Slawter on Poprock Avenue

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LCBHWith apologies to Mick Ronson, today’s post focuses on a dynamic new release from a guy who hit it out of the park with a long player that came out only last year. Michael Slawter’s 2017 release of An Assassination of Someone You Knew rightfully made a host of year-end ‘best of’ lists. Now he’s back with Last Call for Breaking Hearts and it is another tour de force. Previous comparisons mentioned Mitch Easter and the DBs, but this time around I hear a more straight up pop rock sound that sometimes sounds very crunchy-guitar, reverby vocals a la Matthew Sweet, or late period Marshall Crenshaw in terms of the guitar mix, or Michael Carpenter on the whole package.

The obvious single is the Teenage Fanclub-ish “Summer’s Kind” with its Bryds-meets-Scotland melodic swirl and moody vocals. Though “Free Fall” could vie for the single release, with it’s driving guitar and sweet melody. Of course Slawter might be championing “Coming Around” as the single, given that he’s produced a video for it! Other highlights from the record are many, like the killer hook that threads it’s way throughout “The One (And Only)” or the great guitar hooks sprinkled throughout “Your Sunshine” or the killer combo of hooky chorus and great vocals propelling “We Belong” and “Breathe.”  Deep cut fave – “Believe in Me.” This is the one that is really reminiscent of Marshall Crenshaw in places and atmosphere for me – wonderful guitar work and catchy melody.

Last Call for Breaking Hearts is available on Bandcamp and Michael is available on his Facebook page to receive your accolades now.

Sounds like a smile!

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carThere are songs that come on and a smile follows. It’s spontaneous, even if it happens every time. Even this random car graphic above can’t resist smiling. Given the headlines, it seems like every day our world needs a few more songs that sound like a smile. Here are a few random choices that never fail for me.

Scotland’s Dropkick are a fave here at Poprock Record and I can’t resist a chance to feature another of their fabulous tunes, this time from Good Vibes: The Dropkick Songbook, a 2014 release of re-recorded songs drawn from material first released between 2001 and 2008. “Dog and Cat” is lovely, lilting happy tune, with a sweet sentiment. One could imagine Schroeder of Peanuts fame playing this for Lucy, I mean, if he actually liked her and switched from piano to guitar.

The Mowgli’s have that upbeat positive sound I associate with Family of the Year and Good Old War, bands that lean heavily on acoustic guitars, sweet harmony vocals, and catchy hooks. Stand alone single “Room for All of Us” builds from a positive message to an anthemic poppy chorus, and the song raises money for the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that helps those displaced by conflict.

Lord Huron is largely known for his dreamy Americana but from the first time I heard “Hurricane (Johnny’s Theme)” it practically leapt out at me as some kind of weird but wonderful mid-1960s pastiche revival tune, one part Johnny Rivers, another part Johnny Horton, with even some Marty Robbins in there somewhere. Listen to how the song takes off with it’s trebly lead line and strong vocals, so unlike most of Lord Huron’s other material. Upbeat and positive in its relentlessly peppy presentation.

Bruce Springsteen hardly needs press from the likes of me but his 2014 Record Store Day EP release American Beautycontains a stand out track that is just a little bit different than the rest of his catalogue with “Hurry Up Sundown,” particularly with its carmelized, fattened-up vocal track. The song is classic Bruce but coated in a polished poprock veneer circa 1987 that makes me smile. Hurry Up Sundown

Rounding out this post is a bit of Can Con I’ve regularly featured on the blog, Jeremy Fisher. Most of this Canuck’s songwriting is pretty sunshine and rainbows positive but “Come Fly Away” from his 2010 release Floodis smile plasteringly pleasant and uplifting. Cue sun-up and chirping birds.

They say smiles are free but we know that’s not true. Smile production costs money. So send a smile to Dropkick, The Mowgli’s, Lord Huron, Bruce Springsteen and Jeremy Fisher via your wallet or repeated Spotify streams today.

