August record rush: Andrew Weiss and Friends, Silver Sun, Herzog, Bleu and The Toms

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Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 2.47.10 PMFrom somewhere back in the 1970s I recall a radio promotion that promised the winner a chance to rush through a record store with a shopping cart grabbing all they wanted within a specified time. Whatever you got to the cash register with before the time ran out was all yours absolutely free! I really really wanted to win that contest. Years later I stumbled across a limited edition album that was obviously a promo just sent to record store management to pitch the contest, extolling how it would be good for their business. Funny, but the guy pushing the cart on the cover kinda looked like Elvis Costello (not that EC would be caught dead wearing a runner’s headband).

In the spirit of the record rush, let’s hurry the introduction of some exciting August releases, starting with the uptempo tracks from Andrew Weiss and Friends’ new album, The Golden Age of Love and Chemistry. After four albums of alternative poprock with previous outfit High Fascination and now a second album with the Friends, Andrew Weiss is a practically a veteran of a sound he calls “power pop-icana,” melding hooks with that classic Americana country rock style. “All the News Fit to Print” and “This Might Hurt a Little” hit all the Tom Petty/Byds marks in a bright, breezy and melodic way. I was late add on the Silver Sun love train but once I got the schedule I hit all the stops. I thought “Jody”was poprock perfection! So imagine my delight to see the band back with new LP this month, Switzerland. The critics are oozing all over “Photograph” (and deservedly so) but my vote for a double A-sided single goes to the delightfully jumpy pop of “Over Me at All?” backed with the new wavey “Original Girl.” Let’s be clear, I’m not neutral about Switzerland. It’s a freakin’ great album, a triumphant return from a band I thought we’d lost for good.

Andrew Weiss and Friends – All the News Fit to PrintAndrew Weiss and Friends – This Might Hurt a LittleSilver Sun – Over Me At All?Silver Sun – Original Girl

Cleveland’s Herzog have a new album on the way, Fiction Writer, and the title track sounds like a likeably harsher version of the Beatles’ more paperback variety, with a Sam Roberts kinda vibe particularly on the vocals. Definitely boding well for the full album release. Epic songwriter/producer Bleu has largely denied us the brilliant solo career that could have been, hinted at in such solid albums as Redhead and Four. But the occasional single does emerge from time to time, like the magisterial “I Want to Write You a Symphony.” It’s fun and cinematic and eccentricly earwormy. If The Toms Tommy Marolda had only put out his one-man, 3 day recording session masterpiece The Toms back in 1979 it would have been more than enough. But he’s back with a new single and has lost none of the magic that made those early recordings so special. The double A side whammy that is “One Man Girl Parade” and “You Shoot Me Out of Your Cannon” are both teeming with glorious candy-coated double-tracked Beatlesque vocals, lovely melodic twists and turns, and great guitars. The songs expertly ride the line between sounding so classically retro but still fresh and contemporary. A new Toms album? Yes please.

Apparently record rush contestants would spend hours working out just how to manoeuvre around the store to get maximum vinyl-grabbing results. Today I’m just going let my fingers do the walking … online. Meanwhile you can rush to check out Andrew Weiss and Friends, Silver Sun, Herzog, Bleu and The Toms.

Difford versus Tilbrook

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Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 2.41.54 PMSurely there must be a bit of friendly rivalry amongst all great songwriting teams? We know Lennon and McCartney kept each other sharp throughout the 1960s with their competitive, constantly outward-reaching creativity. But the dynamic within a host of other teams is much less clear. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are the much-lauded songwriters responsible for 15 albums of original material with Squeeze. Do they have a sense of competition in their writing? In our Finn versus Finn post we assessed Neil and Tim’s various separate and combined contributions to Split Enz, Crowded House and the Brothers Finn records, as well as their solo material. But it’s not possible to divide Difford and Tilbrook the same way. Unlike say Partridge and Moulding who wrote their XTC contributions solo, or even Lennon and McCartney who really only wrote as a duo on the first few Beatles albums, Difford and Tilbrook have always written their songs together, though not in the same room. As they’ve recounted in many interviews, Difford would typically deliver a sheaf of scribbled pages to Tilbrook who would then work out the music. Thus if we want to assess these songwriting partners separately we’ll have to forgo their Squeeze catalogue and rely on their solo work. Luckily we’ve got roughly four albums apiece, with each kicking off a solo career when Squeeze downed tools (for the second time) in 1999. Let the game begin!

