Finn versus Finn

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Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 9.22.03 AMInteresting how so many great bands featured two strong songwriters. Lennon/McCartney obviously come to mind, but one could add Difford and Tilbrook from Squeeze or Partridge and Moulding from XTC, among many others. Some of the pairs wrote together, others never did – Lennon and McCartney did both. Two greats that should be added to the list are the Finn brothers, Tim and Neil, late of Split Enz and Crowded House as well as their distinguished solo careers. Both have penned their share of amazing songs in a broadly similar poprock vein, though in recognizably distinct registers. While liking them both, do fans ultimately have a preference for Neil or Tim? There’s too much material to weigh up each Finn in detail. Here’s just a smattering of songs from each that deserve more attention.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 9.32.03 AMTim Finn’s work easily conjours up descriptors like quirky, iconoclastic, and even eccentric. His songs don’t meet conventional expectations. His voice is a bit other-worldly. Of course, that is part of his charm. Finn the elder channels key 1970s art and glam rock influences yet his work is eminently hummable. His creativity, expressiveness and originality put him in the same category as David Bowie and the Talking Heads for me. An early favourite of mine is “My Mistake” from the second Split Enz album, 1977’s Dizrythmia, with its bouncing rhythm. Tim would write the bulk of the next three Split Enz albums, though the hits were mostly the few songs written by Neil. Still, “Shark Attack,” and “I Hope I Never” from True Colours and “Hard Act to Follow” from Waiata have great hooks. 1982’s Time and Tide was arguably Split Enz’ high point and though Tim scaled back his number of contributions the songs that remain are some of his best work: “Six Months in a Leaky Boat,” “Small World,” “Never Ceases To Amaze Me,” and “Haul Away.” Tim’s first solo album, Escapade, has some of my favourites, particularly “Through the Years” with its dare-I-say Neil Finn-ish melodic concision. Since then Tim has released eight solo albums and each one has contained stand out material.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 9.35.35 AMThe 1980s saw Tim releasing two more solo albums while early 1990s saw him collaborating with Neil on Crowded House’s third album, Woodface. From the solo work, I love “Don’t Bury My Heart” from 1986’s Big Canoe and “Not Even Close” from 1989’s Neil Finn. Woodface was a marvelous accomplishment, with Tim’s impact obvious in both the songwriting and sonic quality of the record. But it is his new millennium work that really merits closer scrutiny. For instance, 2000’s Say It Is So is bursting with strong material like “Good Together” and “Death of a Popular Song.” Two years later Feeding the Gods cranked up the guitars and gothic back ground vocals to good effect on tracks like “I’ll Never Know.” In 2006 Imaginary Kingdom lightened the mood with pop whimsy like “Couldn’t Be Done” and the amazing should-be hit single, “Still the Song.” 2008’s The Conversation was more subdued, acoustic, contemplative, but still hooky with a bit of swing on tracks like the wonderful, winsome “Forever Thursday.” His most recent solo offerings include 2012’s The View is Worth the Climb (featuring the very poprock “Can’t Be Found”) and his 2018 collaboration with Dorothy Porter on The Fiery Maze. Don’t Bury My HeartGood TogetherI’ll Never KnowStill The SongForever Thursday

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 9.41.43 AMIf Tim Finn is a bit of an acquired taste, then Neil Finn is the mainstream. As Split Enz became more commercially successful with the release of True Colours in 1980, radio almost invariably played more Neil than Tim. “I Got You,” “One Step Ahead,” “History Never Repeats,” “Message To My Girl” – these were the international hits, all Neil songs. Then Neil went on to form Crowded House and the hits just kept on coming. I love them all but here’s just a few that stand out for particular reasons. Like the crunchy new wave poprock of “Take a Walk” from Split Enz’s Time and Tide or the hooky drive of “I Walk Away From You” from the last Split Enz album and Crowded House’s self-titled debut. Some songs were hits in just some places, like “Distant Sun,” which made the top ten in Canada. Solo, Neil’s singles toned down the ‘power’ in power pop but not at the expense of hooks. Both “She Will Have Her Way” from 1998’s Try Whistling This and “Driving Me Mad” from 2002’s One Nil have a subtle ear worm effect. After a ten year break, Neil reformed Crowded House in 2006 and it was like they’d never stopped playing. Here I’d single out “She Called Up” from 2007’s Time On Earth and “Amsterdam” from 2010’s Intriguer. Neil latest album is a collaboration with his son Liam, 2018’s Lightsleeper.Take A WalkShe Will Have Her WayDriving Me MadShe Called UpAmsterdam

Tim and Neil have also written a lot of songs together, including most of Crowded House’s Woodface and two Finn Brothers albums. From Woodface, “Weather With You” really captures the melding of their two distinct styles of songwriting. The two Finn Brothers’ albums are a study in contrasts, with more acoustic Finn producing singles like “Angel’s Heap” while the rockier Everyone is Here has more uptempo tracks like “All God’s Children.”

