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 Daggy Man - A Lazy Kind Of Pain

About 6 years ago I received an email containing "Bleeders", the first song and title cut of the upcoming debut album from The Trouble With Templeton. I was so impressed with the song that I couldn't wait to hear more.  At that time the band name was being used by 21 year old Australian Thomas Calder, who actually wrote and recorded the album himself, and when I had the chance to hear the full release a few months later I was just as impressed with the rest.  Not long after that Thomas recruited a full band who have since recorded two more albums, and while I love all three releases, it's Bleeders that I always go back to.  Over the past few years, after dealing with some personal and professional issues, Calder started working on a side project resulting in the release of A Lazy Kind of Pain under the name Daggy Man.  Once again recording everything by himself, A Lazy Kind of Pain is brilliant, a beautiful, stripped down, introspective and deeply emotional release that hearkens back to the sound of that debut.  You can hear the pain and sadness in Calder's whispery layered vocals over the course of these 12 songs accompanied largely with nothing more than an acoustic guitar (or piano in the case of "Terrified").  His arrangements always captivate with hooks that never fail to pull you in and lyrics that are deeply personal, but are also understandable by everyone with lines like "you're the umpire in somebody else's game" and  "we could be the crumbs in a packet of chips" speaking volumes.  From the opener "Little Whip", a lilting tune driven with delicate guitar work and aforementioned whispery vocals, to the closing track "21st Century Child", with his frail vocals sounding like someone on the verge of breaking down, and lyrics about being someone in their 20's trying to find their place in this world, this is a brilliant CD that's well worth your time. (daggymanmusic.comGeoff Melton

 Farnsworth - 
Live It

Following up their eponymous 2012 debut EP, Charleston WV's 2-piece Farnsworth is back with their full-length debut.  Recorded using all analog equipment in the back room of Sullivan's Records, a vinyl record store in Charleston, Live It contains 8 tracks that have a sound rooted in old school 60's/70's classic rock, but along the course of the disc they also mix in lots of fuzzed out guitars, some bluesy swagger, elements of psychedelia and a bit of funk (see "For You").  The tone for what to expect here is established right from the get go with opening cut "20 Days", which to me is the epitome of Farnsworth with it's killer hooks, Chris Vance's fuzzed out guitars ripping out solid riffs, strong infectious melodies and vocal harmonies, keyboard fills and a very heavy bottom end courtesy of Jason Reese's drum work.  While there's not a bad cut in the bunch, some of my other favorites include the powerful, down and dirty sludge of "No Friend To Man" (this cut is a great example of just how heavy Reese's drumming is), the slow, dreamy psychedelic sway of "Underwater", "Already Written" with it's heavy blues groove and the driving rock of "I Should Have Known" which is punctuated with some really cool stabbing guitars riffs.  Live It definitely fulfills the promise these two displayed on their EP and shows great promise for what's still to come. (facebook.com/FollowFarnsworthGeoff Melton
  

 Fat Opie - Victoryville

With a history that dates back to their debut in 1994, San Francisco's Fat Opie is back with their fifth release Victoryville.  While that debut showcased their straight-ahead grunge-tinged rock, over the course of the 19 years since that release, sparked largely by the use of banjo on their second release Hipsters, Freaks, Fags & Homeboys their music has evolved into an outstanding amalgamation of folk and roots rock with a punky edge and that banjo now a vital part of their sound.  Frontman Scott Mickelson has a very distinctive voice (at times reminiscent of Harry Chapin) that meshes with their folksy rock and strong storytelling lyrics to create a very captivating sound.  Among the highlights are the title cut, the laid-back introspective "Washateria" and "Target Girl", "Nicorette" with it's reggae backbeat, the twangy "Gay In Texas" and the ragged punk of "Concrete Kid". (fatopie.comGeoff Melton