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 2.47.01 PMI must say at the outset that I was a bit worried about Chris Difford’s ability to compete here. Let’s face it, it’s the tunes people hum in the shower. The lyrics? Well I don’t think anyone just recites them as poetry. As the guy on the lyrical side of Squeeze’s songwriting, a lot would ride on whether he could drum up melodies as catchy and memorable as those we’ve become accustomed to from Glenn Tilbrook. Well, I’m happy to report that Difford rallied some clever tunesmiths to his cause. He even handles both music and lyrics on his 2003 debut I Didn’t Get Where I Am, which builds on the jazzy and country pop elements apparent on the 1984 Difford and Tilbrook non-Squeeze album with tracks like “Tightrope” and “Playing with Electric Trains.” By 2008 The Last Temptation of Chris put the sound back on more Squeeze-ish poprock footing. This time songwriting with former Bible frontman Boo Hewerdine, the familiar kitchen sink themes are here on “Broken Family,” “On My Own I’m Never Bored” and “Fat as a Fiddle.” By 2011 Difford is vibing glam pretty seriously on “1975” from the cleverly titled Cashmere If You Can. Personally, I love the rollicking feel of “Back in the Day” on this record and Penguin Books-inspired album artwork. 2018’s Pants goes all music hall, a bit reminiscent of the Cool for Cats sound on songs like “Round the Houses” and “Vauxhall Diva.”

Vauxhall Diva

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 2.45.29 PMTilbrook got the solo games going first with his 2001 album The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook and it’s arguably the most Squeeze-like release from the duo working separately. With songwriting contributions from the likes of Aimee Mann and Ron Sexsmith perhaps that’s not surprising (though 9 of the 15 cuts are solo Tilbrook numbers). The Mann/Tilbrook cut “Observatory” is a killer, definitely hit single material. Though I’m also partial to “Parallel World,” “Morning,” and “I Won’t See You.” Three years later 2004’s Transatlantic Ping Pong kept the Squeeze vibe alive on hooky numbers like “Untouchable” and “Neptune,” adding some Nashville comedy on “Genitalia of the Fool” and a catchy instrumental with “One for the Road.” The 2008 Binga Bong EP and 2009 Pandemonium Ensued are credited to Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers but they don’t shift from the solo formula too much as evident on cuts like “Once Upon a Long Ago” and “Relentless Pursuit.” Tilbrook’s last solo album is 2014’s spectacular Happy Endings. The songwriting is strong and the delivery is charming, strongly acoustic with lovely vocal flourishes on the catchy should-be singles “Everybody Sometimes” and “Peter.” The artwork is pretty cool too.

If pushed I’d have to say I favour Tilbrook over Difford in this going-solo songwriting competition, but only by a hair! Difford impressed and surprised with me his willingness to go off-Squeeze-script on his first solo album as well as deliver dynamic singles like “1975.” Not surprisingly, Tilbrook has a load of could-be hit singles here, particularly on his first and last solo albums. Of course, as always, there’s no need to choose. I think I speak for all Squeeze fans when I say, we all ultimately prefer to see the lads writing together, a faith definitely rewarded with the two most recent Squeeze albums, 2015’s Cradle to Grave and 2017’s The Knowledge.

Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford both have internet portals to visit and you can keep up with Squeeze here.

Going “Green” (again) with Bull

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Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 5.38.51 PMYork UK’s Bull are back with a revitalized version of “Green,” a song featured prominently on their self-released 2014 long-player She Looks Like Kim, and it is definitely worth a second listen. The original was certainly delightful, the guitar and vocals were a bit more up front in the mix, and the whole thing had a solid indie feel. But the new version smooths some of the rougher edges, turning the Turtles-esque background vocals way up and tweaking the jangly poprock hooks. The release is part of the band’s new major label deal with EMI so I imagine an album of new material can’t be far away. What direction it will take is anyone’s guess. The 2014 album was a bit punky and loose but this “Green” remake suggests something tighter and hookier might be on the horizon.

You can keep tabs on Bull’s Facebook page for the latest album and single news.

