and South Carolina left standing.

This situation is reportedly being looked at, and some observers have said that there will be changes in the primary process for the 2012 race. One scenario that has been mentioned sets four separate primary days, one per month starting in January. The primaries would be set up so that the 13 states with the least population get to vote first, followed by the next 13 least populated, etc. The one-month break between primaries would give candidates ample time to campaign and continue to raise funds to keep campaigning, hopefully resulting in less attrition in the race.

My suggestion would be…mandate that once a Presidential candidate has tossed his or her hat in the ring, that their name remains in the running for the duration, and that they may not withdraw until after every state has held their primary or caucus. This way, everybody has an equal opportunity to vote on the entire field of candidates.

Candidates will yell that they can’t remain in the race due to lack of funding to continue. Use the internet! I live in a part of the world where presidential candidates rarely, if ever, make campaign stops to stump for votes. So whether a candidate has the bucks to campaign directly in front of me doesn’t really matter; I research Presidential candidates on the internet to find out who they are and what they represent. And I imagine that in this day and age, more smart Americans are starting to do the same. Just as small-budgeted and small market rock bands and musicians can work the internet to spread their music to the rest of the world, I think presidential candidates with any sense of internet savvy could work the Net to get their names in front of potential voters. The internet again can become the equalizer.

Bottom line: I hope that other Pennsylvanians (as well as residents of other states whose primaries fall late in the Presidential candidate selection process) will sound off about this situation, and that primary election reforms will be a reality by the time the 2012 race comes around.

THE EVER-CHANGING MUSIC SCENE

Peter C’s. The Bar. Burgi’s Roundhouse. The Victory Lane Saloon. All are names of live music venues in the Altoona area that have closed their doors in the past 2-3 years. All these recent closures, coupled with the increasingly tougher challenge of attracting people to live music shows, has led to ‘gloom and doom’ chatter about this town’s music scene.

Granted, I will concede and agree with the scene’s old-timers that things on the Altoona area music scene aren’t as vibrant as they were 20 or 30 years ago, when there were supposedly bars running live music on every street corner, and crowds backed up into the streets to watch that music. (As the Geico Gecko says, “That is a complete dramatization of course, but you get my meaning…”) In this day and age, there are more diversions competing with live music for people’s attention, such as deejays, karaoke, poker nights, mechanical bulls, movies, television, Nintendo Wii’s and other video games, Guitar Hero, the internet and more. And the publicized increase in gun- and drug-related crime in the Altoona area in recent years, the ever-dreaded DUI checkpoints and other state police scare tactics have driven more people into cowering indoors at home on a Friday or Saturday night as well. So yes, the reality is that business is slower in the world of live music now than years ago.

But while the recent closure of several area live music venues may suggest that things are getting worse, I am more inclined to believe that – as in years past – we are just entering a lull period, where things slow down for a little while, and then pick back up to a degree. History backs this up. The fact is, just as band names and faces come and go over the years, so do the venues where those names perform.

First, consider this…I’ve been reporting on the Altoona area music scene’s happenings for over 20 years. Only three venues that were running live music in 1987 – Aldo’s, the 4D’s Lounge and Pellegrine’s – are still doing so 20 years later. Every other place that was running live music in 1987 is gone or has changed. And likewise, the other places outside of those three rooms that are currently running live music entered the arena within the past 20 years.

Back in 1987, Cisco’s was the big nightclub on the Altoona music scene; it is now a Red Lobster restaurant. Another major nightclub, the Coaches Inn, had just closed its doors when I started writing for Pennsylvania Musician in 1987; it became a Chinese restaurant for a few years, before New Sebastiano’s took over the facility in 1991. In 1987, (“Old”) Sebastiano’s was the old hotel building on the corner of 4th Avenue and 6th Street, and Claudio was advertising for bands on the back page of the Altoona Mirror. The Tavern was a smaller Altoona live music venue in 1987; it eventually closed its doors, and a medical center parking lot now stands in its place. The Engine Room was just opening up shop at around that time; it would last just a few years, and is now Data Music Services recording studio. The Double S Tavern in Juniata was dabbling in live music at that time. Joe Abraham’s Colonade Hotel was running live music (although only the bravest souls would dare to enter, lol!). Adjacent to Altoona, the Buckhorn Inn was running bands; it would eventually change owners and was renamed Leon’s Place for a spell before being torn down, and the UR Dalite Inn (now White Lady Tavern) was constructed in its place. In Duncansville, the Rodeo Lounge and Mike’s Brass Rail Lounge were running bands; the Rodeo eventually changed owners, became a strip club and was subsequently torn down. Mike’s Brass Rail eventually closed, was taken over by new ownership and reopened as the short-lived Beerbellies; it now stands vacant.

Even the live music venues that have endured over that 20-year span have changed. Aldo’s in 1987 was a small one-room venue, just the current restaurant room (where bands now store their cases and gear during shows); the main band room and main bar area weren’t added until a few years later. The 4D’s was smaller in 1987, with the stage area located where the raised seating level now sits. The expansion that added the current dance floor and stage area happened several years later. And in 1987, Pellegrine’s stage was a semi-circle area situated in front of where the fireplace currently is; with the dance floor in its present location (you’re right, it was awkward!); the bands were moved to the current stage area early in the 90’s.