 Vincent James - The Wilderness Below

Over the course of the six cuts on his debut EP The Wilderness Below singer / songwriter Vincent James creates a beautiful, at times haunting, atmospheric folk sound that does an excellent job of showcasing his rich, warm, soulful vocals, well-crafted songwriting and strong lyrics with the theme of nature and the outdoors reoccurring throughout them.  The tone for the disc is set with the opener "When The Trees Stand Paper Thin", a captivating laid-back tune that starts off simply with guitar and vocals and then some sparse percussion added to the mix about halfway through to great effect.  Next up are "Winter's Hand" and "Put To Rest" a couple of beautiful tracks, that do a great job of showcasing his ability to create an atmosphere within his songs.  "Sunshine Days and Foggy Night" is the first of 2 cuts featuring the captivating harmonies of Macy Keefer.  It's a standout cut that starts slow and builds and builds throughout the course of the song adding percussion and tambourine along with Keefer's vocals before reaching it's powerful finale.  "When The Morning Comes" is a charming, very hypnotic cut highlighted by his emotional vocal performance and superb guitar work. Closing out the EP is "The Dawn", an extremely infectious upbeat track which is largely a duet with Keefer that starts simply and then picks up towards the middle with the addition of banjo, violin and drums building to a celebratory climax making for a fitting end to the EP. (www.facebook.com/vincentjamesGeoff Melton


 Farnsworth - I'll Tell You When I've Had Enough

On their debut EP, this Charleston WV 2-piece don't miss a beat with 4 cuts that come across like an early 70's classic rock band (a la early Bad Company and Free) if they had been stoner rock bands.  From the super fuzzed out guitar licks of opening cut "Let's Play Nice" it's obvious that they mean business, and the Bonham-esque percussion and vocals reminiscent of Paul Rodgers complete the package.  That vibe carries on with the next cut "Everything Must Go" with it's killer guitar work and the everpresent cowbell!!!  They take things down a step with the slower laid-back bluesy groove of the title track before closing the disc out with "It's Time" a more straight-ahead rocker, that's just as solid as the rest.  Although there are only 2 of them, the sound here is so full that you will have a hard time believing that 2 people could've created it.  It's been awhile since this EP hit the shelves, so hopefully a full-lengther is in their future. (www.facebook.com/FollowFarnsworth) Geoff Melton

 Ryful - High Caliber

Following the demise of Maryland's All Together Spent in 2010, drummer Jon Fuller and vocalist Justin Pokrywka decided to continue working together, moving in a new direction musically as a two-piece.  I first caught them opening for Scott Weiland and was extremely impressed with their high energy performance.  With their debut CD High Caliber they've done a great job of getting that sound down with a collection that draws together raw, stripped down blues and rock with funky rhythms and fuzzed out guitars rearing their heads from time to time.  They set the tone perfectly with openers "Woman Of The Night" with it's infectious groove and hooks that never end and the head bobbing "Dirty Money".  As you make your way through the rest of the disc other highlights include "Three or Four", "Soul Believer", a laid-back cut that showcases their bluesy side, alt rocker "Mellencamp", the rootsy "Jesus Is My Homeboy" and the powerful, slow moving closing cuts "Gone" and "Truth".  High Caliber is a really solid debut that really has me looking forward to their upcoming sophomore release.  (www.facebook.com/Ryful) - Geoff Melton

 Roof Beams - Poison Arrows

On their third full-length release, PA's Roof Beams (shortened from their original name Raise Up Roof Beams) has once again come through with a ragged collection of strangely catchy tunes that walk the line between folk, rock and Americana and dig in deeper and deeper each time you listen.  Driven by Nathan Robinson's vocals that have a quavery, yet passionate quality to them, jangly guitars, his often deeply personal lyrics and then fleshed out with a diverse array of instrumentation (accordion, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, keyboards and more in addition to traditional guitar, bass and drum) Poison Arrows will have fans of everything from Dylan and Bright Eyes to the Violent Femmes and Neutral Milk Hotel finding plenty here to keep them coming back again and again.  Highlights include the infectious opener "Dinosaur",  "We've Got Each Other", with it's kitchen sink full of instruments and sing-along gang vocals in the chorus, the haunting "Ash Wednesday", the stripped down "Hurricane" and "Sensation" , the short and fast "Diaspora",  "Tame" and the quaint "Drunk Dreams" (both adding some horns to the mix) and the dramatic closer "Never Tire". After you've checked out Poison Arrows do yourself a favor and check out their latest single, "Foxholes", a simple cut  reminiscent of Ryan Adams with sad, reflective lyrics accompanied by Robinson's acoustic guitar and harmonica.(facebook.com/rurb.music)  - Geoff Melton

