After two solid years of touring behind them, the members of Mercury Records recording artists Parachute entered the L.A. studio of producer John Fields (Switchfoot, Jonas Brothers, Jimmy Eat World, Andrew W.K. and Rooney) to record The Way It Was, the follow-up to their 2009 Top 40 debut, Losing Sleep.

"I felt our ambitions were greater and we had a much more focused sense of how we were going to accomplish that," said lead vocalist/writer Will Anderson, who has been playing with drummer Johnny Stubblefield, bassist Alex Hargrave and saxophone/ keyboardist Kit French since they were high school classmates in Charlottesville, VA, seven years ago. They would later be joined by guitarist Nate McFarland., whom Will met while attending University of Virginia together. "We wanted to sound like five guys playing their instruments in a room, but on a larger canvas, and with all of our visions blending seamlessly as one."

The Way It Was exceeds that objective. The band's patented lush melodies are now accompanied by a production that is intricate yet sparing, with plenty of aural space for the band to explore the soaring gospel harmonies of the first single, "Something to Believe In (Jeremiah)," the Afropop Peter Gabriel/Sting world beat of "What I Know," the wide-screen Springsteen-like cinematic epics "American Secrets" and "Philadelphia," along with the country-flavored twang of "Kiss Me Slowly." The latter of which Anderson co-wrote with Lady Antebellum's Grammy-winning Record and Song of the Year duo of Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood.

"We didn't want to clutter up the songs with extraneous tracks just to make it thicker," says Kit, whose contributions included Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ, and a more up-front presence of tenor and baritone saxophones. "We wanted to get better parts from all the instruments, instead of just piling up overdubs."

"I tried to write guitar parts that didn't need to be tripled and quadrupled," added McFarland, who pointed to The Edge and early U2 for inspiration. "We wanted the guitar parts to cover a lot more sonic space, playing eighth notes with delays, parts which featured more open strings, a less-is-more attitude. All I did was follow the melody."

The musical influences on The Way It Was were equally derived from the Death Cab for Cutie narrative of "Forever And Always" to the "Graceland meets The Killers' Day and Age of "What I Know," along with the classic Sam Cooke testifying of "Something to Believe In (Jeremiah)." Parachute has once again proven they are one of America's most promising young bands, and they are just getting started.

The tunefulness of the new songs belies Anderson's themes of betrayal, as he examines relationships that are fraying at the edge and breaking apart, with a combination of sorrow and regret, using the good memories to tentatively soldier on. "You and Me" tells the tale of a Bonnie & Clyde type on the run, "Forever and Always" is a short story set to music about a couple about to get married, only to see one of them land in the hospital, while "American Secrets" is an autobiographical study of adolescence, while "Philadelphia" is an evocative portrait of a couple on the verge of splitting apart due to an unspoken infidelity.

"My whole goal was to be a little more empathetic, to try to see things from other people's perspective," said Will, who wrote while in such exotic locales as St. Petersburg, Russia, and Frankfurt, Germany. "I tried to get out of my own head, which turned out to be a good exercise for me as a songwriter. A lot of the stories were just completely made up, though it did deal with things I've experienced myself."

"These songs just grip me emotionally," agrees Nate. "I'm the kind of guy who starts weeping at a sad movie, so it wasn't hard to get inside the emotion. Several of the songs really struck close to home for me."

With Anderson's songwriting career starting to blossom, he has now relocated to Nashville, and has since begun to collaborate with other country songwriters, including such hit tunesmiths as Jedd Hughes (Patty Loveless, Josh Gracin) and Marv Green (Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, George Strait).

"With a majority of bands, you'll constantly hear folks claim that their live show is better than their record, but here, we wanted to make an album that would force us to bring our live show to the next level," nods Will. "The main goal is to keep growing. It's been a very healthy, gradual, organic process … one that's not fake. We write our own material and play the instruments on-stage without any special effects. We've been doing this since we were 15 years old. We're best friends. When we play on-stage, we want people to see us as a rock band in the truest sense of the word, and while it's an increasingly rare sight these days, we're hoping people can appreciate it."

Parachute gives true music fans something to value & appreciate with The Way It Was … and as Will puts it, "real music played by real musicians on real instruments."

