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Freedom Souls by Burlap To Cashmere Freedom Souls by Burlap To Cashmere
Burlap to Cashmere has long been considered to be at the top of the music field for numerous solid reasons. From their early days in the mid-nineties,...
In A Breath by New Empire In A Breath by New Empire

It’s rare that I find a pop/pop rock album that’s worthy of reviewing. Typical pop albums drop fluffy lyrics like petals from wilting flower. 

Extremist Deluxe Edition by Demon Hunter Extremist Deluxe Edition by Demon Hunter

I’m contemplating suing 
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Freedom Souls | Posted August-23-2015
Burlap to Cashmere has long been considered to be at the top of the music field for numerous solid reasons. From their early days in the mid-nineties, Burlap to Cashmere never entered the “Christian band” backwaters. Their uniquely styled music gathered aspects of folk, acoustic and world music into a glorious blend. But it was the addition of the Greek folk music influence to their songs that gave them a sound unheard in the music scene. The band signed to A&M Records and released Anybody Out There? (1998) followed by a re-release of their independent album, Live at the Bitter End, the same year.

That was the end of the story, or so everyone thought as Burlap to Cashmere dropped out of the music scene. Sources claimed that their meteoric rise had caused burnout. But almost a decade and a half later Burlap to Cashmere reunited. The impetus being the 2005 near fatal beating suffered by guitarist Johnny Philippidis, after a road rage incident. 2011 found Burlap to Cashmere releasing their successful self-titled album with its huge single, “Build A Wall”.

Band mainstays Steven Delopoulos, Johnny Philippidis and Theodore Pagano have been joined by Roby Guarnera and Mike Ernest for the forthcoming Burlap to Cashmere release, Freedom Souls. The album comes with surprises, huge surprises, as the band has created something new, fresh, and unheard on their past recordings by delivering a broad diversity of styles challenging both the band and the listener.

Beginning with the country flavoured folk of “I Will Follow”, the album flows into the outstanding “The Great I Am” offering a beautiful guitar styled track more typical of past B to C songs.

Building from a retro synth intro, the title track, “Freedom Souls”, carries a tune that reminds me of something that could be heard from a lounge singer, then abruptly switching into the upbeat chorus and back again. “Tonilou” beings with a snappy intro and proceeds to tell the tale of a soul falling from faith before being whispered toby God to renewal.

“16 Miles” sonically climbs a slope into a beautiful tune describing a walk of faith. The soft vocals and melody of “Passover” carry into the Greek folk stylings of “Agape Mou”. The incredibly catchy “Brain Fog” has a beat that brings to mind feet stomping on a floor. Followed by a true country track, “River In My Head”.

Freedom Souls closes with two variations of “Dialling God”. First the lyrical version revealing the levels that Steven Delopoulos can take his smooth yet gritty vocals. The final song, the instrumental version of “Dialing God”, is simply amazing as the band members showcase their instrumental talents.

Freedom Souls has brought forth a brilliant diversity. One that blends into a entirely new entity. An entity that is destined to open a new era in the exceptional art of Burlap to Cashmere.

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In A Breath review | Posted May-25-2014

It’s rare that I find a pop/pop rock album that’s worthy of reviewing. Typical pop albums drop fluffy lyrics like petals from wilting flower. New Empire‘s new release, In A Breath, is a rarity. Delivering pop gems with simple, yet profoundly insightful and moving lyrics. Yet, the band doesn’t stop there as the instrumentation on In A Breath brings the song to a superior level.

Since forming in 2005, New Empire has built a devoted fan base in their native Australia. Performing with the likes of Neon Trees, Switchfoot, Relient K, Good Charlotte, and Owl City shows the musical acumen of this band. They’ve remained relatively unknown in North America, but as a recent addition to Seattle’s Tooth & Nail Records, New Empire will likely gain a new following on this continent.

It’s always nice to be on the ground floor by having the opportunity to watch a band develop and mature, but, there could be no better recording than In A Breath to be introduced to New Empire. Beautiful vocals from Jeremy Fowler, backed by great instrumentation from Kale Kneale (drums), Nathan Cairns (bass) and Kyle Lane (guitar) round out the foursome’s sound.

In A Breath creates a musical odyssey, leading the listener along a path that is full of the honest emotions of life. Gathering insightful thoughts on healing, loss, renewal, and hope, New Empire reach the heart of us all.

