We're now two weeks into the New Year 2010. Every year, I close the door on the old year with a recap of my favorite highlights, shows, albums, songs and photos on local music website Rockpage. As it usually takes me some time to get this summary together, it's usually not posted until a couple of weeks into the New Year; such is the case again this year.
So without further ado, and better late than never, here is my recap of the year just completed, from a local and regional music perspective.
First, I'll list my ten favorite shows and moments on the area/regional music scene during the past year. These are in no particular order.
1) 20 YEARS OF THE HURRICANES BENEFIT AT 30 SOMETHING: Through their two-decade career on area stages, the Hurricanes have constantly chipped in to help out others in need by performing at charity shows and benefits. Spearheaded by their fellow musicians, the “20 Years of the Hurricanes Benefit” in November was a special night where the music community gave back to the Hurricanes; celebrating their 20 years on stage, and helping to raise funds to cover travel and lodging expenses for their upcoming January trip to Memphis to represent western PA in the International Blues Challenge. This turned into an unforgettable night, with inspired performances from The Hawks, Who’s Your Daddy, the Tony Mollick Project and the Hurricanes themselves, with special guests taking part throughout the night. Founding Hurricane Felix Kos was presented with a special plaque from the Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania and a new dobro! It was a special night to honor a special band, and nearly $1,200 was raised.
2) JOHN McKNIGHT CHRISTMAS JAM AT 30 SOMETHING: When Altoona native and drumming vet John McKnight came home for the holidays, he organized a special night to get together with his hometown musical brethren. It happened the night after Christmas at 30 Something, and it was magical! By the time all was said and done, at least 25 different musicians participated in a night of inspired jams and good times! The mood and vibe were similar to some of those legendary Wednesday night jam sessions at Hollidaysburg’s U.S. Hotel with the U.S. Hotel House Band! It was an excellent night of music, camaraderie and memories; and John hinted that this may become an annual tradition!
3) BACKYARD ROCKER JAM AT THE OSBORN ESTATE: On a chilly Sunday afternoon in early October, Don Osborn invited a who’s who of Altoona area musicians and music fans to attend an informal picnic and jam session in his backyard near Greenwood. What a fun afternoon it was! For almost five hours, the music was nonstop as a cavalcade of musicians literally played ‘musical chairs,’ stepping on and off the stage to perform alongside one another. The results were often jaw-droppingly good, as musical magic abounded from the various combinations of the assembled talent. At least 15 different musicians partook in the festivities throughout the afternoon. I witnessed the fun and camaraderie as seasoned longtime local music veterans like Chuck Knepper and Tom Rhodes performed alongside relative newcomers like Don Osborn’s son, Sean Osborn, and Colton Fouse. Other participants included the jam host, Don Osborn, Allan Robison, Bill Hunter, Jim Colyer, Beau Saller, Mark Rossi, Bill Hocherl, and the band Issues (John McKelvey, Skip Fisher, Bob “Zorbo” Slovikosky and Nikki Lykens). Only the arrival of darkness, dropping temperatures and the impending start of a Sunday night Steelers game could halt this party! Thanks Don for inviting me!
4) COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF PARTY AT BALTIMORE’S POWER PLANT LIVE!: My favorite national concert experience in 2009 had to be this early September concert at the outdoor Power Plant Live! setting in Baltimore’s inner harbor area. Through the course of the night; Tantric, Cavo, Halestorm and Shinedown each rocked impressively. It was also the “Countdown to Kickoff” party for the Baltimore Ravens, so four other friends and I – all Steeler fans – were immersed in a sea of purple and gold…we didn’t dare disclose that our football loyalties were with the team that kept the Ravens out of the Super Bowl earlier in the year! We enjoyed the concert (I especially enjoyed it when Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale gave me a shout out in the middle of their set!), and watched the “Countdown to Kickoff” television program as it was broadcast live from the event, with appearances by Ravens players Ray Rice and others, the Ravens cheerleaders and more. The icing on the cake was the NFL season kickoff game between the Steelers and Titans being shown on the jumbotron next to the stage, and the Steelers winning in overtime; after hearing all the Ravens bluster, the Black and Gold held a half-game lead over the Ravens by night’s end! (Too bad it didn’t last…)
5) THE REED BOYS BENEFIT AT 30 SOMETHING: The area music scene came together during Memorial Day weekend to help out two youngsters victimized by domestic abuse. A matinee show held on a Sunday afternoon, the Reed Boys Benefit at 30 Something raised money and toys for the Korbin Reed Fund. The show started on a major high with the debut of local youngster rockers E.V.K., named in honor of recently deceased Eric Vincent “Fat Vinny” Kelly (who gave music lessons to the band members). That high vibe carried through the rest of the day, with spirited performances from Bad Daze, Slacker Theory, This Calling, A Fight With Sledgehammers (also making their debut this day), Dick Shack Posse, The Embalmed, FedUP and Samara. More than $2,500 was raised for the Reed boys, Korbin and Izik.