Sunday singles jamboree

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Screen Shot 2020-07-26 at 2.38.02 PMHere in the great white north the first August long weekend offers a national statutory holiday but cast in bespoke local themes. Each province does its own thing: British Columbia has ‘BC Day,’ Nova Scotia has ‘Natal Day’ and so on. So to aid this year’s party planning, we’re doing our celebration a little early with this Sunday singles jamboree! And I can clear some of the backlog of great songs in the queue …

Someone put me on to the countryfied poprock magic that is Portland’s Blitzen Trapper. I hastened to my local Mp3 seller and quickly downloaded a bunch of songs from all over their nine album catalogue, committed to writing something about them. Well, that didn’t happen (sorry guys!). But here we are with a new album soon to arrive so now I’m making up for lost time. “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” is the first single from their upcoming LP Holy Smokes Future Jokes and it’s a winning slice of melodic rock and roll in the best Eels or Brendan Benson style. Heading slightly north on the I5 will get us back to a band we have covered in times past, Tacoma’s poptastic Vanilla. This time they take their XTC influences in a decidedly fun country direction with “Easy,” duetting with special guest Jessica Van Horn. This sweet harmony treat is just one of a series of singles released by the group since the start of 2020 (so an album surely can’t be far off). Nashville’s Aaron Lee Tasjan has a new EP out, Found Songs Vol. 1, and it’s definitely up to his usual fantabulously high standards. I love how he can slip in the most innocent musical hook, like the high pitched keyboard hook in “Fake Tatoo,” and voila! – instant earworm affliction. The rest of the EP is pretty solid, with two touching acoustic-heavy tunes, “What a War” and “August is a Blessing.” Meanwhile back in LA, The Reflectors turn up the amps and blast the chords on an ode to early 1980s new wave with “Teenage Hearts.” You could easily party like it was 1979 with these dudes! The song begs to heard live with plenty of room for dancing.

Chatham, Kent’s Pete Molinari has long been cast in the Dylan/folkie milieu, both for his songwriting and vocal style. But his new record Just Like Achilles should blow up any easy generalization about what he is doing musically. Just check out the amazing “I’ll Take You There” with its hat tips to Buddy Holly, California’s 1960s sunshine pop, and the Mavericks. This is a mini masterpiece of a song, effortlessly combining so many dynamic catchy elements. Heading back to the USA, Rookie have that laid back feel so well worn by fellow Chicago-area bands like Twin Peaks, dubbed by some as ‘cosmic country.’ Personally, I hear a more popified The Band going on here. The self-titled debut is now out and it’s a delight, particularly the first single “Sunglasses,” which sounds like an updated 1970s classic FM radio staple. LA’s Theo Katzman is one smooth, smooth operator, with a vocal delivery that could rival Bruno Mars in combining soul and pop. His new album Modern Johnny Sings is a unique mix of acoustic pop and 1970s R&B influences, captured perfectly in the obvious single, “You Could Be President.” This track is a wonderfully executed bit of swing pop and soul jam, sometimes vibing Queen in their more acoustic moments. How is this song not a radio hit already? Malmo, Sweden is the home of a band named Mom and what’s not to like about their chugging blast of guitar and hook-filled choruses on their recent single “Tonight”? Again, 1979 springs to mind with the pop-glam guitar chords, neat keyboard riffs, and lighter-than-air vocal harmonies.

Pete Molinari “I’ll Take You There”

Let’s wrap up with a comeback story. Brooklyn’s The Rabies had a new wavey thing going on circa 1981-3 with a few singles, an EP, and appearances at the legendary CBGBs. But then life happened. Now, practically centuries later, they’re back with a new pair of tunes and it’s like they never left. Actually though, they’ve fattened up their sound in a tasty way, sounding Bob Mould Sugar-ish or even Smithereens-like vocally. “Adderall Girl” has a slight 1950s feel song-structure-wise but the execution is a crisp indie new millennium performance. B-side “You’re the Glue” has a wonderful thumping stomp to the guitar and drums that will get your head banging.

Once was the time when you could put a nickel in the slot to enjoy your fave tune. Inflation happens. But prices are still pretty reasonable on this stock from Blitzen Trapper, Vanilla, Aaron Lee Tasjan, The Reflectors, Pete Molinari, Rookie, Theo Katzman, Mom and The Rabies. Just click and pay to play.