 The Bansai Bills
- Ninjaman

Drawing from diverse influences that range from Sinatra, BB King and James Brown to The Grateful Dead, Phish and Sublime this New Jersey 3-piece really impresses with this debut release Ninjaman.   While their sound has a loose  jam band foundation they add everything from jazz, funk, blues and soul to rock and ska to create a sound that is definitely all their own and constantly keeps you on your toes so you never know where you're heading next.  Starting things off is the extremely infectious "Northbound Trains", an infectious laid-back jazz-tinged funk jam that does an excellent job of showcasing their superb musicianship and the complexity of their arrangements.   Other highlights include "The Pearl" with it's laid-back soulful jazz groove, the tasty soul-tinged blues of "Blue Mountain Mist", which is highlighted with stellar guitar work and emotional vocal work, and "Coneboy", an infectious, straight ahead jam with a funky beat and an excellent keyboard driven instrumental section.  Closing out the disc is the title track, whose Sublime-ish ska flavored vibe is a complete change of pace and a perfect way to end the disc. (thebansaibills.com)  - Geoff Melton

 Jake Lewis - We Can Get Out Of Here
 
Just over a month after releasing his debut Location Location and following the tragic death of his brother in a car accident singer/songwriter Jake Lewis sat down with a 2 track tape machine and his guitar and wrote and recorded "Down and Had", a powerful and stirring, yet somber cut showing the pain of his loss.  Over the next few days he got together with some friends to collaborate on four more songs resulting in We Can Get Out Of Here.  Unlike his debut, the songs here are lyrically and musically more stripped down and emotional.  The disc opens on the upbeat side with "You're Not Alone", an infectious acoustic tune (and one of three featuring Macy Keefer's enchanting vocals alongside Jake's) that builds and builds before culminating in a passionate ending.  Next up is what is to me is the highlight of the disc, "Grand Array", a hauntingly, beautiful track driven by Jake's acoustic guitar and vocals and accompanied by David Sheads on accordion and Keefer's gorgeous vocals in the closing chorus that gives it the vibe of an Irish folk song (make sure you check out the equally beautiful video for this song - "Grand Array").  Lewis shifts gears a little with the next cut, "Other Lovers", a fun and humorous upbeat tune with lyrics describing the faults of his previous lovers to his current one and telling her how he hopes she doesn't become another.  Closing the disc is the title track, a delicate and sparse, yet very powerful tune that culminates in an intense, emotional ending highlighted by Lewis and Keefer's strong vocal harmonies.  Every cut  is a must hear, so do yourself a favor and head to either jakelewis.bandcamp.com or noisetrade.com/jakelewis, get a free download and check it out for yourself.  I've also been fortunate enough to hear some of the new stuff Lewis has been working on and can tell you that you should definitely keep your eyes open for the next chapter in Lewis' musical career with his new band Jake Lewis and The Clergy. (jakelewismusic.com) - Geoff Melton

 Family - Portrait
 
Classic rock and modern metal mindsets join forces on the eight-track album Portrait from Brooklyn, NY foursome Family. Showcasing more than enough expansive heaviness to run with the Baroness and Mastodon crowd (“Exploding Baby”) while culling memorable melodies from a slew of styles ranging from progressive rock to sludgy blues (“Bridge and Tunnel”) to prairie metal (“Illegal Women”), this troupe’s superior songwriting pacing does an exemplary job of delivering inspiring instrumental interludes before unleashing furious vocal howls (“Othermother”), justly highlighting tumultuous musical crests and waves. If someone told you about a band that mixed Tool, Unsane, Mars Volta, Cave In, Thin Lizzy, and the acts aforementioned, you'd think they were joking; Family is no joke. (Pelagic Records)  Mike SOS
 
