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Panic Office - 'Blue Hour' (self released) 5/5

A great pleasure of doing a radio show over an extended period of time is when you find a promising young band at the very start of their career and see them mature and develop into an act that can cut it with the very best of them. Case in point is Somerset band Panic Office. Back in early 2007, this lot were a bunch of sixth formers who had just issued 'Ghost Music' an album length demo that showed a musical maturity way beyond their tender years. That album was highly rated in our album of the year round up, and still picks up airplay on the show from time to time even now.

Now, five years on, we have the follow up record.. Now this record has been a long time in coming. I first heard demo versions of some of the songs on offer here four years ago, but with university and other such things getting in the way, recording continued at a snails pace, an odd session here, an odd session there, whenever a couple of the band could get together - with often many months between studio dates. Many lesser bands would have abandoned such a project, but Panic Office are from Somerset and like that counties better known products, fine cheese and farmhouse cider, they are made of strong stuff, and now at last Blue Hour has arrived.

Now you can tell from the off that this album is  real labour of love. The production here is spot on, there is not a note out of place and the mix is crystal clear; like a fine gem that has been cut and polished to perfection. The music is equally as impressive. Blue Hour still retains the Mars Volta influences that was the trade mark sound of Ghost Music, but we have other things added to the mix as well, there are hints of Muse and Radiohead, touches of Tangerine Dream, a dash of Pink Floyd or two even a touch of The Jesus and Mary Chain style post goth shoegaze floating around the sound.

I've been playing this album through over and over trying to select a track or two for praise and deeper analysis, and I've failed miserably. From the opening sweet riff of Through Blue To Black with its double picked guitar line to the chiming grandeur of the closing bars of Blue Hour itself this album is one long highlight. Although I will say my favorite moments on offer are the darkly paranoid Fusion, with its civil defense film voice over, the wonderful mob choir on the middle section of Song For July and Gloriously angst fueled Help, But Then Don't.

Bottom line is Panic Office have, over the past four years produced in Blue Hour a record that many a better known and better supported band would sell their grandmothers to have made. This record, should open doors and lead on to bigger and better things for them, and after putting so much time and effort into producing it, it is the very least they deserve.

In Short - Find it, buy it and love it.

For fans of... Mars Volta, Muse, Tangerine Dream, The Jesus and Mary Chain... etc

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band - 'How I Go' (roadrunner) 4.5/5

Now I'm a fussy bugger when it comes to the blues. Being raised by a blues and jazz loving father I developed a taste for the pure blues from a young age, then as I grew up and my tasted broadened I also took to some of the classic white boy bluesers like George Thorogood and Pat Travers. So I like to think I can tell good blues when I hear it. to me good blues should speak from the soul and be played with real emotion. Which is why I took a dislike to the likes of Gary Moores blues period (too many notes, no real feeling) and Steve Miller (too safe and souless). Now I have been aware of Kenny Wayne Shepherd for sometime, but also heard too many people making Steve Miller comparisons, so have avoided his work until this album dropped into my in tray the other day. So I thought its time to bite the bullets and see what he actually sounded like.

Now I must say from the off, this is NOT a straight blues album. Sure there is a very very strong blues influence here; songs like Oh, Pretty Woman, Backwater Blues, Yer Blues (yup the old Beatles classic) and Heat of the Sun are all old school blues numbers and boy can Mr Shepherd play the Blues!! These tracks drip angst and emotion and on the aforementioned Heat of The Sun he lays down a solo that can only be described as a real tear jerker (this song is already a walkman fave of mine and I've only had this album a few days). However there are more strings to this guys bow than playing classic blues licks on a beat up old strat.. There are also good dollops of country rock on songs like Show Me The Way Back Home; whilst in other places such as on Come On Over, Strut and The Wire we are heading into Doc Holiday / Grinderswitch southern boogie territory and  the real suprise comes on Dark Side of Love which is a funk blues fusion of exceptional quality.

Apparently, like all good bluesers Mr Shepherd is completely self taught, with his only instruction coming from tricks and licks taught to him local blues men like Bryan Lee, and a stack of Albert King records and boy does it show. His playing is fresh, original and full of fire and emotion, this guy doesn't play blues he feels them and that's the way it should be.

In short - this album is great and a must have for all fans of the Blues and Americana.

For fans of... George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ry Cooder, Peter Green etc...

Staind - 'Staind' (roadrunner) 3.5/5

Most bands do the eponymous album thing on their debut release, but always ones to do things different, Massachusetts alt rockers have waited until album number 7 to do it, still it takes all sorts so they say. But is this latest offering any good?

Well lets just say its typical Staind material that's on offer here. All the tried and tested Staind trade marks are on show, the ploddingly heavy grungy riffage, the angst ridden vocals, the big majestic choruses with faux commercial hooks. Tracks like Falling with its stadium rock sensibilities, Wannabe with its Queens of the Stone Age / Static X vibe and post core growled bridge; the Pearl Jam / Soundgarden influenced Take A Breath etc all go to show this is a band who know their sound, their influences and their audience and aint gonna change a thing. And there is nothing wrong with that, bands like AC/DC, Motorhead, Status Quo etc have been sticking to their tried and tested formulas for years with no real ill effects, so as long as Staind themselves are happy then long may they continue.

I will admit I've never been a huge fan of this band, but I will take nothing away from them in terms of musicianship and their ability to do what they do in style. And as mainstream rock goes they are miles better than Nickleback, Theory of A Wife Beater, 30 Seconds To Mars, My Chemical Toilet and the rest of the Kerrang fm fodder.There is a least a bit of real edge and talent on offer here, especially on the track Paper Wings (this albums real stand out track) and that should be praised and encouraged.

All in all a pretty good effort

For fans of... Alice in Chains, Kids in Glass Houses, Pearl Jam, Lost Prophets etc...