Great things were predicted for The Samples nearly 10 years ago. In that
seemingly long ago era it was this Colorado-based outfit that was to marry
the live 'jam' aesthetic that starting to attract national attention with
sophisticated pop sensibility of someone like Sting. Things almost went that
way: The Samples lasted about five minutes on a major
label before realizing the grass roots approach was a much better than
getting lost in corporate machinations.

"Return to Earth" is the group's 12th record since its 1989 debut and the
group appears to be coming to terms with the reconciliation of its pop-based
rather than bolder sound. The disc is full of songs that aspire to rock
radio. However, while the band still incorporates world-beat influence into
its pleasing sound, it doesn't craft the hooks that have allowed
Bruce Hornsby, Paul Simon and Sting to hit the masses with their brands of
intelligent and musically literate adult pop. With a polished production
takes the teeth out of any instrument (except some inexplicably piercing
guitar), too often the disc becomes a light-rock snoozer.

On songs such as Great
Ocean (which features violin work from Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews
Band), Nature of the Beast and Water Under the Bridge Kelly and bassist Andy Sheldon – who
also contributes lyrics – often sound as saccharine as the music.

It's too bad because the Samples continue to show great potential. Nature
the Beast is a bouncy folk-rocker; Castle Walls is joy masked as
and Lonely Soul recalls the best of R.E.M.'s classic and searching
Still these cuts are not enough to redeem a disc by a band that's
been around long enough to know better.