6) WADESTOCK BENEFIT AT CAFÉ 210: The regional music community came together to help out a brother in need on a Monday night in early December. After Emily’s Toybox drummer Wade Corbin suffered a serious head injury in a November car crash, the Wadestock benefit took place at Café 210 in State College. It was a special night, as the bands Collapse, Velveeta, Emily’s Toybox (with Greg Reigle subbing behind the kit for Wade), Loudmouth, Mr. Hand and My Hero Zero all firing up the music; area businesses donating door prizes to raise proceeds for Wade; the Café 210 staff donating 10% of their tips; and a large contingent of Wade fans and well-wishers converging to celebrate Wade and raise his spirits. Placards and T-shirts were signed for Wade by musical peers and fans, and the vibe rode at a high for the entire night. When all was said and done, well over $5,000 was raised to help Wade on his road to recovery.
7) HURRICANES ROCK ‘TIL DAWN AT COSMIC JAM: Mysterytrain had finished up their Saturday night performance at their own first-ever Cosmic Jam festival at the Lincoln Caverns Amphitheater near Huntingdon in June. It was around 1:30 AM, and although a couple of solo performers got onstage to play a few songs, it appeared that the music was winding down for the night, and I was ready to retire to my car to get some shuteye. But headlights appeared in the wooded entrance to the grounds, and that familiar sight of the Hurricanes’ van and trailer appeared. And within minutes, the Hurricanes were setting up their gear to perform, despite already playing two other gigs earlier! The group convened their performance, bringing campers and insomniacs down to the stage to dance, groove and party down clear until sunrise!
8) SMOKED COUNTRY JAM: Benefiting the Lupus Foundation of Pennsylvania, this year's Smoked Country Jam near Loganton was the first bluegrass festival I ever attended, and will probably go down as the muddiest festival I ever attended as well! A preceding night and morning of heavy June rains resulted in ankle-deep mud when I first pulled onto the grounds, and that mud grew deeper and more sloppy with successive rains and storms through the day! But the music was great, with constant bluegrass and traditional folk and country sounds courtesy of Mama Corn, Summer Reign, Remington Ryde, The Larkins Family, The Stevens Family, the Lockport Drifters, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike and Van Wagner & Matt Harrison. The clincher was the nightcap performance of the Hillbilly Gypsies, who kept folks happy and dancing in the mud as more rain fell, and welcomed members of the other bands onstage for a bluegrass blowout finale! Thanks again to Mama Corn’s John Stevens for lending me the hooded tarp. And the adventure I had early the next Sunday morning gunning my car through the mudpit to escape the premises is also worthy of a highlight reel!
9) OLE ’97 AT EBENSBURG POTATOFEST: This was one of those instances where the right combination of conditions came together to produce a special moment. This year’s Ebensburg Potatofest was deluged with rain, causing several bands and performers to withdraw or cancel their appearances. The performers who went ahead and played the event dealt with the elements, including heavy downpours and chilly temperatures. Flood City Brass singer Tom Pavic turned the situation into his own version of Fred Astaire’s ‘singing in the rain’ dance. Another performer, Martina McBride tribute artist Natalie Sparks, sang under an umbrella in the middle of the street. The Boomers slogged through the monsoon as best they could, entertaining the handful of hard-core fans also crazy enough to brave the elements (including one Rockpage/Pennsylvania Musician correspondent whose sneakers and feet were soaked…sneakers R.I.P.). And as Johnstown-based Johnny (and June Carter) Cash tribute band Ole ’97 began their performance, a sudden torrential downpour sent many people scurrying for cover, including underneath the gazebo where the band was performing! But this resulted in an intimate setting, and the band entertained the tightly-packed crowd with their stellar performances of Johnny and June Carter Cash favorites. Cash protégé Randy Hunter and Kim Miller as June Carter shined throughout, honoring audience requests for Cash favorites and keeping folks happy despite the rains. Ole ’97 no doubt won new fans this day; I was one of them!