“Tale of Jonah”, the lead off track of In A Breath, brings a sound reminiscent to Jars of Clay’s debut album. Musically New Empire continues to draw some influence from the early days of Christian rock. “Left Behind” takes a funky keyboard trip into the past, while “Say It Like You Mean It” brings memories of ’80′s rock.

The song “In A Breath” is a mournful, yet beautiful tune that bears the loss of a loved one and expectation of reunion.

I'm saving the pictures of your soul

To some you're just a memory

To me you're home

And I will never say I don't miss you

Cause I can't lie, you know me too well

And I'll see you in a breath

I will see you in a breath

The hit single “Relight the Fire” is found twice on In A Breath, in both full band and acoustic format. While the fleshed out version has music that draws you to the pinnacle, it’s the acoustic rendition that brings you closer to the root of the lyrics. The renewal of your soul.

Without question New Empire has a message to deliver that is sought by all of us. By giving In A Breath a chance, you’ll discover an album with a profound beauty that creates a longing to rediscover the truth found in your soul.

Dave Hawkins

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Is it really Extremist? | Posted April-20-2014

I’m contemplating suing Demon Hunter for being misleading.

When I heard that the name “Extremist” had been cast for their new album, I thought the band was going to dial up the volume. I anticipated “in your face” songs with Ryan Clark’s vocal roars taken to the maximum. The band delivered an increasingly aggressive sound on their past two albums, The World Is a Thorn and True Defiance. I had expected Extremist to amp up the hard sound even more. But what Demon Hunter has included on their seventh studio album ranges widely. While the majority of songs are primarily melodic and thoughtful tracks that harken more to their ballads, the balance of tracks offer up only a taste of Demon Hunter’s harder elements. But, Demon Hunter didn’t totally ignore the fans who like it hard and heavy.

The band is well known for opening their albums in a dramatic fashion, but “Death” takes top rank as their most unusual opener. Exceedingly dark in reach and richly layered in conveyance, “Death” begins slowly with an aptly dark Latin chant “mors, obitus, decessus” (all describing death) as the character death, offers the words:

I’m not your sacrifice. I’m not your shelter in the storm.

I am determinately man. Just who do you think I am?

I’m not your child. I’m not your paragon of just.

I am by other means damned. Just who do you think I am?

I am death. I am death. I am death. I am death.

The follow-up song, “Artificial Light”, brings the listener back into the traditional metal of Demon Hunter. The song seeks to offer solace to metal fans who fail to find a resolution in lyrics written by other bands from the metal realm. “Cross To Bear” with it’s staccato sonics and lyrical delivery stands out. As do the harsh words that lyricist, Ryan Clark, vents on those who try to equate their worldly troubles to those that Christ bore on the cross.

Sing to me your plight unjust, define it for the rest of us.

No river of your tears, no sympathy will find you here.

Not one of you bastards has a cross to bear. Not one of you bastards has a cross to bear.

One of the stand-out softer numbers include “I Will Fail You”. Clark shares honest lyrics that describe how we, as imperfect humans do, fail to meet others expectations due to our inherent flaws. We all lack the perfection of Christ.

Lost in the shadow of an endless grace. Relentless, my reign is unbound.

In this abandon I will devastate. Dismember, till agony’s found.

Though the sorrow and fear they may depart you today.

I will fail you, of that I’m sure. I will remind you of the pain forevermore.

And when my sins are just a memory, faith restored, I will fail you to the core.

The boys from Seattle close off Extremist with “The Heart Of A Graveyard” and it’s odd ’70′s synth intro gives the tune a vibe reminiscent of the horror punk of The Deadlines. Just as The Deadlines sang about death and dying (and vampires, oddly enough), Demon Hunter shares the horror of a life that ceases without an end in sight. Where Christians look towards a future after our worldly death, others can not.

Tell me. Tell me of your consolation. Tell me. I am lost in the gray.

Tell me that your final home is not a… a shot in the dark.

Tell me that your hopes and dreams don’t end in the heart… of a graveyard, of a graveyard.