On his debut album, Matt Hires emerged as a golden-voiced troubadour with a penchant for setting heart-on-sleeve lyrics to sweetly infectious melody. Now, on his sophomore release entitled This World Won't Last Forever, But Tonight We Can Pretend, Hires weaves in grander arrangements, brighter hooks, and a more richly textured sound to assert himself as a formidable new force in the singer-songwriter realm.

"My favorite artists are the ones who keep making records that give you something different from what came before, but still hold onto their own unique sound overall," says the 27-year-old Tampa-based singer/guitarist. "With this album, I pushed into the direction of making music that's more fun and pop-oriented but also retains that sense of honesty that I've always valued as a songwriter."

Indeed, the album offers up more than its share of sing-along-worthy melodies and sunny harmonies, all while elegantly showcasing Hires's warm yet masterful vocal work. At the same time, the album bears a bigger, more bombastic energy that reveals the deep-seated influence of rock-and-roll heroes like The Band and Bruce Springsteen. And all throughout the album (the follow-up to 2008's Take Us To The Start), Hires delivers delicately rendered lyrics that shift between sharp-eyed social commentary and strikingly intimate storytelling. "Even though I broke out of the traditional singer-songwriter mold, there are still some songs that are very confessional," Hires notes. "At heart, I'm still that guy strumming an acoustic guitar in his bedroom."

For help in reshaping and expanding his sound, Hires reunited with Eric Rosse (producer on Take Us To The Start, as well as Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes and Grammy-nominated Under the Pink). To shake up his song-crafting approach, he also teamed up with songwriters like Alex Dezen (singer/guitarist for The Damnwells) and Busbee (who's previously worked with artists ranging from Kid Cudi and Katy Perry to Liz Phair and Lady Antebellum). "When you get into a groove with another songwriter, it's the most fun thing in the world," says Hires. "With every co-write I've done, I've taken away something from my collaborators and used that to develop my own writing."

Right from the opening track, the album radiates with a shimmering intensity that reflects both sophistication in songwriting and purity of spirit. Pairing tender harmonies with tense, urgent strings, "Forever" captures the bittersweet longing to freeze time and preserve a perfect moment with the one you love ("I wish that we could lay right here and never think about our fears forever," sings Hires). On the flipside of that starry-eyed love song is "Restless Heart," a bright and bouncy folk-pop pastiche fueled by chiming guitars and a barrage of kiss-off lyrics ("Pretty girls come from the ugliest places/You come from the worst of them all/Heartbreakers like you are hard to erase/You lift me up just so I'll fall"). "It's about a girl most of us have met, the heartbreaker who wants to get you to fall for her and then just move on to the next guy," explains Hires of "Restless Heart, an ultimately triumphant track featuring "I won't let you break my heart" as its coda. "It's sort of an anti-love-song, telling that girl 'You're not gonna get it from me,'" he adds.

Elsewhere on the album, Hires takes on weightier material while maintaining a defiantly hopeful mood. On the slow-building, piano-laced epic "I Am Not Here," for instance, he sorrowfully serenades "ex-girlfriends and kids with guns" before acknowledging that "Things are getting better/Better late than never." ("That's a searching sort of song," says Hires. "It's for anyone trying to figure out where they fit into the world.") And on "When I Was Young" ("the best song I've ever written," according to Hires), he turns a melancholy, midtempo melody into a soaring tribute to reclaiming youthful optimism and "living this life like I'm never gonna die."

For Hires, striking the balance between heady emotionalism and killer hooks stemmed in part from years of studying a diversity of songwriting styles. "When I was 16 and first started writing songs, I was mostly into bands like Dashboard Confessional and all their angsty songs about falling in love and getting your heart broken," says Hires, who learned to play music on a handmade guitar given to him by his father. "From there I moved on to the musicians who influenced the artists I loved, which is how I discovered Bob Dylan, especially his early acoustic solo work."

An ardent fan of legendary songsmiths like The Beatles, The Byrds, and Tom Petty, Hires also found inspiration in the earnest, earthy alt-rock of contemporary artists like Wilco and Coldplay. He channeled that inspiration into his first band, Brer, then struck out on his own as a solo artist—and, at age 23, released his first album for F-Stop/Atlantic Records. Shooting to the top 10 on iTunes' overall "Top Singer/Songwriters Albums" chart, Take Us To The Start instantly announced Hires as an uncommonly authentic pop-rock phenom.

