New Jersey’s The Skullers have a great new single, a cover of a 1977 Richard Hell b-side called “I’m Your Man.” Their take marries a 1970s new wave sensibility with a more recent and fresh sound not unlike the UK’s Vaccines. But the new single is not why we’re focusing on the Skullers here. I have to draw your attention back to their killer 2017 single, “Can We Do That Again.” Described by some writers as neo-rockabilly and bop, I think the sound is pretty timeless. From the hooky lead line opener to the swing in the chorus, the vocals and guitar gel in a way that could put this song in any number eras, including this one.
This blog is really one long testimonial to the Beatles’ influence on all sorts of popular music, past and definitely present. Indeed, my shorthand for describing what I do here to any random person is to say the blog features new music that builds on the legacy of the Fab Four. Today we attend to that influence more directly with bands that wear their Beatles love on their sleeves. Sometimes it’s the sound, other times it’s the subject matter, or it can just be an inspired cover.
On sound, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones nail the distinctive elements of the Merseyside scene circa 1963. “Brown Paper Bag” is strongly reminiscent of the Liverpool’s Big Three, a band briefly thought to be able to rival the Beatles (until 1964 came along), particularly their version of “Some Other Guy.” Cupid’s Carnival also mine the early Beatles sound on two different versions of their most recent single “She Don’t Care” (from their new EP Clapham Junction), one a straight up rock and roll treatment, the other featuring a more flamenco-style rhythm. But unlike a host of more derivative Beatles copy-cat acts, this homage works because the songwriting and performance are so strong. Addison Love also has the 1960s sound down but his contribution is more notable for its lyrical content. With a focus similar to Ken Sharp’s “She Hates the Beatles” (featured recently on this blog here), Love’s “Like the Beatles” suggests he just can’t sustain a relationship with someone who doesn’t relate to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Poor kid. Lucky for him, the Beatles’ popularity shows no sign of diminishing! Rounding out our Beatles love is a cover of “Paperback Writer” from the B52s. There is no shortage of Beatle’s covers but this one caught my ear because while it remains fairly true to the original there is a fresh sense of fun about it, as one would expect from this group. Recorded in 2004 for use in a car commercial when the band didn’t even have a record contract, the song remains officially unreleased and unavailable for purchase.
Cupid’s Carnival – She Don’t CareCupid’s Carnival – She Don’t Care (Flamenco Version)Addison Love – Like the Beatles
All the power pop blogs are talking at me. I don’t hear every word they’re saying but it’s hard not to catch the drift. They’re pretty bonkers over this crew of performers and for good reason. They pop rock! Today I play catch up on some pretty superior tune-age. What’s fun in the ever-so-slightly competitive world of blogging is seeing who puts up what and when. Early adopters are cool! But even when we post the same things – and why not? It’s all about supporting the music – it’s fun to notice how we don’t necessarily highlight the same songs. Here I’ve tried to shine a light on some different cuts from these new albums.
Like Danny Wilkerson. His self-titled solo debut is chock full of should-be hits but my ear got caught on “How She Lost My Heart” with its subtle Beatle and Badfinger-isms. And it’s just a great catchy tune!How She Lost My Heart
Another project burning up the power pop blogosphere is Bird Streets, which brings together John Brodeur and Jason Falkner in a truly winning combination. Bloggers and radio programmers have hit upon “Betting on the Sun” as the break out hit single and it’s hard not to agree. But here again I’m drawn to the more unusual “Thanks for Calling” with its bevy of unexpected hooks tucked in here and there.
In the ‘he keeps getting better and better’ category, Nick Piunti’s new album Temporary High is a treat, kinda like Mike Viola meets Tom Petty. This guy puts pop and rock together like a pro! Again, I’m hard pressed to single out just one song. The opening title track blasts out of the gate with ‘hit’ written all over it, the guitar and organ on “You Invented Hell” are exquisite, while “If This Was Right” strikes the more mellow melodic sweet spots. But I’ve settled on “No Return” which I think would not sound out of place on a Marshall Crenshaw or Mike Viola album. I’ve always been a sucker for the more sibilant, chimey, melody-drenched material.
