2021 offers host of musical styles

In part two of a two-part series, here’s how area performers plan to fill 2021 with music and their hopes to be able to perform those new songs live.

Labra Brothers

The Youngstown band — Adrian Labra, guitar and vocals; Cristian Labra, bass and vocals; David Labra, guitar, saxophone and vocals; Danny Svenson, keyboards; and Matt Hayes, drums — timed the vinyl release of its debut album, “Colder Weather,” to coincide with Record Store Day 2020 back in April, one of many events disrupted by COVID-19.

The vinyl arrived in April, but the band’s performance at the Record Connection in McKinley Heights was pushed to August and was one of its only shows in 2020.

“We are hopeful that the live music scene / gigging makes a comeback this year,” Adrian Labra said. ” While not playing out has been a bummer, we have been hard at work rehearsing, writing and recording. Several singles and at least one new EP will drop this year.”

Until it’s safe to play live, the band will continue to focus on writing new material.

“Some of our upcoming tunes will have a more stripped-down vibe and will have acoustic guitars at the forefront,” he said. “We’ll be leaning heavily on the vocal harmonies, and taking steps toward Americana and folk with a few of our most recently written songs. We also have several songs in the works that show more of the Latin funk and soul that we identify with at our core.”


The indie electro-pop duo of Hubbard native Katianne Timko and Austintown native Khaled Tabbara, who perform in MUNNYCAT as K808 and Khaledzou respectively, has had several of its songs used in national advertising campaigns since moving to southern California.

Tabbara said they have a busy 2021 planned, starting with the single “The Bygone Goodbye (you got it),” set for release on Feb. 19.

“We have so much new music that we are really excited to get out into the world and are planning on releasing a new single every month and a half as well as an EP in the spring,” he said. “The new single uses a lot more live organic instruments than the traditional MUNNYCAT electro pop songs that people may be used to.

“It’s more of an indie rock / disco track about leaving the past behind. Sometimes you spend so much energy trying to make amends with situations or people until you realize you’re the only one trying. And at that point — you have to move on. We’ve all been through a lot this year and it was something we thought was important to share right out the gates in 2021.”

The song features another Valley native, Adam DeAscentis, on bass. The Boardman native, who now lives in New York, plays with The Huntertones and The Zou, the indie rock band Tabbara has fronted since 2007.

Speaking of The Zou, Tabbara said that band has some music in the pipeline as well.

“There have also been stirrings of some new music from The Zou that could be out as early as the second part of the year,” he said. “At the moment, a couple new Zou songs are written and are in the early recording process.”

JD Eicher

Few local musicians had a bigger career disruption due to COVID-19 than this Canfield singer-songwriter.

Eicher already had released two singles from his EP “Court Street,” and a third song was supposed to debut less than two weeks after the state shut down in mid-March. The hometown release show in April was canceled as well as a two-week European tour of Germany, Denmark and Austria.

The shutdown didn’t stop Eicher from having the two most-played songs by local acts on The Summit (90.7 FM Struthers / 91.3 FM Akron) in 2020. “I Don’t Want to be Right” topped the list and “Evergreen” was No. 2.

“The band and I have started work on a new batch of songs we plan to release during 2021, and they will ultimately be part of a larger project,” Eicher said. “We’ve also been recording and releasing exclusive music for our supporters on Patreon, including a new instrumental side project as a trio and an acoustic covers EP. I’ve been livestreaming every Monday (jdeicher.com/jdtv) and using the time off the road to write music and be with my wife and kids. Anxiously awaiting that green light on a return to safe in-person events.”


A Warren native now living in Akron, hip-hop artist Ky’Ly’ntae Mostella has a late 2020 release to promote and more titles coming in 2021.

“My plans this year are going to be full of being creative and trying new things,” he said. “My main focus will be to continue to promote my latest album, ‘Trek,’ with music videos and interviews. I also teamed up with Davie Artz from my former group Fresh n Fly to release a new album titled ‘Forever.’ We plan to release the project late January on all music platforms.

“Following the release, I will start ‘Attic Concerts,’ which will be live concerts from my home studio. This project will be a series of concerts throughout the year to showcase old and new music. This year, I will use my time away from the public due to COVID (by) being active with showcasing my many different styles of production. This will start with an afrobeats project titled ‘Love is Love.'”

Deadbeat Poets / Blue Ash

Frank Secich of Sharon, Pa., ended 2020 watching Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong release “Not That Way Anymore,” a song Secich co-wrote and recorded with Girard native Stiv Bators, as part of “No Fun Mondays,” a collection of cover songs recorded during the pandemic.

The new year will see Secich singing his own songs with both Blue Ash, the rock / power pop band he founded in 1969, and Deadbeat Poets, the band he started in 2006 with members of Youngstown’s The Infidels.

“We have a Deadbeat Poets album almost ready to be released and a new Blue Ash album with eight songs done so far,” he said. “We plan to finish the Blue Ash album as soon as we can and release both of them in the latter part of 2021.”

Fred Whitacre Jr. / Kitchen Knife Conspiracy

Whitacre, who lives in Girard, released a solo album, “Unexpect,” in 2020 and recently put out a video for one of its tracks, “Less Smitten.” A new solo album, tentatively titled “Flame,” already is in the works.

“The album will be quite different stylistically, as there will be no guitars on the entire record,” he said. “Planning for 10 songs — the theme is the limbo and sadness experienced in unrequited love. There will also be another music video for this upcoming album.