10) ALDO’S CHINESE NEW YEAR’S PARTY: Aldo’s celebrated the arrival of Chinese New Year 4707, the Year of the Ox, with a Chinese New Year’s Party in late January. Included in the party were Chinese decorations, a Chinese food buffet, complementary coolie hats, Asian beer sampling, and musical entertainment courtesy of The Marauders and Half Tempted. The party was well attended, and good times were had! I was disappointed to learn, though, that Aldo’s 2010 installment of the Chinese New Year’s Party happens during Millennium Music Conference weekend in February, so I won’t be able to attend.
JP'S TEN FAVORITE LOCAL/REGIONAL CD'S OF 2009:
A lot of strong CD’s emerged from the local and state music scene in 2009; these were the ten that impacted me the most. (I purposely left off Halestorm’s self-titled CD from this list, since it is a national release.)
1) HYBRID ICE – MIND’S EYE More than 20 years after their last studio album, venerated Pennsylvania rock music vets Hybrid Ice returned with possibly their strongest album yet in Mind’s Eye. Over the disc’s nine tracks, Hybrid Ice updated their signature brand of classic progressive-flavored rock; weaving together detailed, powerful and captivating melodies with a variety of flavors. Arena rock-flavored anthems are still this band’s forte, demonstrated with the driving opener “Fight Another Day, the title track “Mind’s Eye”; and “Shining Star,” the lone track fronted by Chris Alburger’s distinctive, high-soaring voice. But perhaps this disc’s crowning jewel is the closer “Faith Without Works,” a powerful, majestic, nearly 10-minute epic about self-realization and atonement. Hybrid Ice’s crisp vocals and vocal harmonies remained virtually intact from the two-decade recording hiatus, and their arrangements and instrumental chops were as sharp as ever. Mind’s Eye was a triumphant return for Hybrid Ice, an invigorating set that re-established the group’s masterful blend of melody, art, and rocking edge.
2) ZELAZOWA – ELEPHANTS ON A MOUSEHUNT Philadelphia’s Zelazowa helped launch the year with their scathing sophomore disc, Elephants on a Mousehunt. Melding together melody, agitation, velocity and emotional intensity; Zelazowa focused and tightened these elements into a stronger, more cohesive sound. The group displayed unbridled firepower on the brash opening track “Today Is Tomorrow,” the swaggering “Boneyard Destination,” the punk-driven “Like Swine for Words” and the weighty “Serene.” Zelazowa also demonstrated tension and release on the blues-tinged “Numbers,” the jangly “Autumn” and “Madama Wrecking Ball.” Zelazowa’s performances were sharp and often go-for-broke throughout the disc; Elephants on a Mousehunt displayed a focused band fully in control of their sonic world, and was a bristling listen.
3) SKELL – SHANGRI LA 27 Initially released the previous November, I’m including this in the 2009 crop of albums since it didn’t arrive in the Altoona area until April. Pittsburgh heavy hitters Skell unleashed a furious album with Shangri LA 27 (named after a Pittsburgh apartment location where guitarist Mike Palone and his coworkers found a dead body and other nasty things). Skell increased the overall brashness and savagery, but retained their melodic edge and instrumental prowess over the disc’s 11 tracks. Atop a constantly punishing, Pantera-rooted attack; Skell frontman Pat “Bones” Bono screamed, snarled and scowled his evangel about fighting the good fight against a world going to hell in a handbasket. He resolved to battle each day on the disc opener “Fight,” warned of society’s impending demise on “Two Minute Atomic Clock,” and reached the breaking point on “Kill the Pain.” Skell saved the best for last, though, closing the disc with the prison-themed “The Hole.” But although abrasive and brutal, Skell displayed instrumental subtlety and detail, and Mike Palone demonstrated a mastery for evoking different tones from his guitars. Skell successfully upped the intensity and the ante on Shangri LA 27, one of this state’s most vulgar displays of power in 2009.
