Robert Ellis Is In a New York State of Mind

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Photo by David Ayer/Courtesy of New West Records
You can take the boy out of Houston, but...well, this is part of how Robert Ellis has found himself spending his time after moving to New York City a little more than a month ago.

"There's actually a weird little honky-tonk scene in Brooklyn," says the singer-songwriter who relocated from Houston to Nashville in mid-2012 after his group, Robert Ellis & the Boys, won a fiercely loyal Bayou City following with their "Whiskey Wednesday" classic-country nights at Mango's and Fitzgerald's.

As Ellis tells it, Brooklyn's honky-tonk scene includes three bars -- Skinny Dennis, the Levee and Lucky Dog -- that offer sanctuary to Lone Star exiles, from a Willie Nelson painting to a Western swing band on Wednesday nights that Ellis says isn't half-bad. Although he notes his friend B.E. Godfrey, another Houston musician who recently relocated to NYC, makes fun of him for figuratively sticking close to home, Ellis says his Texas upbringing gives him certain advantages in the Big Apple.


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Overkill Schools Us On Classic East Coast Thrash-Metal

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eOne Music
Overkill today: Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, Derek "The Skull" Tailer, Dave Linsk, D.D. Verni, and Ron Lipnicki.

As the screamin' front man for New Jersey thrash-metal legends Over Kill since the group's formation, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth has seen, experienced, and learned a lot in three and a half decades. So what is the one piece of advice that his 2014 self might offer the 1980 Blitz?

"Give up the fucking cigarettes, man. Throw them away!" he laughs heartily. "I smoked for 35 years and was chained to the things. I'd have a nicotine patch on while chewing nicotine gum with a Marlboro hanging out of my mouth! But I've been tobacco free for two years, and I wish I'd done it sooner."

That Ellsworth's voice is in fine, fine condition (and that he can hit those super high notes) is much in evidence on the band's newest effort, White Devil Armory (eOne Records).

While not a concept album, the 11 tracks are essentially short stories featuring a character known as the Armorist. Ellsworth's lyrics take him on a journey of war, cage-fighting, medical emergencies, devils, politics and religion, all set to brutal double bass drums, deep bass notes and shredding guitar solos.

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Meet Joe Cocchi, Metalcore Craft Brewer

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eOne Music
Within the Ruins; Tin Bridge Brewing co-founder Joe Cocchi is second from left
So far 2014 has been a big year for technical metalcore band Within the Ruins. Back in July, the Massachusetts quartet released their fourth full-length studio album, Phenomena, perhaps their most accomplished work to date. According to guitarist Joe Cocchi, it was also their their fastest and easiest to record.

But Cocchi has also been hard at work on his side project. Whereas most musicians keep their extracurricular pursuits within the realm of music, booking their own DJ gigs or experimenting with atypical genres, Cocchi threw himself headlong into the world of craft beer when his company, Tin Bridge Brewing, launched this year.


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Islands' Nick Thorburn Moves Beyond "Visceral Vomit"

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Photo by Christian Faustus/High Voltage PR
For Islands' Nick Thorburn, performing live is just another piece to the creative puzzle. Formerly known as Nick Diamonds, he has fronted a number of acts starting with the Unicorns, his Montreal trio that began drawing a cult following after the release of their 2003 album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?.

In recent years, however, Thorburn has dropped his stage name and worked with a number of musicians. He even showed up on "Bad Habits," a track from the 2012 split album by Houston's own Fat Tony and Tom Cruz, Double Dragon,. Now, fresh off a handful of Unicorns reunion shows, Thorburn is jumping straight into another Islands tour to support the band's 2013 album Ski Mask.


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The Supertramp Mystique Extends to Instrumental Records, Too

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Photos courtesy of Glass Onyon PR
Carl Verheyen rocks out!
Singer/guitarist Carl Verheyen probably hasn't ever needed to file for unemployment with the musicians union. After a couple of decades as a sought-after studio axeman, he launched a solo career more than ten albums deep, teaches music at the university level, and has authored instructional books and DVDs.

Oh, and he also has been a permanent member of Supertramp ("The Logical Song," "Goodbye Stranger," "Give a Little Bit") since 1996. But for his most recent effort, last year's Mustang Run (Cranktone), he offered up an almost all-instrumental guitar record, which attracts a much different audience than a standard rock one with vocals.