“The pandemic kept me from performing the 2020 album live, so I hope to be able to remedy that once this new album is done. If we must stay limited for live performances, my plan is to just keep writing until I can do this on a live stage again.”

Kitchen Knife Conspiracy, the hardcore metal band Whitacre has played drums with since it started in 1998, also will return in 2021. Work on an EP was under way when the pandemic started.

“As this pandemic, hopefully, begins to relent, we will return to those new songs,” he said. “We wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t become the material for a 2021 album. Our last album was conceptual, but the direction on this new album is much crazier. Working song titles are insane, but who knows if that’s what we stay with once the songwriting commences again.

“Rickie Palmer, our second guitarist, hasn’t had an official album release as a part of KKC, so we really want to do that. We’ve discussed a livestream in the near future, which would be a great chance for us to kick the tires on some old material and just get on the stage again … This pandemic has only strengthened our desire to release something new and exciting and to play it live.”

Murdah 1

Warren native Tashawn Fambro, who raps under the name Murdah 1, has his sights set high in 2021.

“My goal is to get distribution through the majors,” he said.

Ready for release are new videos with Fredo Bang and Mozzy, and he might try to find an investor to expand the reach of his music.

“I want the world to know about Warren, Ohio, and what we stand for,” he said. “It’s time to take it to the next level.”

Dustin Wray

Wray’s new year got off to an early start in December when he released two albums on Raven Faith Records — a mainstream rock / pop album called “Don’t Ask Me” and the contemporary Christian collection “The Next Big Thing.”

“My musical direction has always been quite varied, but I mostly enjoy writing and producing music that reflects the ’80s sound that I grew up with,” the Warren musician said. “Rock and pop is my bread and butter, but on my new CDs, I tackle some metal, lounge / jazz, pop-punk, Americana and even an 18th century hymn.”

Wray doesn’t play out live, but he released videos for four songs from his last album and has two videos in the works for songs from “The Next Big Thing.” The first should be available on YouTube by the end of January.

He already has two additional albums in the works. “I’ll Tell Ya Later” probably won’t arrive until next year, but “Freedom” is planned for a 2021 release.

“It is an Christian concept album about the freedom that Christ can bring to our lives that is being crafted to sound mostly like ’70s rock music (think Alice Cooper Group, Bad Company, Foreigner, etc.),” he said. “I am hoping for a big guest appearance on that one too, but we’ll have to see if I can make that happen.”

Bobby Ocean

The Warren native, whose real name is Bobby Schell, continues to put out singles from his recording sessions in Nashville. “She Was My Girl” was released in December. “I’m Gonna Love You,” featuring band member and childhood friend Jay Byrd, comes out later this month.

All those singles will be collected on a CD that should be available by spring. He’s leaning toward “Just Like That” for the album title.

Ocean has continued to play out when he can — he has a gig at JR’z Pub in Austintown on Friday — but he’s looking forward to being able to do bigger shows by summer. Ocean will perform on opening day of Country Fest at Clay’s Park Resort in North Lawrence in June.

“We’re one of the opening bands on one of the smaller stages, but we’ll be there,” he said.

And he’s working on putting together a local show that would feature some of the Nashville players who’ve recorded with him, including Jenee Fleenor, two-time CMA Award winner for musician of the year and a fiddle player / backing vocalist in Blake Shelton’s band.

Rick Blackson & Mary Jo Maluso

This cabaret duo has been working together since 1990, performing show tunes, country and the Great American Songbook everywhere from living rooms to concert halls.

With live performance options limited, Blackson continues to teach piano, singing, songwriting, music theory and improvisation skill online through Facetime. And after performing a program of songs popular in 1919 for the Butler Institute of American Art’s 100th anniversary gala in 2019, they have been researching songs and performances styles that could be used for similar themed programs in the future.

Blackson has written songs that he and Maluso have performed for local and regional television commercials, and the duo was part of television special that Easy Street Productions created to take the place of its annual “Miracle on Easy Street” holiday shows.

“We welcome opportunities to perform with our old friends in future shows as we believe live theater and music will surely revive,” Maluso said. “Once live performances are resurrected, there will no doubt be charitable fundraisers to participate in and new venues to open.”

Steve Vuich

The Sharon, Pa., singer and guitar player is the definition of a working musician, playing several nights a week and hosting open mic nights in the Mahoning Valley and western Pennsylvania.

At most of those gigs, he’s singing other people’s songs. But during the months when he couldn’t play live, Vuich found himself writing more and more.

“I am of the commonly held opinion that when a writer, musician or artist is in a fallow period and they allow themselves to be open to their environment and external forces, what people call ‘creativity’ can occur,” he said. “Such was the case with me. I was removed by consequences beyond my control from my usual routine of giving three- and four-hour performances, most days of each week, leaving me a lot of time to allow ‘creativity’ to occur.”

Many of those songs were topical, inspired by the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 election. Vuich hopes most of those songs become irrelevant.

“I also began to write other songs, more personal in nature, contemplating our relationships to others, family, mortality, etc.,” he said.

Those are the songs he would like to record sometime this year with his band, The River Saints, at Sharon’s MudHut Studio.

“If and when things reopen safely and I am able to begin to book gigs, I will again, gladly and gratefully go back to the work that I have so enjoyed doing for the past four-plus decades,” he said. “I truly miss playing live music, solo and with other musicians, in front of other living, breathing, eating, drinking, loudly talking human beings.”


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