A record I was really looking forward to was Rob Bonfiglio’s Trouble Again and it does not disappoint. Bonfiglio is a master of the compressed late 1970s poprock sound, evident in the hit single-ish “Passenger Seat.” But don’t overlook “Tears” which channels a bit of ELO and 10CC. Really, the whole record is eminently listenable.Tears
Rounding things out on this post is a selection from Caddy’s Ten Times Four. The ear is naturally drawn to the crashy, bouncy crunch of opening track “Miracle Turn” with its ear worm worthy hooks. Yet I found myself seduced by the more midtempo, Teenage Fanclub-ish elegance of “Reverie.”Reverie
Stumbled across this just-released-today album from Santa Cruz’ Henry Chadwick on Apple’s new rock album feed and it is freakin’ fantastic! Marlin Fisher is the new full length follow up to Chadwick’s 2016 EP Guest at Home, which was also pretty special. Why is Henry Chadwick my new instant fave artist? Because the tunes on this album fall into this blog’s sweet spot: melodic, swinging, loaded with hooks, with just the right dash of rock and roll indie edge.
Opening track “Cupid” sets the stage for everything that is to come on this album with its carefully balanced sonic variety, rich without being mannered. I love the shift in this tune between its slightly discordant verses and harmonically rich hooky chorus. Next up, “Bag of Chips” is more languid and wistful in a breezy, autumnal ‘thinking about the world and my place in it’ sort of way, with great imagery of wolves and sheep and Seinfeld. Then “Change” rocks things up with echoes of Ben Kweller, particularly on the vocals, but also musically. Definitely hit single material. I could go on. That’s because Marlin Fisher is a total album experience – there’s no filler here. Other highlights for me include “Peace and Quiet” with its lovely dream-like quality and Sam Roberts vibe, “Wrong Way” with its catchy chorus and vocals like a new wave John Lennon, the 1965 Merseyside-sounding “Darkness,” and my personal fave, “I Can Stick Around,” featuring a circa 1966 Beatlesque hooky lead line opener and muted Byrdsian vocals.
Marlin Fisher is available now and would make a great surprise, no-real-reason-for-it-but-here-it-is present for some dear poprock friend. Or acquaintance. Check out Henry Chadwick’s website and Facebook pages to make it happen.
Is it a turn down day? No, it’s jangle Thursday. A day ripe with the ringing chime of trebly, echo-y guitars that somehow say sunshine and good times. I say confidently that today’s trio of tunes will elevate your mood and contribute to overall feelings of good fellowship. Let the jangle rip!
“Nothing I Can Say” is a lovely mid-tempo number from Tony Molina’s fab new LP, Kill the Lights. Equal parts Bryds and Teenage Fanclub, my only complaint is that everything’s over all too soon, clocking in at a very brief one minute, eleven seconds. But what a wonderful 71 seconds! Another great jangle number on the album is “Give He Takes You.” Former Bye Bye Blackbirds member William Duke has another solo album out and it’s a wonderful, sixties-infused journey, tapping multiple poprock styles. But Quatro breaks out the jangle on two tunes specifically, the spectacular A-list single “Caroline and the Silver Screen” and the more subdued “Cue up the Memories.” The latter channels a bit of low key Monkees, while the former has some great Tom Petty-ish and Beatles guitar sounds. Roller Disco Combo’s jangle is a bit more contemporary, sounding very Scottish, circa the 1990s on 2017’s Things Under Control. “This Is It” would fit nicely on any Teenage Fanclub or Dropkick album, while “Love Me Do” dials things down to quiet mode, a bit more acoustic, with hefty splashes of jangly electric guitar.
Summer’s nearly over and ‘back to school’ signs beckon but one thing that won’t be in this fall’s lesson plan: heartbreak. Yep, that’s right. Life’s hardest lessons won’t be on the midterm. Now, in the event you skipped class, it was all covered on Aerial’s amazing 2014 release, Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak in School? If you love dynamic poppy rock and roll then you’re going to love this homework assignment because the whole record is a winner. The album kicks off with some killer rock and roll drums and rhythm guitar on the raucus but poppy “Cartoon Eyes, Cartoon Heart,” a track elevated by its breathtaking harmony vocals, which are really the album’s signature sound. Then the band adds a bit of new wave guitar and the school bell from the Ramones’ “Rock and Roll High School” to the magic that is the clear break-out single, the title track “Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak School.” I think I sprained my finger hitting repeat on this baby. Then take your pick from all the other great songs here. Other critics have drawn comparisons to XTC with “Japanese Dancer,” I hear a friendly version of the Ramones on “A Great Teenager” while “More Than Alcohol” and “Go With You” are just superb, swinging poprock songs. As an album, Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak in School? is a cut above: timeless, fresh and exciting.
So you missed its release first time around. So did I. Just head over to bandcamp and get your copy now.
This turn around the dial lays on the sugar and spice with songs that highlight how poprock can embrace both smooth production values and a discordant note here and there.
