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ARTICLES

Matt Hires' 'American Wilderness

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

I fell in love with Matt Hires' music when I first heard his full length debut Take Us To The Start in 2009. Hires returns with his third album American Wilderness, and it shouldn't disappoint fans not only of his, but of music in general. There is a ruggedness to Hires voice that has become rather cliché as of late, yet when it comes to Hires' he pulls it off with no trace of sounding pretentious at all. I would best describe his style of music as classic American Rock and Roll in skinny jeans. You could count artists like Matt Nathanson and Tyrone Wells amongst his peers. Standout tracks include”Holy War,” “Black River,” “The Wilderness,”and “Don't Let Your Heart Grow Cold.” There is a real thread of Americana and Gospel music running through the veins of this album that is equally refreshing and inspirational. Good stuff here Mr. Hires, especially good music for Autumn listening!

Grade: B

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The Posies Release 'Solid States'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

1990's Alternative Power- Pop Rockers The Posies return with their eighth studio album Solid States. The Posies are best remembered for their song “Dream All Day” from 1993's Frosting On The Beater. Solid States is a strong departure from what most casual fans will recall from the band. The Posies have traded in the Dinosaur Jr., Teenage Fanclub, and Pixies influenced sound that older fans like myself have come to expect for a far more contemporary one. There is definitely an incorporation of modern stylistic influences. For example the album has a very strong Indie and Psychedelic flair. This demonstrates that the band has grown in as many ways as has most of their audience. Standout tracks include “Titanic”and “March Chimes.”

Grade: C

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BJ Barham's Rockingham

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham just released his first solo EP Rockingham. A swift departure from what fans of American Aquarium my expect, Rockingham is an intimate and personal portrait of American life that rivals anything Ryan Adams has released in the past decade. The eight songs on this EP are a strong presentation of what a solid Americana record should sound, feel, and look like. Stand out tracks include “Rockingham,” “Madeline,” and “Road To Nowhere.” Many times leaders of bands release theses solo albums that are a complete separation from what their bands have come to be known for with varied results. Barham's Rockingham is a strong release that warrants much more exploration in this direction. Well done BJ!

Grade: A+

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Malachi Henry And The Lights Debut Soulful Record

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

NorthCarolina based musicians Malachi Henry and the Lights have just released their debit self titled debut album, and oh dear sweet baby Jesus is it infectious! If only an eighth of modern music had this much substance the current musical landscape would look utterly different. Blending elements of Southern Rock, Old Time Gospel, Indie, and Blues into an inviting concoction of tracks that will appeal to both sinner and saint. Henry has definitely been cut from a similar cloth as such contemporaries as Needtobreathe and Nathanial Rateliff & The Night Sweats. Stand out tracks include “Grit and Spirit,” ”Higher,” and “The Rich Man's Warning.” Seriously brothers and sisters this is a most righteous release. No complaints hear. I am excited to hear what is next for these southern troubadours on a mission from God to create and deliver us from the evil stronghold of horrible music.

Grade: A

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Dinosaur Jr. Gives You A 'Glimpse Of What Yer Not'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Alternative Rock legends Dinosaur jr. have just released their eleventh full length studio album Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not on Jagjaguwar Records. Since the mid to late 1980's J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph have been creating their signature sound, blending elements of Alternative music and heavy dose of Neil Young inspired Classic Rock and bringing it to the masses. On Glimpse Of What Yer Not, the trio sounds as unified and cohesive as ever. Not straying too far away from the unique template of the sound they helped to invent, Dinosaur Jr. doesn't reinvent the wheel on their latest release they just simply apply an ample dose of musical mojo to keep it rolling on. If you are a fan of these guys truthfully you will find no fault on this effort and enjoy every musical morsel. Stand out track seclude “Goin Down,” “Walk For Miles,” “Lost All Day,” and “Left/Right.” Many of Dinosaur Jr.'s peers are content to just tour every summer and rehash the “Good Old Days” and play their classic songs to their core audience, and you know what? God bless them for it. Dinosaur Jr. is one of the few bands that still have the chops and gall to keep on writing, recording and performing original material and that as a music journalist and music fan excites me.

Grade: A+

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Butch Parnell's 'Shattering' New EP

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Alright, in the spirit of full disclosure and transparency, Butch Parnell is a great friend of mine. I think he is one of the finest Americana Singer/ Songwriters currently in that landscape. His band Runaway Dorothy is an honest reflection of what Country and Rock and Roll purist have been yearning for for a very, very long time. With that being said this is an honest reflection of my thoughts on Parnell's newest effort. Butch has recently released his sophomore solo EP The Shatter. The six songs on The Shatter are earnest and simple ,yet lyrically complexed and delicate all the while. Standout tracks include the interesting cover of KISS' “Strutter,” “Remains,” “Hard Way Home,” and “Last Round.” This album is definitely worth the purchase. I can honestly see Butch Parnell taking the Chris Stapleton route to success, whereas its the strength of his songwriting that propels him in to the spotlight. The Shatter is a swift departure from The Brightness, his debut EP release. I personally feel this more akin to Parnell's wheelhouse. Great job my friend. Only one question though: When will get a full length?

Grade: A

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Atoms and Void 'And Nothing Else'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Atoms and Void is the duo consisting of lifelong friends Arlie John Carstens and Eric Michael Fisher. On the bands debut release And Nothing Else, released on Arctic Rodeo Recordings, we see the band has and eclectic, yet dark and ambient sound in which they display. Atoms and Void seem to have a myriad of influences and incorporate a vast variety of elements into the soundscape they create. This should equally delight and frustrate fans, depending on what side of the fence they are on musically. I hear traces of dark 1980's Alternative music with dashes of World and Electronica music thrown in for good measure. The vocals, when the tracks allots for them reminds me of a cross between Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Standout tracks include “Destroyed, The Sword of Saint Michael,” and “Lowercase Blues.” In all honesty, this record isn't my cup of tea. Its not that its bad, its just that except for the aforementioned tracks all the songs seem to blend in to one extremely long and monotone song. Great for parties of solace and reflection in the damp, cold, murky weather of autumn turning into winter, but not so much for the big summer blow outs we are all accustomed to this time of year.

Grade: C-

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Mimes of Wine Release 'La Maison Verte...'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Mimes of Wine just released their latest project entitled La Maison Verte on Midfinger Records. Mimes of Wine incorporate an eclectic mix of Electronica, with 1990's Female lead Alternative Rock into a moody and atmospheric jaunt through the landscape of their perception of music. One can hear bits of Tori Amos, Garbage, Kate Buch, Beth Orton, and Florence and the Machine. “Birds of a Feather” is by the far the best track on the release with “Lovers' Eyes” being a close second. If the dark and brooding aspects of the aforementioned musicians appeal to you, then you will love La Maison Verte. If they do not however, I would recommend steering clear of Mimes of Wine.

Grade: C

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Top 17 Prince Songs

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

With the passing of His Purple Majesty, everyone and their brother is coming out of the woodwork sharing stories and what not about the time they did such and such with Prince. I have no such tales to tell in that respect, but he has consistently been the major contributor to music on the soundtrack of my life. I discovered Prince in 1989 at the age of 11 when I heard his songs in Tim Burton's “Batman.” I have been a fan ever since. To say that his passing is sad and unexpected is the understatement of the century. At any rate, as a life long fan that owns most of his released music I wanted to share some lesser known songs for you to enjoy. Everyone is aware of “When Doves Cry,” “Little Red Corvette,” “1999,” and “Purple Rain,” but my hope is that this list will inspire you to dig deeper into his catalog of 39 albums (not to mention the countless bootlegs). These tracks are in no particularity order, because honestly I couldn't rank them if I had to. With that being said I will close by saying “May U All Live 2 See The Dawn.”

Controversy (1981) – Controversy

Controversy is from Prince's fourth album and is obviously the title track. Unlike most of the songs on this list, this was in fact a single. Be it one of his earlier singles, but a single none the less. This funky cut gives the listener a surprising melodic treat during the chorus mixed in with the New Wave intro.

17 Days (1984) - B-Side to When Doves Cry

Originally this was the B-Side to “When Doves Cry,” but now can be found on the three disc version of The Hits/ The B-Sides is easily one of Prince's best songs. With it being a B-Side it has gone under the radar but for those who purchased the 45RPM single back in 1984 you know full well the power of this song. It is classic Prince to put a song in a place most would consider a throwaway that is actually better than the song it was supporting. This is saying a whole lot since most people identify “When Doves Cry” as his calling card.

4 The Tears In Your Eyes (1985) - We Are The World U.S.A. For Africa

Controversy isn't new to “His Purple Badness” and there was certainly a touch of that going on with this track. Prince was asked to participate in the recording of “We Are The World” but chose instead to offer an entire song for the project. Many thought this was pretentious and perhaps it was. But let's just be honest, Prince was out of all of those people's league including M.J., Springsteen, and Quincy Jones. Definitely one of Prince's most religious songs, this quotes scriptures from the Bible and retells the story of Christ, in a Pop setting.

Paisley Park (1985) – Around The World In A Day

This is the song that bares namesake of Prince's first record label. Around The World In A Day is perhaps the album where you can most clearly hear any influence on him in the form of The Beatle-esque compositions. None the less a truly great song and hidden treasure.

Anotherloverholeinyohead (1986) – Parade

“Kiss” gets most of the attention from this album which served as the soundtrack to his film directorial debut Under The Cherry Moon. Although the movie wasn't well received the music here is fantastic. This is a Prince at his commercial peak and this cut is just too infectious.

Starfish & Coffee (1987) - Sign O' The Times

This is a fun little ditty that comes across as a colds rhyme, but has a deeper meaning underneath the surface. It is catchy and hard to resit singing along with it. This probably could have been released and performed fairly well for Prince. It has now become some what of a cult favorite and has even inspired the Muppets to join along on a rendition.

I Wish U Heaven (1988) – LoveSexy

LoveSexy is best remembered for “Alphabet St.” and the fact Prince offered it up in lieu of his dark masterpiece The Black Album. Although “Glam Slam” could've made this list as easily, the notion of this song is far more sentimental which for Prince at the time was some what of a departure from his usual sentiment, which was typically just sex. Cool tune for sure that has flown under the radar.