In the end, of course, you don’t have to choose or like one more than the other. I love both a lot for different reasons! And they are still creating new material. You can keep up with Tim and Neil at all the usual internet locales.

The single file: The Fieros, Super 8, Sugarspun, Mike Pace and the Child Actors, and Matthew Logan Vasquez

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Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 2.06.17 PMAh the glorious single! Sometimes one 45 is enough, but at the best of times it’s the gateway drug to a whole album of super tunes. Multiple plays of Marshall Crenshaw’s hooky masterpiece of a single “Whenever You’re on my Mind” had me ransacking the record bins for his Field Day album in the hopes that more of the same lurked within. Today’s crop of singles might have the same effect.

Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 2.09.50 PMThe Fieros are more than a tribute to a discontinued Pontiac product line. The Dallas-born, now Brooklyn-based band rock out with a melodic twist on the 1960s psychedelic sound on their new single, “Who’s To Say.” Smooth vocals, crunchy guitar and a hooky chorus – it’s the total package. Want more? Check out their solid 2012 self-titled EP for a slightly rougher (but no less appealing) sound on tracks like “Get Back,” “In My Veins” and “Songbird.” Coming off a stupendous triple play of albums in 2018, Super 8 might have been forgiven for resting on his laurels a bit in 2019. But no, he’s back with another great single, appropriately titled “Something New.” The track kicks off with a classic late 1960s rock and roll sound, combining both buzzing and chiming guitars before dropping out here and there for a Donovan-meets-The Kinks acoustic vibe. Missed Super 8’s shining moments from 2018? You can catch up on this new single and the best of his previous releases on a soon-to-be-released compilation album from Subjangle Records.

The Fieros – Who’s To Say?Super 8 – Something New

What I do I know about Carlisle? Only that there was once panic on the streets (according to the Smiths). Now I know it’s produced Sugarspun, a band that knows how to ring a chord and hook a tune with head bobbin’ predictability. The band hit the music pages hard when their 2018 single “Spaceman Dreams” was featured in Clash magazine. Now they’re back with another winner, the shimmery, hook-laden “Never Grow Old.” Plenty of jangle and harmony-loaded choruses for those of us who like that sort of thing. Mike Pace and the Child Actors tap a good time summer feeling on their latest stand-alone, mid-winter single release, “Hot, Hazy and Humid.” The record is three and half minutes of ear candy, full of finely-tuned sonic treats: ghostly, distant piano, 1970s doubled-up guitar parts, synth bits that sound like passing jet liners, and more! Underneath it all is a good, foot-tapping tune. Which brings us to our outlier single from Matthew Logan Vasquez. “Ghostwriters” has an indie poprock vibe not unlike Kevin Devine, which is to say it is nothing like Vasquez’s other bands, Delta Spirit or Middle Brother. It doesn’t even sound like much else on its accompanying album, Light’n Up, which has a more indie Americana feel. Talk about talent to spare! Master of multiple styles, loyal to none.

Drop the coin right into the slot, Chuck Berry once sang. That’s how you used to review the single file. Now you can check out The Fieros, Super 8, Sugarspun, Mike Pace and the Child Actors, and Matthew Logan Vasquez with a simple click.

Twang it! Andrew Leahey, The Volebeats, The Blue Shadows, and the Secret Sisters

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Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 6.13.34 PMIn the miracle synthetic vortex that was the 1960s the distinct country and western influences that Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers took into rock and roll were mainstreamed into the Anglo-American music scene by acts as diverse as The Beatles, The Byrds, Crosby, Stills, Nash and CCR. Twang became just another flavor of modern music, though its popularity waxed and waned throughout the 1970s and 1980s before becoming an established genre-proper in the 1990s and beyond. In celebration today, let’s twang it!

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 6.14.49 PMOne of the most exciting records to land in 2019 is the new release from Nashville-based Andrew Leahey and the Homestead, Airwaves. Already lauded by the likes of Rolling Stone and Billboard magazine, the album has been hailed as an unabashed heartland rock and roll revival a la Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen. Opening track “Start the Dance” is definitely channeling some early 1980s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers melodic charm while the album’s first single/video “Airwaves” is a full-on celebration of 1980s hit single FM radio. Check out the cool shift to acoustic rhythm guitar at the one minute mark, a striking change-up reminiscent of some of Roy Orbison’s later work. The rest of the album shifts from the pop rock and roll of “Queen and King of Smaller Things” to more lightly country-coated twang of tracks like “Flyover Country.” I love the line in the former about how ‘the country’s run by rich men’s sons that don’t look like anyone we’ve seen around here’. And then there’s the more gentle organ/pedal steel roll out on “Remember This” with its clever name-checking wordplay. And in case you missed the band’s 2016 release, Skyline in Central Time, consider it required homework (that you will enjoy).