4) THE BADLEES – LOVE IS RAIN After a seven-year recording hiatus, The Badlees returned in 2009 with Love Is Rain, reviving and expanding upon their signature brand of roots-infused rock and pop. The Badlees again delivered infectious ear candy on the first radio single “Waiting for That Star to Fall” and “Radio at Night”; and crafted a surging arena-rock gem with “Anodyne.” Breaking Benjamin guitarist Aaron Fink made a cameo guitar appearance on the psychedelic, Beatle-toned “Part of a Rainbow.” And Bret Alexander demonstrated his knack for picturesque word imagery on the roots-infused rocker “Drive Back Home,” offered a touch of social commentary about the nation’s polarization on “We Will,” and celebrated memories with his late father on the reflective “Two States.” Love Is Rain was like the return of an old friend, offering comfort with a familiar style and sound, yet revealing fresh new touches and raising the bar on the Badlees’ songcrafting artistry.
5) CHRIS VIPOND AND THE STANLEY STREET BAND – I Chris Vipond and the Stanley Street Band delivered a subtle and subversive debut disc on I, raging against the machine and societal ills through much of the album with their grooving and catchy sound. Namesakes Chris Vipond, Mike Stanley and company provoked thoughts with such numbers as “Media Controls the World,” “Religion,” “Freedom,” “False Flags” and “Marshall Lull.” But beyond the protest rock, the group offered positive personal themes on such numbers as “Be,” “Yourself” and “Stumble.” Chris’ constant use of symbolism and metaphor made his lyrics clever and invigorating. Chris Vipond and the Stanley Street Band’s vibrant blend of musical flavors and sharp social messages made this debut disc a riveting listen, and easily one of the best albums to emerge from this area’s music scene in 2009.
6) GINA RIGGIO – ULTRAVIOLET CATASTROPHE Mysterytrain keyboardist and singer Gina Riggio is also a solo artist, and released her impressive third CD in 2009, Ultraviolet Catastrophe. Riggio revealed her own colorful musical personality through the disc’s 11 tracks; weaving together elements of pop, jazz, blues and even classical music into thoughtful, multi-toned compositions. With a style often suggesting a jazzier Tori Amos or Kate Bush, Riggio wasn’t afraid to paint outside the lines here; crafting adventurous and intricate melodies that serve as backdrops for her lyrical dissections of emotions and thoughts. She offered contemplative themes on “One Way Out,” “Simple Things,” the tranquil piano ballad “Sleep” and the Beatle-like “The Cure for Everything”; and indulged her classical side on the soul-searching “Masquerade.” “Martin Street” was more playful and jazz-driven; and “Spitting Wooden Nickels” invoked a Van Morrison “Moondance”-like flavor. Ultraviolet Catastrophe was a clever and thoughtful album that expanded Gina Riggio’s adventurism and artistry.
7) TED McCLOSKEY – ONE NIGHT BLAND Prolific State College rock and roller Ted McCloskey was at it again in 2009, releasing One Night Bland, where he created new music and retooled some of his old music. The first 13 tracks (the “Prefixes”) were new McCloskey compositions, while the remaining ten tracks (“Remixes”) offered new variations on most of his 2003 debut disc One Man Misery Parade. The new songs were short, snappy and witty character studies, with highlights including “Hopelessly Helpless,” “Six More Rounds,” the dreamy “Tilt-a-Whirl,” the rowdy hard rock of “Swimming Again” and “Seven Minutes,” and the delta blues experiments like “Be Still My Bleeding Heart” and “The Ceiling Staring Back.” The remix half of the disc stripped many of the One Man Misery Parade songs down; often with lighter, acoustic-geared arrangements. Ted McCloskey’s One Night Bland was fun and thoughtful, and revealed an artist constantly on the move, inventing and reinventing himself.