Lemon Crush (1989) – Batman

My favorite musician composed the music for the first successful big screen adaption of my favorite superhero. It was a fanboy dream come true. Although at the time this alum was dismissed my critics, there are some real gems on this record other than “Batdance” and “Partyman.” “Electric Chair” is one that should be on this list as well, but ultimately “Lemon Crush” won out. The mixture of Rock guitars and late 80's early 90's dance beat was groundbreaking at the time, and remains just as catchy.

Elephants & Flowers (1990) – Graffiti Bridge

Simple, fun, and addicting is the best was to describe this cut. Not one of his better known tracks from the soundtrack to the equal of “Purple Rain,” but a solid effort none the less.

The Morning Papers (1992) The Love Symbol Album

This song was the final single released from this album but many aren't aware of this because it didn't even crack the Top 40 in the U.S. The subject matter is obviously about his initial falling in love with his former wife Mayte Garcia. A tender ballad with a moving saxophone solo, it has remained one of my favorite Prince songs since I first bought the cassette back in the day.

Letitgo (1993) – Come

Prince was going through a very public and some might say bizarre dispute with Warner Brothers records at the time of this songs release. Written about his distain towards what he perceived as unfair treatment from the Warner camp at the time, the track was released as a single and climbed to number 31 on the U.S. Charts.

Billy Jack Bitch (1995) – The Gold Experience

Allegedly written about a journalist from Minneapolis named “CJ” who repeatedly called out Prince for hypocrisy in his music and life style, this is probably the Funkiest track His Purple Badness ever released. And thats saying a whole lot!

Count The Days (1994) – Girl 6 Soundtrack/ B- Side to New Power Soul

Technically this Bluesy ballad was released under the New Power Generation moniker, but it's essentially all Prince. With nothing more than guitar and light orchestration to accompany the track, the song is about the yearning for better days ahead.

Until U're In My Arms Again – (1998) New Power Soul

Although this album is credited to the NPG, once again it's all Prince. Admittedly this is one of my least favorite albums from Prince, but thus song is sweet and laid back. Perfect for when you are missing the one your heart longs for.

The Ride (1998) – Crystal Ball

This is a live recording of one of Prince's sexiest songs. The straight up Blues track is subtle and overtly sexual all at the same time. Featuring some incredible guitar work, this was a crowd favorite at concerts at the time. It was easily overlooked when he released his 4 disc album Crystal Ball that featured forty some tracks. I guess Prince is some what of an over achiever.

A Million Days (2004) – Musicology

This album was heralded as a comeback for Prince, or at the very least a return to what fans had hoped and expected from him. It definitely has a Purple Rain-esque feel to it. Great track that is infectious and hard to get out of your head.

The Word (2006) – 3121

One of Prince's most religiously themed songs is a new school R & B and Soul cut that showed that he can hang just as well in the modern musical landscape as he could have several decades prior.

The Wans' 'Run Baby Run'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Nashville based trio The Wans are releasing their newest EP Run Baby Run. If the early press on these guys are correct, they are definitively a band to keep an eye on this coming year. The Wans blend a mixture of Blues based Classic Rock and Roll with elements of Grunge and Alternative music. Imagine if you will The Black Keys meets The Pixies with a hefty dose of Mudhoney thrown in for good measure. The six songs on Run Baby Run stay fairly close to the three minute, three chord Power Pop formula that has worked so well for a plethora of other bands. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Right? That isn't to say that the songs are drab or dull, quite the contrary in fact. Its just simply means if you are looking for innovation and originality in music and not just Rockin' out, The Wans may not be your exact cup of tea. Stand out tracks include “Seeing Red,” “Who Are You Now?,” and “ABCD.” The biggest disappointment for me, and you my loyal reader know this full well, is that in my humble opinion the EP format just shortchanges the listener. The Wans have the chops to produce a full length album and that is something I would be very interested in listening to.

Grade: C+

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Peter Wolf Found 'A Cure For Loneliness'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Former J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf released his latest album A Cure For Loneliness , and promoted it at a recent tour stop through Cleveland at the Music Box Supper Club. As the lead singer of the J. Geils Band, Wolf sang lead on most of the bands most beloved and well known songs throughout the late 1970's and early 1980's. Wolf is a Bluesman at heart and this album is a true reflection of that. The appropriately titled A Cure For Loneliness , is an essential tour de force through the Blues, Country, Rock and Roll, and Pop delivered by a seasoned music veteran. Standout tracks include the soulful Southern Rock balladry of “Always So Easy,” the tongue-in-cheek Blues swagger of “How Do You Know,” and a Bluegrass rendition of the classic “Love Stinks,” delivered as only the person who originally sang it only could. A Cure For Loneliness is a fun album. Die hard fans of Wolf, J. Geils, or the timeless sound of Classic Rock and Roll and all that it encompasses will surely enjoy this album.

Grade: B-

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Drowners Lament 'On Desire'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

New York City band Drowners is set to release their latest album On Desire June 24. On Desire is a strong outing for the Big Apple natives. Drowners conjure up their influences that range from The Jesus and Mary Chain, early U2, The Cure and The Killers. With a nostalgic, yet modern appeal to their music, Drowners appear to be at the helm of this continued trend of reintroducing the classic New Wave movement of the early to mid 1980's. However, Drowners are highlighting the more darker elements capturing the zestiest of the era. Standout tracks include “Cruel Ways,” the cryptically titled “Human Remains,” and “Another Go.” I appreciate the bands approach to this genre. I think the New Wave renascence trend has been very overplayed the past few years. Be that as it may, their incorporating a Poppy Gothic sensibility is clever and breaths new life into this field. It will be very interesting to see where they take their music in the future. Well done gents!

Grade: B+

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Shawn and Shelby's Stay With Me Lover

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Cleveland natives Shawn Brewster and Shelby Lynn Sangdahl better known as the Indie Folk duo Shawn and Shelby, have just released their debut album Stay With Me Lover . The songs on the groups first official full length are stark, sparse, and introspective. Shawn and Shelby weave a delicate tapestry of guitar, cello, a bit of piano and a lot of emptiness. The emptiness is reflected not only in the lack of instrumentation, but in the lyrical content as well. Lulling the listener into a somber yet satisfying moment. Most artists might not be able to utilize such minimalism to their advantage like Shawn and Shelby have, becoming the groups greatest asset. Standout tracks include title track and “Starring At The Sun,” “Doorways,” and “Sing With Me.” Brewster is becoming more confident in his singing and song writing abilities which is very apparent. While Sangdahl is the melodic and musical sledgehammer that bludgeons you with her tender delicacies of well times and sentimental accompaniment. This album is perfect for those subtle rainy mornings were the goal is to achieve either calmness or contemplation. Jim Stewart expertly produced Stay With Me Lover , taking great care not to over produce but let the music and lyrics speak plainly. Fantastic effort all around. These musicians and producer are definitely making Cleveland proud!

Grade: A

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Go 'Into The' Wildways

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Into The Wild is the newest release from Wildways, and eclectic five piece band that incorporates elements of Metal, Hip Hop, and Modern Rock to create a interesting blend of music. Imagine for a moment if you will Linkin Park, Machine Gun Kelly, and Avenged Sevenfold combining their musical DNA into a blender and out of that would come Wildways. “Sirens,” “What You Feel,” and “Wings” are some of the standout tracks on Into The Wild. Great care was taken in the production and creation of this record. Truth be told there is some originality on the material here, but it does kind of leave you with a unsettling feeling that you have heard this somewhere before. If this is just the beginning of the bands career, I think a lot of growth and maturing of their sound will occur and that is definitely an album I want to hear.

Grade: C+

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Rome Hero Foxes 'Fall Back' On A Solid Release

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Progressive Indie Rock band Rome Hero Foxes are releasing their latest full length record For When You're Falling Backwards on Esque Records. The five piece outfit hailing from Katy, Texas formed in 2012 and if you're a fans of Arctic Monkeys, Copeland, or 30 Seconds To Mars you will definitely enjoy the sounds on Rome Hero Foxes. The songs on Falling Backwards are melodic and powerful with a certain nuance for creating a unique sonic atmosphere. Standout tracks include “Falling Out,” “Two Friends, Three Days,” and “The Cold.” Tight harmonies and sweeping guitars are hallmarks of the bands sound that is sure to appeal to a mass audience. For a relatively newer band Rome Hero Foxes have a mature sound. I'm quite positive these guys will be hitting the road in support of For When You're Falling Backwards and gaining a sizable following all the while. Looking forward to hear what's next for these guys.

Grade: B

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Chris Hatton Takes Us 'Into His Universe'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

On the latest release from Cleveland based musician Chris Hatton, he graciously allows us entrance into his world. Actually it's his universe to be more precise. None the less it is a Soulful, Funky, Rockin' place to explore. Into The Universe is a masterfully crafted, written, and performed album from an artist that should have way more recombination than he currently has. Of the eight tracks on Into The Universe Hatton crosses genres and styles so effortlessly and frequently that your head starts spinning in a very good way! Album opener “I Need Sunshine” has a laid back Reggae jam with an Old School Funk vibe happening. “Neighborhood Man” is a gritty complex cut that simultaneously channels both Alice In Chains and The Black Crowes. Into The Universe is the kind of record that fills me with hope for the future of music. If you are just learning about Chris Hatton I strongly encourage you to discover his entire discography. And although his recorded music is strong, it pales in comparison to the strength of his live performances. Hatton is easily one of the best musicians in Cleveland and that is not on overstatement by any stretch of the imagination.

