Category Archives: Local Reviews

PERONI

When you think of beer meccas, Italy isn’t first on the list. Conventional wisdom holds that you look to this country more for wine than suds.

Even so, don’t dismiss Peroni outright.

Billed as the top Italian beer import to America, this is a foamy and straw-colored brew with a floral aroma. There are similarities to another European brew, Beck’s, in the use of Saaz hops, or at least Saaz-like hops, in the creation process.

To be forthright and honest, it’s a pretty thin offering. There’s not a whole lot of substance to it.

Still, if you enjoy European-style pilsners — or light, summer-y easy drinkers — Peroni isn’t the worst route to take.

-@BruceJSiwy

MASTODON

‘Emperor of Sand’
11 songs, 51 minutes
Reprise Records (2017)

An old friend once joked that he expected the next Mastodon album to sound a lot like Nickelback.

The guy was taking a swipe at the decidedly un-metal direction this Atlanta-based group has taken on recent albums. And if you listen to “Show Yourself,” the second track on the new record, you can kind of see what he meant.

But despite some obvious pop overtures, “Emperor of Sand” really isn’t a bad album. The song “Steambreather” locks in a mean prog-rock groove that calls Rush to mind. “Roots Remain,” the following track, is just as solid.

This is Mastodon’s best offering since 2009’s “Crack the Skye.” As long as you don’t go into it expecting to hear songs in the vein of “March of the Fire Ants,” you should have no problem enjoying this one.

-@BruceJSiwy

LUCKY SOB

Flying Dog, even in its weakest offerings, always impresses aesthetically with its Steadman-style illustrated labels.

And thankfully, with Lucky SOB, this brewer strikes gold with what’s inside the bottle as well.

An Irish red ale with a hint of strawberry in the scent, this one pours a chestnut brown with a dark-cherry glossing. The floral hops add spice to a flavor that has fruit character without the sweetness.

Brewed with clovers for a subtle accent and, undoubtedly, a nice marketing hook, this is an intriguing beer that’s probably the best this reviewer has tried thus far in 2017.

Hats off, yet again, to the eminent brewers at Flying Dog.

-@BruceJSiwy

BLACKBERRY SMOKE

‘Like an Arrow’
12 songs, 48 minutes
Legged Records (2016)

This is a band that’d sound equally at home opening for ZZ Top as it would opening for Eric Church — and has, in fact, already done both.

On last year’s “Like an Arrow,” Blackberry Smoke lays out a down-home Southern swing and, occasionally, hard-rock stomp. Charlie Starr’s voice is comparable to that of the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, and the group’s singing dual-guitar leads and walking piano lines evoke ghosts of the original Skynyrd lineup.

Highlights of this album include “Waiting for the Thunder,” a righteous rocker, and low-key “The Good Life.” Also worth noting that “Free On the Wing,” a collaboration with the legendary Gregg Allman, makes for a sweet closer.

The group’s music and merch can be found at www.blackberrysmoke.com.

-@BruceJSiwy

SHOCK TOP GINGER WHEAT

If aroma and flavor were everything, this one could be an award winner.

Shock Top Ginger Wheat blends a citrus and — of course — ginger scent into a tangerine-colored brew topped with precious little foam. The taste includes both of the aforementioned and a fair amount of spice and honey. It’s sweet, but not sickishly.

All this is fine and good. But it falls way short on mouthfeel.

A better brew in this genre would expand for a more satisfying finish. The effort is good here — it’s just a little too watered-down for a lot of wheat beer drinkers.

-@BruceJSiwy

SLEEP

‘The Clarity’
9:51 (single)
Southern Lord Recordings (2017)

Unless you were heavy into the stoner-doom scene of the early ‘90s, Sleep means nothing to you musically.

This obscure three-piece act enjoyed a brief cultish fandom at the time for playing slower than just about anyone for longer than just about anyone. “Jerusalem,” released in 1999, includes six eponymous tracks with an average length of eight minutes each — essentially a single 52-minute composition.