Summer beach soundtrack: Nite Sobs, Brontosaurus, Lisa Mychols & Super 8, and The August Teens

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Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 5.36.44 PMImagine it’s a summer like any other. Sunshine, lotion, BBQ, and sweet sweet tunes on the portable stereo. There are songs just made for summer and today’s contributors are all vying for a place on your summer soundtrack.

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 5.40.08 PMAustin’s Nite Sobs alternate between a Jonathan Richman-led Weezer project (“Vowelerie”) and a reinvented Merseybeat sound (“I Need to Hear It”) on their debut longplayer Do the Sob! So if you’re looking for a bit of sock-hopping fun, minus all the drama and insecurity, then dial into this record. I mean, lyrically, there’s all the usual heartache, sometimes with a delightfully madcap delivery (“Aftermath”). But it’s hard to stay down with so much upbeat material on offer here. I love the updated beat group sound on tracks like “Saving You a Place” with its great synth shots. Or check out the sweet sweet harmonies carrying the album’s first single, “I Could Tell You.” You can clearly see the influences in the band’s spot on cover of the Lennon-McCartney cast off composition “I’ll Keep You Satisfied,” a 1960s hit for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. It’s all there packaged perfectly in the sign off should be single, “Victoria,” with its driving beat, jaunty guitar and punchy vocal delivery. This is a record packed with good vibrations.

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 5.41.17 PMEvery now and then a band comes along that is smart, well-informed and seemingly able to knock out a cracking tune on any theme. Today that band is Glasgow’s Brontosaurus. The sort-of title track “(Theme from) These People” sets the tone for the album of proletarian poprock to follow, casting bitter lyrics about how “we don’t have dreams, we don’t have freedoms, we don’t have hopes, we don’t have reasons” against some sparkling and hooky guitar work. “Band of the Week” turns the camera back on the self-indulgence of the indie artist with their ‘box of CDs’ and ‘band of the week’ designation from ‘May 2014’ (with just a melodic hint of “Band on the Run” laced throughout the tune). “Blogger” cuts a bit close to home, singing about people who ‘write a blog no one reads about bands no one likes’ – ouch! The song is pretty brilliant though, cleverly quoting The Smiths (‘people see no worth in you but I do’) and deftly exposing the blogger/band racket: “‘we need each other, band and blogger …” With vocals that sound sometimes Morrissey-ish (if he actually cared about something) or Marc Almond (minus all the overwrought libidinous affectation), what comes through is a strong dose of sincerity, despite the send ups. Songs like “Contact Centre Advisor” manage both incisive social commentary lyrically (the job is experienced by the worker as ‘a filter for your rage on the minimum wage’) and catchy guitar solos. Other highlights for me include the Beautiful South-meets-Spook School “A Do-It-All Dad’s Denim Dream,” “Powerpop by Numbers” with its killer chorus, and “The Supergeek,” which explains everything you need to know about how to respond to online trolls (key lyrical insights: ‘there’s more to life’ and ‘he needs this more than you’). Not since Pulp’s “Common People” has a band so effortlessly captured our present working class malaise. ‘I am a binman for the council’ indeed!

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 5.42.15 PMYou put together two phenomenal and prolific talents like Lisa Mychols and Super 8 and you’re pretty much guaranteed something pretty special. His lock on the late 1960s sunshine sound (from the Village Green to Haight Ashbury) combined with her unerring power pop chops makes their debut collaborative album a nonstop summer delight. “What Will Be” sets the groovy tone from the outset while “Trip and Ellie’s Music Factory” assures listeners a rollicking good time will be had by all. The laid back California sound is all over this record, in multiple registers. There’s the sophisticated Dionne Warwick, Bacharach & David smooth pop of “You & Me, Me & You” and “Honey Bee.” Or the San Francisco acoustic vibe behind “The Monkey Song,” “Your Summer Theme,” and their amazing cover of Kenny Rankin’s “Peaceful” (which owes more to his original than Helen Reddy’s cover). But there are departures, like the great Rolling Stones homage “Time Bomb,” the mournful, serious “Flying Close to the Sun,” and the Sgt. Pepper-esque psych pop feel to “The Arms of Water.” Recognizing all these highlights, I think my fave track is the exquisite “Laguna Nights to Remember” with its amazing vocal from Lisa, which reminds me of work from Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair. Believe me, you’re going to want to add this Lisa Mychols and Super 8 record to you ‘don’t forget’ beach list, right after the sun screen and disguised bottles of Bud Light.