 Mos Generator - Nomads
 
Mos Generator administers a groove-laden session of raucous rock ‘n roll with their latest excursion Nomads.  Bursting with nasty riffs galore (“Lonely One Kenobi”), this nine-track affair boasts slithering rhythms and soaring solos whose bluesy swagger and unpretentious attitude champions hard rock histrionics of a discernibly vintage nature. Straddling the line between ZZ Top boogie and Black Sabbath sorcery (“Step Up”), Mos Generator display an unrequited love for classic heaviness and properly pay homage with clever musical interplay, mature songwriting (“Can’t Get Where I Belong”) and rich and thick tones that support their low-slung sound and deliberate execution.  (Ripple Music Mike SOS

 
 Board Of Governors - Bleed
 
Chicago trio Board of Governors composes the kind of rock songs that beg to be blasted through the large systems in amphitheaters and arenas as heard on the five-track EP Bleed. Featuring a big rock sound akin to Foo Fighters and Muse propelled by driving rhythms and gargantuan guitars showcasing chops galore (“Competition”) with a powerful vocal presence leading the charge, this unit channels flannel-wearing grunge and down and dirty 70’s hard rock with the right amount of memorable melody, soaring vocal harmonies, and power pop pretense to reach a wide range or eardrums (“Bleed”). (boardofgovernorsmusic.com) Mike SOS
 
 Bison BC - Lovelessness
 
Bison BC returns with Lovelessness, a seminal six-track tirade of stoner metal. Capturing elements of sludge, doom, hardcore and thrash in their smoke-laden grooves, Bison BC displays a confidence to let their music do a majority of the talking, as the multitude of lengthy instrumental movements the group employ indicate a fierce twin guitar whose presence rivals the vocals numerous times throughout the album. Armed with a predilection to launch into outer space at any given time, Bison BC admirably demonstrates strands of hardcore noise rock relentlessness and classic rock savvy within a mauling metallic gallop that fans of Mastodon, Unsane, and Orange Goblin are bound to enjoy (“Last and First Thing”). (Metal Blade)  Mike SOS
 
 C.F.A. - Managed By The Devil, Brought To You By The Grace Of God
 
Pacific Northwest trio C.F.A. combine hellraising hardcore with stoner metal grooves and rough and ready rock ‘n roll on their 16-track excursion Managed By The Devil, Brought To You By The Grace Of God. This unit makes no bones about championing a raw underground punk rock sound and tough as nails attitude, running 43 minutes of non-stop supercharged action through your speakers with an authentic sense of soul guiding the mission (“Lost Wisdom”). Providing a confrontational display of lyrics as subtle as a smack in the mouth, gravel-throated vocals pumping out the angst, and hard-hitting rhythms that simultaneously boast the brevity of punk, the fury of NYHC, and the heaviness of sludge laying down the foundation for it all, C.F.A. has created a provocative hybrid of heaviness for folks who crave something more visceral than you can buy at the mall. (Ripple Music)  Mike SOS

 The Pale Barn Ghosts - like the train and not the smoke


In 2009, Gettysburg's The Pale Barn Ghosts recorded the Hello November EP, but before the EP could be released drummer David Taylor left the band and the EP's release fell to the wayside (bassist Sean Grove has since left the band as well). While they were sorting out their next move Thomas Roue (vocals, acoustic guitar and songwriter) and electric guitarist Klaus Funk went into the studio and recorded some demos of new songs that ended up turning out so well that they decided to combine them with the EP resulting in be like the train and not the smoke.  
Even though it is actually 2 separate recordings this whole disc flows well together showcasing the very talented songwriting of Roue as well as solid musicianship throughout. Lyrically Roue really shines here covering issues like the ups and downs of relationships and life and death (with death especially being a recurring theme) handling them in a well-written, very visual way, that really allows them to stand out in your mind. The songs themselves are well-crafted alt-country, roots rock with hooks that have a way of quietly burying themselves into your head and then sticking around even when you aren't listening to them.
While there's not a bad cut on the disc some of the highlights include the dark and haunting "3x8 (And Five Foot Deep)" with it's unique look at death from the eyes of a gravedigger and "Ten Ton Anchor", a masterpiece all around from the lyrics to the stellar musicianship with it's driving snare drum beat and haunting guitar and bass, the infectious bounce of "Logic and Reason" that's worth the price of admission for it's instrumental interludes, the catchy upbeat "My Unlikely Dreams" and "Worry Song" that will have you bopping your head with lyrics that will put a smile on your face, the
reflective opener "Two Chord Songs" and "Morning Coffee", both of which remind me of one of my favorite singer/songwriters Darden Smith
and the captivating beautiful "Old When I Was Young" and the untitled closing track.
The band is currently working on new tunes for their next disc and having seen them live with their new drummer and bassist I am definitely looking forward to their next effort.  (The Pale Barn GhostsGeoff Melton