The Volebeats are twang that originates from Detroit, part of the late 1980s alt-country scene. Eight albums later, the band carries on, though a lot of their material is hard to find. For instance, their most recent self-titled album is not available on Canadian iTunes! A shame as the record has some killer cuts, like “Walk There,” a track that could stack up with anything from The Jayhawks or Rank and File. Going back, “One I Love” has that great western poprock sound I associate with the BoDeans and some early R.E.M. Another gravely overlooked band working the twang scene in the early 1990s was The Blue Shadows. The group was built around the songwriting and vocal harmony talents of Jeffrey Hatcher and Billy Cowsill (of The Cowsills fame). Despite releasing two incredible records, 1993’s On the Floor of Heaven and 1995’s Luck to Me, the band couldn’t get a break, being too traditionally country for both Nashville and rock and roll radio. What a loss! “Deliver Me” showcases the songwriting and singing talent of the group. They did great covers too – check out their take on Arthur Alexander’s classic “Soldier of Love,” a version I think I like better than treatments from the Beatles and Marshall Crenshaw (and I like those ones a lot!). Rounding out our twang tribute are The Secret Sisters, a duo who combine harmonies and hooks in particularly exquisite way. “Black and Blue” from their 2014 album Put Your Needle Down is a perfect modern take on an early 1960s song styling, complete with rumbly guitar and a swinging melody. Hard not to hum along with this! Meanwhile “He’s Fine” from their 2017 LP You Don’t Own Me Anymore has a more traditional twang feel.The Volebeats – Walk ThereThe Blue Shadows – Soldier of LoveThe Secret Sisters – Black and Blue

Get your twang on with a visit to Andrew Leahey, The Volebeats, The Blue Shadows, and The Secret Sisters, if you can find them. They’re all definitely worth the search.

Around the dial: Escondido, Telekinesis, Secret Friend and Mondello

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Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 2.28.24 PMIt’s a mix of styles on this turn around the dial as we travel from Thailand to California up to Seattle and over to Little Rock, Arkansas. But it is worth the trip!

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 2.33.08 PMWhile the band may hail from Nashville, Escondido clearly embody the southwest vibe of the California town that is their namesake. From the rumbly Morricone guitars to the occasional splash of Tijuana Brass horns, the songs all have that indie-country crossover charm of First Aid Kit, Neko Case and even Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis. The songwriting is particularly strong on the band’s most recent longplayer, Warning Bells. “Bullet” has a great electric guitar opener and nicely shifts between languid country to a swinging chorus. “Crush On Her” takes up the tempo, adding a mid-1970s Fleetwood Mac ambience to the mix. “Roam” cranks up the horns but with the pedal steel and paired vocals it ends up sounding like a great lost Nancy Sinatra single. But the album’s highlight is undoubtedly the low key but moving “You’re Not Like Anyone Else.” This one is destined for countless cover versions and it deserves the attention. If you like Warning Bells, check out Escondido’s back catalogue – it’s pretty special too.

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 2.34.04 PMEffluxion, the new album from Seattle’s Telekinesis, builds on a distinctive indie poprock sound honed on four previous releases, with an extra shot of 1960s swagger on tracks like “Like Nothing” with its killer ‘whoa-oh’s and the hooky “Running Like a River.” “Suburban Streetlight Drunk” hits the keyboards heavy with a vocal that is oh so Shins, in a very good way. At other times, like on the track “A Place in the Sun,” the similarities in vibe with Ruler, another great Seattle poprock outfit, seem pronounced. Overall, this is a super album, one that develops while continuing to deliver on the great songwriting promise showcased on 2009’s self titled Telekinesis!, particularly the flawless pop craft of a song like “All of a Sudden.” Effluxion is a solid repeat-play release.

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 2.34.42 PMSecret Friend is the musical project of Thailand-based producer Steven Fox, one where he brings together a host of musical friends to help him perform his songs. His latest effort has Roger Manning Jr. (formerly of Jellyfish) and Linus of Hollywood playing with vocals by Christopher Given Harris. The resulting single – “Power” – is a fabulous slab of ELO-inspired pop goodness. From the crunching guitar and keyboard stab opening to the candy-coated, silky smoothness of vocals, you know this is going to be something good. And it is, recalling a distinctly 1980s poprock radio golden age of hooky singles.