And jumping forward 20 years, look at how many of today’s Blair County live music venues came along more recently. As mentioned earlier, New Sebastiano’s took over the old Coaches Inn facility in 1991, and has since undergone transformations into City Limits and the new 30 Something Restaurant & Lounge. While The Hitching Post has been around during that 20-year span, current proprietor Butch only started running bands 5-6 years ago. The White Lady Tavern has only been running live bands for a few years. Al’s Tavern, the Belmar Hotel, The Knickerbocker, Shaw’s Bar and Zach’s didn’t start running live music until within the past 5-10 years. The current U.S. Hotel (excluding the Jim Rossi era of the late 80’s and early 90’s) and Shan Nicole’s in Hollidaysburg have been doing live acoustic music for closer to ten years. Glenn’s Place in Claysburg has been doing its thing for close to ten years, in the building where CJ’s Lounge made a go of it for a few years in the early 90’s. Just one year ago, Family Pizza & Pub wasn’t even on the radar for live music in the Altoona area; yet on one Saturday night last month (February), I couldn’t find a parking space in their jam-packed parking lot when I tried to go see White Shadow – Family Pizza is definitely on the Altoona live music map now!

Change is a constant on any music scene. Consider all the places in Blair County that have come and gone, or dabbled in live music within the past 20 years. Peter C’s, Victory Lane Saloon, Burgi’s Roundhouse, the Gingerbread Man, The Little Beer Store/The Bar, The Monkey Wharf (which took over Sebastiano’s Hotel), Eldolyn Terrace, Glory Days/Petey’s, Lombardo’s Pub, 18th Street Café, the Whistle Stop, Jarheads, the Cedar Grove Inn, Chaser’s in Tyrone, Ajay’s Café, Altoona Hotel, The Cantina, Classic Attitudes, Uriah’s Pub, Coaches Corner and Hammerjax in Bellwood, Louie’s Coral Lounge in Williamsburg, Jethro’s, The Ramada/Cosmopolitan, Don Pablo’s, Francesco’s/Studio VII, the Ferris Wheel, Rubine’s Bar, Jack & George’s, The Palace, the Larchmont in Hollidaysburg, the Old Schoolhouse Inn in Bellwood, the Triangle/Racer’s in Bald Eagle and other names I have probably overlooked or long since forgotten about at one time or another, all ran live music within the past 20 years.

My point to this trip down memory lane is that just as the live music venue scene is vastly different now from what it was 20 years ago, the scene will be different 2, 5, 10 and 20 years from now. New owners or venues will likely enter the scene, while some existing ones will probably exit. There will be busier times for places for bands to play, and there will be leaner times, such as we are experiencing at present. The only thing that is really constant about this or any other music scene is…change.

AND NOW, SOME CD REVIEWS FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE…

TED NUGENT – LOVE GRENADE (Eagle Records) On his last album, 2003's Craveman, Ted Nugent returned to the loud, rowdy, screaming, foam-at-the-mouth rabid rock and roll that first put him on the map to begin with. On his new album, Love Grenade, the Motor City Madman ups the ante even further, offering the total package of all things Nugent rock and roll over the disc's thirteen tracks. The Nuge howls and screams like there's no tomorrow, and dishes out his heftiest doses of snarling, searing guitar fire since Cat Scratch Fever and Scream Dream over a quarter-century ago. In the best (worst?) Nugent tradition, there's plenty of sexual innuendo to go around, starting with the boisterous title track opener "Love Grenade" and continuing with the sleazy blues of "Girl Scout Cookies," "Bridge Over Troubled Daughters" and the blatant "Lay With Me," another slinky blues jam with guest Jack Blades on bass. "Still Raising Hell" is Nugent's latest bare-bones hard-rocking statement of purpose, while the hammering high-velocity ode to Ted's education, "Funk U," is the rowdiest education-related ode to come down the pike since Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher." Ted blasts commies, government assistance, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Ted Kennedy on his outspoken blast "Stand!," and kicks new life into his old Amboy Dukes classic "Journey to the Center of the Mind." Perhaps the most interesting part of the album, though, is when Nugent worships native men and beasts in a three-song passage; affiliating himself with legendary Native American warriors on "Geronimo & Me" and praising the "Spirit of the Buffalo," bridging the two songs with his guitar-slinging instrumental "EagleBrother." The performances are all rip-roaring and go-for-broke, with Ted delivering his "full bluntal Nugity" while bassist Barry Sparks and Tommy Clufetos hang on for the ride. The production by Nugent and Jack Blades is clean, sharp and full; allowing Ted to fully bear his teeth on all fronts. At this stage of the game, Ted Nugent has nothing left to prove except perhaps winning the White House; Love Grenade should firmly keep him a frontrunner with longtime fans. This CD is Ted in his most primal, outspoken and outrageous display in years, and should add another exclamation point onto his already legendary status.