Eric Blakely’s The Bottle Kids has a polished poprock sheen honed in the late 1970s by such melodic rock luminaries as the Raspberries and Rockpile. Tracks like “When You Come Around” and “Her Heart is Much Worse than her Bite” sound like great lost tunes from that era. But then “American Girls,” the obvious single from the latest album, Let Me In On This Action, goes in another direction, drawing more from the indie side of the early 1980s sound. “Let’s Put Some Power Back in Pop” is a master class in that style as well the theme song of record, giving voice to it’s underlying musical philosophy. Another surprise is the Lennon-esque “I Miss Her Goodbyes” with its interesting “A Day in the Life” piano shots and spot-on Beatles vocals. While you’re checking out the band, don’t miss “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” from 2013’s Such a Thrill, perhaps Blakely’s greatest composition!
San Francisco’s Richard Turgeon deservedly made a lot of ‘best of’ lists for 2017 with his driving rock and roll debut album In Between Spaces. Now he’s back with a tribute to a nearby burg, Lost Angeles, and it’s another killer blast of nineties-tempered tune-age. Things kick off with what must be the artist’s theme song, “Big Break,” which contains all the elements of Turgeon’s sound: big guitars, slightly discordant vocals, and a sneaky hook that won’t let up. Then “Waiting for You” shifts gears, sounding like a grungy Matthew Sweet, complete with sparkly lead guitar lines and a very Sweet-like melody line and chorus. But the out-of-the-park single for me is the addictive “Look Away” – crank this up and keep the air guitar handy. Turgeon takes a number of chances on this outing, trying out different styles on songs like “Working for the Man” and “I Want to be a Shut-in” while also showcasing how rock can be touching on his loving tribute “Be My Wife.” Besides picking up this latest record, tune in to Turgeon’s various social media for semi-regular releases of new material and inspired covers.
The Spindles’ Past and Present is definitely heading for my ‘best of’ list for 2018. This release has it all: great songs, killer hooks, superb performances. The band is clearly influenced by the Beatles and other British Invasion acts like the Hollies, masterfully covered here on “Look Through Any Window” (which is not easy to do). But they manage to make those influences their own. Overall, the sound is very early 1980s poprock – think the Moody Blues Long Distance Voyager or even some NRBQ. “Prisoner of War” is a strong opener and potential single, while “I Want My Baby Back” sounds like the sure-fire hit to me. Another great number is “Whenever We’re Together” with it’s Jeff Lynne strings and background vocals. “Peace with the Past” has a nice Hard Day’s Night opening flourish before settling in to a more Rubber Soul vibe. Other strong tracks include “Young Heart,” “Annette” and the very Nick Lowe circa Cowboy Outfit sounding “Santa Fe.” On the whole, the record is very easy to listen to again and again …
Prisoner of WarI Want My Baby BackWhenever We’re Together
You know the drill – only record buying fans can stop the slow slide to musical oblivion. Seriously, nobody really wants to be a ‘great lost artist.’ So find The Bottle Kids, Richard Turgeon and The Spindles today on the hot-links.
A new feature of sorts, a tribute to the almighty single! In this age of catastrophic change in music consumption the single is back as a way of teasing interest in an artist and their new releases. It is now fairly conventional for artists to release a single well ahead of the album. Take this first round of singles – all precede their designated albums by many months. And, frankly, I can’t wait around to feature these talents!
Time it was that I waited on every Elvis Costello release like the second coming of rock and roll’s savior. And then post-Spike, I got a bit more choosy. I mean, I totally support artists going beyond whatever they’ve done in the past and Elvis clearly had many more roads left to explore. They just weren’t always my thing. But like every George Jones record, there’s seldom lacking at least one truly great cut on any given EC album. It looks like Costello’s to-be-released new album will be no exception. “Unwanted Number” is a pre-release cut from Look Now and it’s a winner. Think Imperial Bedroom meets Painted From Memory. The piano and songwriting are reminiscent of the songs from that great Costello keyboard period stretching from Imperial Bedroom through Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World. Meanwhile the bridge captures the feel of the work he did with Burt Bacharach on songs like “Toledo.”
Next up is the criminally under-appreciated Paul Collins, veteran of so many great acts like the Nerves, the Breakaways, and, of course, the Paul Collins Beat. What is striking about Collins is the quality of his songwriting output over a four-decade period. His new single shows he’s still got it. “In and Out of My Head” is the pre-release single from his upcoming album, Out of My Head. The rumbly guitar is wonderfully retro yet freshly deployed on a tune that sounds like it belongs on a Roy Orbison album.