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 2.31.45 PMFrom Little Rock, Arkansas comes Mondello with Hello, All You Happy People, an album that is the product of a twenty-year odyssey of songwriting and procrastination. The record has a melodic, sometimes discordant, DIY poprock charm. Though some tracks do have a polished sheen, like the obvious single, “Not For Lack of Trying” and the hooky “Heather Martin.” Vocally Mondello sounds like a rockier Tim Finn at times, as on “You Do You” and “Not About to Let You Know.” Other highlights for me include the indie poppy flavour of “Around in Circles,” the slightly harsher hooks on “Stack of Bibles,” and the breezy throwback groove defining “Don’t Say Anything About My Baby” (not the Cookies song!). Better late than never on this release, an LP of solid material and fun graphics/artwork.

Radio isn’t what it used to be. Check out Escondido, Telekinesis, Secret Friend and Mondello and do your part to keep them charting sales-wise.

Cover me! The Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance”

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Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 4.41.39 PMBobby Fuller’s untimely death in 1966, just as his career was taking off, deprived popular music of his unique Buddy Holly-meets-British Invasion sound and clear songwriting promise. Case in point: “Let Her Dance,” an ear-wormy, hook-rich masterpiece. The song contains a brilliant juxtaposition of musical tensions that pull between the beat, lead guitar line, vocal melody, and some inspired background- vocal counterpoint. No wonder it’s been covered by countless bands, each choosing to balance the competing elements in somewhat different and intriguing ways. Today’s post explores that variety with a “Let Her Dance”-a-thon. Get your dancing shoes ready!

Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 4.48.38 PMWhere to start? With The Bobby Fuller Four, of course. Though here fans may not know that “Let Her Dance” was actually a rewrite of an earlier Fuller release, “Keep On Dancing.” IMHO the rewrite improves things considerably but compare for yourself below. Now, confession time: the first version of LHD I heard was actually by Marshall Crenshaw from his 1989 Warner’s swan song album, Good Evening. Marshall is a huge Fuller fan, describing him as his “favourite rock star ever to be murdered by gangsters.” More seriously though, at a South by Southwest Bobby Fuller panel session, Crenshaw called the group “…one of the great rock ‘n’ roll bands,” insisting “[t]hey did what they did with so much conviction and energy. Those guys really knew what Fender guitars were for.” In addition to LHD, Crenshaw has covered Fuller’s “Julia,” “My True Love,” and “Never To Be Forgotten.” And Crenshaw’s LHD is a loving homage, fattening up the opening guitar, spacing out the vocal parts, and adding a nice echo-y bit to the bridge. Compared to the original, all that’s missing is Fuller’s heavenly wall-of-background-vocals.

Bobby Fuller Four – Let Her DanceBobby Fuller – Keep On DancingMarshall Crenshaw – Let Her Dance

Crenshaw’s wasn’t the first cover of LHD, not by a long shot. The first I could find was from Eddy Grant’s 1960s interracial British band, The Equals, from their 1967 album, Explosion. Grant changed lyrics and tempo, smoothing out Fuller’s frenetic pacing, giving the tune a more laid back vibe. The seventies would also put its stamp on LHD when The Spitballs, a Beserkley label house band consisting of various members of the Modern Lovers, Greg Kihn Band, Earth Quake and the Rubinoos, gave it a refreshing ‘spirit of 1978’ back-to-rock-and-roll-basics treatment. The eighties saw a host of LHD covers see the light of day, starting with Phil Seymour from his killer debut album, the self-titled Phil Seymour. Released as a follow up single to the poprock smash, “Precious to Me,” Seymour’s cover of LHD showcased his uncanny ability to add something new to other people’s songs. His version had jaunty guitar, pumping piano, handclaps and, of course, his own special vocal stylings in what amounted to a new wave, powerpop reinvention of the song. Taking things in a punkier direction, Teenage Head indie-fied LHD with their rockier take from their 1986 album Trouble in the Jungle. Linda Rondstad’s 1960s backing band, Swampwater, produced a cool southern fried rock cover of LHD in the late 1970s but the group’s Reunion album didn’t see release until 1987.

The EqualsThe SpitballsTeenage HeadSwampwater

The 1990s were a less fertile LHD-cover terrain – I couldn’t find a single version! But all that changed with the new millennium. Changes in recording technology and music delivery costs meant that artists could experiment a bit more, offering up more covers. The Incredible Casuals, Bill Lloyd and The Terrible Noises all offered up great poprock treatments of the song while others strayed into related genres, with Los Super Seven adding latin touches to Fuller’s texas rockabilly sound, Joe Goldmark and Keta Bill provided a straight up retro country treatment, and The Vikings barrelled through in classic Ramones-revivalist style. Meanwhile, others pushed the boundaries of LHD conventions. Musical iconoclast George Elliott took a very creative approach, almost sounding like The Folkmen from The Mighty Wind mockumentary while The Very Most messed with the traditional instrumentation and background vocals in a most enjoyable way.

