Love hearing Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats live? Check out the State College band’s new album

Local band Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats recently released a new, self-titled album.
Local band Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats recently released a new, self-titled album. Photo provided

The health of a local music scene can be determined by the health of the scene’s musical acts. So, when one of a region’s top-performing acts releases a new album, it matters.

That — in part — is why the new Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats self-titled album is a reason for celebration: It’s a good, good sign for the Centre County scene.

The other reason a MMVR album is an occasion for celebration is the band is just so good. It’s so good it can pull off releasing an album of primarily live material that sounds every bit as good as a studio album, but with the energetic threads only live music can sow.

“Our feel, vibe and interaction is at an all time high and that is definitely evident in the album,” MMVR singer Melanie Morrison wrote in an email. “We’ve brought out some of our classic tunes and given them an update, but there are also new tune, both standards and ones we’ve written.”

MMVR includes Morrison on vocals, Centre County guitar guru Mark Ross on rhythm and leads, Reverend James Harton on organ, EP and accordion and Chris Coyne on kazoo and drums. The band is well known for playing innovative arrangements of jazz and blues gems, but is also blessed with heartfelt and dynamic original compositions.

“I’m pretty proud of the ones I’ve written, as they’ve been part of my therapy and personal growth,” Morrison said.

Morrison approaches her songwriting from a deeply personal wellspring of creativity and vulnerability, placing her personal scripts front and center for audiences to enjoy, reflect on, and hopefully learn from and be inspired by.

“’Demons’ is about the perpetuation of bigotry because of fear and ‘I’ll Be Damned’ is about my family’s struggles with racism and liberal complacency in our town,” Morrison said. “I felt it was very important to be as personal in my songwriting as I am in my actual life, in order to heal.”

It all blends together into a really vibey, groovy soundtrack, with the help of Stormstown sound ace Bill Filer, and which, based on my experiences catching MMVR live is simply one the band’s natural reflexes.

“The album is 23 songs, 78 minutes, and many different types of grooves,” Morrison said.

Along with the new album, listeners can catch MMVR every Friday night at the State College favorite Otto’s Pub and Brewery, home to an evolving cast of beers, locally produced meats and cheeses, and the best vegan menu options in a 100 mile radius.

“We’ve been blessed to have had a seven year and still running Friday night home,” Ross wrote. “So many people (at Otto’s) are truly like family to us.”

And while MMVR plays all around the state, it’s a dyed in the wool, homegrown, Centre County crew that, in the end, love the scene as much as anyone.

“I love and respect our scene,” Ross said, “with its many great participants, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Morrison concurred.

“I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of the State College music scene,” Morrison said. “It always amazed me just how welcoming everybody was to a terrified new kid on the scene, MMVR was just embraced and supported. Hopefully, moving into the future I can continue to collaborate, strengthen those bonds, and find new ways to build on our already rich scene.”

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.