8) BILLY PRICE & FRED CHAPELLIER – NIGHT WORK Pittsburgh soul crooner Billy Price joined forces with French blues guitarist Fred Chapellier, and the two made magic on Night Work. The disc features thirteen tracks of spicy blues, blues-rock and soul; with Price’s soulful howl and Chapellier’s stirring guitar work continually in the spotlight. The story of the collaboration is told on the happy and upbeat “Champagne Blues and Pittsburgh Soul,” one of many disc highlights. Several notable guests adorn the disc; including one of Price’s influences, Otis Clay, belting out feisty voice on Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” and The Nighthawks’ Mark Wenner contributing hot harmonica licks on the swaggering title track “Night Work,” the hard-driving “The Wrong Woman” and a punchy update of “Who You Workin’ For,” from Price’s ‘80s Keystone Rhythm Band days. Price and Chapellier paid homage to a Memphis soul great on “O.V. Wright,” and also performed a spirited version of Wright’s “Don’t Let My Baby Ride.” Billy Price & Fred Chapellier’s Night Work is a triumphant trans-oceanic collaboration that should delight blues and blue-eyed soul fans on either side of the pond.
9) FOUR DAY CRAWL – OVERDUE Indiana’s Four Day Crawl introduced a triple-guitar attack and scathing, outspoken blue-collar blues rock on their debut disc, Overdue. Channeling the electric, southern and biker blues-rock styles of classic Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Steppenwolf and Johnny Winter; Four Day Crawl performed odes to hard living, devious dames, the 9-to-5 grind and more. Jimmy “Roach” Ranochock’s distinctive, gritty snarl graces such disc highlights as “The Devil Knows My Name,” “Mean” and the psychedelic Steppenwolf-toned “WacArnolds.” The group’s performances are tough and no-nonsense, with their triple-guitar attack giving the presentation depth and muscle. An impressive calling card, Four Day Crawl’s Overdue successfully established the group’s mean, lean, hard-nosed blues rock credentials.
10) THIS CALLING – WITNESS THE FALL This Calling introduced a scathing brand of metal-leaning rock on their 2009 debut CD, Witness the Fall. Over the disc’s ten tracks, This Calling weaved progressive-geared arrangements and finesse with raging intensity. Some of singer/guitarist Joe Neary’s vocal rage was rooted in harsh reality; “The Day I Died” recalled how he nearly lost his life from wounds suffered during a firefight while serving in Iraq. The explosive disc-opening title track “Witness the Fall” offered a tirade about our nation’s current state of affairs, while the rampaging “Taste of Victory” weighed in against one-upmanship. In a more sullen vein, “1,000 Words” offered lyrical soul searching, while a moment of self-realization was reached on “My Turning Point.” The performances were heated and aggressive, with Neary’s varying vocal intensities and Chris Silva’s crafty precision guitar leads providing an intriguing dynamic. This Calling successfully defined their harsh musical terrain on Witness the Fall, a tough and dark debut.
Honorable mentions go to CD's from The Clarks, Flux Capacitor, Acalasia, Ninetail, Conner Gilbert, Victory In Heaven Blues Band, Days Before Tomorrow, Matt Otis, Valerie Nicole, Mycenea Worley, My Inner Animal
JP'S TEN FAVORITE LOCAL/REGIONAL SONGS OF 2009:
The area music scene again produced a number of memorable songs during 2009. These are ten noteworthy local/regional songs that grabbed my attention the most in the past year; once again in no particular order:
1) HYBRID ICE – "Faith Without Works" One of many great songs off Hybrid Ice’s new Mind’s Eye disc, “Faith Without Works” is a charged, nearly 10-minute epic about self realization and atonement for past sins. Reminiscent of classic Kansas and Drama-era Yes, this song hits hard from the get-go, with Robert Scott Richardson’s keyboard roar triggering a heated instrumental midsection, before things trail off for a sullen, reflective and tranquil interlude that sets up for the homestretch. Powerful, dramatic and glorious!
2) CHRIS VIPOND AND THE STANLEY STREET BAND – "False Flags" One of a number of politically-charged numbers off their debut CD I, Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band’s “False Flags” ponders governments fabricating crises as excuses to beat the war drums, send young people into combat and whip the sheeple into a panic. Chris Vipond and company convey this evangel along a punchy rhythm and melody, culminating in a rowdy chorus sure to get fists raised in the air. Protest rock lives in central Pennsylvania, and Chris Vipond and the Stanley Street Band bring it with “False Flags.”