Grade: B+

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Soul Asylum's 'Change Of Fortune'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

The hardest reviews for me to write are the ones for bands that I am actually a fan of, let alone having met personally. I aim to be fair and balanced but truth be told, sometimes the fanboy in me geeks out while holding the shiny bright cover of the latest and greatest from one of my favs. Soul Asylum is a prime example of the torture I endure for all of you because I have been a fan since junior high school. Soul Asylum released their eleventh studio album Change Of Fortune on Entertainment One Music (eOne Music) on March 18. If the name rings a bell, but you can't quite place it allow me to help. Think back to the 1990's. A time before the internet, and auto tune. A time when bands actually played their own instruments and wrote their own songs, usually. Soul Asylum is one such band, with a string of hits including “Misery,” “Black Gold,” “Somebody To Shove,” and “Runaway Train,” which featured a groundbreaking video that brought awareness to missing children. The band has had its ups and downs throughout the years, including a brief hiatus and the passing of founding member Karl Mueller, but are back and sound like they've never skipped a beat. Dave Pirner and company offer up twelve brand new tracks that are wholly founded in the Soul Asylum tradition, while injecting a blast of energy to their performance and songwriting all the while. For example “Supersonic” is a radio friendly Rocker that I could imagine being a hit right now just as easily as I can hear it being from one of their older albums from their 90's heyday. “Doomsday,” “When I See You,” “Moonshine,” and “Morgan's Dog” are just a few of the fantastic material that Change Of Fortune has to offer. This album just feels good, I mean you feel great while listening to these tracks. I will not be surprised when this albums lands on a bunch of Top Ten Albums of 2016 lists come years end. I know one it will be on for sure!

Grade: A+

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Cavo Builds Strong 'Bridges'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Cavo is a four piece Rock band hailing from St. Louis, Missouri that is releasing their newest album Bridges. And I for one am thoroughly impressed. The band has taken it upon themselves to write, record, and produce Bridges without any outside input or help, and the solitude and hard work is paying off in spades. Cavo's sound would best be described as an amalgamation between The Killers, Fall Out Boy, and Three Doors Down. Essentially what Cavo has been able to do is to crack the code of effectively combining all of the elements that represent Modern Rock and Roll and have created their own concoction that is uniquely Cavo. I would love to pick apart the album and comment on what they did or didn't do, but I simply can't. It is that solid of a record. Bridges kicks off with “Nights” and doesn't relent after that. Songs such as “Just Like We Want It” and “Get Away,” are fist-in-the-air Rock anthems that are sure to be fan favorites. The band also shows off their tender side with ballads like “Stay” and “ On Your Own.” Truth be told I have never heard of Cavo before this review. Be that as it may, Bridges has made me a fan. If you are a fan of Rock and Roll this is a no brainer, go out and buy Bridges. You can thank me later. Good work fellas, keep it up!

Grade: + A

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Jagged Leaves' 'Nightmare Afternoon

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Not much can be said about Jagged Leaves because quite frankly the band is some what of an enigma. There is no description or bio to be found anywhere online, and the few social media pages they have are stark. So the impression that one is left with is that they want their music to do the talking. A bold, yet interesting approach in this day of everything being over marketed. Jagged Leaves is releasing Nightmare Afternoon, a twelve track effort that demonstrates potential, if nothing else. Jagged Leaves has several very strong musical influences in which they draw upon, a few being The Decemberist, Bob Mould during the Sugar years, and Neil Young. The musicianship is strong, and the lead vocals are unique with a distinctive sound but limited range. “Low and Wet,” “Sown In The Seam,” “Calm Me Down,” and “Never Been Born” are Nightmare Afternoon's stand out tracks. The album is solid, but truth be told it all seems to meld into one really long, bummer of a tune. There is nothing that distinguishes one track from another and the overwhelmingly melancholic atmosphere on the album makes the listener either want to give the band a hug or slit their wrist. At any rate Nightmare Afternoon is a fairly decent listen, I can hear this as background music for an autumn party or get together.

Grade: C+

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The Miami's 'Deliver' Unearthed Treasures

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

It's almost unimaginable that after forty years there is still music being discovered and released from an era of Pop culture that has already been so heavily mined and pillaged. When one ponders what CBGB's has become in the lexicon of history, images of groundbreaking musicians must surely come to mind. Blondie, Talking Heads, The Ramones, Television, The Dead Boys, and The Miami's must be at the forefront. Oh wait! You say you aren't familiar with The Miami's? Unless you lived in New York City during the 1970's you most likely have no clue who they are. Omnivore Records is proudly releasing We Deliver: The Lost Band Of The CBGB Era (1974-1979), the first ever collection of all The Miami's recordings. This twenty three song collection is digitally remastered and is a terrific representation of the band's abilities.

The Miami's biggest claim to fame is they performed regularly and were “discovered” at CBGB's during its most critical and musically plentiful time. The sound of The Miami's is some what derivative of several sources. First and foremost, they capture the zeitgeist of what CBGB's has become legendary for. Part Punk and part Pop, it is easy to see how they could've fit on to any bill with the likes if the aforementioned bands. Secondly, there is a noticeable nod to the early days of Rock and Roll, specifically the mid to late 1950's. The Miami's manage to infuse the sentiment of those days without coming off as copycats.

The music has been preserved very nicely, and it is actually quite surprising more hasn't been made of these guys. With that being said, when you consider the tremendous talent pool that they were swimming in in those days it makes perfect sense that a band like this got easily overlooked. We Deliver is a bittersweet collection for The Miami's. Sweet because I think it's fantastic that their songs are finally seeing the light of day. Bitter because this collection is all that exists and definitely shows promise. Unfortunately we will never get see the fulfillment of it. I recommend this collection especially if you are fond of this particular era of Rock and Roll history.

Grade: B

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Mellow Toy 'Lies'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Italian Heavy Metal band Mellow Toy has just released their newest full length album Lies, and it delivers some serious Metal chops. I ain't lying! (See what I did there?!) Mellow Toy has been performing since 2001 throughout Europe and are now attempting to find success in America. If you are a fan of Linkin Park, The Deftones, and Stone Sour, I can't imagine that you wouldn't really dig these guys too. “Dead Colours,” “Bright New World,” and “Destroy Yourself” are just a few of the powerhouse Rockers on Lies. There maybe some what of a cultural barrier lyrically speaking, but the ability of music to transcend such things is overwhelming apparent on Lies. Mellow Toy could possibly be the next Rammstein or Scorpions, no lie!

Grade: B-

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Nils Lofgren 'Faces The Music' With Latest Release

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Nils Lofgren is perhaps best known for his day job as a member of the E. Street Band. Lofgren replaced Steve Van Zandt on Springsteen's 1984 Born in the U.S.A. Tour in 1984. What many people may not know is that Lofgren has been recording for many years prior to hooking up with The Boss. Whether it be his solo work or recording with Neil Young, Lou Reed, or Jerry Williams. Lofgren is not one to rest on his laurels as an E Street-er. On UK2015 Face The Music Tour Lofgren demonstrates his ability to deliver not just his impressive mastery of the guitar, but his vocal and songwriting prowess as well. The album has an intimate and fresh sound that typically does not inhabit live recordings. Recorded during his tour of the United Kingdom last year, this collection of songs should satisfy die hard fans as well as serve as a great introduction to new fans. Lofgren shares witty stories and banters with the audience in between tracks adding to the appeal of the live experience. One disappointing note is that this collection doesn't include “Valentine,” my favorite track of Lofgren's and one I think would have only made the recording more complete. Filled with acoustic balladry, Blues Rockers and boogie-by-the-numbers piano jams, the album is minimalistic but perfectly highlights the talent Lofgren possess.

Grade: B

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Driving Rain Releases 'Intervention Time'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Stockholm trio Driving Rain is releasing their newest EP Intervention Time on Lovely Records. Driving Rain's sound is derivative of great 1980's Alternative Rock bands such as The Replacements, Bob Mould and Husker Du, and Social Distortion. The sound isn't necessarily original, but it is refreshing to hear an honest attempt to revive a foregone genre of Rock and Roll. The six songs on the EP are concise and to the point just like this genre of Rock needs to be. Standout tracks include album opener “Hard Times,” title track “Intervention Time,” and “Don't Let It Slide.” All in all this is a great collection of songs that should find its mark in the Rock and Roll landscape. I admit I would have preferred an entire full length release instead of the EP, but hopefully Intervention Time will be successful enough to warrant an entire album.

Grade: A

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Jenny Gillespie's Cure For Dreaming

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Upon me initially listening to Jenny Gillespie's newest EP Cure For Dreaming, I was immediately struck by two distinct things. First and foremost, Gillespie has managed to gather unto herself an impressive collection of gifted musicians to bring her sonic vision to fruition. Secondly, I can't help but be reminded of some of the most popular and prolific women in music from the 1990's. You hear traces of those who inspired her that range from the experimental nature of Tori Amos, to the seductive and laid back vocal approach of Natalie Merchant, with traces of Sarah McLachlan thrown in for good measure. With those type of musical heroes beckoning her; one would assume that Cure For Dreaming might possible sound dated and trite. You would assume incorrectly. The EP does however lack the emotional resonance that the aforementioned musicians excelled in and made them the staples of the genre they are today.

The biggest problem with Cure For Dreaming is that it is essential one tone as there are no real moments that entices the listener to invest any feelings and promotes a state of ambiguity towards the project as a whole. The only exception to this rule is the McLachlan-esue “Last Mystery Train.” This is the real standout track on the entire EP, and I fear that it might get glossed over on a effort that might otherwise be given to be skipped through. If Gillespie can focus on delivering to her audience this type of emotional tour de force on a more consistent basis, I whole hardheartedly believe she could be solely responsible for reviving the female Alternative Rock Singer Songwriter genre. Great musicianship with tons of potential here. I am interested to hear where se goes from here!

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Blaze Ya Head Homie, Yep It's As Awful As It Sounds

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Detroit, Michigan has a rich and expansive heritage of introducing gifted and prolific musicians from a plethora of genre's to the world. I can only imagine the community as a whole is shaking their head in disbelief at Blaze Ya Head Homie who is some how a part of Twiztid. Imagine if you will for a moment Insane Clown Posse (who also incidentally hails from Detroit) combined with the darkened imagery of King Diamond, and a strong admiration of Ice Cube's vocal abilities. That is the mental and sonic picture that Blaze casts for us the listener. I am left to assume that for no apparent reason other than contractual obligation, Blaze Ya Head Homie is releasing his newest album The Casket Factory. If anyone dare listen to this release, they will find there is no trace of any coherent point made throughout the entire album. The production value and beats are actually pretty funky. The Hardcore, Horror-Core, or Horror-able if you will Hip Hop artist is very reminiscent of the West Coast G-Funk era of the early to mid 1990's. Oh and by the way, if you are asking yourself 'is this really a thing?' Unfortunately the answer is yes. However I just classify it all under “Music For People Who Don't Shave Yet.” Be that as it may, the rhyming is subpar at best, and quite frankly I have a hard time buying into Blaze's epic tales of whoa and gritty urban horror. Perhaps if he removed the make up and came at us straight up, I could entertain his overtly vulgar diatribe, but as is it is just completely laughable.