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 5.43.13 PMOk, I’ll admit what caught my eye about The August Teens was their new album cover and its title, I’m Selfish and So is My Cat. But what caught my ear was the band’s straight-ahead 1980s FM radio sound – equal parts early 1980s new wave, with echoes of the BoDeans and the Eels as well. Goofy album title notwithstanding, this is a no nonsense rock and roll outfit. Exhibit A: “You’re Not Like Me Baby” – a track that Pat Benatar would surely give her eye teeth for. The album opens with a foot on the accelerator with guitars blasting through “This Time,” a song sweetened in the chorus with some dynamite harmonies. “Oh Emily” kicks off like an early Who outtake before easing into a more easy-going jangle-laden melody. “Backup Man” then shifts things into a more country gear. And so on. So many classic-1980s sounding songs: a bit of Tom Petty (“Be Still, My Rock and Roll Heart”), a touch of Springsteen (“You’re Going to Lose Me”), and smokin’ hot dance number (“I’m in Love with Rock and Roll”). And then there’s the obvious single, “Crestfallen,” a brilliant hooky number that barrels along with some nice change ups. You know what, forget the jokey album cover for a minute. This is a seriously high quality piece of poprock goodness. It deserves your full listening attention.

Chart your path to summer music should-be hits with can’t lose contributions from Nite Sobs, Brontosaurus, Lisa Mychols & Super 8, and The August Teens. Some re-application of the products will most definitely be required!

Spotlight single: The Mayflowers “Maybelline”

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Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 11.14.06 AMIf you need a nearly mid-summer pick me up, a song featuring a deliciously addictive hook that will have you hitting replay again and again, have I got the song for you! Kyoto, Japan’s The Mayflowers have nailed multiple generations of the Liverpool sound with equal parts La’s and Beatles on this should-be hit single, “Maybelline.” The opening riff clearly echoes The La’s “There She Goes” (which itself echoed earlier 1960s styles) while the song’s broader melody arc reminds one of The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright,” without sounding derivative The guitars here are exquisite, sibilant and shimmering, while the vocals layer up perfectly. The song originally appeared on the band’s 2012 album Plymouth Rock, recorded at Abbey Road studios, but is also included on the recent 2019 The Best of Mayflowers: From the Beginning, a good introduction to the breadth of their seven album catalogue.Maybelline

And while you’re here, you might as well check out the band’s loving tribute to the late Fountains of Wayne co-founder Adam Schlesinger, a just-released cover of his fab movie song “That Thing You Do!” Man, these guys are good! Here’s the fun video and click here to download the single for free. To download the song, scroll down to the song player, click on the boxed-in Japanese lettering in red, and then in the new window choose Mp3 or FLAC.

Check out the wonderful world of The Mayflowers. You’re gonna want to live there.

Journeymen poprock: Michael Shelley, Astro Chicken and David Burdick

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Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 1.22.38 PMThere are philosophers who will tell you that when it comes to living the good life, the journey is the real destination. But most professional musicians usually dream of actually arriving somewhere, like maybe the top of charts. Still, despite the fact that relatively few make the Top 40 (let alone number one), there are some acts that just keep soldiering on. Like today’s trio of journeymen poprockers – all continue to put out great music even though stratospheric fame has proven illusive. All the more reason to fly their flag right now!

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 1.28.18 PMImagine stumbling across someone with an album catalogue like all those great indie rock and rollers – Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Don Dixon, etc. – delivered with a Nick Lowe or T-Bone Burnette production-style. Well, imagine no more! Michael Shelley is here and he’s got six albums or so, just brimming with melodies and sweet melancholia. I discovered Shelley as the producer of Juniper’s recent hip record and just a bit of digging revealed his own killer catalogue. If I had to boil down his sound it would be easy to slot him into the Rockpile diaspora, with its retro rock and roll, pub rock country and new wave elements. Sure, it would be obvious to compare him to Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw, but think a bit further afield in this crowd, like the country pop sound of Carlene Carter’s Musical Shapes album or the poppy soul of Paul Carrack’s Suburban Voodoo (both produced by Nick Lowe). Nor can Shelley be limited to just this sub-genre, as his amazing collaboration with former Teenage Fanclub drummer Francis Macdonald in Cheeky Monkey makes clear. Contemporary comparisons of the Shelley sound might bring to mind Edward O’Connell and Richard X. Heyman.