The Incredible CasualsBill LloydThe Terrible NoisesLos Super SevenJoe Goldmark and Keta BillThe VikingsGeorge ElliottThe Very Most

Of course, why limit yourself to this one great song, albeit delivered in 17 fabulous flavours? There’s plenty more Bobby Fuller to go around. Keep the Fuller poprock legacy alive and check out his impressive back catalogue today.

All Hopped Up on NRBQ

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Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 10.13.04 PMHow many bands can boast 22 albums of original material, 11 live albums, and 14 compilations? Ok, maybe the Rolling Stones. But NRBQ’s legacy is all the more surprising in that they have held a band together despite pretty limited commercial success. Founded in 1966, the group has run through 16 members over the decades, though Terry Adams, Al Anderson, Joey Spampinato and Tom Ardolino clocked the most time. And that helps explain the consistently high quality of their recordings. While the Stones pretty much ran out of creative steam post-Tattoo You, NRBQ continued to recombine their distinctive band of country and jazz-tinged poprock influences into winning tunes. Not familiar with their canon? Relax. There’s a hit single-worthy winner on every album, usually more than one!

You Can’t Hide

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 10.33.41 PMThe band’s 1969 major label debut was simply titled NRBQ and therein lay the quirky, melodic, deceptively simple, intensely musical formula they have refined ever since. Half covers, half original material, only “You Can’t Hide” sounded vaguely rock and roll in a conventional sense. Then came an album with Carl Perkins (1970’s Boppin’ the Blues) and their first label drop. 1972’s Scraps saw the band bounce back, showcasing their mastery of old-timey poprock on tracks like “Only You.” Then came 1977’s All Hopped Up and NRBQ had musically and creatively arrived. From the Beach Boys-like background vocals animating “Riding In My Car” to the CCR-ish “Help Me Somebody” to the sweet harmony soaked “Still in School” to the Byrdsian “That’s Alright” the band anticipated the sixties-reviving new wave scene that was to come. The next few years witnessed a slew of should-be hits emerge like “I Want You Bad” from 1978’s At Yankee Stadium and “Me And The Boys” from 1980s Tiddly Winks, the latter also featuring the Everly-ish “Beverly,” the Beatlesque “That I Get Back Home,” and a great updated cover of their own “You Can’t Hide.” 1983’s Grooves in Orbit had the hooky rocker “A Girl Like That” while 1985 saw the band record a sweet album with Skeeter Davis (She Sings, They Play).

Riding In My CarI Want You BadThat I Get Back Home

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 10.34.47 PMDespite strong albums, almost constant touring, and the occasional major label release, NRBQ has remained a band seemingly on the verge of success without ever quite breaking through. Even a tour with R.E.M. and the Virgin-released Wild Weekend in 1989 couldn’t put them over the top. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of solid material. Personally I love “Boy’s Life” and “If I Don’t Have You” from Wild Weekend, the rumbly guitar anchoring “A Little Bit Of Bad” from 1994’s Message from the Mess Age, the jazzy overtones on “Ain’t No Horse” from 1999’s NRBQ (The Yellow Album), the vocal harmonies on “Love Is Waiting” from 2002’s Atsa My Band, and the eccentric mélange of styles on “Call of the Wild” from 2004’s Dummy. The band went on hiatus after Dummy but resurfaced in 2011 and 2014 with strong albums that rivalled some of their best work. From 2011’s Keep This Love Goin’ I’d single out the swinging title cut, along with “I’m Satisfied, “Here I Am” and “The Animal Life.” 2014’s Brass Tracks is frankly, pretty amazing: a rich trove of fresh, solid songwriting and great playing. Check out “It’ll Be Alright,” I’d Like to Know,” “Can’t Wait to Kiss You” and “Love This Love We Got.”

If I Don’t Have YouA Little Bit of BadKeep This Love GoinIt’ll Be Alright

Before the internet put band bios at our fingertips we used to have buy music compendiums from the likes of New Music Express, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and the Trouser Press. I’d seen mention of NRBQ in most from my late teens but only really just discovered them recently. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing! If I had a poprock hall of fame NRBQ would be charter members. Get caught up with them at their website and Facebook page.