SCORPIONS – HUMANITY HOUR 1 (NewDoor Records) The Scorpions returned to their hard-rocking basics on their last album, 2004's Unbreakable, delivering their most confident-sounding set in years. On the group's new album, Humanity Hour 1, the veteran German rockers collaborate with several writers, including producers James Michael and Desmond Child, Marti Fredericksen and Eric Bazilian (formerly of The Hooters). The apparent objectives here were to bolster the overall strength of the group's songcraft and tailor a more contemporary, radio-accessible sound. The album's dozen songs are focused and streamlined, and the production by Child gives the Scorpions a deeper, fuller, polished sound, plus a more modern rock sheen. Several songs display a rigid nu-metal dynamic, such as the opening track "Hour 1," "We Will Rise Again," and "The Cross," the latter with Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame on backing vocals. There are several milder-flavored tracks such as the radio single "Love Will Keep Us Alive," the orchestrated "The Future Never Dies," "Your Last Song" and "Love Is War." A few songs; "The Game of Life," "You're Lovin' Me to Death," "321" and the closer "Humanity" retain more of the group's traditional sound. Singer Klaus Meine's voice is in excellent form through it all, sounding stronger, smoother and clearer than ever. And Matthias Jabs' and Rudolf Schenker's guitars sound razor sharp and operate well within the context of these songs. But while it all sounds clean, concise and polished; Humanity Hour 1 ultimately comes across as too calculated and forced, and sacrifices the rawness and overall energy that made Unbreakable such a welcome return to form. The Scorpions often sound like they're performing somebody else's songs. While it has its moments, Humanity Hour 1 suffers from too many cooks and too much streamlining and big production, at the expense of the group's hard-rocking identity. While not as huge a misstep as their 1999 techno experiment Eye II Eye, this album similarly finds the Scorpions and their collaborators tinkering with the group's formula, and the results are uneven and ultimately disappointing.

JACK BRUCE AND ROBIN TROWER – SEVEN MOONS (V-12 Records) Seven Moons marks the third recording collaboration between Jack Bruce and Robin Trower; following the 1981 album B.L.T. with drummer Bill Lordan and the 1982 Bruce and Trower album Truce. Over this album's eleven tracks, we hear Bruce, Trower and drummer Gary Husband explore and blend blues, rock and psychedelic sound tapestries that frequently recall classic Cream, Trower's solo catalog and even Procol Harum. As demonstrated on the earlier two collaborations, Bruce's bass and Trower's guitar are perfect matches for one another; both players weaving around each other and Husband's strong and stripped-down drumming. That instrumental interaction is constant, but perhaps is most prominent on the Cream-like rockers "Lives of Clay" and "Perfect Place;" and the bluesy "Come to Me." Trower recalls some of the guitar experimentation of his peak solo work, crafting several atmospheric and spacey riffs to set the mood on numbers like "Distant Places of the Heart" and "Just Another Day;" and providing plentiful solo fireworks along the way. Having overcome recent health issues, Bruce's voice is in fine form, sounding, smooth, rangeful, expressive and emotional as he sings poetic, abstract and even spiritual words. He does offer brief social commentary on the slow blues exercise "A Bad Case of Celebrity," about sudden pop star fame and fall from grace. Mostly recorded live in the studio, the mix gives all three instruments balanced equal voices, with Bruce's vocals out front and crystal clear. Seven Moons delivers exactly what is expected when the names Jack Bruce and Robin Trower are mentioned in the same sentence; a stirring, bluesy and often atmospheric adventure that recalls the best features of these artists' famous past works. Fans of vintage 60's and 70's era psychedelic blues rock and the classic power trio format should be very pleased with the latest these two rock elder statesmen have to offer.

QUEEN – QUEEN ROCK MONTREAL (Hollywood Records) In November of 1981, Queen was at the pinnacle of their popularity, and were enjoying their greatest success and excess. As they neared the end of nearly two years of nonstop touring, Queen recorded their concerts on November 24 and 25, 1981 at Montreal's Forum with the intent of making a full-length film of their live show. That film was released as We Will Rock You a few years later. A 2-disc set, Queen Rock Montreal is the soundtrack from that concert, and a complete one at that. Clocking in at nearly 100 minutes, Queen Rock Montreal captures the entire concert set, including songs not included in the film version such as "Flash" and "The Hero." Virtually all of the group's legendary hits are performed here, with a few choice deep cuts included along the way. And as this is captured as a whole concert set, the songs are heard in the context of that concert, and listeners get to experience the fuller scope of Queen as a concert entity. There are dramatic and theatric peaks contrasted against mellower moments along the way; along with sudden shifts from one song to another, solo instrumental displays from guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor and more. Singer Freddie Mercury is in top form as we hear him sing, strut, and bring all the pageantry he was known for. Since this set had been performed nonstop by the group for close to two years, it is tightly played, confident and nearly seamless. Queen sounds at the top of their game here, and the new mixing and remastering from the original multi-track tapes gives this concert document a full, complete and polished live sound. Queen Rock Montreal captures Queen at their live performance peak, and serves as audio proof of what this band was about when they brought their full might and majesty to the concert stage. As concert documents go, this is an excellent one to remember the late Freddie Mercury and Queen at their peak.