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 1.29.41 PMShelley’s 1997 debut Half Empty nails down the formula with a moody indie vibe on “Don’t” (love the great rumbly guitar and organ – sounds so classic 1960s), strong melodic interventions with “Think With Your Heart,” “Rollercoaster” (particularly the chorus!), and “Mary,” while “Tonight Could be the Night” has a lovely Ben Vaughn simplicity. The follow-up, 1998’s Too Many Movies widens the stylistic scope, adding surfer fun (“Surfer Joan”), Beach Boy harmonies (“The Pill”), country rock (“Lisa Marie” and “She’s Not You”) and solid indie pop with “Jigsaw Girl” and “Summer, I Pissed You Away” (the latter echoing a real Marti Jones feel on the songwriting front). I love the hooks carrying “Too Many Movies” while “You Were Made to Break My Heart” sounds like the kind of obscure tunes that Nick Lowe finds to slip into his records and make sound like great lost classics. There’s even a cool song about brushing your teeth – “That’s Where the Plaque Is” – and that’s not easy to pull off! Keyboards come more to the fore on 2001’s I Blame You with the solid single “Mix Tape,” the McCartney-esque jauntiness of “Face in My Pocket,” and the Robbie Fulks playfulness of “Let’s Fall in Hate.”

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 1.30.34 PMI think my favourite release from Michael Shelley is undoubtedly 2005’s Goodbye Cheater. The album veers between solid retro country and hook-laden poprock without losing its own sense of purpose. “Hurry Up and Fall in Love” and “A Little Bit Blue” mine the Buck Owens/Dwight Yoakum vein of electric guitar-picking country while the cover of the Roger Miller/George Jones song “That’s The Way I Feel” and the instrumental “Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha” actually have a more western feel. On the poprock side there’s the early Elvis Costello vibe to “We Invented Love,” “Move Along,” and “Goodbye Cheater.” Or there’s the Bacharach pop swing of “Suddenly Free” and the Monkees-meets-Simon and Garfunkel elan of “Out.” There’s even a winning instrumental in “Goofball.” 2012’s Leftovers offers up a winning collection of cover tunes and unreleased and live material – check out the great covers of Bobby Fuller, NRBQ, and Teenage Fanclub as well as quality demos of “Don’t” and “Goofball.” Shelly’s most recent release is the 2015 collection of instrumentals entitled Jimmy’s Corners (check out “Ahmed’s Best” and “Back of the Country Squire”). Surely fifteen years after his last album of conventional songs, we are due for some new Shelley material? The answer is yes.

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 1.33.00 PMAstro Chicken is the moniker that Barney Miller (no, not that guy) has used for the past 25 years for both solo and group efforts, the latter with John Laprade and brother Mike Miller. His story is textbook late 1990s rock and roll: multiple labels, missing the curve of what’s (momentarily) hot, then solo releases, breaks, and now some new tunes. Gotta admire the stamina! 1997’s debut release was the Disposable EP and right away you can practically see the Elvis Costello fingerprints all over the should-be single, “So Can I.” 1998’s Sugarwater takes things in a new direction with “Waste” sounding very Odds, “Honeymoon” acing the Beatles background vocals with a killer, insistent “Getting Better” guitar chime, while “Nothing Around for Me” is faintly Crowded House. 2001’s Almost Anywhere takes yet another turn, this time leaning a bit country in a Blue Rodeo or Jayhawks sort of way, which you can really hear on “Blame Yourself” once it gets going.

So Can IWasteBlame Yourself

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 1.34.10 PMFrom there, the drive to chart success stalled for a bit, with Miller releasing just two essentially solo albums between 2005 and 2018, still under the Astro Chicken label. But the solo work really provides an insight into the breadth of Miller’s songwriting. 2005’s Sweet Truth is alternatively hilarious and introspective, all the while harbouring a lightly stoked sense of outrage. Anchored by acoustic guitar and a Graham Parker vocal delivery, the record offers acerbic commentary on death (“My Funeral is Gonna Be Packed”) and popular culture (“F You American Idol”), sometimes vibing Fountains of Wayne (“Soak Up the Night”) or E from the Eels (see ‘Funeral …’) or an Imperial Bedroom era EC (“I Am Not Blue About You”). 2018’s National Detective Agency Miller describes as album of leftover Astro Chicken demos, tarted up for release, along with a few new tunes. A lot here is stripped down Americana, like the Wilco-ish “Try” and the pretty acoustic guitar number, “Change Your Mind.” “Lock It Up” also has a nice hooky, easygoing swing. Which brings us the present: with Mike and John back with the group, the band’s brand new 2020 EP is Black Balloon. Check out the title track, a nice rocking tune with a solid Tom Petty feel to it.