Jangle Thursday – The Maureens, The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, The Well Wishers and The Embyros

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Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.51.56 PMThursday needs jangle like Sunday needs a weekend extender. It’s something to brighten your just-past-midweek spirits, put a little sparkle in your step, and turn up the corners of those pursed lips.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.53.43 PMThe Maureens emerged from Utrech, Netherlands in 2015 with an amazing record, Bang the Drum, a album brimming with catchy tunes slathered in delicate harmonies. Last year the band teased fans with bimonthly single releases that promised even greater things. Now what is probably my most anticipated album of 2019 has arrived and it is nothing short of stupendous! Something In The Air kicks off with the three 2018 singles, definitely a solid start, with “4AM” and “Twenty Years for the Company” both vibing a strong Teenage Fanclub jangle. But I also hear an older set of influences on tracks like “Turn the Page” and “Something in the Air,” very Crosby Stills Nash and the Byrds respectively. Other highlights for me include the bittersweet “Valentine,” “Wake Up,” and the ear wormy “Can’t Stop.” But drop your needle anywhere on this record and you won’t go wrong. This is a band in full control of their ouvre.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.54.43 PMFrom the moment I heard the fat jangle anchoring “Nervous Man” from the rather mysterious The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness I knew I was on to something special. Now that we know that TBWTPN is Andrew Taylor from Dropkick and Gonzalo Marcos of El Palacio de Linares the song’s quality really is no surprise. Dead Calm is their first full length release and it delivers on the promise of that first stellar single. Jangle permeates every inch of this record, perfectly showcasing some strong songwriting. This is evident right from the start with hooky, guitar-run heavy “TBWTPN,” which cleverly re-uses the song title from The Feelies that inspired this band’s own name. From there it’s one very pleasant tune after another: “Anything At All,” “Close the Doors,” and the more country-ish “Southern Words.” This album’s a let-it-run-through soundtrack of good times.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.55.38 PMJeff Shelton’s The Well Wishers have a new two-sided single out that contains a killer original song and an impressive cover. Check out the ringing guitar hooks on “Feelin Fine.” Folks, this is the Matthew Sweet single we’ve all been waiting for! Jeff’s spelling might be spotty, but his ear for candy-coated hooks is spot on. Meanwhile for the B side Jeff decided to cover Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News.” Ouch! That is one tall order as Buckingham’s vocals alone are nearly impossible to match or replace in any listener’s sense of what the song should sound like. But Shelton manages to pull it off, mixing just enough ragged DIY charm with his professional chops to give his version its own identity. Is this a teaser for a fab new album? We can only hope so.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.56.46 PMChicago’s The Embyros lean heavily on a Teenage Fanclub/Byrds sound on their new extended singles project, Singles Club Volume 1, particularly “Wasting All Your Time.” The two other tracks here will also delight jangle ears. But why stop there? The band’s 2018 album Open the Kimono is chock full of indie pop rock treats. “Circleville” has an unpolished indie charm while “Wake Up Screaming” reminds me of that smooth California sound the Popravinas have going on their recent records. I love “Bad Old Days” with it’s country-ish Beatles crossover feel. And then the band delivers a nice melodic rock and roll ending with “Eleven Forty.” These guys are a real tuneful diamond in the rough.

Jangle is as much a state of mind as an actual character of sound. The Maureens, The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, The Well Wishers and The Embyros can all keep you in that state of musical non-suspended animation. Click on the band names and sign up for a direct hit today.

Breaking news: Johnny Stanec, The John Sally Ride and Whoa Melodic

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Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 5.50.19 PMGuitars to the front of the line! Great poprock relies heavily on the guitar, particularly rhythm guitar. As Nick Lowe said recently, it’s supposed to rock and roll but there’s precious little appreciation of the roll part, which is harder to get right than it sounds. This week’s breaking news puts the guitar’s rhythm in its proper place.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 5.56.17 PMOn his new release, Things Were Better, When, Johnny Stanec increases the frenetic pace of his beat-oriented rock and roll with plenty of shimmering guitars and ‘ooh’ worthy background vocals. Rhythm guitar anchors this record on tracks like “Secret World” and the outstanding opening number, “You’re the Only One (Not a Love Song).” Harkening back to a mid-1980s indie guitar sound that bravely withstood the synth onslaught, songs like “I’m Fine, I Swear” and “If I’m Wrong” remind of mid-period Grapes of Wrath. This is guitar-driven poprock, par excellence. Stanec only pauses for breath on the wonderful mixed-tempo “The Things You Fear.” I thought “Don’t Know What To Do” from last year’s The Future of Nothing was pretty special but Stanec clearly has not come close to peaking yet. Forget the singles, Things Were Better, When is a worthy full album purchase.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 5.55.20 PMThere are considerable parts of The John Sally Ride new album Nothing Doing that sound like great lost songs from a Squeeze recording session circa 1982-3. “Embarrassingly Single” has a very Squeeze-like song structure with a vocal that is pure Glen Tilbrook while “Nothing Doing” just oozes the Deptford fun sound. Other tracks on the album rock things up a bit more with a Kinks-like rhythm guitar feel – see “Considered It Considered” and “All or Nothing.” But my personal fave is the lovely “You Wear Your Heart On Your Both Your Sleeves” with its seductive harmony vocals. The guys also work up a dopey, endearing dad sort of humour on tracks like “I Won’t Let Failure Go To My Head.” All in all, Nothing Doing is a stellar follow up 2017’s great A New Set of Downs.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 5.54.46 PMWhoa Melodic is an anagram for Michael Woods, the creative force behind the one-man band of the same name. It’s also the name of the project’s debut release. This obvious playfulness is all over the compositions featured on the record, which range from the strummy poprock of “I Will Never Let You Down” to the chimey, addictive repetition of “To See You Again” to ambling-along-on-a-sunny-day fingerpicking on “Sprint Forward Fall Back.” Woods is expert at embedding catch-you-off guard ear worm quality hooks all over this record. I love the almost pumping lurch of “Hopeless and Lonely,” the delicate tenderness of “Ring Your Friends” but the album’s killer track for me is “Hit Me Where It Hurts” with hooky lead line opener, swing feel, and organ and harmonic shots. This record is the fun house hit parade, just a bit wonky and out of synch but delightful for it.

