The UK’s Ordinary Boys were a big success with three hit albums before their first break up in 2008. But I’m most partial to their 2015 reunion record, the self-titled The Ordinary Boys. To my ears, it’s a bit more pop-rocky in the best tradition of The Jam or more recently The Rifles. Case in point: “Disposable Anthem.” Full of chiming guitars and sweeping melody lines, the song speeds along fueled by nonstop hooks. It has that killer shimmering pop sound I also associate with The Mighty Lemon Drops. Other highlights from the album for me include “About Tonight” and “Putting my Heart on the Line” but you can’t beat “Disposable Anthem,” the definite should-have-been single.
The Ordinary Boys Facebook page is still live. Perhaps there’ll be more material in this vein in the future!
It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s, man’s world they tell us and nowhere is that more true than in rock and roll. The omniscient perspective in a rock song is usually male, with a few exceptions. But to the music scene’s credit, more women have been making inroads over the past two decades or so. The first woman I recall identifying not simply as a ‘female vocalist’ but as a universal rock voice was Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. Since then the indie scene has provided us with a number of examples of larger than life female artists (they have to be to crowd out the men) with great songs and powerful performances.
Jill Sobule has had an amazing career doing, apparently, pretty much whatever she has wanted to do. After a false start at Geffen in 1990, 1995’s self-titled Jill Sobule set the frame for what would follow: a quirky, often folky, sometimes hilarious, always introspective and keenly observational singer-songwriter that has consistently produced great albums. Kinda like a rock and roll Suzanne Vega, but with more ‘tude. Threaded throughout her work is a strong set of political and feminist commitments, ranging from the satirical “Supermodel” to the more recent “Women of Industry.” Sobule’s catalogue is an embarrassment of riches so here’s an almost random selection. “Supermodel” showcases the uptempo hit songwriter, “Bitter” from 1997’s Happy Town rides a perfect hook, “Rock Me to Sleep” from 2000’s Pink Pearl exemplifies her tender side, while the banjo-driven “Old Kentucky” from 2014’s Dottie’s Charms is just a bit of rollicking fun. Sobule is working on a new album now and you check out her Soundcloud page to hear the works in progress and other great unreleased material.
BitterRock Me to Sleep
There are times when Amy Rigby seems so country. It’s there in her voice, that weary 1960s sound of oppressed Nashville womenhood. But then the angle shifts and the rock and roll dynamo shows through, giving voice to a whole lot of gendered working class experience from a lifetime of surviving the independent music scene. Her 1996 solo debut Diary of a Mod Housewife was a masterpiece of melodic social commentary but it didn’t lead to explosive sales. Since then, Rigby has continued to release solid records with songs that draw on all manner of classic rock and roll motifs, while giving voice to issues of class, relationships, gender and aging. A good place to start would be her 2002 compilation 18 Again. There you can check out the perfect 1960s elan of “All I Want” or the new wave vibe to “The Good Girls” or the masterful turns of phrase on the acoustic “Magicians.” Of course, I would add a few songs from 2003’s Til the Wheels Fall Off like the age-conscious “Shopping Around” or “Last Request” as well as 2005’s Little Fugitive,which contains a host of beautiful song scenarios like “The Trouble with Jeanie” and “Dancing with Joey Ramone.” She is back this year with Old Guys, where I’m digging “Are We Still There Yet.”
All I WantThe Good Girls
So much has been written about Juliana Hatfield and her many impressive accomplishments, all the great bands she has been part of, there’s really not much I could add. So I’ll just focus my attention on her continuing strength as a songwriter and recording artist. After a break of 22 years, her reunited Juliana Hatfield Three released a killer album in 2015, Whatever, My Love, with radio-friendly single material like “Invisible” and “If I Could.” Deep cut fave – “Parking Lots” with it’s sunny subtle hooks. Then in 2017 she released the dynamite, politically-charged solo album, Pussycat, a reaction to the election of Donald Trump. Here I would single out the jaunty “You’re Breaking my Heart” and “Kellyanne.” Then, as a reaction to the previous election year’s constant negativity, Hatfield decided to release an album of Olivia Newton-John covers. Here she works a creative tension between mirroring and reinventing the originals, with particular success on the Xanadu sountrack numbers, in my view. “Magic” amps up the early 1980s keyboard sound and adds Hatfield’s own distinctive vocal approach. Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is better than cover albums are allowed to be, a real treat.
With 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.
There 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.
How 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.
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.
For 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.