"I believe that the state of the art of the so-called guitar record is not about shredding and blazing down the fingerboard," he offers while on a studio break from producing (yet another gig of his). "It's more about texture and sonic tapestries that you put together with different sounds. That's where I was coming from with this. I didn't want a 'chops' record. I wanted a melodic record."


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Always a Fighter, Bilal Learns to Let It Flow

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Photos courtesy of eOne Records
Smooth or sharp, Bilal delivers the goods.
It hasn't been an easy ride to international stardom for vocalist and composer Bilal Sayeed Oliver, who performs simply as Bilal. The Philly native, who roomed for a while with jazz pianist and Houston native Robert Glasper, almost quit the business when his second album was rejected by Interscope and then leaked to the Internet, where it has now racked up half a million downloads.

It was quite a setback for an artist who broke onto the scene with his 2001 album 1st Born Second and its smash single "Soul Sista," which soared to No. 18 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop charts and established Bilal as an artist to be reckoned with. But after a period of introspection during which he worked with Glasper, Erykah Badu, Beyonce, Jay Z and the Roots, the multi-talented artist bounced back with 2010's Airtight's Revenge.


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Bear in Heaven Unfold Another Wrinkle in Time

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Photo by Dusdin Condren/Pitch Perfect PR
Bear in Heaven has always done their best to embrace the changes that come with progressing as a band, and they've done their fair share of progression over the last four albums. Whether they're performing more ambient, synth-driven sounds or diving headfirst into more solid rock territory, the Brooklyn-based group has found a way to persevere despite the curveballs life continues to throw their way.

On their latest release, Time Is Over One Day Old, the trio digs deep within themselves to create what is arguably their best album to date. Rocks Off caught up with Adam Wills on the verge of their upcoming tour to talk about their new album, and what it's like to continue looking up despite pressure from the outside world.


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Inside CSNY's Groundbreaking 1974 Tour

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Photos by Joel Bernstein/Rhino Records
CSNY (actually in order, Stills, Crosby, Young and Nash) onstage during the 1974 tour.
"We knew it was something special," Graham Nash says on the phone from New York City. "No one had done a tour like that, in that many big venues. But I felt we were up to the task. We could all play and sing, and there were four of us. With four intense egos!"

Today, massive football stadium tours by rock's major acts are taken for granted. But many years ago, 40 to be precise, it hadn't even been attempted. While the Beatles and Stones had done the massive gigs as one-offs, it was a reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young who took the plunge first.

Their fabled 1974 tour encompassed 31 shows in 24 cities in three countries from July through September, with the group presenting nearly 80 songs played in various personnel combinations -- a quarter of which hadn't even been released at that point but would find their way onto later group, solo, and duo records.


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Graham Nash Can't Stop, Won't Stop

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Photo by Chris Kissnger/Jensen Communications
Crosby, Stills, and Nash (actually Stills, Nash, and Crosby) ply their trademark three-part harmony at a recent show.
Now that his production work on the four-years-in-the-making massive CSNY 1974 box set is over and fans have in their hands what they've dreamed about for years, 72-year-old Graham Nash can just lie back and take it easy, right? Not a chance.

"I'm busier now than I've ever been in my life, ever," he says. And his daybook planner backs up the claim. Currently on tour with longtime partners David Crosby and Stephen Stills, he is also doing publicity for the paperback version of his autobiography, Wild Tales, writing new music, recording a CSN covers album, showing his painting and photography work in galleries all over the world while making new art, and even sculpting.

And maybe changing a diaper or two.


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Chuck Negron: The Oldies Circuit's Sober Companion

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Photo courtesy of Stafford Centre
Chuck Negron
A little over a year ago, former Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron stood onstage at the Stafford Centre at the finale of the "Happy Together" tour stop, belting out numbers while shoulder to shoulder with The Turtles, Gary Lewis, Gary Puckett and former Paul Revere and the Raiders vocalist Mark Lindsay.

Nearly three hours long, the show was an all-killer-no-filler time travel through well-known radio and chart hits of the '60s and '70s. Negron proffered signature hits like "Joy to the World," "One," "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song," and "Celebrate" to the gray-haired audience whose years melted away from their faces as they sang familiar choruses.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the "Happy Together" tour returns to the Stafford Centre tonight with Negron, the Turtles, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and new additions Mitch Ryder the Detroit Wheels and former Grand Funk Railroad singer/guitarist Mark Farner.


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