PROTO KAW – THE WAIT OF GLORY (InsideOut Music/SPV) To refresh memories, Proto-Kaw, featuring former Kansas founder, guitarist and composer Kerry Livgren, was an early 70's incarnation of Kansas that reunited in 2003. (The name itself means "pre-Kansas," the line-up before the Kansas that became famous in the mid-70's.) Proto-Kaw's latest album, The Wait of Glory, is their first full album of new material since their reformation. The album also marks the addition of Kerry Livgren's son, Jake Livgren, as a full-time band member who sings and plays guitar, alto saxophone and percussion. The album continues the progressive rock exploration established on the 2005 album Before Came After, with some interesting twists. The sound again is rooted in the earlier 70's Kansas model, with the emphasis on lengthier and more detailed compositions. But while guitar, keys and violin defined the old Kansas sound, Proto-Kaw's sound features saxophones, flute, and even trumpet and flugelhorn. These instruments allow the group to expand into some unique terrain, as they dabble in Mediterranean flourishes on "Relics of the Tempest," jazzier textures during the course of "When the Rains Come," and freewheeling fusion on the instrumental "Osvaldo's Groceries." Like early Kansas, the musical terrain and melodies are often unpredictable and jump between various styles within the context of the same composition; evidenced on the 9-minute-plus opener "Nevermore," "The Vigil" and "Picture This." Proto-Kaw flexes their harder-rocking chops several times, most notably on "Melicus Gladiator" and the funk-edged workouts and "Physic" and "Old Number 63." The overall musicianship is excellent throughout the album; this early incarnation of Kansas is an accomplished unit, and their execution suggests the smoothness and caliber of seasoned session players. Singer Lynn Meredith demonstrates a smooth, clear and expressive voice as he sells the prevalent lyrical themes of the impending downfall of modern civilization and the rise of a new, wiser one. Kerry Livgren's production and engineering gives weight and edge to the harder rocking textures and delicacy to the softer ones, allowing all the instrumentation to be clearly heard and balanced. On The Wait of Glory, Proto-Kaw takes their early 70's progressive foundation and expands and experiments with it, resulting in a listening adventure that never stays in one place for very long. In a sense, this album suggests what Kansas might have sounded like had this line-up stuck together back in the day; it sounds like they picked up 30-plus years later and continued the adventure where they left off.

TGZ – LIVING DANGEROUSLY (King Mojo Records) TGZ is a band project whose name is an acronym for its three founding members. 'T' is "Dangerous" Dan Toler, former guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band and Dickey Betts & Great Southern. 'G' is jazz pianist Ron Gary. And 'Z' is Ed Zinner, who played guitar for the southern tribute band Southern Legend. The group also features bassist Avon Lucas, organist Taylor Caldwell, singers Tony Green and Floyd Miles, and Altoona's own John McKnight on drums and vocals. TGZ's debut album, Living Dangerously, introduces a colorful fusion of R&B, jazz, blues and rock flavors over its ten track mixture of vocal and instrumental compositions. This album is constantly busy, not just with its variety of styles, but with constantly dazzling displays of musicianship among the players. Toler and Zinner are continuously blending, swapping, dueling and jamming fast and fluid guitar licks, intertwining with Gary’s ivory tickling and playing nip and tuck with Lucas and McKnight’s rhythms. Green displays a strong, flowing and soulful voice, especially on the album-opening pair of sweet soul love songs, "Your Smile" and "Heart & Soul." He gives a feistier display on more uptempo numbers such as the southern-flavored jazz-rock title song "Living Dangerously," the romping and playful blues boogie "Rabbit Got the Gun," and the funk-rocking "Pour Me Another Tall One.” TGZ showcases their instrumental versatility on the jazz-rock fusion “RonReeKay” and “One Last Set,” and the gentle “Song for Debby.” Two different editions of the relaxed, acoustic-geared "Summerwind" appear on the album; the latter instrumental version, "Summerwind for Lauren," features a guest appearance by another area musician, Johnstown's John Shaffer on harmonica. Produced by Ed Zinner, Living Dangerously sounds clean, crisp and balanced, with all the instrumental components representing well in the overall mix. The performances are inspired, and the overall uplifting vibe of this album suggests that these musicians had a fun time putting these compositions together. Fans of top-notch musicianship will find plenty to savor on Living Dangerously, as TGZ defines their wide expanse of musical turf, and gives their collective skills a hearty workout. (The CD can be obtained by visiting the group’s Myspace website, www.myspace.com/tgzband.)