3) THIS CALLING – "The Day I Died" One of the highlights off This Calling’s debut disc, Witness The Fall, “The Day I Died” is Joe Neary’s metallic musical account of how he nearly lost his life from a roadside bomb and firefight while serving in Iraq. His combination of sung verses and anguished howls emphasize his emotions at that moment, and his will to survive while fighting the good fight. His account and raw emotions during the song, set against the band’s hard, taut backdrop, make for compelling listening.
4) SKELL – "The Hole" My favorite song off Skell’s sophomore disc, Shangri LA 27, “The Hole” offers a brutal depiction of life behind bars. Lyrically, frontman Pat “Bones” Bono snarls about the nasty things that can happen when you turn your back in the wrong direction in the hoosegow; and musically, Skell tears it up with a creeping, progressing arrangement. Mike Palone’s guitar tone is sick and sinister in this tune, and I also like the way an acoustic interlude sets up for the thundering homestretch. This song is one of several examples from the Shangri LA 27 disc that shows Skell’s ability to combine metal brutality with artistry.
5) THE SIDE EFFECTS – "Let’s Get (BLEEP)ed Up" Slamming punk rock simplicity at its finest! Clocking in at just over a minute, this tune is simple, high-velocity, catchy, delinquent fun! The chorus of “Drink, drank, drunk/Let’s get (bleep)ed up!” careened off the innards of my skull for days after I first heard it! Brilliant!
6) ACALASIA – "Paint These Smiles On" From their new 6-song EP Speak for No One, “Paint These Smiles On” shows a fresh variation on Acalasia’s brand of hard-hitting melodic rock. A song about false fronts and insincerity, the melody fires along a guitar-driven foundation as singer Krystal Shore’s expressive voice sells her themes of disdain and aggravation. Subtle shifts in texture along the way keep things interesting and fresh. The song is well-produced, busy and vibrant; and offers another argument in favor of Acalasia as a band everybody needs to continue to keep an eye on in 2010.
7) SLACKER THEORY – "Shake" From their debut CD Better This Way, Slacker Theory’s “Shake” is a sharp, compact, hard-hitting and catchy modern rock song. The tune kicks in abruptly and maintains its rigidity through the melody to a driving, pounding chorus as singer Steve Danfelt sings of deception and lies. The arrangement is tight and efficient with not a note wasted, and builds to an escalating homestretch. A convincing slice of contemporary-sounding hard rock, “Shake” sounds radio ready.
8) FOUR DAY CRAWL – "The Devil Knows My Name" Ultimately my favorite track from their Overdue debut Disc, Four Day Crawl’s “The Devil Knows My Name” is lean, mean, rampaging blues rock in the tradition of ‘70s era ZZ Top. Singer Jimmy Roach makes you believe his name is in Beelzebub’s Rolodex as he describes his malevolent soul with a rowdy growl and fast-firing sass. The band sounds tight and tough, and this tune is meat-and-potatoes blues rock, no filler!
9) CONNER GILBERT – "Since You’ve Been Away" Newcomer Conner Gilbert crafted one of the better-sounding pieces of rocking ear candy I heard in 2009 with “Since You’ve Been Away,” the lead-off track from his debut CD The View from Within. Leading in with choral effects, the melody kicks in with Conner’s smooth voice set against a piano-accented backdrop, and builds to a soaring, full-bodied chorus that stays in your head. This song nicely sets the stage for the rest of the album, and makes a strong introductory statement about Conner Gilbert and what he has to offer.
10) MYCENEA WORLEY – "Low" From her debut EP Love, “Low” reveals the emotional fury and blues-rooted persona of Harrisburg songstress Mycenea Worley. Rural-toned and dark, the song slowly escalates into a full tempest as Mycenea digs to the depths of emotional despair with her howling choruses, in the tradition of classic Janis Joplin or Bonnie Raitt. This song nicely captures the stormier and more rugged side of Mycenea Worley’s personality, and as the closing track of her EP, it leaves this listener eagerly waiting to hear more of what this lady has to offer.