Should be a hit single: Silver Sun “Jody”

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DHHow did I miss these guys the first time around? The five albums by Camden UK’s Silver Sun are a treasure trove of hook-laden, should-be hits. Indie rock critics have rightly lavished praise on their first two major label releases but I’m fond of this deep cut from their independently released third album, 2005’s Disappear Here. “Jody” sounds like it’s blasting right out of the most poprock moments of the 1980s, complete with obligatory horn section. The sustained chugging guitars are wrapped in an infectious multi-layered vocal arrangement, laid over a swinging beat and hooky melody. The song is all the more impressive because it is work of just one member of the original band, songwriter/lead singer James Broad (though the rest of the band did come back together to tour with the album). Though their last album surfaced in 2013 (A Lick and a Promise)Silver Sun are still putting out the occasional tune via James Broad’s Soundcloud page. And that is a very good thing.

Jody

Search ‘Silver Sun’ and ‘Silversun’ if you’re looking to lay down some cash for this great band’s back catalogue on the music services.

Oh Canada …

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CanadaFor non-Canadian readers, July 1 is our national holiday. Does it mark a revolutionary outburst? A decisive break with past political practice? A victory for the people over the oligarchs? Nope. It was basically a bankers’ renegotiation of how best to exploit a whole lot of land and its abundant raw materials, something that had already been going on for some time. Now it would go on better. The people? They wouldn’t get a look in for some time. Nonetheless, Canadians politely take this day off, crack a beer or two, set off some fireworks, and give the day’s historic relevance not one fleeting thought. Imagine America’s July 4thbut without all the pomp, patriotism, and political chest-thumping.  And with stronger beer.

For our celebration here the ever creative Jill Sobule kicks things off with a track from her wonderful collaborative project, Dottie’s Charms. Jill and Mike Viola wrote the music for “O Canada” with lyrics by author Sara Marcus and it is a very Canada sort of thing: wistful, longing, and with a refrain familiar to countless millions of grateful immigrants – ‘you took me in, you took me in, O Canada.’ The video is by Iranian-American director Sara Zandilieh

Speaking of creative, the impossibly prolific KC Bowman manages to give hilarious voice to an imagined Canadian desire to join our southern neighbour, though the song hardly paints a glowing portrait of the supposed benefits of union. The song is available for free with a whole album of treats as part of his Preoccupied Pipers project.

Wrapping things up is an actual Canadian performer, Montreal’s Sam Roberts. His band has a wonderful low key rock and roll sound, kinda like Tom Petty in a really mellow mood. On “The Canadian Dream” Sam’s not so sure the dream will be real out on the 40 below streets without some help, so he spells out what is needed to his listeners

Happy Canada Day world! It’s a pretty mellow sort of nationalism we’ve got going here. That’s actually a good thing.

Classic summer with Freedom Fry and Super 8

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summerMusical gods of summer, you have heard our pleas! We have need of sunshine melodies and cool hooks to accompany our unrealistic seasonal aspirations and you have answered our prayers with new albums from some reliable sources. Get the bottle opener and air pump ready!

ClassicAmerican-French duo Freedom Fry are no one thing. Their range runs the gamut of neo-cabaret to low-key dance numbers, with a whole lot in between. They’ve mostly put out original singles and EPs along with some inspired covers since 2011. But now comes their first long player, Classic, and it’s aptly named. Gone are the syncopated beats of last year’s Strange Attraction in favour of a more stripped down, acoustic sound e.g. banjos, dreadnought 6 strings, with just a touch of spaghetti western a la Ennio Morricone. You can really hear the western lilt on tracks like “For You,” “Cold Blooded Heart” and especially on the sunny “Past Lives” with it’s haunting whistling. Freedom Fry channel a kind of happy-go-lucky, feel good disposition on a lot of their tunes, even when the subject matter is dark. Kinda like riding a bike by the ocean on a sunny day. Feel that breeze on tracks like “Awake” and “Ticking.” This is a predictably solid debut album from a band that’s been single-teasing us for years!