Grade: D- (Not an F because at least he tried)

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The Cactus Blossoms Release 'Dreamy” New Album

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

You're Dreaming is an appropriate title considering the dreamy and lush content hidden within The Cactus Blossoms' first full length studio release. Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum have managed to tap into a well long since thought to have run dry. The duo hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota seamlessly weave a tapestry of music ranging of influences from early Rock and Roll and Classic Country and Western to Jazz with a speck of Indie sensibility for good measure. A more accurate comparison of their sound is to imagine the vocal harmonies of the Everly Brothers and the musical accompaniment of artists such as Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash during their Sun Records days with Chris Isaak thrown for a some what modern appeal.

Standout tracks include album opener “Stoplight Kisses,” the tender balladry of “Queen f Them All,” “Clown Collector” and “No More Crying the Blues” are the most upbeat tracks on You're Dreaming. My personal favorite however is “Travelers Paradise,” a happy-go-lucky Country Western swing number perfect for two stepping. The album is simplistic and militaristic as The Cactus Blossoms adhere closely to the traditions in which the follow. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does come into conflict when the album drags into the overfamiliarity of this genre. Perhaps on the next outing incorporating a few more modern additions might break up the monotony which occurs in the middle of the record. All in all an impressive release which should appeal to fans old and new. I am anxious to hear what is ahead for these guys!

Grade: B+

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Swahill Blonde Drops And Only The Melody Was Real

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Swahill Blonde is the musical side project of drummer and vocalist Nicole Turley and violinist Laena Myers. And Only The Melody Was Real is the newest EP from this Los Angeles based duo with a penchant for experimental compositions. I would describe the sound of Melody as a amalgamation of influences and styles that essential doesn't stray to far away from what I would generally classify as Electro Pop music. I can hear comparisons with artists like Bjork and Tori Amos and seminal acts like Talking Heads and Prince. The overall vibe of the EP is laid back and chill with no track differentiating itself from another. Clocking in at just under a half an hour, Melody is the perfect background noise for when you have your eclectic hipster neighbors over for a soiree. The track that stood out most for me was “Saturn Farewell” because it was really the only track that had a bit of higher BPM. And Only The Melody Was Real truthfully is not my cup of tea and quite frankly I'm not sure if it would be anyone that I know either. There just isn't enough sonic diversity to hold your attention for the entire length of the EP. I'm giving this a very generous grade because the music wasn't unpleasant, to the contrary. But I have a feeling your hipster neighbors will totally dig this!

Grade: C-

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GEARS Release 'Pride Comes Before the Fall'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Miami, Florida based Hard Rock quartet GEARS released their most recent EP Pride Comes Before The Fall. An interesting foray into the Modern Rock genre, Pride Comes Before The Fall displays a keen sense of musicality, but not much originality. The most accurate description of GEARS' sound is to simply imagine a typically Nu Metal or Modern Hard Rock band mixed with a more than a fair share of 80's influenced guitar work. The vocals are aggressive and lead singer Trip Six hoots, hollers, and yells with an abundance of gravitas, that of which usually accompanies such recordings. The most outstanding element of the music on Pride is the guitar work by Bobby Thomas. Thomas shreds and delivers a stellar performance on all six tracks.

Standout tracks include EP opener “Rise With Me,” and lead single “Face Down.” If you are a fan of the genre, I am most certain that you will enjoy GEARS latest effort. The EP has its moments and the band appears to be talented. Sadly, there is nothing overtly creative or unique that makes GEARS stand out from the rest of the pack. Pride Comes Before the Fall is a great foundation for the band to build upon. The may have the potential to dig deep within themselves and offer the world a truly new and fresh take on this genre. But then again, they may not...

Grade: C

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Stone Broken Delivers 'All In Time'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Stone Broken is a new band from across the pond that is releasing their first full length debut album All In Time on January 29. While the band calls Walsall, UK home, upon first listen I would have bet my last penny that they were from Canada. Why Canada ey? Because they are musically the spitting image of Canadian Rock band Nickleback. I ain't kidding! Lead singer Rich Moss is so perfectly able to clone Chad Kroeger's vocal approach I am starting to wonder if this might be side project that Kroeger is hesitant to lend his name to. However the comparison doesn't stop there. The chord structure, song progressions, and lyrical content is a near identical match. Often newer bands have a plethora of influences and artists that inspire them and one can normally tell especially in a bands early career, not with Stone Broken. They are die hard Nickleback fanatics all the way. So much so in fact they learned how to play all their songs and reworked the lyrics and are trying to pass it of as their own. I mean come on, this is a bad joke, right? My advice would be if you are one of the five people in the world that admits to liking Nickleback, shame on you, but just stick with them. I would avoid Stone Broken at all costs. But you have to hand it to Stone Broken as they have made music history in one respect, they are the recipient of the worst album review I have ever given. Cheers guys!

Grade: D-

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Top Ten List: Best Albums of 2015

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Well it's that time of year again where we flip our calenders over, and program ourselves to write a new year on our documents. It is also that time of year when everyone and their brother offers up to you their thoughts pertaining to which records were the most artistically viable, commercially accessible, and weirdly obscure just to be viewed as cooler than they really are releases. Truth be told, I had my doubts for 2015. I wasn't sure I would be able to complete a Top Ten list of best albums. For a while it was looking like a Top Seven or Eight. But alas the handful of truly terrific albums I needed to round out this list came to my rescue. However, some of the “best” this year is setting the bar really, really low. What I mean to say is that in previous years the caliber of options was much more impressive and much more difficult to evaluate. So without any further ado, here you go. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions:

Welshly Arms

Welshly Arms is a band from Cleveland that have taken a few of their cues from fellow Ohioans The Black Keys, but that didn't stop Quentin Tarantino from using one of their tracks in the trailer to his newest film The Hateful 8. Strong Blues based Rock from America's heartland. Good stuff.

Adele – 25

I would be remiss if I didn't even mention the best selling album ever, or at least this year. You couldn't go anywhere this autumn and not hear her cheeky voice saying “Hello from the other side...” While 25 has appeared on many best of list, to me it lacked the emotional and creative spark that 21 possessed. None the less it is a great album, especially if you are an Adele fan. And let's face it, apparently everyone is.

10. The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak

This band snuck up into the list solely based on the excellency of their musical prowess. Musicianship this good is such a rare commodity in recent times. The Winery Dogs beat the “sophomore slump” on Hot Streak proving that Rock N' Roll is far from dead as the trio has breathed new life into the genre.

9. Blitzen Trapper – All Across this Land

Laid back Alternative Country band Blitzen Trapper newest offering was both pleasing to the ears and heart. Sticking primarily to doing what they do best, BT may not have broken any new ground sonically but they have honed their skills into delivering continually better records.

8. Mat Kearney – Just Kids

Mat Kearney returns to his Acoustic Rock/ Hip Hop roots while incorporating a healthy dose of Indie Pop sensibility on Just Kids. There is certainly enough meat on the bones of this album to please a diversified audience that may not necessarily prefer these musical stylings individually, but Kearney blends them together seamlessly and pulls it off with expert precision.

7. Prince – HITnRUN Phase One

It's Prince doing what Prince does best... being his funky self. With some what of an updated sound, HITnRUN doesn't come off as pretentious or contrived. It feels more like a natural progression from arguably one of the most prolific and influential artist ever. This album reminds me an awful lot of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. Just saying.

6. Dawes – All Your Favorite Bands

Once again embracing their Laurel Canyon influences into a well polished Alternative Country gem, Dawes proves they are trustworthy purveyors of this musical heritage. All Our Favorite Bands has all our favorite things about Dawes contained inside, namely great songwriting with tight harmonies and fantastic musicianship.

5. Andy Mineo – Uncomfortable

Andy Mineo is the freshest Hip Hop artist to come along in a minute. I predict it is just matter of time before he becomes a house hold name. Mineo (pronounced Min-EE-O) is bringing back the art form and penmanship of a true emcee. The current Hip Hop scene needs more artist like him who offers a positive twist to his lyrical approach and his delivery is unbeatable. Uncomfortable is so dope that is just what you feel after one listen.

4. Midnight Passenger – Calypso

Dear God in Heaven above why is this band not bigger?! Representing the CLE, Midnight Passenger released Calypso earlier in 2015 and I knew immediately it was a contender for this list. I can tell you with absolutely no bias (well maybe a little bit being that I also call Cleveland home) that this record has everything needed to explode onto the national music scene. Infectious Rock grooves wrapped around songs that are accessible and thought-provoking.

3. Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind

2015 was an interesting year for Marcus Mumford and his musical cohorts. They discovered modern musical equipment, like electric guitars for example, and honed and freshened up their sound a bit. The strength of the songwriting is evident, especially as they move from their acoustic instrumentation foundation into the arena of drum kits and effect pedals. Wilder Mind is the obvious next step in the bands evolution, and I for one have gained more respect for this little band from across the pond.

2. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

I had my reservations on this album. Sound & Color is the Alabama Shakes second album, and as history has proven far too often that is typically the record that makes or breaks a band, with more breaking than making. Boys & Girls was such a “punch to the gut” of musical awesomeness I wasn't sure if they could successfully follow it up. But thankfully, I was wrong yet again. The Shakes Old School R & B/ Soul approach to music gets a bit more polished and sonically enhanced.