RISE PHOENIX RISE – THE LAND OF OOHS AND AHHS (Solution6 Records) Rise Phoenix Rise was formed by drummer Rob Hampton in late 2006 after he departed his longtime previous band, the Poptart Monkeys. Rob recruited his former Teacher's Pet bandmate, Ronnie Williams, to play bass; and the addition of three Tennessee musicians - singer Gibson and guitarists Chris Bishop and Jarrod Griffith - completed the line-up. Rise Phoenix Rise's debut CD, The Land of Oohs and Aahs, introduces the group's lively brand of punk-infused modern pop/rock. The prominent flavor of the album is sharp, guitar-driven, hook-heavy rock; with hard-hitting beats and catchy chorus harmonies. Rise Phoenix Rise sets the tone with the album-opening reworking of a tune Hampton imported from his previous band, "She Likes Girls;" and keeps the vibe lively with the equally punchy rockers "Boxing Josh" and the first radio single "Walk Away." The group displays more of a pop/punk vigor on "My Song," "Kenny Says 'Ho'" and "Mr. Cream Jeans;" as well as a tender side on the disc-closing ballad "Find." Perhaps the centerpiece of the album, though, is the dynamic and well-crafted "Dante Maria," which develops from a delicate beginning into an impassioned, oceanic rocker. The performances are invigorating and powerful; packing ample guitar crunch and rhythmic thunder. Gibson shows a clear and expressive singing voice, often backed by strong two- and three-part harmonies. The group and Joe "Wiggy" Wiglesky do a good job on production, giving the rockers sharpness and edge, while giving texture and depth to the more delicate and tranquil moments. The Land of Oohs and Aahs is a strong opening chapter from Rise Phoenix Rise that introduces their knack for pop songcraft and the hard-rocking firepower to drive it home. (The CD can be obtained through Rise Phoenix Rise's website, www.risephoenixrise.com.)

IMAGES OF EDEN – SUNLIGHT OF THE SPIRIT (Nightmare Records) From the Baltimore/York region, Images Of Eden’s journey began in 1998 as the brainchild of founder, singer, bassist and keyboardist Gordon Tittsworth. The second album, Sunlight of the Spirit, is the second chapter and progression of Images Of Eden’s concept and sound. Elaborating on the progressive hard rock/metal sound that surfaced on the self-titled debut, Sunlight of the Spirit expands on the theme of Eden as a personal state of mind each person must ultimately define within themselves. Tittsworth, guitarist/keyboardist Dennis Miller and drummer Matt Kaiser craft a sound undeniably rooted in the classic progressive hard rock/metal traditions of Queensryche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater; with detailed and lavish song arrangements, frequent tempo and chord shifts, dramatic and climactic twists and turns, and more. Tittsworth sells his song material with a powerful siren-like call in the tradition of Queensryche’s Geoff Tate or Fates’ Ray Alder. Images Of Eden demonstrates their ability to craft tight and concise melodies on shorter numbers such as the charged opening combo “Ascension/Kaleidoscope,” the majestic and serene “Beyond the Horizon,” the driving “To Live Another Day” and the powerful “Aladdin.” The group can also deliver the expansive epic as well, demonstrated on the 8-minute-plus “Dream-Catcher,” the 11-minute-plus closer “Midnight’s Tide” and the nearly 15-minute, three-part title adventure “Sunlight of the Spirit.” The group’s arrangements display smooth transitions between tension and release and from journey to side-journey, as well as a crisp balance between the various guitar and keyboard textures. The group’s production enables everything to be clearly heard; and while the group’s soundscapes are usually busy, they are never needlessly cluttered or overblown. These aural panoramas smoothly gel into a cohesive whole album that flows nearly seamlessly from start to end. Images Of Eden shows convincing power, finesse, beauty and a sense of adventure on Sunlight of the Spirit, and this latest chapter of the group’s sonic journey is a triumphant, intelligent and uplifting album well worth exploring. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.imagesofeden.com.)

ROB WALLACE & THE MESS – INFIDELITY IN HI-FI (no label) Hailing from the Bedford/Cumberland area, Rob Wallace & the Mess introduce a rough, rowdy, and rural-flavored brand of rock on their debut CD, IInfidelity in Hi-Fi. Namesake Rob Wallace on vocals, guitar and keyboard; Mark Wigfield on drums and Ryan Wigfield on bass and backing vocals craft a hybrid sound rooted in the classic fuzz-guitar distortion rock of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, serving as the launching pad for excursions into blues, honky tonk, rockabilly/psychobilly and more. Often sporting a gravelly and humble Johnny Cash-like baritone, Rob croons redneck-flavored odes to love, hate, lust, temptation, exorcism of inner and outer demons and more. He makes a play for the farmer's daughter on the rumbling ballad "Harvestin' Time," and portrays the loser undeserving of love on the similar and forlorn "Wildfire." Conversely, he trashes a two-timing white trash queen on the rowdy title song "Infidelity in Hi-Fi," but concedes infidelity himself on the swamp blues-flavored “Somebody Else.” Rob and the Mess pick up the tempo, chase and are chased by demons on the psychobilly-flavored “Up All Night Dreamin’” and “Born Heller Heart;” and blend rock and honky-tonk as Rob finds salvation in a bar on “Divine Intervention.” The album has a prominent ragged, gritty texture; with the weighty rhythms and coarse guitar edge providing the sound’s driving force. Organ and piano nicely flesh out the slower numbers, and saloon-styled piano lends an additional fire and brimstone flavor to “May the Devil Have Mercy on Your Goddamn Soul.” Produced by Mark Poole and the band, and recorded, mixed and mastered at Zone 8 Recording Studio in Morgantown, Infidelity in Hi-Fi has a booming, full and balanced sound. The guitars are jagged, with clever use of occasional flanging and other effects along the way to help paint the mood. The album has a loose feel, lending to the rural feel of the set. Rob Wallace & the Mess weave a fine mess on Infidelity in Hi-Fi, a hearty, strong debut that fans of heavy rural-rooted blues- and country-rock should enjoy. (The CD can be obtained through the group's website, www.robwallaceandthemess.com.)