For YouPast Lives

Super 8Just six months after the release of his stunning debut, T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies, Paul Ryan aka Super 8 is back with another solid 1960s-infused musical rumination on life, love and politics with his new record, Turn Around Or …There is a late 1960s Kinks and Stones-like quality to the recordings here, both in terms of social commentary and the easygoing acoustic-but-still-rocky vibe to the whole album. “Hey Mr. Policeman” and “Be Careful What You Say” update 1960s social criticism for the new millennium while “Smile” and “Turn Around Or” exude that 1960s endless summer. I love the harmonica blasts on “You Say You’re Leaving” and the rockier “Calling Out.” Ryan changes up the pacing with “Never Had a Love,” which reminds me of McCartney’s forays into older musical forms. But the highlights here for me are the subtle, building hooks on the Jayhawks-reminiscent “Mary Jane” and the obvious single, “Your Love is my Blanket.” Nice cover of fellow Scots BMX Bandits great tune, “Serious Drugs.” Turn Around Or …is a sixties-vibing, easygoing summer party album, and it has arrived just in time.

Musical gods must be paid and prayers won’t pay the rent or put new strings on the dobro. Get on over to Freedom Fry and Super 8’s internet real estate and pay the piper.

Being different with The Spook School

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Spook SchoolEvery now and again a band comes along that writes great tunes and performs them in an ever so pleasing poprock way but also has something important to say. Really important, in fact. That is The Spook School. The Glaswegian foursome’s early recordings were favourably compared to the Buzzcocks with their general demeanor of punky urgency but quickly established that they were their own musically distinctive entity. The Spook School are all about gender identity and the many ways it shapes and is shaped by what people do. Their music and lyrics capture the confusion, heartbreak, loneliness and danger that accompanies anyone who is gender non-comforming. I challenge anyone to listen to the band’s recorded output and remain indifferent to the aching, tender, and angry insights they have to offer. And they are kick ass songwriters, with a quirky, delightful approach to re-inventing 1970s and 1980s rock and roll.

SS Dress UpThe debut album, 2013’s Dress Up, has all the band’s key themes on display: chugging rhythm guitars, searching lyrics, and hearts on sleeves, particularly on tracks like “Are You Who You Think You Are?” “I Don’t Know” and “History” with its great rock lead line. 2015’s Try to Be Hopeful takes this formula forward with “Burn Masculinity” and “Try to be Hopeful” but also offers up more single-ish material like “Speak When You’re Spoken To” and the wonderfully celebratory “I Want to Kiss You.” Continental Drift is a compilation from 2016 with two great contributions from The Spook School, the deliriously frantic “Sometimes I Hide From Everybody” and the hooky “Gone Home.”

SS COUldBut nothing could prepare fans for 2018’s Could It Be Different?, an album that roils with explosive intensity and a powerful sense of confidence. The Spook School kick out the gender jams on this release. The tone is set with the opening track, “Still Alive,” as the singer lets loose with “Fuck you, I’m still alive,” surely the most clear statement any oppressed group can make. From there the album is a tour de force, a major statement about being different and how hard that is. The killer tracks are just about everything: “Best of Intentions,” “Bad Year,” “Alright (Sometimes),” “I Hope She Loves You,” and “While You Were Sleeping” with its great lead guitar opener. This record is a top ten for the year, no doubt.

Do you know someone struggling with gender and gender identity? Because The Spook School is the kind of cultural support they need. Something that can give voice to their struggles and pain and, even, joy sometimes – with music and words. And everybody else wouldn’t suffer from hearing The Spook School either. Check our their tunes and latest adventures online.

I just want to lie here and listen to The Catherines

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Cath 2At a glance Hamburg’s The Catherines appear to be the bastard child of The Smiths and The Magnetic Fields with their jangly guitars, parade of gorgeous 1960s diva single covers, and outrageously long and involved song titles. But that is just scraping the surface – there really is so much more.  Yes, track titles like “Is Your Bigmouth Girlfriend Really So Charming” obviously vibe Morrissey but this band takes things further. Much further. Into the hilarious and absurd. I love how over the top things get with “If You Come Back You’ll Know What’s in the Fridge” and “Yes You’re Beautiful to Look at but So Ugly Inside.” Still, things live or die on the quality of the tunes and they are excellent. Janglepophub put me on to this band and he wasn’t wrong.