So at a hair longer than nine minutes, consider “The Clarity” the band’s experiment with brevity. The band’s droning, Sabbath-meets-Chains, grind-it-out style ages remarkably well: You could have found this song on an old bootlegged tape cassette under your ripped flannels and never blinked.

No metal collection is truly complete without some Sleep in the catalog. See what the buzz is about by sampling on Spotify and then, you know, buy it on vinyl and stuff.

-@BruceJSiwy

GENESEE

We end a full month of cheap booze with an old standard.

Affectionately referred to as “Genny” by adoring fans, Genesee is advertised as one of America’s oldest continually operating breweries. It has a brine-ish scent, lots of head and a flavor heavy on barley, conveying traces of month-old peanuts. The aftertaste, unlike the light version of this, is thankfully not pure aluminum.

Don’t misunderstand: Genny isn’t the worst entry to the review this month. But at $13 for a 24-pack, you have to dock points for it being the most expensive of the bargain beers.

Final standings: Extra Gold Lager in first, Milwaukee Special Reserve in second, Genesee in third, Pennsylvania Style Lager in fourth and American (sorry, @POTUS) a distant fifth. 

-@BruceJSiwy

MELANTOPIA

‘Norwegian Summers’
11 songs, 46 minutes
Melantopia Music (2016)

A lot of the music featured in this spot comes by request from area musicians hoping to spread the word.

Sometimes, however, a solicitation comes from outside the region. And, in the case of Melantopia, it comes all the way from Europe.

“Norwegian Summers” is an instrumental composition by Jarl Aanestad of Norway. The style is electronic and ambient, at times eerily similar to music on “The Fragile,” as if Aanestad stole some B-sides from Trent Reznor’s basement. (That’s not a knock on Melantopia — “The Fragile” was among the best records produced anywhere in 1999.)

In spite of its name, the music on “Norwegian Summers” is actually a nice pairing with our dismal winter months in western Pennsylvania. 

Stream this mood music now by searching for Melantopia on Spotify.

-@BruceJSiwy

Review: ‘Manchester by the Sea’ is phenomenal

By CARL SCHULTZ

Occasionally it seems as if we’ve become disillusioned as a society, so bereft of self-esteem that to find heroes we need to turn to film adaptations of comic books. In the absence of authentic, real-life examples of moral integrity, we instead need to measure ourselves against characters who leap tall buildings at a single bound, harness genetic distinctions to vanquish otherworldly despots or sweep through outer space in futuristic fighter jets to liberate oppressed civilizations in galaxies far, far away.

We sometimes need to be reminded that those people who toil quietly day after day in lives of common decency — obeying society’s rules, working unspectacular professions, providing for their families, supporting their friends, envisioning modest dreams of a better life ahead — are the genuine Supermen and Wonder Women of our world.

One movie which recognizes that essential truth — and gets it right, and celebrates it — is the new release “Manchester by the Sea,” written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan and distributed by Amazon Studios, a subsidiary of the popular online retailer of books, games and movies.

In “Manchester by the Sea,” a man on the worn edge of youth lives out a solitary and humorless existence as a custodian in a Boston apartment building. Played by actor Casey Affleck, Lee Chandler regards the world through wary, guarded eyes and keeps humanity at arm’s length, drawing no more or less satisfaction from a cold beer after work than from unclogging a tenant’s stopped toilet during his workday.

One afternoon while shoveling snow, Lee receives a telephone call: His brother has suffered a heart attack, and has been taken in critical condition to the hospital in the nearby town of Manchester by the Sea. Lee displays no outward emotion at the news — he quietly assures the caller he’ll leave for the hospital immediately. Manchester by the Sea is Lee’s hometown, we are told. He left there years earlier under unknown circumstances.

