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Kevin Sullivan couldn’t play a lick when he first began attending Saint Nicholas Lutheran Church in 2000, but he could sing. By 2002 he was a fixture with the church’s sing and rejoice choir, becoming a staple singer and guitarist for their contemporary service. He’ll tell you, “That’s where it began for me. Going to church is how I got better at guitar. Being one of the main musicians helped me gain confidence as a musician and a leader. I wanted to give something in return.”

He first met local music producer Alex Lakis of Annapolis in 2007 at an open mic. Unable to afford studio time while in college, Sullivan graduated, paid off his school debts and in early 2011 reunited with Lakis to begin work on his first “official” album “Propeller EP” (an EP, short for Extended Play, has more songs than a single, but less than a full-length album).

Sullivan’s got a great sound. For the former front man for ASTORA, his first solo effort is what we would call, “purty dang fine.”

His new project is only five songs, but those five songs show strong songwriting skills throughout. Recorded in Annapolis at Killer Penguin Productions with producer Lakis, the sound is clean and invigortating. Lakis stepped in and played bass on the record. The drummer on the album, Josh Bolyard, drums for many area bands, one of which is Jimmy's Chicken Shack. Organist Larry Byrne rounds out the instrumentalists.

“Unfamiliar Place,” the first song, is reminisent of early John Meyer, but the song is uniquely Sullivan’s. The mix is great, with all of the elements blending together for a combined sound that works well with Sullivan’s gritty voice.

“Oxygen Needs” is just a fine song, well worded and the mix, again, takes it to a level where the listening is easy.

“Changeling” is probably my favorite cut on the album. It’s got a really catchy tune and of all the tunes, this one stayed with me the longest. (I can always tell if it’s a good tune or not by its ability to keep repeating itself over and over in my head afterwards. This song will hang with you for a while.)

‘“For You I’m Made” and “Hurt Down Play” round out this well-crafted, nicely engineered project. Sullivan will be having a CD release party 6 p.m. Jan. 28 at St. Nicholas Lutheran Church, Huntingtown.

Broken Stigma - ‘The Road’

First off, I have to admit that hard rock is not my thing. It’s not that I don’t like it, I’m just more of a James Taylor-Gordon Lightfoot kinda guy. Broken Stigma’s new project, The Road, had this poor country boy listening to what for me was something way outside of the box of my normal perview. But I gotta say, this band from Indian Head has a lot going for it.

Their ramped-up effort, reminiscent of Led Zepplin, is ergonomically perfect. The guitar licks by Erich Donahue and Ryan Thompson are crisp and clean. No fudging here. Thompson’s vocals stand out on every song. This guy can sing. I must also say that, to me, bass is one of the most important instruments in a band and Andy Parker has that detail down to a “t.” Gary Keefer on drums is right on time.

Production on this album, done by the always-great Keith Harancher at KMH Studios in Lusby, is very good.

The songwriting on this album is just what a band of this caliber needs. The tunes are strong, the lyrics sound a little trite in places, yet the music more than makes up for that. While most are hard rock anthems, “Fifteen Miles” and “Flower” are softer, more laid back efforts. The first tune to really stick with me was No. 6, “What You Look Like Now.” Thompson takes this haunting melody and nails it to the wall with his potent voice.

I want a CD that I can listen to going down the highway. The Road is pretty dang close to perfection on that note. Even though my Led Zepplin days are far behind me, I really like these guys.

Dave Norris - ‘Odd & Even’

Okay, I have to admit a bit of bias here. Dave Norris, after all, is my twin brother. His songwriting began in eighth grade and progressed over the years until 1996, when he broke out by emerging from a field of 80-plus songwriters, winning the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest in Wilkes-Barre, N.C. at Merlefest. Since then, his stock has risen, especially among bluegrass afficiados. One of his songs, “He Walked All the Way Home” was recorded by nationally acclaimed Blue Highway and at one point was considered for the soundtrack of the movie “Cold Mountain.” IIIrd Tyme Out, the Seldom Scene and Larry Sparks have all recorded his compositions.

His newest release, “Odd & Even” took more than six years to record, mostly due to medical ailments suffered by engineer Ronnie Orencia of DancinAlien Productions in Mechanicsville. Orencia has had his share of physical dilemmas, but given time, he has proven he can release excellent work. Dave acknowledges him in the liner notes.

I should also point out, that while Dave has had more than two dozen songs recorded by various bluegrass artists, his albums are not in that genre. They’re more of the folk country soft rock variety.

The CD begins with “Small Talk,” and Orencia’s production shines on this particular song. He has a propensity for finding the perfect accompanists for his projects and on this album, fiddler Phil Swaby and drummer Mark Brown find their groove on these songs. For the sassy “Firebird,” Orencia called in longtime local guitarist Erik O’Dell, whose raunchy licks light up this song and send it down the road just like its namesake.

A hidden hit among the selections is “Right Down in the Middle of the Blues,” which is crying for a country star to make their next big chartbuster. This song has it all: excellent lyrics, a catchy tune and a superb arrangement.

Others are just dang easy to listen to. “Lost Side of Love” and “Mirror” (Dave’s personal favorite on the project) are both looking back at choices and where they leave you, while the dreamy “Lullaby of Love” rolls along like a sweet summer day.

Two songs on the album, “Holding Down the Road” and “Too Far to Go” were recorded by Rex Combs in Leonardtown and I have to admit the former is one of my favorites on the CD. The only accompanyment on the song is Dave playing acoustic lead. But boy, does it work.

The bouncy “Momma Don’t You Know,” one of Orencia’s finished projects, is pretty close to perfect. The song is sweet and the arrangement makes it one of the standout tunes.

One thing that has always driven me crazy about my brother is his uncanny ability to discover new and amazing melodies. It drives me nuts, mostly because I didn’t find them first. Every song on this CD has one. You’ll find them in your head long after the listening is done.

jnorris@somdnews.com