Extremist will have a place in my musical library as an interesting musical journey taken by Demon Hunter. While Extremist is a solid album, it still falls short of many of Demon Hunter’s previous releases, lacking attention grabbing songs such as the ballad “Dead Flowers” or true metal tracks like “Storm The Gates Of Hell”. The positive aspect remains that Demon Hunter has stretched their sound by broadening their musical style to the widest degree. Unfortunately, the end results heard on Extremist have left my high expectations found wanting.

Dave Hawkins - The Antidote

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Breaking Ground | Posted March-07-2014

“Without competition there is no progression. Society won’t wait for statues to break free of their brass case. Carry the point. Be the focus.”  - from The First Step

Last year a number of musicians friends and I we’re tossing around the names of various bands and comments were raging as we debated the pros and cons of each of their work. Late in the evening we turned to metalcore and focused on a band that is at the top of genre, August Burns Red. The question was raised as to how each ABR album has been able to consistently improve on their previous release. The reason is simple and straightforward, August Burns Red doesn’t like metalcore, or at least the state that the genre is in.

I met with Jake Luhrs at concert last year and asked him about the changes and developments of each album and how their music was bridging into art-metal.

Honestly, the simplest response to that is just progression. Growth in the band as musicians and as we mature into adulthood and grow in the music world. I think it’s just the direction that we are naturally taking. It’s not anything that we’ve said ” hey, this is what we’re gonna do”. It’s just what’s evolving from our musicianship. I like it. It’s a cool direction, because I think it’s something more clever and for August Burns Red we never wanted to be the same, ever. We do want to experiment, we do want to go outside the box and we don’t want to write the same record over again.

When I asked about what makes August burns Red different from the rest of the industry, he responded with boldness.

That’s a really difficult question and however I respond to this I just want people to know that it’s not an ego trip or boasting by any means, cuz I don’t like doing that. [...] And every musician, I’m sure, that you would interview and ask this question would say “Well, we’re different this way”. Quite frankly, I think a lot of bands aren’t different from one another and it’s really hard to find something that is new under the sun.

The unfortunate fact is that metalcore bands often churn out cookie cutter versions of their past work without embarrassment. August Burns Red has been around for a decade and show no sign of simply producing music simply because it;’s their profession. Instead the band continues to produces music that stretches both themselves and their listeners to a higher level. ABR’s third album, Constellations, found the band beginning to stretch their sound out of the self-imposed musical boundaries of metalcore. Their 2011 follow-up album, Leveller, took these experimental elements to a higher level. August Burns Red’s latest release, Rescue & Restore, has broken all the boundaries for both themselves and all metal bands.

That bold statement differs significantly from the results found in much of the genre. Metalcore bands often churn out cookie cutter versions of their past work without embarrassment. August Burns Red has been around for a decade and show no sign of simply producing music simply because it;’s their profession. Instead the band continues to produces music that stretches both themselves and their listeners to a higher level. ABR’s third album, Constellations, found the band beginning to stretch their sound out of the self-imposed musical boundaries of metalcore. Their 2011 follow-up album, Leveller, took these experimental elements to a higher level. August Burns Red’s latest release, Rescue & Restore, has broken all the boundaries for both themselves and all metal bands.

Don’t expect to find any any fillers on this release, each song is deliberately and wonderfully crafted to mesh into a symphony as August Burns Red reintroduces art into metalcore. “Beautiful” may be an unusual description to apply to a metalcore album, but on Rescue & Restore it’s fitting.  A wonderful blend of raw vocals and unusual musical stylings takes the listener on a flight of fancy that has been created by August Burns Red. The musical abilities of each of the members have always been to be second to none. On Rescue & Restore this technical proficiency is brought to the forefront with each of the members talents being highlighted. ABR is a well oiled machine and all of those parts are wonderfully synced to each other.

August Burns Red’s quest to expand the sound of metalcore is facilitated by introducing unusual musical elements on Rescue & Restore. “Treatment” demonstrate some of this instrumentation using violin, piano and cello. During the musical bridge, “Treatment” brings a reminder of the salsa music flavour found “Internal Cannon”.  ”Spirit Breaker” and “Provision” also make use of violin and cello.

The most creative track of the album is found on the aptly titled “Creative Captivity”, a primarily instrumental track. JB Brubaker forgoes his guitar on “Creative Captivity” to put his hand to a guzheng (Chinese harp), violin, cello, and trumpet also take part.  Jake Luhrs adds his vocals near the end of the song where he speaks about the downfall of today’s metal scene.