F You American IdolI’m Not Blue About YouChange Your MindBlack Balloon

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 1.37.57 PMTulsa native David Burdick is the real rock and roll deal. The way he tells is, life has been one long series of joining and quitting and joining band after band, playing across the southern American Midwest, putting out the occasional 45 while recording an enormous number of home demos. From grade 5 on he’s played with The Jeeps, The Jetsons, The Jacks, The Insects, Color of Time, Sins Tailor, The Rickebackers, The Stand, and many more. His bands have opened for the likes of The Motels, The Cramps, The Fleshtones, The Lords of the New Church, the reunited Byrds, Charlie Sexton, and, yes, many more. Long before artists started to do ‘song a week’ gimmicks Burdick challenged himself to record a song a day and then proceeded to do so for sixty days! All of this is to say that Burdick’s career and recordings particularly have been unconventional by mainstream standards – no nice neat release of single, then album, then greatest hits. More like an explosion of bits from all over his career, some professionally recorded, others home demo’d on whatever equipment was to hand. The results are often raw, truly garage rock, like they were recorded in real garage somewhere. And like good 1960s garage rock, they’re exciting, both his originals and many, many covers of rock and roll classics.

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 1.39.05 PMYou can get a good sense of David Burdick from his 2016 release Under the Influence, which contains songs recorded throughout his decades-long career. As far as I can tell, “Letters” first came out in 1983 and it’s a masterpiece of a single, with fantastic lead line guitar hooks and poppy vocals. This should have been a monster hit! “I Can’t Sit Still” captures that late 1970s new wave reinvention of 1960s poprock, “Let’s Go for a Ride” has a great Lou Reed-tude, while “Independence Day” is a departure with its early 1980s The Fixx atmosphere. If you go digging, Burdick has a collection called Relapse with more great tunes, like the jangle-laden “Sister,” “Look at it Rain” with its hypnotic guitar riff, and the hilarious “Redneck Zombies.” A lot of Burdick’s various band recordings are pretty rough but the Sins Tailor songs were clearly professionally done. Personally, I love the ringing Brydsian jangle on “Morning Calling.” If you want to mainline rock and roll authenticity, hook yourself up with Burdick’s work.

SisterLook At It RainSins Taylor – Morning Calling

Journeymen put in the time because … they have to. Something drives them to play, record, and put the music out there. The least we can do is to check out what Michael Shelley, Astro Chicken and David Burdick been up to. After all, while they’re clearly not in it for the money, but they undoubtedly could use some.

Cut Worms then and now

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When Cut Worms’ 2018 album Hollow Ground came out I was a total convert. I loved the throwback 1960s polished poprock sound of “How Can It Be” and “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” with its shades of The Cyrkle and Paul Simon melodic hookiness. But somehow I overlooked his prior 2017 EP release Alien Sunset. Now that he has a few new singles out, it seems an ideal time to revisit the musical pleasures of Cut Worms, then and now.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 2.50.03 PMA skip through the six songs that comprise Alien Sunset, one might be tempted to cast it as a mini-Hollow Ground, minus a bit of the polish. There is some overlap, with reworked versions of “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” and “Like Going Down Sideways.” But the EP has distinct charms of its own, like its lovably ragged indie quality and a kind of insurgent pop urgency to the tunes (particularly apparent on the title track). Or the way that the stripped down “Like Going Down Sideways” sounds like a melody-pumped take on Leonard Cohen. Some of Cut Worms’ country balladeering roots show up more here on cuts like “A Curious Man.” And I particularly like the original “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” which sounds a bit folkier or roots-era Everly Brothers.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 2.49.42 PMFast forward to 2020 and Cut Worms is extending his songwriting range, stretching out the development of the tunes into an early 1970s country rock mode. His new single, “Unnatural Disasters” takes it time delivering the hooks, first creating a solid backdrop of a laidback Bacharach-style country theme. But this subtle tune pays repeated listens. B-side “Baby Come On” is a winner too, though perhaps more direct in its melodic payoffs. There’s something so familiar about the song’s cadence, its arrangement, but the final product is still somehow fresh and timeless. Can’t wait to see how these new songs will factor into a new Cut Worms album.