It wasn't until recently that a happy accident led Hires to explore his poppier side. "About a year ago, the CD player in my car broke, so I started listening to a lot of pop radio," says Hires, who identifies himself as a newfound fan of Bruno Mars. "From there I began to incorporate some of those pop elements into my own songs, like those simple and catchy melodies."

But no matter how melodic and tuneful the tracks on the new album, Hires remains first and foremost devoted to infusing his songs with an unwavering honesty. "I always go into it thinking that I just want to write the best song that I can," he says. "I just do my best to let a song be what it wants to be, rather than try to force it into something that isn't genuine." And as he continues to hone his songwriting chops, Hires adds, upholding that genuineness becomes more and more empowering. "It's scary to tell the truth in your lyrics, to get up and sing about things that you're afraid to talk about in the day to day," he says. "But the more songs I write, the more honest I'm able to be. And as long as I do this on my own terms, I know I'll be able to keep on telling stories and making something meaningful with my music."

Andrew Ripp

Andrew Ripp has continued to create music that pushes the boundaries of genre stereotypes, blending the energetic beats of pop music into a soul culture and adding the depth and groove of soul music into a pop culture. Since beginning his career in 2005, Ripp's songs and records have successfully impacted a diverse and growing audience including true music lovers: fans that appreciate the nuances of a well crafted album, and easy listeners: fans who simply want to hear a catchy tune.

Having an awe-inspiring voice is one thing, but knowing how to use that voice to share lyrics and emotion in a way that moves those who hear the songs is quite another. Ripp has grown in this over the years as a respected songwriter with the voice of an artist. With his first two albums, Fifty Miles to Chicago in 2008 and She Remains The Same in 2010, debuting at #1 on the Singer/Songwriter chart on iTunes, Andrew proved that he could create a song and share it with emotion and instrumentation.

Since his last release, Andrew spent time writing and writing, not just creating a few songs and depending on his voice to carry the album. He began as a songwriter- with a song on the Billboard 100 charts recorded by Ryan Cabrera, and other songs featured on American Idol, One Tree Hill, and Live To Dance, but grew comfortable in the place where his strong and powerful voice was the driving force behind each single. "The good ones," Andrew says, speaking of excellent artists, "they leave space in the songs." And over the last two years, Andrew has learned that skill. Having moved to Nashville with his wife Carly at the encouragement of fellow musician and mentor Dave Barnes, Andrew settled into the songwriting town and began to hone his talents and grow as an artist, musician, and songwriter.

His new album, Somewhere Son, is full of the picks of the songwriting litter, with songs that resonate with the hearer as well as the creator. Working with award-winning producer Charlie Peacock (Civil Wars, Switchfoot) Andrew handed full control to him, allowing the songs to drive the recording process, not trying to turn the songs into something they weren't. You can hear that too- the wrestling, the release, the emotion, the growth of the songs to a new sound that somehow feels familiar.

The album blends the work of Andrew himself with many other award-winning musicians, songwriters, as well as Peacock and engineer/mixer Richie Biggs. And Ripp is deeply proud of what was created in 2012, though the price of hard work didn't come without it's own challenges and trials. Somewhere Son will be the album that reminds us, we don't have to figure it all out, just show up. "I did the work," Andrew says, "and I gave it everything I have."

A touring artist as well, Andrew's live performances continue to move the audience in just the right ways- quieting them at the most heart-felt moments and causing dance at just the right beat. Crowds don't want him to leave the stage when the show is over, and he's not sure he's ready to leave either. He has opened for and toured with the likes of with Jon Foreman, needtobreathe, Will Hoge and Robert Randolph, and continues to book dates around the country to bring Somewhere Son to the audiences that await new songs with that old feel.

"This album is rooted in the idea of hope and love," Andrew says, "and it is meant to speak life." Audiences can hear the depth of those messages in every lyric; in every note. Great songs deserve a great record and what has been created with Somewhere Son is just that- the record that other musicians will respect, fans have waited for, and newcomers will fall in love with.



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