Let’s start with “Everytime You Say It’s Ok, I Know It Is Ok,” the latest single, a song that adds some stylish 1960s California pop sounds to the band’s distinctive jangle. Here is proof that band’s potential range exceeds the late 1980s Britpop scene. Of course, when they’re time-traveling back to the 1980s, it’s pretty special. “Good Golly Goo” has a delightful musical roll out and vocals that sound a bit more polished than the group’s usual melodic drone. Another Smithian homage must be “If You Knew What’s Behind Her Smile You Wouldn’t Want to Make Her Happy” with a ringing guitar right off that Manchester band’s debut album. Then “Let’s Kiss Goodnight in the Morning” combines a low key vocal delivery, jangle, and wordplay reminiscent of Stephen Merchant while “I Just Want to Lie Here and Listen to Our Heartbeat” combines a bit more crunch at the start and some lovely background vocals. I even hear some very Kinks influences on tracks like “May I Say I Love You Or Will You Faint?” So, I’m basically saying, you may come for the bombastic titles and cool covers but you’ll stay for the songs and performances.

You can buy The Catherines as load of singles here or get their album (which brings together some of the singles) here and keep up with their adventures here.

Party poprock! The Tearaways, J. Eastman and the Drunk Uncles, The Condors, and The Connection

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beerSummer is nearly upon us so it’s time to start thinking about that party playlist. You don’t want to be caught tuneless with the BBQ on and the craft beer flowing. The party element is important because the origins of rock and roll can be found in the joy and fun and abandon of people + good rocking + Saturday night. It’s the adrenaline that runs through Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” and Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” So today’s selection of pop rock bands channel that original rock and roll party vibe in varied and exciting ways.

TearawaysSanta Barbara’s The Tearaways sent me their latest CD (thanks boys!), but they needn’t have. I’d already bought most of their back catalogue, so I would have gotten around to getting the new one. These guys have been in the rock and roll game for the long haul, forming in 1982 but relentlessly gigging ever since. Their early to mid-career recorded output is hard to find, but since 2014 they’ve released five killer albums of 1960s-inflected pop rock and roll. These guys know their Merseybeat hooks and layer that with exquisite California beach harmonies. Sometimes it’s pure 1960s redux. Other times, very 1979 new wave or 1980s indie. But throughout the songwriting is strong, at times fun, even a bit goofy, or just filled with straight up party hooks. You can literally hear the party starting on the Irish-inflected 2013 single “We’re All Going to Drink Tonight.” Or put either of 2014’s Earle Mankey albums and hit shuffle for instant party mode with should-be classics like “Girls Who Love Cars” and “James Bond” or “Friends and Enemies” and “John Wayne.” 2017’s DW Hofner, Martin Gibson, Ludwig Rickenbacker, Earle Hammond & Vox Fender, ESQ adds a bit of Britpop/Oasis to the mix with “Find Yourself Another Fool” along with great rock and roll name dropping on “Bash” and “That’s Rock.” But my fave here would “Hello Isla Vista” with its dynamic vocal harmony drenched chorus. The new record is no slouch either. Anthems and Lullabies sees the band branching out, featuring some distinctive new solo vocal performances on the swinging “I Could Love You Forever” or the Orbisonesque “Remember to Forget.” And then there’s the hilarious, hooky “What a Jerk” and my choice for should-be hit single, the flawless “Sometimes Saying Nothing Says it All.” Live footage of the band confirms they pull off these tunes with an extra measure of rock and heart.