This is a barren wasteland, a lonely place where inspiration goes to die. Rescue the beauty that’s left. Restore the character that’s long since gone, because these colors must never fade. This beat must carry on. We will fight to save this. We will fight to keep it alive. This is a cause worth fighting for. We will rescue and restore.

Don’t think that Rescue & Restore has dropped all of the characteristics of metalcore. It hasn’t. This is a hard-hitting album with dark songs such as “Fault Line and the album closer, “The First Step”.

My music collection includes over a thousand albums, but very few of those ever make it to the top of the heap. Rescue & Restore has made it and will likely remain there for a very long time. Rescue & Restore can be regarded as the greatest release of 2013. In the future it will undoubtably be considered as one of the best of this decade and the album that sought to rejuvenate the world of metalcore.

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Punk Lives! | Posted March-07-2014

Ever wondered what’s happened to the punk music scene?  To find the answer you need to head across the Atlantic to Manchester, England, to the roots of punk and the home ofAmbassadors of Shalom.

Ambassadors of Shalom formed in 2012 after an acoustic gig at Stoke-On-Trent, UK and recently signed to the indie punk label, Thumper Punk Records. This three piece outfit is comprised of Pete Field (bass, background vocals), Neil Roddy (guitars, lead vocals) and Joe Wilson (drums).

Their 13 track debut album, Abdicate Self, takes punk fans back to the roots of the genre, with Ambassadors of Shalom’s raw, gritty and driving sound. The band describes themselves as evangelistic punk rock. And rightly so. The band delivers no-holds-barred, in-your-face lyrics about their Christian faith.

Won’t look to the left won’t look to the right

Look to the cross, Christ is in my sight

The devil comes in, tries to divide we all stand together in Jesus Christ – “United We Stand”

Besides their original music, Ambassadors of Shalom delivered a surprise on Abdicate Self with their cover of “Nothing But The Blood” (can you call if a “cover” when it’s a hymn?). It will leave you wishing your church band would go punk.

Don’t imagine that Ambassadors of Shalom are a wishy-washy church basement band. Far from that, the band has a tight cohesive that belies their new band status. A must have for any punk fan, Abdicate Self, delivers the music and the message to the masses in droves. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Abdicate Self turns out to be the top punk release in 2014.

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THE SOUTH RISES | Posted March-07-2014

How often have you wondered how a band creates the name for their latest release? Mouth Of The South has made that transparently clear on Transparency.  Sorry for the poor pun, but the fact is that Mouth Of The South wants to spread the word of God through their music. LyricallyTransarency transcends the typical output of most metal bands by revealing their hearts with out barrier or pretence. It’s refreshing to find a Christian band fail that is so self-revealing.

Vocalist, Josiah Lyle, bares the innermost aspects of his soul as he shares on Transparency both the trials and triumphs he encounters in his walk with Christ. Lyrically the album brings to mind the Book of Psalms. David shared the pain, suffering and torments he encountered, along with the joy he experienced when he prevailed over the adversities in his life.

Adversities are brought to the forefront on “Whanau”.

Was heaven not enough, you had to dive into hell?

I know you’re searching for a cure but God is not in that needle

Was heaven not enough for you?

For those who are honest about their spiritual walk, it’s easy to empathise with the lyrics of “Riddance”.

I am trying to find my way back home

But I’ve had a hard time with these dry and weary bones

I am a Pharisee by definition

Far too proud to admit when I am wrong

I am a plague to my own existence

I’m killing myself with this repetitious sin

I am a hypocrite!

Wash me clean I am so desperate to be free

The compassion and grace of Christ is the basis of “Part 2″.

I look back, I look back on all the things you’ve seen and it breaks my heart

But don’t forget, don’t forget your pain was nailed to me

Lay your burdens down at the foot the cross

“Epilogue” is the greatest track on Transparency and includes the simplest and most profound statement.

Show me this world through the holes in your hands

Transparency may not be to the liking of every listener for the simple reason that it may awaken us each to the condition of our own souls. For those who don’t wish to accept the status quo and desire to be honest with ourselves and God, Transparency is an eye-opener.