 The Gotham Roots Orchestra - The Gotham Roots Orchestra


The Gotham Roots Orchestra is the brainchild of Cristian Amigo, best known as an award winning composer and producer of chamber and classical music.  In 2010 he found himself devoting more time to playing his telecaster and moving toward roots and Americana music resulting in a collection called 66 Americana Songs.  In order to perform these songs live he teamed up with three friends and musicians - drummer Gonzalo Martinez de la Cotera (a longtime friend since they were together in a band in the seventh grade), bassist David Gould (a classmate in the 90's who bother were big admirers of of artists like Ali Farka Toure, King Sunny Ade, Charlie Patton and Bob Dylan) and guitarist Angela Babin who he met playing with Elliot Sharp, resulting in The Gotham Roots Orchestra.  Throughout the 5 cuts on this EP the band never strays from their rootsy foundation, but still manages to showcase their diversity from the laid-back groove of opener "Goodman Hero" and bluesy shuffle of the Steely Dan cover "Black Friday" to the gritty, blues rocker "Mississippi Bound", which bears a strong resemblance to early ZZ Top, the epic soulful blues of the almost nine minute long "Dark Stone (Ay De Mi) which ebbs and flows from slow and bluesy to guitar driven rock and the short stripped down vocal and acoustic guitar closer "Mighty Jesus".  Biggest drawback is that the EP is only five cuts.  Hoping to hear more of the "66 Americana Songs" soon. (cristianamigo.wordpress.com) - Geoff Melton

 Charm City Devils - Sins

Baltimore, MD quintet Charm City Devils lay down 12-tracks of straight ahead radio-friendly rock on latest effort Sins. Sounding like a cross between Nickelback, John Corabi-fronted Motley Crue, and Theory of a Deadman, this troupe boasts John Allen’s strong vocal presence and a slew of mid-tempo tunes ready for mass consumption (“Start It Up”) with a host of rollicking riffs straight from the hard rock playbook (“Love N War”). Catchier and way more substantial than a majority of their peers, Charm City Devils also demonstrate an ambitious side by slyly covering the old blues standard made famous from the movie O’ Brother Where Art Thou, “Man of Constant Sorrow”. If you’re looking for commercial rock with an edge, Charm City Devils contain the hard rock melodies necessary to get the job done. (eOne Music- Mike SOS

 Saturday Looks Good To Me - Sunglasses single

After a 4 year hiatus, Michigan's Saturday Looks Good To Me is back with the 2 cut single, Sunglasses, which is a small sneak peak into their upcoming studio album One Kiss Ends It All, scheduled to hit the shelves next Spring.  The title cut, which is slated to be on that album, is an infectious summery power pop tune with a bit of a new wave vibe.  The flip is "Give Me Your Hands" a short, quirky little tune driven by lo-fi keyboards and the layered vocals of Fred Thomas and Betty Barnes that's exclusive to the single. (Polyvinyl) - Geoff Melton