1. Chris Stapleton – Traveler

If Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash were still alive, this is the type of music I can imagine they would be creating. Stapleton had made a name for himself writing songs for many of “Country” music's biggest names. The feel on Traveler is nothing short of authentic. Stapleton weaves an intricate tapestry of classic Country, Blues, Soul and Rock N Roll into a familiar, yet fresh sound. Musicians who classify themselves into the Country genre need to take note. This is real Country, not the homogenized, over-produced and glossy Pop garbage they try to pass off as Country music. Absolutely fantastic.

Will Nikki's Wives Be Together FOR E-V-E-R?

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Toronto based trio Nikki's Wives, are releasing their debut EP FOR E-V-E-R on Pretty Money Records. The threesome consists of Nikki Whitehead, Nate Baylor, and Dylan Lauzon. Even though the band is relatively new on the music scene, Whitehead has been recording music since the age of twelve. Nikki's Wives' sound is firmly built upon a Pop Rock foundation, all the while incorporating layers of Alternative, Indie, and Electronic music which at the end delivers a complexed structure of radio friendly, atmospheric songs. The concoction ultimately sounds like an amalgamation of Lady Gaga and The Pretty Reckless meets Florence + the Machine.

Standout tracks include the lead single “Ghosts,” a moody, somber piece that tells the tale of unrequited love. “Fantasize” is a lush and dreamy gem of a cut that might pass you by if you aren't paying attention. “Lonely Being Cool” is the EP's most uptempo track that highlights a Funky bass line and a tight groove. Nikki's Wives is definitely a band that is on the rise. On FOR E-V-E-R the band is positioning themselves to storm the Mainstream Pop charts. They certainly do have the potential to accomplish just that, but I would like to see what they create next before I hail them as “the next big thing.”

Grade: C+

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Spoken Can 'Breathe Again'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Spoken has been making their groove-oriented brand of Hard Rock since 1996, all the while building an strong and loyal following. Major mainstream success has eluded Spoken primarily because of their Christian or Spiritually themed music, but that shouldn't diminish their capabilities. Spoken can go toe to toe with any Modern Rock band currently on the scene. My initial discovery of the band came many years ago when they had a sound more similar to Rage Against The Machine and P.O.D. Since that time they have dropped the Nu-Metal vocal styling and now sound more in the vein of Linkin Park or The Deftones. Breathe Again is the trio's eighth album and one of their strongest in quite some time. Spoken sounds very tight on Breathe Again, displaying a level of maturity musically and lyrically.

Standout tracks include title track “Breathe Again,” and Rocker “All I Wanted.” “Memories Are Alive” features a Funky drumbeat and is a thought provoking mid-tempo piece. Typically this genre can be off putting to those of whom aren't familiar with it. That really isn't the case with Breathe Again or Spoken as a band for that matter of fact. Spoken possesses the ability to lure the listener deep into their catacombs where the musical web they weave wraps them in a odd and eerie sonic blanket that is both comforting and unnerving all at the same time. This is a fantastic effort from a band that has been able to evolve their sound, yet remain consist in delivering the goods.

Grade: B+

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Whitney Rose's 'Heartbreaker' Of An Album

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Toronto, Ontario's Country songstress Whitney Rose, channels the zeitgeist of an bygone era on her sophomore album released on Cameron House Records. Rose, whose sound is comparable to that of Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline, is winning over a new generation of Country fans with her back to basic work ethic and just enough contemporary Pop flair to not come across as out of touch. Recorded in just four days and produced by The Mavericks' Raul Malo, Heartbreaker Of The Year is an impressive return to form amiss a genre which is currently sounding more like Classic Rock than Country music. Several members of The Mavericks lend a musical hand in performing the music on the ten tracks, eight of which were penned by Rose herself, which certainly lends credence the authentic sound on Heartbreaker. Rose is talented and very pretty, the latter of which normally can carry someone very far in this industry. However we must not over look her talent, of which is obviously and impressive.

Standout tracks include “The Last Party,” A song that could have easily been written or recorded by Loretta Lynn. Title track “Heartbreaker Of the Year” is a sexy and sultry ditty with a Nancy Sinatra vibe throughout. “The Devil Borrowed My Boots” is the Classic Country equivalent to Carrie Underwood's “Before He Cheats.” Whitney Rose is to modern Country music, what the Alabama Shakes are to Pop and Soul. This is an great album that will hopefully inspire this genre to remember their roots and what made people fall in love with Country music many years ago. I've heard it said that everything old becomes new again, and Whitney Rose is most definitely playing her part in the Classic- Neo-Country revival.

Grade: B-

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Drayter Releases Pop Debut 'Nine'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Pop music, or Popular music for those that aren't familiar with the terminology, as a genre has certainly changed over the years. Like most things there has been a gradual evolution and a natural progression, but today's Pop music is increasingly less recognizable then in the past. Most contemporary Pop acts are currently an amalgamation of styles, fashions, and trends. Combining Hard Rock, Electronica, Folk, Indie and whatever else you can possibly think to throw into the sonic stew is passing for today's Pop tunes. Dallas, Texas based duo Drayter is the latest to throw their hat into the Pop music ring. Nine will be released on December 18th, on Platinum Jack Entertainment.

Consisting of Liv Milner and Cole Schwartz Drayter formed in 2009. The sound definitely has roots in Harder Rock, but balance the heaviness out with nice melodic overtones. Citing influences that range from Metallica to Maroon 5, I think a more accurate comparison would be somewhere between Evanescence and Kelly Clarkson's more aggressive Rock side. This comparison makes perfect sense once you realize that the album was produced by Matt Squire and Dave Fortman who have worked with bands like One Direction, Selena Gomez, Evanescence and Godsmack.

Standout tracks include the leas single “Run” which perfectly encapsulates the groups sound. “Mother Says” is an acoustic ballad that deals with overcoming personal tragedies and offers a sliver of hope to the listeners. “Not Alone” is an anthem dedicated to victims of bullying. There are a few things I find ironic, or at least humorous and confusing about the album in reference to the title. First, it is called Nine, yet there are eight tracks. Second, they are claiming it is a full length, however eight tracks are usually considered to be an EP. At any rate, my biggest concern with Nine and Drayter for that matter, is the very distinct possibility that they are just going to be another face in the Pop music crowd. There really isn't anything to distinguish them from any of the other female fronted Rock and Pop outfits which are currently flooding the mainstream markets. Who knows? Perhaps I'm mistaken. Nine is a decent listen and will probably find an audience, I just don't think there is enough musical meat on the bone to offer any longterm subsistence.

Grade: C+

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Heat Of Damage 'Open Fire' On Latest Album

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Folsom, California Hard Rock quartet Heat of Damage is releasing their newest album Open Fire . Open Fire is a color by number collage of Modern Heavy Rock and Alternative music that is by and large overwhelmingly ordinary with a few splashes of greatness thrown in throughout just to keep enticing the listener to stick with them long enough to see their patience go unrewarded. Borrowing their chops from bands like Metallica, Papa Roach, and Foo Fighters, it is easy to see that these young budding musicians are simply a by product of these musical giants. That isn't to say Heat of Damage is not talented or lacking in potential, quite the opposite. It's just at this stage in their careers they haven't discovered who they are and what their sound is.

Standout tracks include album opener “Watch You Burn” and “Fade Away.” “Little Miss Hill” is the most innovative and enjoyable track on the album. It has sort of a funky little swing to it that reminds me of “Walk” by Pantera, kind of. I think this is a necessary release for a band like Heat of Damage. In order for them to grow in to what they will eventually become they have to work out their angst and learn to some how harness it so they can create something that is a unique representation of who they are. The musicianship is a solid foundation in which they can build up, now they just need to find their voice. Keep at it fella, you're getting there!

Grade: C

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Cleveland Native Michael McFarland Is A Musical 'Architect'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Michael McFarland is from Cleveland, so right off the bat I like the guy! We play the same kind of guitars and have a appreciation for 90's Rock music. McFarland could be a long lost relative of mine. McFarland is releasing his newest EP We Are The Architects on Spontaneously Combustable Records. Now while McFarland has a definite affection for 90's Rock, his sound isn't totally submersed in the genre. You can hear elements of bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Damien Rice, and Mat Kearney, along with a nod to bands from the past such as Matchbox 20 and The Decemberists. We Are The Architects is an interesting amalgamation of both classic and contemporary.

Standout tracks include “Upside Down” which is whimsical little ditty of full of optimism. “Let Me Go With You” could be considered an anthem for the hopelessly romantic. “Jetpack Heart” is the most upbeat track on the EP and follows suite with McFarland's writing style of clever and nonsensical lyrics. We Are The Architects is a stripped down, no frills release. Comprising mostly of acoustic instrumentation it is an exercise in minimalism musically. I would be very interested to hear these songs with the backing of a full band. Especially the songs mentioned above. Michael McFarland will be having a album release party on December 12 at The Symposium in Lakewood, Ohio. You can get the release on CD, Digital, and LEGO formats. That's right! There is a LEGO edition of the release that has a bunch of LEGO's and a download code. That's impressive to me. We Are The Architects is a solid EP. Although typically I'm not a fan of this format, McFarland has a lot of creativity connected with this, so I'll give him a pass. I am very interested to see and hear what is next for Mr. McFarland.

Grade: B-

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September Mourning’s Debut EP Is Mostly Forgettable

By: Steven Petite (Twiter@SPetiteWriter) (Steven@TheRockOffice.com)

An excerpt from the press release of September Mourning’s debut EP: “The character of September Mourning is a human-reaper hybrid, who feels the need to give some human souls a second chance, and thus toys with Fate.” Well, alright then, here is September Mourning’s foray into rock music.

The EP is simply titled Volume 1 and features five songs following the intro, designed to tell a story. Quite obviously influenced by Paramore and Flyleaf, her vocals are strong throughout, albeit somewhat generic and overplayed throughout the industry in recent years.

My Chemical Romance recently called it splits, but for fans of that type of music, September Mourning is proudly carrying the torch onward. Unfortunately, the EP from the recent supporting act on Mushroomhead’s latest tour sputters with conventional guitar riffs, unsurprising buildups and a lack of depth.

