Rock and Roll

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Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Photo courtesy of classicrock.teamrock.com.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Photo courtesy of classicrock.teamrock.com.

By Brandon Judeh (Music Reporter)

Often time’s fans get lost in the fact that a musician is just a musician, but in most cases that is the furthest thing from the truth.

Take Chris Robinson Brotherhood guitarist Neal Casal. Though known for his musical mastery in bands such as Ryan Adams & The Cardinals and Hazy Malaze, the guitarist also thrives in photography.

“Photography is my passion, I love it,” said Casal. “Unfortunately now days people use it in impure ways and it ruins the art.”

Though in recent memory the paparazzi and others have used photography as a weapon rather than a tool, Casal uses it to complete the experience of life.

“For me it helps complete the full experience. I take a lot of photos backstage and on tour because a memory is only a small part of the story. With pictures, I can document and see the full experience of what happened,” he said.

In 2010 Casal released a photo-book titled, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: A View of Other Windows, which documented his time spent within the band.

Though his photography is a constant work, he also finds time to help spearhead the psychedelic blues-rock of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

The band is currently embarking on a tour that will span through the end of the year, which is nothing new for the hard working band.

But does it ever get tedious?

“No not at all, sure certain times of the day are rough, as we are all piled in close together, but overall I love touring and I love my band mates and being out on stage is exciting,” said the 45-year-old. “That’s the best part of the day, especially with this band because the set list is different every night and the songs give us room to experiment and have fun with.”

Chris Robinson Brotherhood will be out supporting their new effort, Phosphorescent Harvest, and will be playing back-to-back nights at the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern in Cleveland on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 10 and 11.

Casal said he and his band mates love the new album.

“We are happy with how it turned out and that comes out of how well we work together as a whole. As far as the reception of the album, it’s hard to tell. When we make an album we make it how we want it to sound, not how the general public may want it to sound,” added Casal.

Later this summer the Brotherhood will be touring along side one of their hero’s, Bob Weir, as he and his band RatDog will be hitting the road, including a stop at Cleveland’s Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica on September 10.

Bob Weir’s influence, as well as his former band the Grateful Dead, on the Brotherhood is undeniable and Casal said their admiration is even deeper than many think.

“The Dead are a huge influence on us, not just musically, but also with their lifestyle and beliefs. All of us have kind of adopted these things from them, we aren’t trying to copy them by any means, but we just highly respect them.”

“There are a lot of bands that have influenced us though, not just the Dead. We even listen to a lot of the jazz bands that influenced the Dead,” Casal added.

After the Chris Robinson Brotherhood wraps up their touring duties at the end of the year, Casal, who has 12 solo albums under his belt, said a number of things are possible.

“After the tour is over we are just going to kind of see what happens next. For me personally, Chris Robinson Brotherhood is number one on my priorities list. We will just see where it goes and maybe we will record some new music once it’s all said and done,” finished Casal.

Harnessing the Sun live. Left to right, bassist Tom Fratilla, drummer Loren Butz and singer/guitarist Douglas Roberts. Photo courtesy of the band's official Facebook page

Harnessing the Sun live. Left to right, bassist Tom Fratilla, drummer Loren Butz and singer/guitarist Douglas Roberts. Photo courtesy of the band’s official Facebook page.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

Amidst the array of smoke-drenched biker bars and competing classic rock tribute acts that dominate most of the Western-Pennsylvania nightlife, a soulful and hard-rocking power trio has emerged to take the reigns and lead the pack.

Harnessing the Sun, a relatively new three-piece rock and roll unit from the Sharon, Pennsylvania area, burst onto the scene this year with their debut album, Sun Signs.

Consisting of the emotionally matured lyrics and driving riffs of singer and guitarist Doulas Roberts, and the groove-heavy rhythm section of bassist Tom Fratilla and drummer Loren Butz, Harnessing the Sun are a power trio unlike any other witnessed in rock music in nearly 25 years.

The band members have individually been hammering away in separate projects for years, paying their dues and crafting their art. But as of last year, the stars aligned when they joined forces to form Harnessing the Sun.

“We won’t name the establishment, but the three of us have all worked at the same place,” said Roberts. “Tom and Loren began jamming with a couple other guys, but once I stopped going to college, I kinda butted my way in I guess.

“He got roped into it,” joked Butz.

After more than a year’s worth of work perfecting their sound, the band was ready to unleash Sun Signs onto the world. The album kicks off with the upbeat rockers “That’s Right” and “Love You to Death,” before leading into the thought-provoking and inspiring track, “Drop Your Weapons.” From there, the old-fashioned amped-up blues ballad “Whiskey and Smoke” tells a tale almost everyone can relate to at one point or another; job loss and shady folks. The story is told with such soulful swagger and straight-up rocking riffs, the listener immediately takes notice to the range of passion Harnessing the Sun provides.

Another key track on Sun Signs is the bittersweet “Life is Good.” Not exactly a chipper tune, nor is it depressing, but simply real.

“There’s a slight bit of sarcasm in there, but a good dose of reality. We’re forced every day with advertising, it’s shoved down our throat from every angle, whether it’s political or standard advertising to increase commerce. The ramifications of religious advertising are overwhelming. It’s in our face everywhere we turn. You have to make a stand, find your own ground and realize life is good,” said Roberts.

From there, Sun Signs concludes with the up-tempo groovy rocker “Fools” and the energetic “Sea of Madness.”

All in all, Sun Signs is a very concise piece of music, with a wide assortment of emotions in a way similar of the Beatles with The White Album. The songs are all over the place in terms of themes and emotions, yet they’re all there at some point; anger, distress, joy, sorrow and sarcasm. Likewise is the experience of being alive. Life is random, consisting of all said emotions. And life is good.

Harnessing the Sun have also proven themselves a force to be reckoned with in terms of their live performance. The energy and passion of Sun Signs only amplifies when the band plays live. Their captivating live shows around the Youngstown area have began to build a strong buzz for the band, leaving fans wanting more.

“We love what we do and we try to kick ass doing it,” said Fratilla.

Harnessing the Sun will be performing in Youngstown on Nov. 1 at Papa’s Sports Grille alongside Idle Shades and Dakota Spells Disaster. Sun Signs is available on iTunes and can be purchased by clicking here.