We’re All Going to Drink TonightGirls Who Love CarsJohn WayneWhat a JerkSometimes Saying Nothing Says It All

DUOur next group is the band that was playing in the background of your ‘night out at the bar’ when you suddenly realized they’re freakin’ fabulous (and it’s not just the beer talking). Minneapolis’ J. Eastman and the Drunk Uncles play like they’ve been playing together forever. They’re tight and easy at the same time. Their first album, No Capo Required, has a rough but solid indie sound, particularly on tracks like “Not the Liquor” and “Lack of Medication.” And then there’s earwormy jangle gem, “Josephine.” I’ve hit replay on this baby countless times – a real should-be hit! The band is back this year with Pleasing Some of the People None of the Time, an album that maintains all their indie charm with just a bit more polish. Comparisons to The Replacements and REM are not out of order, though I also hear a bit of a Springsteen, particularly some of his more recent poprock-oriented material (e.g. “Hurry Up Sundown” from 2014’s American Beauty EP). Highlights for me include “On Your Dime” and “Holding On.” But my hands down fave is “No Political Agenda.” I love its explosive ‘out of the box’ opening and driving guitar hooks. Gimme a twofer and a spot close to the stage this Friday night’s live performance!

UntitledBetter shine up your dancing shoes for our next band, LA’s The Condors. They meld a classic rock and roll sound with that new wave sheen circa 1979 – think The Romantics meets Tom Petty, with a dash of The Cars and Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure. 2001’s Kinks’ inspired Tales of Drunkenness of Cruelty has a wonderful punky poprock sound on tracks like “Listen to Me Now.” By 2007’s Wait For It the sound had tightened up considerably. ‘Somewhere over the rainbow … there’s a party going on’ kicks off “Waiting Half the Night” and the start of a non-stop party album. Songs range from the droll “Don’t Want a Girl Who’s Been With Jack” to the blasting, driving “Carnival of Fools” to the rollicking “Wake Up.” However, my fave is probably the more sophisticated melody on “Something Better Coming Soon.” 2012’s 3 Item Combo changed up the sound a bit, adding considerable variety, sounding a bit Eels at times, Cars at others. Album highlights for me include “My Slice of Life,” “Seraphina Why” and full-on rock out on “Full Blown Love Attack.” In 2015 the band released just one single but what a tune! “Back to Jackson” echoes Nancy and Lee’s 1967 hit but takes it further. 2017’s EP Joi De Vivre shows the boys have still got it on tracks like “Tell It to the Judge” and the smoking instrumental “High Chaparral.” A night with this band would be dance heaven.

Listen To Me NowWaiting Half the NightCarnival of FoolsWake UpFull Blown Love AttackBack to JacksonHigh Chaparral

ConnectionLooking to party like it’s 1965? Then The Connection is your band! I imagine a party night with this group is kinda like one of those dance scenes from A Hard Day’s Night. These guys have rock and roll chops influenced by a classic 1960s poprock groove, British pub rock, and American new wave. Think mid-1960s Stones, Rockpile, with a bit of NRBQ and Ramones. And the hooks! Songwriters Marino and Palmer leaven their party rock with healthy dose of melody at every turn. I can’t go through every album with this band – there’s just too many great songs. I love the early 1960s sweetness of “Little Lies” from 2011’s New England’s Newest Hitmakers or the rockin’ swing of “Gonna Leave You” from 2012’s Connection Collection, v.1. Then again 2013’s Let It Rock is all full of cool tracks like “She’s a Keeper” and “The Way Love Should Be.” 2015’s Labor of Love mines the more 1970s poprock sound of Nick Lowe and the Kinks, for instance on “Pathetic Kind of Man.” Ok, I did cover most of the albums. And don’t miss out on the band’s latest, Wish You Success – it may be their best yet. “The Girl is Trouble” is poprock perfection. But my current fave is “Mechanical Heart” with it’s sneaky earworm effect. Get your skinny tie on for this party band.

Today’s artists are struggling to make music a career and live performance has once again come to fore as a key part of the necessary cash nexus. If The Tearaways, J. Eastman and the Drunk Uncles, The Condors or The Connection come anywhere near you town, for god’s sake go see them! You won’t regret it.

Breaking news: Oberon Rose, Even, Essex Green and Ruler

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recordsA strong cast of breaking acts in today’s featured post channel the classics of the mid-to-late 1960s rock and roll and 1990s power pop. All fall into the ‘highly recommended’ category of blogging endorsements!