The standout track happens to be a cover of the classic track originally composed by Ben E. King, “Stand by Me.” Over the course of its plus fifty year existence, “Stand by Me” has been covered by too many artists to count, most notably by Spyder Turner, John Lennon, and Maurice White, and became the adapted title for Stephen King’s novella “The Body” in 1986 and was subsequently nominated for numerous prestigious film awards. September Mourning’s alternative-metal version is a welcome addition to the song’s storied past, and becomes the most memorable point, and also the final point.

Nevertheless, September Mourning shows some potential here despite hinging on an abundance of imitation as of now, evidenced most ironically by the best performance coming in the form of a cover.

Grade: C-

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Jamie Lawson Gets His Shot and Succeeds at Center Stage

By: Steven Petite (Twiter@SPetiteWriter) (Steven@TheRockOffice.com)

Ed Sheeran is arguably the most popular and talented solo act in the world today so when he decided to start his own record label, his first clients were obviously going to garner a lot of buzz. Gingerbread Man Records very first sign was British singer-songwriter, Jamie Lawson. Who is Jamie Lawson?

Lawson, 39, has actually been releasing music for the better part of two decades, ever since his first demos received international playtime on LSU’s campus radio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 2003, Lawson’s debut, Last Night Stars , released from indie label Allotment Recordings. After a seven year hiatus, his second album, The Pull of the Moon , reached stores from Lookout Mountain and has recently received a resurgence in sales thanks to his burgeoning career. The song that made Lawson was his 2011 love song, “Wasn’t Expecting That,” debuting on Youtube first and gaining steam after that. It became the title for his third album the same year.

Around the same time, another English singer-songwriter was about to hit it big time with his major label debut, +. His name was Ed Sheeran, and for the past four years, he has taken the world over with his acoustic stylings, awe-inspiring vocals, and marvelous talent and range. Already a worldwide success, Sheeran is looking to elevate other artists like Lawson.

Lawson’s fourth studio album is his first to get major airplay. The self-titled eleven track record starts off with Lawson’s biggest hit yet again, “Wasn’t Expecting That.” Like Sheeran, Lawson doesn’t rely on dramatics or a lot of things going on at once. Instead, it’s mostly Lawson, his guitar, and a voice belting searing lyrics.

The album can be aptly described as an ode to love lost, present love, and hopeful possibilities of future love. Most tracks are mellow and soulful, sometimes adding rhythmic pianos into the fold. At times, the songs bring out smiles, and at others, they ask for wallowing reflection.

Standout tracks besides “Wasn’t Expecting That,” are “Ahead of Myself,” an upbeat folksy tune, “In Our Own Worlds,” for its perfect slow pacing and haunting lyrics, “Cold in Ohio,” partly because it’s a good song and mostly because it shows that British singers know about Ohio (He actually captures Ohio admirably). But the best track is the outgoing “Let Love Hold You Now,” a powerful, visceral love song that fits our time.

Lawson is on a much larger stage than ever before, and he succeeds until the curtain call. Call it an encore in the making for the better part of twenty years, although Lawson will likely impress for years to come if his debut with Sheeran’s Gingerbread Man Records is any indication of things to come.

Grade: A

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King's X Drummer Jerry Gaskill Shows Us His 'Love And Scars'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

During the 1980's King's X was one of a handful of bands that was putting a modern spin on Progressive Rock. Bands like Queensryche and Dream Theater along with King's X incorporated elements that the Rock scene at the time where using and employed them into their sound. Fast forward nearly thirty years and although these bands are still together in some form or fashion, several have splintered off in different directions like side projects and solo records. Which brings us to Jerry Gaskill's sophomore release, the painfully confessional Love and Scars released on Rat Pak Records.

It's certainly been a rough time for Gaskill over the past several years. After suffering through multiple heart attacks, and losing most of his possessions in superstorm Sandy, Love and Scars chronicles these tales in an enigmatic and cryptic way. Gaskill does have a host of talented musicians backing him on Love and Scars Billy Sheehan, Phil Keaggy and Andee Blacksugar just to name a few. Their contribution is noticed in the fact that the musicianship is excellent. Fans of King's X should have no trouble enjoying the twelve tracks here. One thing that strikes me as odd is the overtly spiritual overtones throughout the album. King's X is a precursor to bands like Creed that incorporated elements of Christianity into their music, yet denied that they were disciples of the Christian faith. With the heavy spiritual lyrical content and the fact that Phil Keaggy lends a hand, I just scratch my head and wonder what they are really trying to hide.

Standout tracks include album opener “Far Away,” “Never Ever Know,” and “Sandy.” The overall impression that one gets from listening to Love And Scars is an overwhelming sensation of melancholy and somberness. The majority of the tracks are mid-tempo bummers, and quite frankly after all Gaskill has been through in the past few years, who can blame him. They say life imitates art, well Gaskill's life has been difficult to say the least in the past few years. Although I dug the first three King's X albums, I am not a huge fan. Love And Scars is worth a listen to long time, die hard fans of the band or the genre, but I think this will fall on deaf years and get lost in the cracks.

Grade: C

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Come Wind’s Move in Place Is A Strong Gust of Indie Potential

By: Steven Petite (Twiter@SPetiteWriter) (Steven@TheRockOffice.com)

The debut from Indie rock quartet Come Wind is here. I probably care about song names and album titles more than most, but their first full-length, Move in Place is one of the rare occasions where I will devote space for commendation. Come Wind has produced just enough of a current to do exactly what the album cover and first track declares. The masters of indie rock are moving in place, to face the direction of the band that could someday join their ranks if Move in Place is any inclination of further gusts of musical prowess.

The album starts quietly with the title song and slowly builds into sing-a-long tunes that are as catchy as weighted with emotion. Over the course of a dozen tracks, Come Wind takes listeners on a roller coaster of emotions. One moment can produce uncontrollable smiles, while the next can draw you inside to contemplate the effects of its heartfelt lyrics.

The songwriting is remarkable throughout. Stories are told in a single verse, and together they form an impressive book that doesn’t drag at any point. Instrumentals are soft, melodic and while they take a backseat to the smooth vocals, they are powerful nonetheless. It’s a perfect balancing act. They play to their strengths instead of overextending.

“Move in Place Masters” is a standout opening, but it’s only the beginning. “Birds Will Never Fly” picks up the tempo which is upped even more in “Blessing.” When the album slows down to an almost standstill, demanding you to retain its purpose, Come Wind’s talents truly shine. “Mutiny” starts the trend with its slow-moving beat and hypnotic lyrics of reflecting on past mistakes. “Bouquet” is the longing of a love that has walked away, and “Car Crash” proves that good things come in threes, forming a trifecta of superb ballads.

Move in Place is one of the best debut albums of the year.

Grade: A

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The Winery Dogs Proves That 'Hot Streak' Is No Fluke

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

The Winery Dogs released their debut album in 2013 to much critical and commercial, well as much as a band can have in these days, success. Most of us who found the album and fell in love with it were waiting with bated breath that they would not only return, but duplicate what they created on their first album. Well it pleases me to no end to inform you that they have not only duplicated their formula, but in my humble opinion they have surpassed it. Hot Streak definitely delivers on the promises that The Winery Dogs made two years ago.

Once again Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy join forces to deliver a juggernaut of Rock music to a landscape that is in desperate need of it. I won't waste your time in describing the excellency of musicianship and artist integrity that looms heavily throughout Hot Streak. I can only imagine that if you are even remotely familiar with the band, or any one of these guys you know they are top shelf. These old Dogs show the young pups in the industry today how Rock and Roll should be played. Kotzen sounds fantastic with one of the strongest and most consistent vocal deliveries by any male vocalist in years. Not since Soundgarden's Chris Cornell exploded onto the scene over twenty five years ago has their been such a vocal powerhouse. Portnoy shines and of course Sheehan is at the apex of his craft here.

Standout tracks include “Captain Love” which is a nod to Classis 70's Rockers. “How Long” showcases Sheehan's agility with a monstrous bass line that is equally funky and Rocking. “Fire” show cases the softer side of the band, while “Ghost Town” highlights Kotzen's incredible dexterity on guitar. This is a most have for Rock fans new and old. The band has grown closer into an even more cohesive unit, if you can picture that. Hot Streak most certainly trumps the dreaded sophomore slump!

Grade: A+

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City and Colour’s If I Should Go Before You is an Absolute Triumph

By: Steven Petite (Twiter@SPetiteWriter) (Steven@TheRockOffice.com)

To get straight to the point, If I Should Go Before You is the best melodic indie album since Damien Rice’s My Favourite Faded Fantasy. In the overall independent/folk scene, only James Bay outmatched City and Colour for 2015’s most beautiful record. If you are somehow not familiar with City and Colour, he has released five studio albums since his debut in 2005. I refer to him as he because the man behind the music is Dallas (city) Green (colour). Here’s why you should care: Dallas Green is the best singer-songwriter from Canada in the industry today, and part of the upper echelon of modern musicians who create art over entertainment.

Just like Damien Rice, listening to If I Should Go Before You is an experience that is hard to describe, it’s best experienced firsthand. But in a world full of generic pop songs filled with meaningless topics ranging from materialism to unflattering sex, City and Colour is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and his fifth studio album is brimming with precious gems.

Every City and Colour album should be listened to in solitude with headphones. It shouldn’t be accompanied by another activity. This is not casual listening music, If I Should Go Before You is a dedicated craft that requires your upmost attention. Piercing vocals, melodic acoustics and a lyrical story that rivals the output of most musicians over the course of an entire career, this is the kind of record that untethers your being, lets you flap in the wind before throwing you off into the distance, jarring the concept of perceptions versus reality. Digging deep under the skin, it’s challenging to live through the eleven tracks without having a substantial emotional response.

Dallas Green is the rare kind of artist that opens up the doors and windows of his life, invites the world to peer inside and, somewhere along the way, his insights travel through our minds and circulate around the heart, dancing and sidestepping and eventually becoming a part of our new reality.

A complete record, a tour de force that doesn’t grant standout tracks. It is the sum of its parts and each one is vital to its existence. Most albums have interconnected short stories, but If I Should Go Before You is a massive novel. Perhaps City and Colour’s magnum opus, undoubtedly a visionary piece of art, this is an astonishing reminder of the breadth and power of music.