Arriving at the hospital, Lee learns his brother has died, and that he needs to assume a measure of family responsibility and attend to the brother’s unresolved business and final arrangements. In the process he’ll need to interact with friends and family members he hasn’t seen or spoken with in a number of years.

From that point forward, “Manchester by the Sea” departs from a traditional narrative structure. As the estranged Lee begins to somberly address his burdens, he draws upon memories of the past, presented to the viewer in the form of flashbacks.

Little by little, we learn about Lee’s family and his background. And as we eventually discover the unspeakable tragedy which devastated the laconic custodian’s life and drove him away, we realize what a selfless and heroic gesture he’s undertaken by returning home to assume his brother’s responsibilities.

Actor Casey Affleck has at times during his career seemed almost to court audience indifference. Often regarded as the less-flamboyant younger brother of Academy Award-winning superstar Ben Affleck — the older Affleck’s buddy and occasional collaborator Matt Damon is one of the producers of “Manchester by the Sea” — possibly Casey Affleck’s most memorable role prior to this picture was as Bob Ford in 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” in which the actor inhabited the character of a man reviled by history and damned in folklore — not exactly superstar material. Casey Affleck is one actor who’s resisted donning the spandex uniform and cape of a comic book superhero.

The highest accolade for both “Manchester by the Sea,” and for Affleck’s performance in it, is that is seems as if writer/director Lonergan conspired with cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes to simply camouflage the camera and capture life itself, in all its emotional pageantry. Like film ancestors such as 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” and 1980’s “Ordinary People,” this picture actually seem natural enough to enforce the notion that we’re eavesdropping on actual occurrences, or viewing another family’s home movies.

We learn that Lee’s brother Joe, a charter boat owner, has always guided him and tried to shield him from life’s unfairnesses. And that in either one final lesson in responsibility or a cardinal gesture of confidence — we’re not quite sure which — the now-deceased brother has entrusted Lee with the custody of his 16-year-old son.

Playing Joe in flashbacks is Kyle Chandler, an actor whose movie star good looks belie his range and effectiveness in the roles he plays. Late of television’s critically acclaimed “Friday Night Lights” — he played the coach — Chandler has also contributed quietly authoritative and eminently persuasive supporting performances in such pictures as Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” remake, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” and the 2011 Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams collaboration “Super 8.”

In one telling flashback episode of “Manchester by the Sea,” Lee and Joe and Joe’s young son arrive home to discover Joe’s fragile and neurotic wife passed out on the couch, nude, in an alcoholic stupor. Wordlessly, automatically, the two brothers with practiced nonchalance move together to protect the young son from the sight of his mom’s shame — obviously this has happened before.

As Lee swiftly spirits the boy from the room, Joe lingers for a moment, considers, and then in an act of gentle decency covers his wife with a blanket. There’s no anger, contempt or bitterness in his eyes, only infinite disappointment and sadness. Not many actors could pull off that delicacy of emotion as effectively, especially without dialogue. Chandler does.

Also contributing a memorable characterization to the picture is the superb Michelle Williams, who enhances and enriches seemingly every film in which she chooses to appear, from the title role as Marilyn Monroe in the acclaimed “My Week with Marilyn,” to “Brokeback Mountain” and Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.” As Lee’s former wife, Williams etches another memorable characterization in a resume as one of the finest performers in American film, although her role in this picture is not as large as her billing suggests.

But a real revelation in “Manchester by the Sea” is the performance of Lucas Hedges as Joe’s emotionally orphaned son, Patrick. Alternately outgoing and guarded, aggressive and vulnerable, manipulative and trusting, Hedges’ Patrick persuasively invests the character of the wounded teenager with all the qualities found in real life.

Like two virtuosos playing dueling solos, the scenes between the brash Hedges and the laconic Affleck are the highlight of the picture. Plainly Lucas Hedges is one young actor who’s going places.