CODORUS CRUISE LINE – DOWN THAT ALLEY (no label) Named after the creek in York County along where two of the band members live, Codorus Cruise Line features Brady Henry on guitars, lead vocals and harmonica, Sean Deibert on bass and lead vocals, and Jeremy Schlosser on drums and backing vocals. The group’s full-length debut CD, Down That Alley, introduces listeners to their gritty brand of funk-laced hard rock. Their base sound lies somewhere between the Southern leanings of 3 Doors Down and the hard grunginess of Seven Mary Three, spiced up with a funky edge. The C.C.L.’s eleven songs mix the rock and funk to varying degrees, mostly with strong and catchy results. Among the catchiest are hearty riff-rockers like “Train Station,” “Home for Hollywood,” “Go Away” and “Life I Choose;” the half-ska/half-rock opening track and title song “Down That Alley;” the southern-flavored “Kindness or Chaos” and the funk-driven rocker “$3 Six Pack.” The group also offers an acoustic-flavored bonus track, “Loogie.” The performances are hard-driving and enthusiastic; and in the best power trio tradition, there’s constant instrumental interaction between all three players throughout the album. Brady howls out boisterous voice as he sells the group’s no-nonsense words about everyday life and the blue collar lifestyle. Recorded and produced by Jason Rubal at Seventh Wave Studio in Harrisburg, the band’s sound is basic, sharp, out front and in your face; balanced and utilizing only minimal studio effects along the way. Down That Alley offers up straightforward, bare-bones rock; and presents Codorus Cruise Line’s statement of purpose as a rowdy, no-nonsense, no-gimmicks power trio. Fans of sharp-edged, classic-rooted rock should find this a satisfying listen. (The CD can be obtained by visiting the group’s Myspace website, www.myspace.com/theccl.)

THE RUSTLANDERS – THE RUSTLANDERS (no label) The self-titled debut CD from State College's The Rustlanders offers a crisp and fresh blend of Americana sounds, smoothly fusing together elements of country, rock, folk and blues. Singer/guitarist Jason McIntyre, guitarist Jason "Junior" Tutwiler, bassist/singer Corry Drake and drummer/singer Chris Rattie present a sound that recalls the classic rural-flavored rock of The Band, Bob Seger, Tom Petty and Neil Young. The flavors vary from country twang to spiritual, blues and heartland-flavored rock, with the instrumental tapestries setting the backdrops for the group's tales of loners, hard times, salvation and hope. The arrangements surround and paint each song, with guests John Rattie and the Rev. James Horton on keys, Doc Mudgett on pedal steel, Cory Neidig on banjo and backing singers Kate Twoey and Natalie Berrena giving the sound depth and color. The album opener "Holdin' Out" could pass for a long-lost outtake from The Band's early albums with its gospel-flavored keyboard underscore and spirited, Big Easy-like vibe. Other songs blend the group's palate of musical colors to varying degrees, with "Beginning to Show Through" showing a punchy, straight-ahead country flavor, while "Blind Faith" leans towards a harder, Tom Petty-like rural rock direction. "La Conchita," "Border Town" and "Two Long Years" lean towards the sullen, country-folk storytelling style of After the Gold Rush/Harvest-era Neil Young. "Route 251" suggests a fusion of The Band and the Wallflowers; while the album finisher "My Rock N Roll" taps a surging, bluesy style reminiscent of the Black Crowes. The instrumental execution is strong overall, underscoring hearty vocal performances that sell the rustic imagery of the lyrics. The production by the Rustlanders and Andrew Morse allows the varying instrumental arrangements to give each song its own life and personality; yet ties it all together smoothly into a cohesive, unified set. The Rustlanders is a strong debut that gives a definitive introduction to this band's rural-flavored musical frontier. (The CD can be obtained through the group's website, www.myspace.com/rustlanders.)