This is not all the breaking news, it’s the news I could fit in right now. Still, click on Johnny Stanec, The John Sally Ride and Whoa Melodic to stay at least moderately well informed (and entertained at the same time).

Deep-cutting Weezer

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Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 4.07.19 PMWeezer can’t seem to catch a break from the critics. They’re releasing too many albums, they complain. The records are too commercial, they say. Blah, blah, etc. I just can’t see it. This is a band with a distinctive delivery no matter the genre, trying out new directions, while continuing to write great songs. Here’s the proof – I can find a fabulous deep cut on every single Weezer long player.

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 4.12.16 PMLet’s start with the just released Weezer (Black Album). I think I like this one almost as much as Weezer (Blue Album) in terms of songwriting and general listenability. So many great songs here but, excluding hit singles, my fave deep cut is “Too Many Thoughts In My Head” with its soaring hook in the chorus. The Weezer (Teal Album) has taken a lot of flak for delivering a load of cover songs that mimic the originals a bit too well and I have to admit I do wish they had Weezer-ized all those hits more. But that’s why I love their version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Rivers is no Annie Lennox so his vocal gives the track an unmistakable Weezer vibe. 2017’s Pacific Daydream has the band feeling the beach love but also contains my absolute fave Weezer deep cut, “Any Friend of Diane’s.” Ear worm central! The song is like Weezer channeling a bit Sugar Ray. 2016’s Weezer (White Album) also mines the beach theme on various songs, though the campfire acoustic resonance of “Endless Bummer” is held in check by anti-summer sentiment. From 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End I’ve chosen the power poppy “I’ve Had It Up To Here.”

Any Friend of Diane’sEndless BummerI’ve Had It Up To Here

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 4.14.28 PM2010 witnessed the band release two albums, Hurley and Death to False Metal, the latter a collection of unreleased leftover material from previous albums. From the former release, “Ruling Me” has a sneaky hook that slams home in the chorus with a rush of glorious melody while “Odd Couple” from DTFM chugs along with more subtle charms. 2009’s Raditude tempted me to go with “I’m Your Daddy” with its straight up pop hooks but the quasi-pop psychedelic “Love Is The Answer” ultimately won out with its fascinating Indian interlude and 1960s-worthy sing along chorus. From 2008’s Weezer (Red Album) I love the Brian Bell vocal and songwriting chops on “Thought I Knew.” The songs on 2005’s Make Believe were a bit overshadowed by the monster hit, “Beverly Hills,” but I think “The Damage In Your Heart” ranks with any of the best Weezer tunes. 2002’s Maladroit notched up the heaviness in Weezer’s sound but a sweet melody manages to define “Slave,” particularly in the chorus. My choice from 2001’s Weezer (Green Album) is technically not a deep cut. Well, actually, it was the album’s third single. But “Photograph” has such great woo hoos that I had to include it.  From the band’s second album, 1996’s Pinkerton, I cheated a little and went for a cut from the deluxe edition, the exquisite “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly.”

Ruling MeOdd CoupleLove Is The AnswerThought I KnewThe Damage In Your HeartSlavePhotographYou Gave Me Your Love Softly

Which brings us back to the killer debut album, 1994’s Weezer, later known as Weezer (Blue Album). Here there’s an embarrassment of deep cut riches but, in the end, I settled on the irresistibly tuneful “In The Garage.” And there you have it, practically a Weezer deep cuts greatest hits or maybe Weezer (Camouflage Album).

In The Garage

Ah Weezer, you never let me down. I may not have loved everything but there’s always been something to love. Oh, is that another new album on the horizon? Keep track of Weezer at their website and Facebook page.