Appropriately, the music soundtrack for the picture, composed by Lesley Barber, is strongly reminiscent of symphonic passages and tone poems, with a particular similarity to the intricate and exacting works of Antonio Vivaldi. As with the best of the romantic classics, not a note is wasted. And in this movie as with an orchestral performance, even the members of the ensemble with the smallest parts are essential to the overall quality of the piece.

Near the end of the picture is a brief episode which takes place on the deceased Joe Chandler’s charter boat. The scene is set in the present, after Joe’s burial, and onboard to test the craft’s seaworthiness are Lee, Patrick and Patrick’s girlfriend. The boy is piloting the boat around the harbor.

Impulsively, Patrick invites his girlfriend to take the wheel for a moment and steer the boat. Nervous, she simultaneously accelerates and turns the craft sharply — a deadly combination. But Lee, in the back of the boat, never flinches or reaches out to steady himself. Instead, he just flexes his hips and knees and rolls with the lurch of the boat — a balanced man, living with confidence for possibly the first time in his life.

But the real denouement of the scene is the expression we see in that moment on Affleck’s face: His brow, until now darkened and knotted with anxiety, is bright with confidence and optimism, and his guarded face is melted into a broad smile of ease and happiness. For the first time in the picture there’s love and affection in his eyes. It’s a family moment, and at long last Lee has assumed a place in his family dynamic, tasting responsibility and liking it, making decisions on behalf of others — good or bad, right or wrong — but prepared to live with the consequences.

It’s an important moment, not only in the picture but also likely among all the films of the year: It is in that moment that we behold a flawed and fallible character embrace maturity, and begin to grow and more forward.

“Manchester by the Sea” is the rare motion picture which invites us to invest in its characters, and walk along with them. Even at 137 minutes the film leaves us wanting more. It enlightens us as it entertains us, and leaves us with an impression of humanity we sense might remain with us long into the future.

Currently the picture is playing in the smaller auditoriums of local multiplexes. But when Academy Award nominations are revealed in a few weeks, “Manchester by the Sea” is one of the titles we’ll surely be hearing announced.

MILWAUKEE SPECIAL RESERVE

Before you discuss Milwaukee Special Reserve, you almost have to first dispel some natural misconceptions.

Believe it or not, this beer is a brand of Melanie Brewing Co., which also produces Nighthawk Premium Malt Liquor and Beer 30 Ice. (Full disclosure: Never heard of either prior to researching for this review piece). 

Milwaukee Special Reserve, Milwaukee Special Reserve Light and Milwaukee Special Reserve Ice, therefore, have no familial relation to Old Milwaukee or Milwaukee’s Best. 

This a fairly unremarkable effort. The color’s pale, the smell negligible, and finish sharp and dry. Essentially unsatisfying yet inoffensive — characteristic of the $13-per-30-pack genre.

Non-related and far more tasty Old Milwaukee will much sooner return to my fridge than this stuff. Make of that what you will.

-@BruceJSiwy

ONE ADAM 12

‘Earworm’
13 songs, 64 minutes
Independent Artist (2016)

If you frequent venues such as The Castle Pub in Ebensburg, Slammin Sam’s in Moxham or The Alley near Central City, you may already know about these guys.

Based out of Nanty Glo, One Adam 12 is making sure that original rock ‘n’ roll remains alive and well on the local circuit. The group infuses radio and horror-movie samples into their punk-styled songs in a way that’s reminiscent of some of groups prominent in the 1990s. There are also similarities to Coliseum, a Kentucky-based trio whose 2013 release delivered, quite frankly, some of the genre’s best tracks since the dawn of the new millennium.

“Earworm” represents a comprehensive and ambitious effort by this group. In an age where many bands are tossing out two- or four-song EPs like candy from a Halloween float, these guys have penned a full-length with panache.

To hear what’s happening in Blacklick Valley, look them up on Spotify — or check listings at any of the venues mentioned in the lede for a live experience.

-@BruceJSiwy