WHITE WITCH – NEVER DIES THE DREAM (no label) Never Dies the Dream is the latest album by reunited Williamsport 80's hard rockers White Witch; but perhaps more so, it’s a celebration of survival and perseverance by the group’s centerpiece and ringleader, singer Jeff Pittinger. Jeff has lived some life and purged some demons, in the aftermath now standing tall and carrying forth ‘the dream’ of getting his band’s music to the masses. Jeff describes his demons on the powerful and autobiographical rocker “Game That I Play,” documenting his life on the edge and how it provided the launching pad for him to move forward. On the lengthier and less-focused “The Seed,” Jeff confronts and shrugs off his doubters, reaffirming his will to go for broke in pursuing his dream. Jeff and White Witch pay homage to famous rock madman Ozzy Osbourne, offering their fiery live rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” White Witch’s base sound continues to be firmly rooted in 70’s/80’s vintage hard rock and metal. “Slaughter in Salem” has a raw, New Wave of British Heavy Metal feel to it; although visions of a Spinal Tap-like miniature Stonehenge dropping from the stage ceiling might come to mind during the song’s campy spoken prelude. The songs “Singleman” and “Street Corner Madness” bring to mind 70’s-era Scorpions, while “Prince of Darkness” and “Underneath the Lights” align closer with UFO. The group’s presentation is solid overall, with drummer Carl Berry and bassist Jack Death anchoring the sound with sharp, driving rhythms. Guitarist Doug Lehman turns in some excellent lead solo work; including his “Fly Me to the Moon” reference in the middle of “Singleman,” and some Tony Iommi/Randy Rhoads-like pyrotechnics during “The Seed.” Jeff Pittinger gives a sharper, more on target vocal performance overall, showing more of the personality, vigor and vinegar consistent with his live performance. With final production and engineering by Bret Alexander at Saturation Acres in Danville, this album’s sound is bigger and deeper than the group’s last effort, The Power, with the guitars given clarity, sting and jaggedness, and Jeff’s vocals more up front in the mix. The album is dedicated in memory of the group’s longtime stagehand and bouncer, “Crazy Eddie.” In spite of a few minor flaws and awkward lyrical moments, White Witch’s Never Dies the Dream is a listenable effort, an improvement over their previous album, and a confident statement of survival and grabbing life by the horns. (The CD can be obtained through www.cdbaby.com.)

DEJA VUDOO – SCRATCHING THE SURFACE (RockDiva & SugarDaddy) After several formative years as an acoustic-geared act, Harrisburg's Deja Vudoo came together into a full rock band entity that reunited several musicians from a past project. The group's first full-length CD, Scratching the Surface, offers a powerful introduction to their unique sound and musical vision. The prominent flavor is hard, female-fronted modern rock blended with slight gothic and techno flourishes, often incorporating dark themes and religious innuendo. The group's centerpiece, charismatic singer Tina Marie, belts out a potent, rangeful voice as she toes the fine line between sanity and insanity, and explores the dark crevices of her heart and soul. Tina is often backed by a wall of metallic sound, defined by battering ram beats and tribal-geared rhythms from drummer Tony Pichler, weighty and taut bass lines from Michael Alan, and rigid riffage from guitarist Michael Nott; fleshed out and colored by Anthony Reigle's additional guitar and keyboard fills. Out of a twisted church choir-like intro, the thunderous "Your God" sets the album's dark and disquieting tone; with Tina brazenly challenging the validity of a higher power. She questions her own reality on "Real to Me," and teeters between salvation and damnation on the volatile "Making Angels Cry." Other tracks find Tina pondering issues about her mind and soul, such as the edgy "Dreamin,'" the sullen "Numb" (featuring guest cellist Ajay Cheney) and "Scapegoat;" while spirits, souls and wills struggle for control in the lyrics of songs like "Whisper," the acidic and industrial "Revenge," the concussive title track "Scratching the Surface" and "Piece by Piece," and "Immortal." The album is mostly cohesive and flows along consistently, with the sole exception of the keyboard-underscored rocker "Addicted," which sounds almost upbeat and out of place in the context of the rest of the album. Produced, recorded, mixed and engineered by Jason Rubal and recorded at Seventh Wave Studio in Harrisburg, the album is cleverly crafted and arranged; utilizing vocal layering and harmonies, and timely digital effects and samples to enhance the songs' tension, release and turbulent mood swings. While the mix is often busy, it's balanced and clear, with everything distinct and audible. Deja Vudoo's Scratching the Surface is a bold, dynamic and focused debut that provides a compelling, action-packed listen. (The CD can be obtained through the group's website, www.dejavudoomusic.com.)