Grade: A+

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The Muffs Reissue Their Classic Debut Album

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Nostalgia is always going to be in the hearts of every generation. For me in particular most things pertaining to the 1990's will usually find some kind of soft spot in my heart. For an item, or song, or movie, or television show that captures the zeitgeist of those time warms the bowels of my heart and puts a smile on my face. That is why it is with great excitement I bring to you my thought concerning the remastered and expanded edition of the debut album from the Pop Punk band The Muffs. The Muffs featured members Kim Shattuck on vocals and guitar, Ronnie Barnett on bass, Melanie Vammen on guitar, and Criss Crass on drums. The Los Angeles based quartet released The Muffs back in 1993 and was produced by Rob Cavallo on Warner Brothers Records. The reissue is put out by Omnivore Records and sounds every bit as good now as it did all those many years ago.

If you are unfamiliar, or just don't recall The Muffs let me reacquaint you. Their sound is equal parts Punk Rock, Alternative Rock and what they now call Indie music. Think Hole meets The Pixies with the angst of Nirvana thrown in for good measure. The Muffs originally had sixteen cuts and featured the singles “Big Mouth” and “Everywhere I Go” which was used extensively for the commercial campaign of Fruitopia beverages. The expanded and remastered edition included eleven additional tracks that range from different mixes and demo versions of certain songs from the original release. A little nugget of history for our music buffs out their; this is Rob Cavallo's first album he produced and since went on to work with Green Day, Kid Rock, Goo Goo Dolls, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Matthews Band, and Eric Clapton just to name a few.

Standout tracks include the two aforementioned singles as well as album opener “Lucky Guy,” and Alt Rocker “Better Than Me.” ”Not Like Me” is a powerful Pop – Punk ditty as is “Baby Go Around.” I don't know if it is the nostalgia speaking, but I really enjoyed listening to The Muffs. It made me as giddy as a school girl! This is an interesting album to give a expanded edition to in lieu of the fact that in my humble opinion, there are boat loads of records I would've personally chosen to revisit before this one. None the less, it really is a treat to look back into a time that has long since past us by. The amazing thing is that the album has never gone out of print, and as been a fan favorite for the past twenty two years. Definitely worth picking up if you dig the band or are a fan of this genre.

Grade: B+

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The Kinks Release 'Sunny Afternoon'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

The Kinks are arguably one of the greatest Rock and Roll bands of all time. Having come into prominence during the British Invasion of the mid to late 1960's and churning out hits for the next several decades, you would be hard pressed to find any Rock band that hasn't been influenced either directly or indirectly by these guys. The Kinks have just released a brand new two disc remastered collection entitled Sunny Afternoon – The Very Best of The Kinks . Of course all of the biggest hits are included as well as a few little nuggets of rarities and interviews. This is an excellent vehicle to introduce The Kinks to a new fan, or just for someone who is casual fan. This is a real no-brainer as to whether or not you should own this collection, but I will simplify it for you. If you like music, even a little bit, you need to own this collection. The one and only exception is for long time, die-hard fans that own The Kinks entire catalog already. Do yourself a favor and pick it up, you'll thank me later! P.S. This would make a terrific stocking stuffer as the Christmas season is rapidly approaching.

Grade: A+

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The ReAktion Impresses Enough to Forgive the Weaknesses of ‘Selknam’

By: Steven Petite (Twiter@SPetiteWriter) (Steven@TheRockOffice.com)

Hailing from Santiago, Chile, The ReAktion is an alternative rock band that implements metal and electronica elements into their music. Their work offers opinions on social movements, environmental awareness and unifying a chaotic world. Managed by Sid Wilson of Slipknot, The ReAktion is in capable hands with regards to their genre. With lofty aspirations, the band has released Selknam.

Consisting of eleven tracks following the intro, Selknam varies in style, depth, an quality. Probably the strongest aspect of the album is their harmonies that serve as commendable segues from ballad tempos to thriving hooks, catchy choruses and powerful interludes. The buzz word here is exciting. Most of the tracks are perfect for workouts, steering wheel banging sessions and for those times when you need something that is equally angry and motivating.

They resemble Linkin Park the most, but are also reminiscent of Deftones and Muse. Leading with “10 Steps to Success,” a conventional but impressive hard rock tune, the album continues into some unique territories. They cannot be described as imitators in the majority of the offerings, as the colliding symphony of riveting instrumentals showcases some serious chops.

It’s not all remarkable, as songs like “No Kryptonite,” initially appear as building resume boosters before being bogged down by unnecessary echoing vocals, overproduction and an excess of instrumental prowess. “Across the Universe,” rather fittingly, is the most mundane of the bunch, just like the lackluster Beatles classic. Ending with “Enter the Fourth Dimension,” an outdo that stumbles over an overabundance of Linkin Park qualities, and guitar riffs that simply do not fit the tone of the track.

Yet, “Teach Me How to Stop,” “Thousands of Memories,” and “The Lie That You Believe,” succeed on all fronts. The pinnacle of Selknam is the diverse romp, “I am Somebody.” Implementing the phrase, “If you don’t fall for something, you fall for everything,” The ReAktion falls into place and discovers their original and true identity. It is one of the best rock songs of the year and for that, The ReAktion has given the world a worthwhile LP. Impressing in a lot of areas that grant forgiveness for its shortcomings, Selknam is better than most.

Grade: B

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The Jag Takes One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

By: Steven Petite (Twiter@SPetiteWriter) (Steven@TheRockOffice.com)

A common complaint in the music industry today is that albums are too overproduced, too layered with technological bumps and enhancements. In a sense, a portion of music has lost its human element of imperfections in favor of robotic flawlessness. That’s not the case here with The Jag’s sophomore LP Pondermental Wonderment in Hypocricity (note: Pondermental and Hypocricity are not real words). Self-released and recorded live on two-inch tape, the self-described 60’s psychedelic acid rock quintet are completely adverse to the modern music industry. And while their methodology could’ve been refreshing, the execution is a little too imperfect for its own good.

At first listen, the influence from David Bowie is readily apparent, along with a kindred with The Talking Heads. But over the course of its eight tracks, The Jag hits on some notes while blundering through confusing bars. The opening track, “Free & Cheap,” shows much promise, and guitarist Joe Regan even learned how to play the track in reverse for clarity, but transitioning into Nola Rollin’, The Jag never seems to find balanced footing. To their defense, lead singer Aaron Tyler King has said, “There is nothing serious about this record, it’s a part of my nihilistic viewpoints, I’ve changed every year since I was 18,” and ends with claiming that “sonically, every song is different.”

King is right, every song is different, but while that sometimes works, it doesn’t with this LP. The problem is that the five musicians don’t present themselves as a cohesive unit. Recorded live, from guitars to keyboards to vocals, it is as if they are trying to one up each other. The keyboards are particularly subject in the cliched “Track 666 (Money),” where money is once again the “root of all evil.”

Still, “Free & Cheap” and “Woke Up Early,” a track that is assuredly indie movie bait, show some emerging talent here. As a whole, the underproduced LP, when listened to in the 21st century, it sounds like a less refined Kings of Leon. The vocals are sporadic and bordering on shouting in some choruses.

Even so, The Jag has acquired a niche audience and it is easy to see how they would appeal to those who are completely against the ways of pop rock music production today. Twenty-five percent of the album hits on all cylinders while the other three-fourths succumbs to its own limit.

Grade: C

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Good Old War In 'Better Shape'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Former TRO alum, Good Old War, have recently released their latest full length album Broken Into Better Shape. The band has recently suffered a line up change as founding member Tim Arnold departed in 2014, leaving Keith Goodwin and Dan Schwartz to carry on with the task of creating their version of Poppy Indie Rock. For those unacquainted with Good Old War their music is a hybrid of Classic Rock groups with tight harmonies such as C.S.N. and Simon & Garfunkle, cross-pollinated with more contemporary acts like The Avett Brothers and Fleet Foxes. It really is accessible by a plethora of generations and musical tastes.

Broken Into Better Shape is the bands most blatant attempt at crafting radio friendly gems that should help garnish them a wider audience. With a definitively more polished sound courtesy of producer Jason Lehning, who has worked with artists including Mat Kearney and Dolly Parton, Better Shape is poised to be the bands best selling effort to date. Standout tracks include the albums first single “Tell Me What You Want From Me.” The upbeat cuts “Never Gonna See Me Cry,” and “Small World” are catchy and will be stuck in your head most of the day. Title track “Broken Into Better Shape” is a melancholy track that highlights their superb vocal arrangements. Broken Into Better Shape is a solid effort from Gold Old War. It doesn't possess the raw passion that their previous record Come Back As Rain does. You get the understanding that they are two completely different releases that have separate focuses. Which is fine, progress shows artist growth, which obviously they have experienced since Arnold's departure. It will be truly interesting to hear where the duo goes from here on out.

Grade: C+

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Butch Parnell's 'Bright' New EP

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Alternative Country band Runaway Dorothy's frontman Butch Parnell has just released his first solo project, The Brightness EP. The title is some what of an oxymoron as the songs are mostly acoustic based dirges that wallow in melancholiness at best. Parnell is a talented songwriter and this EP showcases his abilities in a handful of well crafted tracks. Moving slightly away from his Americana roots the songs on The Brightness EP are a shift in a similar direction as to what Bruce Springsteen did with Nebraska or Ryan Adams did with Love Is Hell. The over all feel of the album is subtle and sparse. Choosing to stick with his guitar and voice, only accenting with an occasional banjo or pedal steel to add atmosphere, Parnell takes a minimalistic approach.

Lead track “The Same” is a prayer wrapped in a pleasing and simple chord structure. “Feel Alive” is the records most upbeat cut which features some nice background harmonies. “Dreaming My Dreams With You” is brief heartache of a song that laments over a broken heart, which is the subject of most great art. These are songs that Parnell probably couldn't have pulled of as well with Runaway Dorothy. They are just more moody and brooding than what RD is accustomed to. Personally I feel the EP is not finished. After you listen to it there is a longing for more, and it isn't because there is only five songs. It is due to the fact that there is something missing from this project. Whether Parnell is stretching his wings to see is his solo material will fly, or he just had some things to get off of his chest apart from Runaway Dorothy, it doesn't quite work for me. That's not to say that the songs are throwaways, it just means that Parnell is in the process of finding his footing in his new venture. I confess that I love Parnell's songwriting and Runaway Dorothy as a whole. So it is with no bias that I write this review. With that being said, if and when Parnell releases his next solo effort I hope that it will contain a fuller and more lush sound to compliment his talents as a singer and a creator of songs.