Described as “Califorian pop from sunny Utrech, the Netherlands” on their website, The Maureens have a keen ear for a melodic blend of country folk and poprock sounds. 2015’s Bang the Drum was a solid release, oozing hooks and harmonies. Now they’ve released “20 Years for the Company” from the to-be-released Something in the Air and it’s a blast of harmony-drenched goodness. Speaking to the economic insecurity of times, the song nonetheless gives off a positive vibe with it’s captivating mix of male and female vocals.
The UK’s Ordinary Boys were a big success with three hit albums before their first break up in 2008. But I’m most partial to their 2015 reunion record, the self-titled The Ordinary Boys. To my ears, it’s a bit more pop-rocky in the best tradition of The Jam or more recently The Rifles. Case in point: “Disposable Anthem.” Full of chiming guitars and sweeping melody lines, the song speeds along fueled by nonstop hooks. It has that killer shimmering pop sound I also associate with The Mighty Lemon Drops. Other highlights from the album for me include “About Tonight” and “Putting my Heart on the Line” but you can’t beat “Disposable Anthem,” the definite should-have-been single.
The Ordinary Boys Facebook page is still live. Perhaps there’ll be more material in this vein in the future!
It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s, man’s world they tell us and nowhere is that more true than in rock and roll. The omniscient perspective in a rock song is usually male, with a few exceptions. But to the music scene’s credit, more women have been making inroads over the past two decades or so. The first woman I recall identifying not simply as a ‘female vocalist’ but as a universal rock voice was Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. Since then the indie scene has provided us with a number of examples of larger than life female artists (they have to be to crowd out the men) with great songs and powerful performances.
Jill Sobule has had an amazing career doing, apparently, pretty much whatever she has wanted to do. After a false start at Geffen in 1990, 1995’s self-titled Jill Sobule set the frame for what would follow: a quirky, often folky, sometimes hilarious, always introspective and keenly observational singer-songwriter that has consistently produced great albums. Kinda like a rock and roll Suzanne Vega, but with more ‘tude. Threaded throughout her work is a strong set of political and feminist commitments, ranging from the satirical “Supermodel” to the more recent “Women of Industry.” Sobule’s catalogue is an embarrassment of riches so here’s an almost random selection. “Supermodel” showcases the uptempo hit songwriter, “Bitter” from 1997’s Happy Town rides a perfect hook, “Rock Me to Sleep” from 2000’s Pink Pearl exemplifies her tender side, while the banjo-driven “Old Kentucky” from 2014’s Dottie’s Charms is just a bit of rollicking fun. Sobule is working on a new album now and you check out her Soundcloud page to hear the works in progress and other great unreleased material.
BitterRock Me to Sleep
There are times when Amy Rigby seems so country. It’s there in her voice, that weary 1960s sound of oppressed Nashville womenhood. But then the angle shifts and the rock and roll dynamo shows through, giving voice to a whole lot of gendered working class experience from a lifetime of surviving the independent music scene. Her 1996 solo debut Diary of a Mod Housewife was a masterpiece of melodic social commentary but it didn’t lead to explosive sales. Since then, Rigby has continued to release solid records with songs that draw on all manner of classic rock and roll motifs, while giving voice to issues of class, relationships, gender and aging. A good place to start would be her 2002 compilation 18 Again. There you can check out the perfect 1960s elan of “All I Want” or the new wave vibe to “The Good Girls” or the masterful turns of phrase on the acoustic “Magicians.” Of course, I would add a few songs from 2003’s Til the Wheels Fall Off like the age-conscious “Shopping Around” or “Last Request” as well as 2005’s Little Fugitive,which contains a host of beautiful song scenarios like “The Trouble with Jeanie” and “Dancing with Joey Ramone.” She is back this year with Old Guys, where I’m digging “Are We Still There Yet.”
All I WantThe Good Girls
So much has been written about Juliana Hatfield and her many impressive accomplishments, all the great bands she has been part of, there’s really not much I could add. So I’ll just focus my attention on her continuing strength as a songwriter and recording artist. After a break of 22 years, her reunited Juliana Hatfield Three released a killer album in 2015, Whatever, My Love, with radio-friendly single material like “Invisible” and “If I Could.” Deep cut fave – “Parking Lots” with it’s sunny subtle hooks. Then in 2017 she released the dynamite, politically-charged solo album, Pussycat, a reaction to the election of Donald Trump. Here I would single out the jaunty “You’re Breaking my Heart” and “Kellyanne.” Then, as a reaction to the previous election year’s constant negativity, Hatfield decided to release an album of Olivia Newton-John covers. Here she works a creative tension between mirroring and reinventing the originals, with particular success on the Xanadu sountrack numbers, in my view. “Magic” amps up the early 1980s keyboard sound and adds Hatfield’s own distinctive vocal approach. Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is better than cover albums are allowed to be, a real treat.