Sometimes you run across a band’s new song and then discover a whole fabulous back catalogue of musical adventures. Just seems greedy to keep that hook-filled past under wraps. So today we celebrate the present and the past musical accomplishments of this crew of poprockers.
Ok, truth be told I didn’t actually run across any brand new material for Ed Ryan. It’s just that I realized he had been in the ‘should write about’ pile for too long. Ryan goes way back – to the 1970s and 1980s with various power pop bands. That must be why his two recent solo records sound so accomplished. From the blistering guitar opening of “Everything is Going to be Alright” to the achingly sweet vocal on “Heartbreak in Disguise” you know you’re in good hands on 2016’s Roadmap. This is an eminently playable record, and you don’t even have to turn it over! I’m particularly fond of the mid-1960s British beat group vibe all over “Bridges are Burning” and the way a basic rock and roll sensibility is art-rocked up on “Elvis’s World,” with its wonderfully kooky instrumental break. Then 2017’s Furious Mind is even more blistering out of the gate with “You’re My Kind of Fun,” and even more achingly sweet on “Lullaby.” If there’s a difference, I get the sense that Ryan really pushed up the Beatles’ crossfader on these recordings. “Here I Am” has some lovely late-period Beatles’ touches on the instrumentation, while “Drifting” has such an early period Beatles song structure, particularly in the verses. Other highlights for me would include “Rocket Ship,” which sounds very Ramones-fun to me, while “So Hard to Know” offers a nice acoustic country-ish turn. But my fave is the melodic rocker “Can’t Drag Me Down.” Can’t wait to see what Ryan comes up with for 2018!
Brad Peterson has described his style as ‘garden shed rock and roll.’ Well he has some pretty complex and impressive results coming out his backwoods Chicago DIY garden recording studio. I mean, I love DIY but it usually sounds a bit more rudimentary than the polished stuff Peterson is offering up. Case in point: his new record Ellipsis sounds like any number of major label indie offerings with songs like “What the Heart Will Allow” and “Unbroken.” But it’s the more poprock hooks that really get me. I’m currently addicted to the ear worm stamped “Clap Your Hands.” This one is so simple but still simply irresistible. “Far Off Places” and “Just In Time” also showcase Peterson’s melodic chops while “See You on the Other Side” exudes a Springsteen-esque weariness, complete with aching harmonica solo. It always feels good to feel this bad. And if you like this, there’s more in the back catalogue. 2009’s The Ductape Album has a song that is so Steve Miller I could have easily mistaken “More” for the master, though the Beatlesque bridge might have given the game away. And then there’s “Beat Myself Up” from 2006’s The Red Album, a pretty special single featuring some subtle Everly Brothers’ hooks and harmonies.
Joe Adragna’s work with The Junior League is an exquisite composite of 1960s to 1980s poprock motifs. His recordings are full of hidden treasures, subtle homages to all sorts of great artists and recordings. His new album Eventually is Now showcases this nicely with its opening track, “Teenage Bigstar,” which delivers just what the name implies. Or dig the very subtle Mamas and Papas background vocals on the album’s single, the infectious “I Only Want to Begin Again.” Another radio-friendly, hook-filled single would be the country-rock-ish “Someday.” But the whole record is a pleaser. Digging into the band’s catalogue there are just so many great songs to highlight. The debut, Catchy, from 2006, is loaded with should be hits: “The Beautiful Room is Empty,” “Hear My Voice,” and the hooky tour de force “I Don’t Believe in Love.” Or the melodic rootsy feel of “Keep it Home” from 2013’s You Should Be Happy, which also features the heartbreaking duet, “I Don’t Think I’m Kidding This Time.” “Also Rans” from 2015’s Also Rans has a sweet country rocking feel. And this just scratches the surface of this band’s great back catalogue.
I get mail! Jeff Litman wrote last week to let me know about his new record Crowded Hour so I gave it a listen. “Only You” grabbed me as the obvious single, with its 1980s melodic torch rocker vocals and sweet lead guitar lines. I also really liked “Disappear,” a nice spare acoustic ballad. Wasn’t long before I was digging through Litman’s past recordings – holy cow! Some great stuff on all his previous releases. “Primetime” from 2015’s Primetime has a very early Elvis Costello sheen. 2012’s Outside has a host of poprock shades, bit of John Hiatt on “Don’t Do That,” Tom Petty on “Don’t Want to Talk About It,” and more touching acoustic balladry with “What Hasn’t Happened Yet.” Litman’s 2009 debut Postscript sounds very Michael Penn to me, particularly on tracks like “Anna” and “Everything You’re Not.” But then things break out in a cool late 1970s rock mode with “Detroit Lawyer” and “Knock Me Down.”
Unlike days of yore, where old recordings would end up in a cut out bin somewhere, seemingly lost forever until suddenly discovered years later (and sporting a huge ‘rarities’ price tag!), old stock never goes bad today. You can easily take stock of Ed Ryan, Brad Peterson, The Junior League and Jeff Litman right now, courtesy the good people at Bandcamp. Ahem … yes, right now.