 Spider Rockets - Bitten

Spider Rockets display a no-nonsense and straightforward approach pumping through an arena-ready throbbing hard rock pulse on their latest release Bitten. This seasoned New Jersey quartet boasts an alluring female lead vocalist whose powerful pipes take the unit’s slickly produced modern hard rock anthems to more soulful places than expected (“Nothing Left”). Displaying the versatility to run you over with nasty riffs and brazen attitude (“Going Down”) or uplift the mood with a stellar party jam galvanized with big rock guitars (“Better When It’s Loud”), Spider Rockets produce solidly written and surprisingly heavy hard rock with a sound that begs to be played for the masses (“So High”). (www.spiderrockets.com) - Mike SOS


 Hollywood Burnouts - Excess All Areas

Sleaze metal never died, it just moved off the Sunset Strip as bands like Hollywood Burnouts are proving as of late. This quartet hailing from Germany transferred virtually all the hackneyed lyrics, sugary choruses and thunderous hooks from the likes of Ratt, Faster Pussycat, and Shotgun Messiah into their stockpile of hard rock with a soft center to comprise Excess All Areas, a 12-track flashback full of arena rock anthems from years gone by (“Everybody Needs a Hero”, “I Wanna Ride”). Complete with a balance of melodramatic power ballads guaranteed to bring out the Bic lighters (“A Part of My Heart”, “Remember Me”) and bad boy grooves to tease both your girl and your hair to (“Wildside”, “Hands of Rock”), Hollywood Burnouts are far from reinventing the wheel yet display that they are having a hell of a time taking it out for a joyride (“Hands of Rock”). (hollywood-burnouts.de) - Mike SOS

 Ernie Hawins - Whinin' Boy

On his latest disc, Whinin' Boy, Ernie Hawkins once again showcases his outstanding finger-style acoustic guitar work, but moving in a bit of a different direction this time fleshing things out with a band on a lot of the songs resulting in a great collection of early 20th Century ragtime, New Orleans jazz and blues.  Having studied under the legendary Reverend Gary Davis, Hawkins is a master of the guitar and he has assembled a stellar group of musicians here to create his most impressive release to date. (erniehawkins.com) - Geoff Melton

 I, Omega - The Ravenous

Los Angeles, CA quintet I, Omega deliver a technically proficient five-track modern metal release with The Ravenous. Sharing stylistic qualities with the likes of Protest the Hero, Periphery, and August Burn Red, this unit showcases a dexterous command of their instruments as well as a genuine progressive mindset that keeps both the guitarist’s nimble fingers (“Martyrs”) and the rhythm section’s constant shifts busy and adventurous without trudging into inaccessibility. Bolstered by a versatile vocalist skillfully skating between histrionic singing and harsh screams while the band continuously ups the ante by pumping out dazzling song structures exploding with acrobatic interplay, I, Omega exhibit all of the tools needed to make a splash on the ever-crowding forward thinking melodic metal front. (bullettoothrecords.com) - Mike SOS

 The Love Below - Every Tongue Shall Caress

Dissonant and off-center hardcore is what The Love Below boldly delivers on their 13-track, 22-minute endeavor Every Tongue Shall Caress. This California outfit serves up an unsettling array of jagged vocals, shifting rhythms, and chaotic riffs, creating a maelstrom of abrasive music definitely not geared for the casual listener’s enjoyment. Explosive and unstable, The Love Below lash out with an unexpected mix of visceral punk mayhem and mangled up hardcore guaranteed to illicit an instant reaction where no in between lies. (a389records.com) - Mike SOS

 Young Skin - The Sticky Pages

The genesis of Young Skin was when Artful Dodger asked Liz Unphair to do a side project in the vein of Bikini Kill.  They rounded out the band with Black Donald and Beau Disregard (all fictitiously named current or ex members of The Ergs!, Lemuria, Hunchback, Failures' Union, Black Wine, Full Of Fancy and For Science) and then each member contributed a song apiece, which was then practiced one day, performed live the next and then recorded the day after that.  The resuling EP is four raw, stripped down cuts of punk with elements of old school and hardcore along with the aggressive Riot Grrrl vocals (a la the aforementioned Bikini Kill).  Hopefully this side project is one that we will be hearing more from and we don't have to settle for this just over eleven minute EP. (Paper + Plastick) - Geoff Melton