More 50 foot women: Mary Lou Lord, Liz Phair, and Robin Lane and the Chartbusters

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Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 12.17.51 PMThree more women whose towering talent took them some way through the testosterone-fueled music scenes of the 1970s through 1990s and beyond. It was a time of a few break out female rock and rollers, like Blondie’s Debbie Harry or Patti Smith or The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. But to read women’s stories about getting discovered, getting signed to a label, getting into the recording the studio and on the road, it’s quickly becomes pretty clear that gender remained a defining element of their experience, different than men. We can hope that their stellar accomplishments have helped shift things a bit.

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 12.19.48 PMI think I first heard Mary Lou Lord on a CMJ CD sampler that used to accompany the magazine back in the nineties and I was hooked. I was pretty broke that decade, working my way through grad school, but I decided to splurge on 1998’s Got No Shadow and it was worth every penny. So many should-be hits! From the sweet seductive ‘na, na, na’s and exquisite jangle of “His Latest Flame” to the acoustic swing of “Western Union Desperate” to the killer poprock rollout on “Lights Are Changing” – I was only three songs in and felt I’d gotten my money’s worth. And then I heard “The Lucky One,” “She Had You,” and “Some Jingle Jangle Morning,” and it was pretty clear that MLL was a major talent, both as a songwriter and performer. And the wistful mellow vibe on “Two Boats” was pretty special. Since then Lord has really only released two more albums proper (of completely new material), 2004’s Baby Blue and 2015’s Backstreet Angels. The former is worth it just for “Cold Kilburn Rain” while the latter rivals her debut for songwriting strengths and folk-cum-poprock charming delivery. Highlights for me include “You Can Count On Me” with Joni Mitchell-esqe opening jangle, “By The Time My Head Gets to Phoenix,” and the obvious single “My Buddy Valentine.” But the whole record delivers.Western Union DesperateShe Had YouCold Kilburn Rain

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 12.20.56 PMHer staggering debut Exile in Guyville put a run on the superlative bank. It seemed hipster reviewers just couldn’t praise Liz Phair hard enough. And she deserved it. Personally I love “Help Me Mary” and “Johnny Sunshine.” Follow up records Whip Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg got more hipster love, though perhaps at a lower volume, and more great songs like “Perfect World” and Johnny Feelgood.” But when Phair shifted gears into a more polished poprock direction on her self-titled Liz Phair album, the hipsters turned nasty. But I love it! It showcases her amazing range of talent and depth as a songwriter and performer. If this is being commercial, then more artists should aspire to it. Of course the song-factory record-company production-assembly-lines wish they could write songs this good. Opening track “Extraordinary” is, well, really really good. “Why Can’t I” is an obvious should-be hit single. But the rest of album has so many highlights: “Little Digger,” the naughty “H.W.C.,” “Friend of Mine,” and “Good Love Never Dies.” Since then Phair has released just two albums, 2005’s Somebody’s Miracle and 2010’s Funstyle, both chock full of great tunes like “Stars and Planets” and “Satisfied.” Hopefully an album of new material is somewhere in our near future.Johnny SunshineJohnny Feelgood

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 12.22.09 PMFiled under great lost gems is the entire catalogue of Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. Just three albums but they are pretty pure rock and roll bliss. There is something about what came together musically in the period between 1978 and 1981. Clearly spurred on by punk’s challenge to a vapid mainstream, rock and roll bands remade their sound, adding urgency, relevance, and tighter, guitar-centric sound. Robin Lane had already been working the rock and roll scene for more than a decade but what came together on her two Warner Brothers records was distinctive, original and could go toe to toe with any of the other women-led rock and roll bands of the period. The 1980 self-titled debut has so many great tracks: “When Things Go Wrong,” “Don’t Cry,” and “I Don’t Want to Know.” A year later Imitation Life kept the winning sound alive on tracks like “Pretty Mala” and “Idiot” (the latter featuring killer handclaps and jangly lead guitar). Then, nothing. For all the usual reasons the band broke up. But the 2003 reunion album Piece of Mind was perhaps their best yet with a surfeit of great tunes like “The Last One to Know,” “She Wants You Back,” and “In My World.” Lane’s singing here is stronger than ever. If you missed (like I did) the first time around, fear not. The band has a new hits album to get you caught up: Many Years Ago: The Complete Robin Lane and the Chartbusters Collection.

When Things Go WrongIdiotLast One to Know

When I started in commercial radio back in mid-1980s the rule was you never played female vocalists back to back. Yup. That was the gendered listening biases of the male program directors and industry leaders. Mary Lou Lord, Liz Phair, and Robin Lane and the Chartbusters show just how stupid such rules were. Stick it to the man by buying their records now.