Get your supply of Cut Worms from bandcamp or right from the source or from the usual e-music distributors.

Canadian content: Daniel Romano and Girlongirl

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Screen Shot 2020-07-01 at 10.08.29 AMCanadian content or ‘Cancon’ rules place a quota on radio programming in Canada requiring that a certain percentage of the music played must be from Canadian artists. While decried by market libertarians, there’s a reason the Canadian music scene exploded in the 1970s – the rule worked. Before its introduction, worthy Canadian acts could not get onto playlists, crowded out by high profile American and British artists. For Canadians, success in Canada would only follow making it in the United States, a path successfully taken by group like the Guess Who but few others. But from the 1970s on, thanks to Cancon, a host of homegrown acts could make a living just being stars in Canada. This Canada Day (yes, international audience, today is Canada’s national holiday), let’s focus on just two great Canadian acts made possible (at least in part) by the legacy of Cancon.

Welland, Ontario’s Daniel Romano is an irrepressible musical force, unrestrained by genre boundaries or conventional marketing strategies. Country, metal, new wave, prog rock – different musical styles are just a blank canvas for Romano to work out his songwriting and performance magic. Seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do? I got turned on to his talent with his killer swinging single, “When I Learned Your Name” from 2017’s Modern Pressure. I just had to keep hitting replay. Then his 2018 double album drop of Nerveless and Human Touch turned my head. Man, I thought, can he crank out the songs. Well 2020 has seen Romano surpass even his previous over-achieving bar, releasing seven albums so far! And with no compromise on quality. I’m going to highlight tracks from just a few of them but, really, you won’t go wrong with anything stamped Daniel Romano.

From Visions of the Higher Dream I’m digging “Where I Take My Rest” which has a nice, almost brittle 1979 sort of sound, with a great punchy change-up in the chorus. Super Pollen has a winning title track, a great barreling-forward poprock song, carried on a bed of blistering but still melodic electric guitars. But perhaps the most adventurous mix comes on Dandelion, a more mellow rock and roll rumination with touches of country and super smooth background vocals. There something so Canadian about this recording, with hints of the more radio-friendly Bruce Cockburn here and there guitar-wise. Check out the distinctive horn shots on the hit single hooky “If You Don’t or If You Do,” or the catchy rhythm acoustic guitar guiding “Silent Spring,” or the new wave keyboard on “Ain’t That Enough for You.”

Toronto’s Girlongirl describe themselves as “jangle pop smothered in grunge” and that is confirmed with “Take,” the opening track of their most recent album. I like it, but the band really get down to business in my view with track 2, the obvious single “Girls,” throwing out an irresistible guitar hook to anchor the song. This is a band with a tight, distinctive sound, typified by the dreamy rumble guitar behind “Nen” and “Burn Me” and strong vocals. Another should-be hit single is “Marathon” which alternates between ethereal jangle and grunge guitar, making the shift on the transition from verses and chorus. You can tell from the performances here that Girlongirl would be a kick ass live band. Someday we’ll get to find out …

We’re not the flag-waving, love-it-or-leave-it types up here in the great white north. Canada Day often passes with little more than a BBQ and some cranking of the backyard tunes. This time, add Daniel Romano and Girlongirl to your Cancon-inspired holiday playlist. Cancon or no, they’re most deserving.

Spotlight single: The Top Boost “Tell Me That You’re Mine”

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Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 4.37.34 PMThis startling new direction from Vancouver’s The Top Boost has a bit of the Beatles For Sale era country-style Beatles, The International Submarine Band and Buck Owen’s distinctive lead guitar player Don Rich. The band has always had a special new wave jangle going but this single suggests they won’t be contained in any neat genre boxes. “Tell Me That You’re Mine” takes off with a rollicking pace that doesn’t let up, riding some easygoing country hooks and nice pedal steel guitar. B-side “Early Morning Days” is no slouch either, offering up a slower, more measured dollop of shimmering guitars and heavenly harmonies. These guys are definitely going places. Just where I’m not sure but with records like these I’m happy to be surprised.

You can get caught up on all The Top Boost you need at bandcamp, Facebook and their band website.