 The Company Band - Pros And Cons

The unmistakable vocals of Neil Fallon lead the all-star quintet The Company Band through another retro rock gem on Pros And Cons. The squad, featuring Jess Margera (CKY), James A. Rota (Fireball Ministry), and Brad Davis (Fu Manchu), step away from their main gigs again to kick out five whiskey-stomping genuine rock ‘n roll jams that unsurprisingly meet smack dab in the middle on the stoner metal continuum (“Loc Nar”). Crammed with an abundance of simple yet effective arena-shaking rhythms, slow burning groove-laden twin guitars, and Fallon’s powerful presence, The Company Band brings the sounds of hard rock from the 1970’s back in a big way on this rough and ready AC/DC meets Grand Funk Railroad affair. (Weathermaker) - Mike SOS

 Deadkill - Deadkill

Seattle, WA quartet Deadkill presents a quick but forceful four-track eponymous offering demonstrating their hardcore punk wares. Liberally taking their sound from the vintage West Coast punk rock scene that spawned Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and TSOL, this troupe summons a rash of destructive melodies (“Rip Off”) and angry mob vocals (“Oh God Help You”) with the inspired passion and the kicked in the gut feeling from the salad days of the movement at the forefront of their attack.  (Good To Die) - Mike SOS

 The Strata-Tones - Dressed Up To Fess Up

Founded by guitarist Bruce Krupnik and featuring the powerhouse vocals of Valerie Johnson, whose pedigree includes singing with The Holmes Brothers and Big Brother and the Holding Company, this debut from The Strata-Tones is an outstanding collection of tunes rooted in Blues and Rhythm and Blues, but with plenty of diversity to keep it fresh.  Highlights include the sassy sounds of "BeBop Baby", "Did You Ever", with it's infectious upbeat swing bounce and a touch of rock guitar, the soulful, blues of "Lovers Lost And Found", showcasing the harmonica work of Kevin McCracken, the laid-back, bluesy swagger of "This Old House", the slow, R&B groove of the ballad "Together For Some Time" and album closer "Ball and Chain", a cover of the Big Mama Thornton classic that really showcases Johnson's vocals. If you're a fan of the Blues then you should definitely track down Dressed Up To Fess Up. (thestratatones.com) - Geoff Melton

 Rabbits - Bites Rites

Portland, OR squad Rabbits scale down to a two-piece for their latest batch of dirt-ridden and carelessly serrated songs entitled Bites Rites. This nine-track affair demonstrates the disjointed and noisy style this band introduced on past album Lower Forms, featuring an unhinged guitar and drum performance that is so intrinsically heavy and meaty that their lack of a bassist isn’t an issue at all (“What’s Going On”). Intensified by doped-up time signature changes (“Meth Valley 99”), intentionally sloppy and seasick melodies (“Lame In Vain”) and crass choruses that beg for drunken sing alongs (“Suck It or Blow”), Rabbits summon all the unorthodox sludge metal tendencies they can muster up to create an utterly abrasive and captivatingly chaotic excursion. (Good To Die) - Mike SOS

 Across The Earth - Kingdom Come

Kansas City, MO duo Across the Earth use a combination of savvy indie rock and brawny math rock for praising the Lord as heard on the seven-track offering Kingdom Come. Chock full of guitar and drum jams with some keys and a glockenspiel strewn in for good measure, this tandem merge White Stripes-esque minimalism with a progressive rock scope that feverishly kicks out high energy post rock with an expansive edge. Propelled by their love of both Jesus and Jimmy Page, Across the Earth presents jagged rhythms and angular arrangements carved from faith in both the heavens above and the almighty riff. (www.facebook.com/acrosstheearth) - Mike SOS

 Japandroids - Celebration Rock

On their sophomore full-lengther this Vancouver duo consisting of Brian King and David Prowse tear through eight cuts of raw, aggressive garage rock with elements of classic rock a la The Who and some punk thrown into the mix. Clocking in at 34 minutes Celebration Rock is a whirlwind that never lets up from start to finish. Expect to find this on many year end top 10 lists. (Polyvinyl) - Geoff Melton