Grade: C

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Matthew Ryan Is 'Guilty' Of Playing Beachland Tavern

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

Matthew Ryan is an American National Treasure. However, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if you have not heard of him or his music before. As one of the artists to embrace the Alternative Country movement of the mid to late 1990's. Ryan's moment in the spotlight eluded him unlike his contemporaries, Whiskeytown, featuring Ryan Adams, Son Volt, The Jayhawks, and Wilco. Ryan's A&M Records debut May Day is easily one of the best albums of that decade. With influences ranging from Springsteen to Waits, to Westerburg, it's obvious that he is well studied in his musical heritage. Ryan just released Boxers late last year, and it landed on every respectable Best of 2014 list in the world. It was number two on ours. Currently on tour in support of Boxers, Ryan played the Beachland Tavern last Saturday night October 17.

I was a bit disappointed that the tour, of whom Ryan is supporting Jesse Malin, wasn't in the larger Ballroom. Surely a talent like this deserves to be in a setting that is more complimentary of his abilities. Be that as it may, Ryan took the stage with a guitar in his hand and harmonica around his neck. Ryan performed ten songs in all including “Boxers,” “Guilty,” Providence,” and a new one from his forthcoming album “Until The Wheels Come Off.” There was a power in the simplicity of his delivery that few musicians these days could harness to wield. Although I must admit, I think it would have been incredible to see a full band behind him, the folks in attendance that evening were given a rare treat; a glimpse into the heart of one of American's greatest living songsmiths. To say I recommend you picking up any of Matthew Ryan's album would be an understatement. In my opinion both May Day and Boxers should be requirements in the collections of even novice fans of Alternative Country and Rock and Roll. I'm very anxious to hear his new material, and witness him with a complete band at his disposal.

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Prototype 'Returns From The Deep'

By: Bill Smith (Bill@TheRockOffice.com)

It's been more then a decade since Cleveland Christian Hip Hop pioneer Chris Porostosky aka Prototype has dropped some science on wax. Or wait, many of you may not recognize this ancient and outdated vernacular. What I meant to say is that its been over ten years since Prototype has released an album. For those that remember his debut release The Mantle, I'm positive that you will agree with me when I say that it is one of the greatest Hip Hop albums of the millennium thus far. Since then Porostosky has been investing his creative energies into several Rock and Roll projects with varied results. Porostosky's real strength lies in his ability to produce and craft infectious beats and man-childish rhymes and imagery using the vehicle of Hip Hop.

Return From The Deep is Prototype's third full length release, and it is painfully obvious that he hasn't Rocked the mic in a minute. Though I can appreciate his flavor in utilizing Old School techniques and deliveries, some newer fans that aren't familiar with the Golden Age of Hip Hop, the 1990's, may find his tracks a bit off putting. That's not to say that Return From The Deep is awful, quite the contrary. There is a certain nuance to the bulk of the tracks that is absent from contemporary Hip Hop which I would attribute primarily to the creative ways and means in which he expresses his Christian faith. Emcees such as Lecrae and Andy Mineo has been able to translate their Christian faith into the mainstream with a great level of success. I would also equate their efforts to Porostosky's, except they are far ahead of the curve, while Porostosky is trying desperately to play catch up due to his extended absence. Prototype incorporates a huge cast of characters to help him fulfill his vision, some good and some not so good. Guests include Marky Poro from The Lighthouse and the Whaler, The Fearless Poets, PACE the Primal MC, Stephen Knipp from Lanterns Rising and Flower.

Standout tracks include “Throwdown” featuring Stephen Knipp of Lanterns Rising, “Monsters N Tattoos” featuring PACE, the Primal MC, “Reunite” featuring The Fearless Poets (What happened to Lon though?) and “Better” with Brian Sanson. However the best song of Return From theDeep without question is ”Always In My Heart” featuring Marky Poro of The Lighthouse and the Whaler. Not only is it a clever musical concept, but the vocal delivery by Marky Poro is phenomenal. This is the lone track that I could picture hearing on modern radio. There are a few pointless skits, and weak vocals throughout primarily sung by Flower and Porostosky himself. Be that as it may, one thing I do truly appreciate is Porostosky's championing the return to the four fundamental elements of Hip Hop which are deejaying, emceeing, breakdancing, and graffiti artists and unashamedly sharing his belief in Christianity. I think it could serve many Hip Hop artists on the scene today well to return to the basics of the art form and stand for something positive. All in all, Return From The Deep is a decent effort, especially considering its been over a decade since he has spit anything on the MIC. There will be a album release party Sunday November 1 at the Lighthouse Coffee House in Mentor, Ohio. Hopefully now that Prototype has brushed the dust off his mic, he will return sooner rather then later with some fresh material hot out the kitchen!

Grade: B

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James Bay’s Chaos and the Calm Is Almost Too Good

By: Steven Petite (Twitter@SPetiteWriter) (Steven@TheRockOffice.com)

While this review is a little late given that the album in question has been out for seven months now and the artist quietly exploded throughout the summer at various festivals such as Glastonbury, even performing duets on stage with big name talent like Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, it seems like writing about music in 2015 without talking about James Bay is an extreme disservice. Within the age brackets of brilliant twenty-something English songwriters, Sam Smith is 23, Ed Sheeran is 24 and James Bay is 25. With all due respect to the younger two of the group, the eldest is showcasing a sound and ingenuity that is well beyond is ears. Already a budding young musician with four EPs in less than two years dating back to 2013, Bay has hit his stride with his first studio album, Chaos and the Calm.

As if the man has been harboring a careers worth of superb songs only to set them free to the world in totality in the form of a forty-eight minute, twelve track, graduate level course in indie folk rock, Chaos and the Calm is a flooring piece of music. Opening with the upbeat “Craving,” Bay initially appears to be an heir apparent to Marcus Mumford from the genre defining band, Mumford & Sons, but as the catchy instrumentals and surprisingly soulful vocals carry on, it is apparent that Bay tries on many different masks; by the end of the album, the only conclusion that can be made after Bay takes listeners on a terrific musical journey, is that he is rare and unique talent, entirely his own.

Of course, everyone has influences and Bay’s initial desire to play classical guitar came from Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” And throughout his debut, Bay makes use of the entire neck while still creating a radio friendly and catchy sound. Playing an Epiphone Century electric guitar instead of a hollow body or acoustic like many other musicians in the genre, Bay employs the traditional techniques of finger plucking to create a harder tone than an acoustic but maintaining its soft power and personal heart through his technique.

Over the deceptively tricky guitar riffs, Bay’s vocals are probably among the most jarring and unique in the industry today. His songs are well written and tell stories in some places, but maintain the broadness needed to create a commercial hit. If they were sung by a lesser musician, they would not resonate with the same ferocity and emotion as they are by Bay, and by the end of each song, he gives the impression that he gave that particular piece of music every ounce inside of him. Then he regroups and does it all over again to the same impressive degree. There are choir like voices harmonizing during several of the choruses, and everything flows together in a way that is simultaneously an upbeat celebration and a scouring of the soul.

An album with so much to offer, a truly complete work, and for those reasons, it is difficult to choose standout tracks. If forced to choose, his biggest hit “Hold Back the River” has enough to back up the hype. “Let it Go” may be the best all around song of the bunch, and “Best Fake Smile” is the one that is most likely to create steering wheel drummers and backseat singers. But it is the album’s closing track that stayed with me the most. “Incomplete” is the most uplifting and heart-wrenching across the album. He cries out to never come down from clouds, but accepts the earth’s never-ending rotation, concluding that people learn how to be themselves, flaws and all. Chaos and the Calm is, in my opinion, the best overall album of the year, and the greatest contribution to indie folk rock in many years.

Grade: A+

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Clutch Returns to Their Roots in Psychic Warfare

By: Steven Petite (Twitter@SPetiteWriter) (Steven@TheRockOffice.com)

Clutch’s eleventh studio album recently wedged itself in the 11th slot on the Billboard 200. The Maryland quartet made their debut when this reviewer was still in the womb, way back in 1991, and throughout their steady output, their music has found a dedicated fan-base. Since signing onto their own label after their eighth studio album, Clutch’s sound has transitioned from innovative hard rock to a hybrid blues rock sort of a vibe that has never quite found its stride until now.

Psychic Warfare is listed at twelve tracks but disregarding the intro and a one minute interlude a little past the halfway point and we are left with an even ten. But the intro has an interesting use here; “The Affidavit” as it is called, and then Clutch offers an honest lyrical statement over the course of Psychic Warfare’s runtime. It is as if they are going back to their roots while also acknowledging the innovations put in throughout their last two efforts.

Fans of unapologetic hard rock will find the most to like within the new Clutch album; Yes, many of Clutch’s fans are past their youth at this point but the great thing about Psychic Warfare is that it has the ability to bring in a whole new breed of rock listeners who are used to the radio hit “rock” that has frequented charts across the 2000’s and into today. Clutch has made a big splash with their eleventh offering in terms of commercial appeal and critical acclaim, and that is clearly a result of their tireless work that has now added up to nearly a quarter of a century.

Standout tracks include the spine-crushing “X-Ray Visions” and right after that, they hit you with the swiftness of “Firebirds.” The most instrumentally effective track is undoubtedly “Your Love Is Incarceration” and the nod for best song name in an album filled with brilliant names goes to “Decapitation Blues” closely followed by the literary allusion to the “Noble Savage” thematic device.

Psychic Warfare is a strong album and its only downfall is that it seems a little short on content with the only track over four minutes coming in the form of the seven minute outro “Son of Virginia.” Nonetheless, Clutch has delivered a great homage to their early days while implementing their recent artistic elements into this mind bending field of battle.

Grade: B+

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