CHRISTINE HAVRILLA – VELOCITY (no label) Philadelphia-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Christine Havrilla demonstrates her sharp knack for songcraft on her fifth CD, Velocity. Through the album's baker's dozen tracks, she smoothly crafts catchy and intelligent songs while blending elements of folk, rock, pop and Americana into a cohesive mix; the musical vehicle to carry her thoughtful, observational, easy-to-digest, common-sense words. The punchy, acoustic opener "Hole in the Ground" says to knock off the pity party, step out of life's rut and move forward. Likewise, the gentle and rural-flavored "Ride" is about letting go of the past and shedding emotional baggage, while the country-tinged "Blinders" promotes open-mindedness. Other songs deal with relationships, such as the driving folk-rocker "Use Me," the blues/funk-edged "I Don't Mind" and the playful and feisty "Really Really Good Kiss." The fast-moving title song "Velocity" looks at a more aggressive relationship; while the tender acoustic album-closer "Letting Go" celebrates the realization of true love. Havrilla sells her words with a strong, sandy-textured voice and a bright, confident, expressive presentation. She strums a mean guitar as well, frequently meshing well with her backing band of Bill Gallagher on bass, Duane Large on drums and Bob Beach on harmonica. Co-producing the album with Lisa Slowik, Havrilla keeps things stripped down and organic, letting her voice and the instruments do the talking with just the occasional added harmony and backing vocal to add emphasis. Velocity firmly establishes Christine Havrilla as a songstress with drive and focus, who knows what she wants to say and has the musical smarts to communicate it. (The CD can be obtained through her website, www.christinehavrilla.com.)

STEVE SUMMERHILL – ONE MAN BAND (no label) Over the years, Steve Summerhill has become one of west-central Pennsylvania's most popular solo entertainers with his one-man acoustical music parties. His live debut CD, 1999's On Tap, captured the energy and excitement of a charged performance at a Duncansville restaurant, when the synergy between performer and audience elevated the festive and frenzied atmosphere. Lightning strikes a second time on Summerhill's second live CD, One Man Band, capturing more happy moments during a September, 2006 performance at Jethro's Restaurant in Altoona. Armed with his acoustic and electric guitars and MIDI backdrops, Steve brings the party over the disc's dozen tracks, enticing hoots, hollers and singalongs from the receptive and eager audience as he performs his selection of rock, pop and country favorites. The album starts by fading in during the waning moments of a rendition of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," with Steve's sung passage of "Good times never seemed so good" answered with crowd chants of "So good! So Good!" This immediately transitions into a version of Crosby Stills & Nash's "Southern Cross," and the party is on. Steve's MIDI sets the appropriate tropical backdrop for the Jimmy Buffett double-shot of "Five O'Clock Somewhere" and "One Particular Harbour;" before he and his audience go on a Garth Brooks-inspired "Beer Run." The party proceeds with performances of Blake Shelton's "Some Beach," the Foundations' 60's chestnut "Build Me Up Buttercup," singalong favorites such as "No Beer in Heaven" and "Send Me to Glory," Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," Los Lonely Boys' "Heaven," David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" and more. Summerhill's performance is constantly enthusiastic and upbeat, and his audience responds in kind with frequent singalongs, gang shouts, cheers and whistles of approval. While some purists might question his use of MIDI, he does a competent job of programming backdrops; resulting in digital orchestration and vocal harmonizing that surrounds and sets the moods of his song selections. The overall sound is bright and clear, and puts the listener smack-dab in the middle of the party. Summerhill's editing and blending of this highlight footage is mostly seamless; done so without sacrificing the overall mood, pace and energy of the evening. One Man Band is an audio recap of a special evening and lively party; but it also captures in a nutshell what Steve Summerhill and his show are all about: pleasing the audience. To quote his liner notes, "My name is on the cover, but it's you that really make the show." (The CD can be obtained by visiting Steve Summerhill's website, www.stevesummerhill.com.)

THE PROGRAMADDICTS – TECHNOLOGY BABY (Lambent Media) The Programaddicts is the electronica project brainchild of Harrisburg-based singer, songwriter, programmer and guitarist Jamison; the project name itself refers to the arsenal of keyboards and digital gear he uses to bring his musical vision to life. The Programaddicts' debut CD, Technology Baby, introduces a lively electronica sound rooted in 80's-era Euro and British pop. The disc's ten tracks use a variety of dance beats and driving hard-edged guitars to carry catchy pop melodies, with Jamison's lean and edgy electronic arrangements tying it all into a cohesive, flowing set. Many of these songs are immediately infectious and stick to the brain after first listen, including the fast-charging opener "Cool Like You," "Obsession Tonight" with its White Zombie-like intro, the driving "The Real Thing," the slinky "Sweet Sweet," the title song "Technology Baby" and the disco beat-driven "City Girls." The synth-driven "Crush" features clever vocal layering and harmonies, while the album-closer "Thanks for the Memories" offers a slower and more tranquil flavor. Jamison's arrangements and programming are tight and efficient and serve each melody; and avoid the temptation to overindulge in extra samples and clutter. Recorded at Stress Free Studios in Harrisburg and co-produced by Marshall Deasy and Jamison, the sound is full and punchy, with beef behind the beats and the digital and guitar riffage showing ample bite and sharpness. Jamison's infectious song hooks, driving tempos, crisp electronics and spirited vocals make Technology Baby a moving, fun listen; and an album that deserves some quality time in dance party CD players. This is electronica with spirit and soul. (The CD can be obtained through the Programaddicts' website, www.theprogramaddicts.com.)
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Jim Price
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 Post Posted: Saturday Dec 19, 2009 
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