OberonRight off the mark, Oberon Rose generates an excitement that is distinctively 1960s rock and roll on their new record Tell Me All About It. The kick off to “No Stranger” has that magic combo of electric guitars and background vocal ‘oohs’ that draws you in and never lets up. Described as ‘psychedelic’ by a host of writers, the band falls on the more melodic side that tradition, i.e. more early rather than later Pink Floyd or even the Beatles circa Sgt. Peppers. Another strong track from the band’s latest LP is the title track, “Tell Me All About It,” with its sometimes hooky, sometimes languid and spacey feel. Don’t miss the band’s debut Wunjo from 2012 either as it contains its share of 1960s-infused real winners, like “One Man Show of Sorrow” and “Dance of the Bee.” This band’s work made me hit repeat more than once!

EVenAustralian jangle rockers Even are back with a fabulous new album, Satin Returns. Twenty-two years and seven albums later, the band has not lost its touch, as is evident on the brilliant should-be hit single “Out of the Woods,” a textbook example of how to combine jangle with killer hooks. This baby is a soundtrack to sunshine and good times, all the way. Overall, the album is a testament to the band’s mastery of late 1960s rock styles, without just being a museum piece. The end result has a timeless quality. “Little Piece” showcases this nicely with its exuberant riffing. Is this 1970s rock homage? Or 1990s indie? It doesn’t really matter because the songwriting lets it stand on its own. This is a band whose recordings also say ‘great live band.’

EGA year or so ago we lamented the lack of new material from Essex Green while lauding the harmonic genius of their single “Don’t Know Why (You Stay).” Well, the band is back with a new record and North American tour and the news is all good. The new album is Hardly Electronic and not available until the end of June but from the two songs presently available it’s going to be a killer. “Sloane Arranger” is a wonderful poppy-rock number, with great organ and background vocals, featuring a main vocal reminiscent of Mark Everett’s work with Eels and solo as E. “The 710” has a mellifluous quality, an easy going track that has an embedded ear worm that sneaks up on you. And there’s twelve more tracks to come! To say I can’t wait would just be hyperbole, I can. But I don’t want to!

RUlerThe Ruler debut album is finally out and can I just say it? Ruler rules! Winning Star Champion is a hook-filled masterpiece. From beginning to end, Ruler’s Matt Batey delivers some pretty sweet melody-drenched rock and roll a la Matthew Sweet or Kevin Devine. Whether he’s employing a wall of guitars on “Petrified” or just finger-picking his acoustic on “We’ve Got it Made” Ruler bends melody to his will with a delicate and poignant sweetness. Title track “Winning Star Champion” announces that the singing protagonist claims his title for ‘fucking up’ like a ‘high school rebel running out of luck.’ So goes the theme of the whole album: the insecurities of advancing adulthood, in evidence on tracks like “Cars and Houses,” “The Cure” or the melancholy “Always Running.” And then there’s that winning, should-be hit single “Unhindered Pace,” a perfectly arranged sonic poprock treat. Mark my words – Winning Star Champion is destined to top everyone’s ‘best of 2018’ lists!

Oberon Rose, Even, Essex Green and Ruler are going places. They’d get there earlier with your help. Click the links. Speak with fistfuls of cash.

Around the dial: Dan Israel, Lane Steinberg, David Sheinin, and KC Bowman

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StereoThere is so much great music out there, waiting to be noticed. I can hardly keep up writing about just a fraction of it! Our turn around the dial this time showcases a quartet of hardworking journeymen songwriters and performers who have done their time in the trenches and could use a little more glory.