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BACK AT IT AGAIN | Posted March-07-2014

Classic metal will never die and Stryper is both destined and determined to prove that point. Stryper is having a busy year in the studio. March of 2013 saw the release of Second Coming, a collection of re-recorded Stryper classics and a pair of new tracks. On November 5th the band releases their latest album through Frontier Records.

No More Hell to Pay will be Stryper’s 11th studio album. Produced by frontman and guitarist Michael Sweet, the set features some of Stryper’s strongest and heaviest material ever.  Sweet commented on the upcoming album:

The new Stryper album, No More Hell To Pay, is the record we needed to make as a follow up to ‘To Hell With The Devil’. Every song has a hooky guitar riff. Everything is in minor keys, so it’s a little darker sounding and a little tougher. It’s definitely our heaviest record and I think people will be pleasantly surprised. To reference, there is less songs like ‘Calling On You’ and more songs like ‘To Hell With The Devil’. It’s more in that vein than the poppier vein.

It’s been an astounding 30 years since Stryper’s first release, The Yellow and Black Attack , the album that introduced these lycra clad spiritual brothers to the masses. Musically, little has changed since that time. Fortunately, for all concerned, Stryper has steered clear of trying to bring the band’s sound and style into the current day by staying true to the past. And rightly so.  Die-hard Stryper fans and new-comers alike are going to be abundantly satisfied with No More Hell To Pay.

Current day Stryper carries the original 1983 line-up, with Michael Sweet’s brother Robert on drums, the legendary Oz Fox on guitar, and Tim Gaines on bass. It seems amazing that over those years Michael Sweet’s voice shows no sign of aging. He still hits the high notes with the clarity, energy, and piercing wails found decades ago. Incredibly catchy hooks and lyrics drivesNo More Hell to Pay. 

The album roars to life with the attention grabbing intro on “Revelation” and never lets up. Lyrically “Revelation” may also sum up the intention of this new release.

There’s a revelation

It’s coming down for you

Without hesitation

It’s gonna bring the truth

The title track “No More Hell To Pay” carries what could be considered a lyrical anthem to Stryper:

I am taking it a day at a time

and I don’t care what the doubting voices say

I am lifting up the Name that will shine

and the light of heaven’s brighter everyday

The blazing guitar rifts and the extreme vocals on “Saved By Love” leads into a surprise on No More Hell to Pay, Stryper’s recording of the The Art Reynolds Singers “Jesus Is Just Alright”. This song has been covered by the likes of The Byrds, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, The Doobie Brothers, and dcTalk. Stryper’s styling stays true to past recordings of the song, but also introduces a wonderful blues inspired drift to this classic tune.

While Stryper has stated No More Hell To Pay is one of their hardest album’s they also included the solid ballad, “The One”. Stryper brings in a song that harkens back to the theme of Soldier’s Under Command on the new tune “Marching Into Battle”.  The balance of the new songs carry on with a solidness that is superb, finishing with the amazing, “Renewed”.

Anyone could rightfully say that Stryper has done all that they have needed to do.  Serving up incredible songs over the years and that now it is time for the band to take a rest. Wrong! Stryper continues to bring their distinctive sound and talents to our hearts. For Sweet to compare No More Hell To Play to the outstanding To Hell With The Devil may seem extreme, but the album does achieve this level. No More Hell To Play has the boldness and musical brilliance that has been seen over and over again from Stryper, a band that is rightly considered, and ever will be, iconic.

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Fantasize review | Posted February-25-2014

My introduction to the music of Kye Kye came at the Cornerstone Festival of 2012. The crowd built rapidly as the band prepared to play. Being busy with interviews I missed all but the final three songs of their set. It was outstanding and drove me to pick up their captivating debut 2011 release, Young Love.

Based out of Based in Camas, Washington, Kye Kye is comprised of Estonian-born siblings Olga (vox/guitar), Timothy (programming/keys/guitar), Alex (keys), and brother-in-law Thomas (drums) who craft their indie pop/rock with an electronic edge.

Three years have passed and Kye Kye headed to the studio to record their second effort,Fantasize. As with every band, this comes with some trepidation, fearing that they may fall into the dreaded “sophomore slump”. Those worries have been resolved for Kye Kye and their dedicated fans.  Fantasize is undeniably incredible Driven with simple, constrained melodies and using synth and powerful drum sequences, the album could be compared to Purity Ring, M83, and CHVRCHES. But those comparisons end when the etherial vocals of Olga Yagolnikov are blended into the musical mix. Vocally gorgeous and subdued, yet strong and defined at the same time, Fantasize could be likened to that dreamy state between sleep and awakening, where sounds are subdued, yet all encompassing.

