Moonbow unchains powerhouse third album, 'War Bear'

Local Hard Rock quartet Moonbow celebrates new album release and Shake It Records gets The Tillers, The Dopamines, Frontier Folk Nebraska, Dawg Yawp and Wussy involved in its Record Store Day festivities Saturday.

click to enlarge Moonbow's third album release, 'War Bear'
Moonbow's third album release, 'War Bear'
When is a supergroup allowed to drop the “super” prefix and stand on its own merits? It’s a tough question to answer for two reasons. The first is, simply, most supergroups suck right out of the gate. And second, the few that manage to even survive past the first — and generally lackluster — album don’t last much longer. It’s these two facts that make the latest release by Cincinnati-based rockers Moonbow so special. Following 2013’s The End of Time and 2015’s acoustic Volto Del Demone, War Bear proves that Moonbow — formed by veteran players from various top local acts — is worthy of dropping that “super” designation and can stand as a badass Rock band in its own right.

War Bear’s main strength lies in its consistency. Early on, Moonbow clearly established its brand of Desert Rock mixed with elements of ’90s Grunge and Metal, Prog and Honky Tonk, bringing the tastes and inspirations of each member into the writing sessions. But on War Bear, the quartet (vocalist Matt Bischoff, guitarist Davey McElfresh, bassist Ryan McAllister, drummer Steve Earle) has had four years with a stable lineup of musicians who are all talented writers as well as performers. This has allowed Moonbow to assemble a set of 10 tracks that exhibit each member’s strengths without losing cohesion. McElfresh’s guitar still sits atop the tracks with riffs that are honed to a razor’s edge. His work with Lethal and Hank III has kept his songwriting and playing at a top tier and it shows throughout War Bear. McAllister’s down and dirty bass performance steps up to match McElfresh’s domineering presence on the album. The low-end rumbles of tracks like “Alone Eyes Roam” (for which McAllister wrote the majority of the music) are at peak levels of complexity and gut-busting power.

Layered on top of McElfresh and McAllister’s monstrous string work and Earle’s driving rhythms are Bischoff’s unique vocals. Inspired by the likes of Layne Staley and Phil Anselmo, Bischoff’s singing is clean but powerful as he continues his tradition of storytelling through his lyrics. Whether he’s reliving a memory with friend John Garcia of Kyuss on “California King” (Garcia provides guest vocals on the track); telling the story of Wojtek, a brown bear who was an official member of the Polish army, in the title track; or viewing the Bataclan concert hall massacre from the eyes of a survivor in “Bloodwash,” Bischoff injects a narrative hook into each track.

War Bear shows Moonbow’s members becoming a true band and coalescing their talents to create a unified sound that doesn’t come across like a mish mash of skills. While the group may no longer be “super,” its newest record surely is.

Moonbow is releasing War Bear on Saturday at The Southgate House Revival (111 E. Sixth St., Newport, Ky., southgatehouse.com). Blacklight Barbarian opens the show at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. (Review by Nick Grever)

Record Store Day Returns

This Saturday, Record Store Day — the international celebration of independent music retailers marked by numerous exclusive, limited-edition releases from labels big and small — celebrates its 10th anniversary. Pretty much every non-chain record store in Greater Cincinnati is participating in some way, offering exclusives, performances or otherwise. You can search for participating RSD shops at recordstoreday.com, where you’ll also find a list of many of the exclusive releases being offered.

Cincinnati label/store Shake It Records (4156 Hamilton Ave., Northside, shakeitrecords.com) will once again celebrate RSD with lots of local music tie-ins. Special to RSD, Shake It’s label branch is releasing a new split 7-inch single featuring rockers Frontier Folk Nebraska and Folk greats The Tillers, as well as a vinyl pressing of Wussy’s third album. Cincy Punk Rock superheroes The Dopamines will be on hand to spin the band’s first album in four years, Tales of Interest, test pressings of which will also be available while they last (the LP is officially released June 2). And Frontier Folk Nebraska joins Dawg Yawp for performances in the store beginning at 7 p.m. Visit shakeitrecords.com and the store’s Facebook page for the latest RSD updates.

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: [email protected]

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