Dan IsraelWe’re written about the sublime joy that is Dan Israel before. He writes a kind of cross-over, folk-inflected poprock that is increasingly rare in our hipster-hyphenated, genre lockdown. Here I’m thinking Cat Stevens at his most melodic or even a more upbeat Jim Croce. It’s all there on Israel’s new album You’re Free. This is a relaxing at the cabin or driving somewhere record, that deftly mixes more slow-moving introspection with uptempo rock and roll. The album kicks off kicks off with what sounds like a very Cat Stevens-like vocal and song structure on “Gets You Through It,” channels some early 1970s Paul Simon on the breezy “Make This Life Mine,” and vibes Tom Petty on the more rockin’ “Someday You’ll Say.” But the album highlight is the obvious single, “You’re Free.” This baby has a driving beat and melodic hook reminiscent of both John Lennon and Bob Dylan, when they deigned to cast out some hooks. You’re Free is another winner for Dan Israel, very much worth the cover price.

LaneIt’s hard to get a fix on Lane Steinberg. Whatever the genre, the guy is obviously supremely talented, with an enormous back catalogue of work spanning decades, performed by range of musical combos. The diversity is in evidence on his latest release, Lane Steinberg and his Magic Pony. The cover alone has gotten attention – its looks like a somewhat bizarre record store find, perhaps dug out of a bin alongside Spock’s Music from Outer Space. The record itself is a curious blend of melodic satire, gentle political commentary, and straight up poprock, with a few Noel Coward-ish piano tunes thrown in for good measure. Steinberg is clearly having fun, mocking everything from the technology (“You’re Not Connected to the Internet”) to fake social concern (“I’m Tony Hayward and I’d Like My Life Back”) to the sureties of both the political left and right (“Crazy as a Shithouse Rat”). But he is also deadly serious about his poprock craft. “Another Early Autumn” hits all the Beach Boys marks. “Everyone Thinks I’m Happy Now” channels the Beatles c. 1966, with help from that “Strawberry Fields Forever” organ. On a more contemporary note, both “Franklin and First” and “Who Does Your Mind Control?” have the confident melodic sheen of the best work by the Eels. But the standout track for me here is the mildly strident yet seductive “After Taxes,” a song that allows Steinberg’s varied influences to really gel into a distinctive sound of their own. I think Lee Dorsey would agree – it’s time to ride your (magic) pony!

DaveYou’re a celebrated national sports writer and best selling author but in your spare time you decide to put out your first album of 1960s-inspired poprock songs? That’s David Sheinin on his new album, First Thing Tomorrow, and it’s a winner. This is a breezy fun collection of pop ditties that draw from all the great artists from the 1960s through the 1980s. Just listening to the record you’d swear Sheinin is some twenties-something wunderkind, full of young idealism and enthusiasm. “Oh Amelia” captures this nicely with its rippling guitar lines, or “City You Left Behind” with it’s swinging hooks. Not that Sheinin just mellows out – there is a great new wave rock and roll feel to “Talking to Myself” that reminds me of Elvis Costello or Michael Penn. And then there’s the early 1960s throwback sound of “What’s the Matter.” The whole record is sonic treat, a soundtrack for convertible driving at sunset!

KCI wonder if KC Bowman sleeps. The guy has put out an enormous amount of material over the years, a lot of it available for free on his bandcamp site under his various band monikers: Lawsuit, Rhythm Akimbo, Agony Aunts, Preoccupied Pipers, Vinny’s Vipers, etc. I’ve heard the occasional single over the years on this or that compilation but haven’t really kept up with his career. Well now you and I can both catch up with his exquisite career-spanning compilation album Important with a Capital I. There are so many highlights on this record I can single out only a few choice cuts, like the opening should-be hit single “Blithering Heights” or the equally single-licious “Super Bad Report.” Bowman has unerring knack for squeezing a hook into just about any song form, utilizing a range killer guitar licks and sweet sounding compressed vocals. Check out his genius homage to Schoolhouse Rocks’ “I’m Just a Bill” on “Mine Called Somebody Else” – this is some pretty subtle referencing! And so on. This record will have you searching through the depths of Bowman’s back catalogue for what you’ve been missing all these years.

There was a time when hearing a great song on the radio would send me running to record store so I could buy it and hit replay again and again. Now it’s so much easier. You can click on the links for Dan Israel, Lane Steinberg, David Sheinin, and KC Bowman and save the bus fare!