Fantasize is a solid work from beginning to end, with none of the filler tracks so commonly found with less abled artists. While the album should be listened to from beginning to end to truly understand the nature of Kye Kye, it does contain a number of great stand alone tracks.

The pop music edged "Honest Affection" tonally rides a rolling wave of music with Olga delivering the romantically emphasized lyrics:

I never knew that I was so harsh with things i thought i wasn’t afraid of I never knew that i was so scared to change because of honest affection longing yearning hoping looking over your words stuck on your heart a part of me just wanted to know but the other part was always so wasted my heart was always made to be still to wait because you promised you’d save it I never knew i was in a place hiding to avoid any signals I close my eyes and picture your face and see a look i never envisioned

My personal favourite on Fantasize, “Dreams (2 am)” offers broad variations in vocal stylings, subtle use of piano and strings that bring this song to a pinnacle.


heaven in a way

how these lights they lead calm through December I wait so then I know

i never said I was never tired

you said wake up in the morning you said oh oh oh oh o ho push.. with a heart.. with a weight with all you see and push with a heart, with a weight with the mind that knows the one narrow road what you said is right, ill never walk away

“Hiding Place” beautiful lyrics utilizes and beautiful time signature change as Olga builds into the chorus.

Palace walls, walking down, warmer air, greener ground This is my hiding place,perfect scenes and perfect sounds flawless faith a gentle hope words that build beautiful walls That have open doors, give it time- give it time

Fantasize finishes with the instrumental “Celeste”.

It may seems presumptuous to make early judgements, but Fantasize is likely to be at the top of everyones favourites list for 2014, as Kye Kye has redefines the art of music.

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Floridian Sun | Posted December-17-2013

Mrenc (pronounced Mister E-N-C) is the offspring of the former frontman for both Denison Marrs and The Dark Romantics, Eric Collins. Mrenc may come across sounding like a complete band, but it remains Collins solo work and leaves behind the encumbrances that are often found in a group effort.

There were few similarities between the music of The Dark Romantics and Denison Marrs. Mrence and the new EP, All Around Sound, has widened that chasm. The only unifying feature of all three bands is the enormous talent of Eric Collins.

Gone is any hint of a pop edge, All Around Sound, is alternative/indie rock, but with a whole new flavour. Imagine The National with a ’70′s guitar tone and somewhat distorted vocals brought into the mix. All Around Sound is more than unique, it’s a standout in the music scene.

Each of the songs of All Around Sound keep you, audibly, on the edge of your seat as track after track is widely divergent from the next, yet still gives a unified feel.

“Architects”, the lead off track of All Around Sound, remains my favourite with it’s perfected indie rock. Track two, “Wolves” begins with an extended and subdued intro until the midpoint of the song, where the sound explodes into full fledged rock. The first portion of “The Call” can be likened to a Muslim call to prayer, then blends into an ambient, shoegaze pace. Pounding percussion of “Everything Is Great” gets your heart racing. The altered vocals on “Dying Over You” bring to mind the sound of Stavesacre and Neon Horse’s Mark Solomon, but taken sonically to the upper reaches. The sound of a gentle surf and melodic guitar deliver you into “Cover Me” as Collins also delivers his finest vocal range on the final track.

I’ll be anxiously awaiting future music from Mrence. It’s rare to find such amazing musical gems as those discovered on All Around Sound.

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The Humble Beginnings review | Posted December-17-2013

Celtic punk fans are well aware of the music from Chicago’s Flatfoot 56 and their front man, Tobin Bawinkle.  Meeting Tobin is a memorable moment as he towers over a crowd with his 6′ 10″ stature, hence the reasoning for the name of Tobin’s side project,6′ 10.

The Americana musical style of 6’10 may surprise those used to the in-your-face punk of Flatfoot 56. 6′ 10 delivered their premiere release, The Humble Beginnings, on August 26 through Bandcamp. It may be humble, but it does define the genre with it’s simplicity and earnestness.

The Humble Beginnings, is a concise package that draws the listener in and touches their heartstrings.

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