 DR Acula - Nation

Dr. Acula come back on the scene with a 12-track affair entitled Nation, a release that showcases a heavier and more serious side to the self-professed party metal sextet. While this Long Island, NY based band retains many of the deathcore principles that they have received harsh criticism for, their blend of modern metal actually covers a lot more ground than they get credit for. From the hip-hop gone grindcore twin vocal cadence bouncing back and forth (“Ironic Enclosure”) and the punishing yet redundant massive metalcore breakdowns (“Keep on Running In Place”) scattered across the duration of the recording to short and stinging songs sure to keep bodies moving on the floor (“Suburban Superstar”), this unit has undeniably added a slew of weapons to their metal by numbers arsenal that accentuate their formula of sample friendly beatdown metalcore. Even though saying this band has matured may be a bit of stretch when they still have song titles like “Robot People From Hell”, Dr. Acula has definitely upped their game here and may surprise even the most jaded detractor with their new found tricks (“Thinner”). (Victory) - Mike SOS

 World War IX - Bender Royale

Raucous NYC quartet World War IX throws down in your face curb stomping raise your fist and yell punk rock on Bender Royale. Bolstered with infectious melodies straight from the back room of the pub (“Oi Revult”) with a genuine sense of chaos always at hand (“Keyboard Commando”), this Big Apple squad whips up a memorable six-track encounter that encourage sloppy good times full of yelling out loud with the on point gang vocals while drinking to excess and pushing the limits of decency and good taste as all good punk rock should. (www.worldwarix.com) - Mike SOS

 Loren Franklin - I'll Understand

While he currently lives in the mountains of Oregon, singer/songwriter Loren Franklin has had a life full of experiences that have included working on the farm and on fishing boats in the Pacific.  Over the course of four albums, he has drawn upon those experiences and influences from the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Gordon Lightfoot and John Prine to create a pleasant catalogue of rootsy acoustic tunes full of strong melodies and lyrics that often tell a very vivid story.  The latest of these four releases is I'll Understand, and while it doesn't stray too far from his previous work, several cuts, like "Purple Sage" and "High Country Cowboy" find him delving into cowboy music.  Among the highlights are the sprightly "The Rolling Waves", the quirky fun of "Existential Angst" and the haunting sad closer "Rescue Gracie".  
(www.cdbaby.com/artist/LorenFranklin) - Geoff Melton

 Truth In Needles - Turning Gray Black

Socially conscious NYHC quartet Truth in Needles rip through 12 tracks of tough as nails Big Apple hardcore on their latest release Turning Gray Black. Recorded by Joey Z of Life of Agony infamy at his Method of Groove studio, this collection of songs skips the formalities to lunge straight for the jugular with muscular riffs (“World Thought”), gritty gang choruses (“Cost of Living”), rabid vocals (“Built Up”) and a prevalent attitude of overcoming obstacles and defying the odds to come out on top (“New Day”). Pinpointing life’s struggles via a brawny mix of punk and hardcore ready to tear the dance floor apart, Truth In Needles keep the spirit of working class music alive with their blunt realizations and aggressive delivery. (Pride Over Pain) - Mike SOS

 IX - The Deoming Process

Oddball Portland, OR trio Ix smashes conventional musical thinking to bits with their self-described sound of “cosmoplasmic ear goop” on The Deoming Process. This brazen six-track production’s unexpected composition twists and turns are jarring, ranging from slow burnt builds to off-kilter grooves to cathartic releases with varying degrees of heaviness that mainly venture through the progressive metal realm. This unit also exhibits a knack for creating spastic noise rock passages (“The Natural Multiplier (Blue Box)”) and reflective Neurosis-esque atmospheric movements with similar unorthodox flair, making the listening experience significantly more intriguing (“Understanding a Process”). Championing science fiction themes and left of center metallic influences from Fishbone to Voivod, Ix is an ambitious squad worth checking out if you enjoy space travel via your musical selections. (www.facebook.com/theixpage) - Mike SOS

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