The harmoniously haunting alley-cat roar in Ted McCloskey’s voice elicits images of a prowler on the hunt for his meal of jazz and bottled fury on the local musician’s eighth studio album, “Sea Foam Green.”
Through the stylized musical landscape of what must mirror his mind, the listener is compelled to follow McCloskey’s descent into the depths of his musical psyche. Shifting from jazzy bounces to pulsing riff rock to swinging grooves and back to a circus of honky-tonk fandangos, McCloskey’s variety is not only his strength, it’s his identity.
Lyrically, McCloskey is unafraid to bare his soul for anyone willing to take the time to listen. Like any good songwriter worth his salt, he is aware of his own flawed self and has no issue bringing his issues to light on the CD’s 19 tracks.
The opener, “Blue as Blue,” demonstrates the McCloskey that State College has come to know and love. Kicking off with an old-school surf drum beat, the song sets a tone for what to expect thematically through the album. Even with a straight set of lyrics and melody, McCloskey captures the imagination with a unique twist on style and but structure.
“Just Enough Rope” features a melancholy approach to a sound that could be sprung from the mind of John Lennon. Gruff and gravelly but somehow sweet and innocent, his lullabies carry listeners through ’60s surf, ’90s-influenced anti-anthems, jazz club and smoky blues billiard hall soundscapes. “The More I Keep Digging” is evident of almost all four those genres simultaneously, and it accounts for roughly 5 percent of the record.
Tracks like “Tangible Tonight” show a softer side of the seemingly manic McCloskey and expose a delicate soul hidden under the rock ’n’ roll roughshod. With subtle leads and lyrics both personal and abstract, the track is reminiscent of a calmer time. “Painting Hearts on My Sleeve” does just as advertised, delivering an intimate and stripped-down experience while conveying forthright truth.
“This Town” further proves the true depth and breadth of McCloskey’s musical influence. Bordering on ’80s wave, the song evolves into a statement on the inevitable trap of small-town creative types. In a seemingly autobiographically confession, McCloskey talks of derailment “in a transient town,” and the clear struggles of basing oneself in a rotating community filled with those on their way up, down and coasting along.
Still, underneath confessions of self doubt and tragic loves, McCloskey purveys restrained, controlled rage and a burning passion for his craft through his tortured voice and lyrical content. Ranging from the literal to the more surreal, McCloskey blends his own unique mix of affection, anger and acceptance to deliver his strongest album to date.
At first glance, “Sea Foam Green” may seem a step out of time with 2014 pop culture. With a nod to his own musical past and a classic driving rock mentality, McCloskey’s latest effort is concurrent with his own modern placement and inspiringly invocational of the pulse of central Pennsylvania’s small but powerful music scene. Truly, McCloskey is a key representative of the region’s enduring local music culture, and “Sea Foam Green” further solidifies his talent as a solo act.