In this era of streaming and individual song downloads, we are told the album is dead. Or is it? Somebody clearly forgot to inform today’s featured artists. Gear up for a post full of five star quality LPs.
Richie Mayer’s experience shows on The Inn of Temporary Happiness. With a career stretching back to the late 1970s new wave scene, his new album effortlessly mixes influences from more than a half century of popular music. The record opens with the obvious single, “Dangerous Rhythm,” and it’s a winner. I love how it builds out of just voice and acoustic guitar, adding more instruments and taking unexpected melodic turns. There’s something a bit Colin Moulding in the chorus, a dash of ELO or Alan Parsons Project with the background vocals, and a heavy dollop of late Beatles guitar work in the solos. But don’t get comfortable because Mayer changes things up stylistically from track to track. There’s some folk rock (“The Inn of Temporary Happiness”), country-ish (“The Hall of Blame” ) and even music hall numbers (“How Can I Leave When I’m Already Gone”). But mostly there’s just great songwriting, in the way great 1970s and 1980s singles used to sound. The Beatles and Beach Boys figure prominently amongst the influences here, particularly “Love Will Find a Way” and “Warmth of the Sun,” though there’s a bit of a 10cc vibe on the former while the latter oozes some Hall and Oates Philly soul. “This is the Day” even has hints of Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” particularly from the keyboards. I could go on – there’s not a weak track anywhere on the LP. Definitely check out the should-be single “She’s Taking It Too Well” (so many Beatle-istic touches here!) and the lovely acoustic guitar instrumental “Kat’s Guitar.” Spend some time with this record: your happiness will not be temporary.
The pandemic interrupted the recording of a new Decibels album so Brent Seavers filled the time making YouTube videos of himself covering a bevy of poprock classics (check out his fantastic cover of Marshall Crenshaw’s “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” below) and recording a solo album. BS Stands for Brent Seavers sounds like The Decibels, not surprising, but also not like them too. The solo gig has allowed Seavers to drift a bit forward in time, from mid-1960s right up into the new millennium indie poprock scene. Obviously there some very Decibels material here, like “Out in the Rain,” “Clean Reflection,” and the jangle-heavy “All the Better.” The band’s sixties-meets-the-1980s vibe is also there on the Smithereens-ish “Flatline” and the muscled-up California pop hue all over “Running Me Down.” But I’m going to go out on a limb here to suggest the band haunting this record might actually be They Might Be Giants. That Brooklyn duo’s jocular sense of musical whimsey lurks on “Unlike Superman,” “Me and My Melancholy Face,” and most obviously on the fun sing-along “I Wrote a Song.” Seavers even sounds a bit like TMBG’s John Linnell vocally on the album opener, “Play.” On the other hand, should-be hit single “More Than a Friend” is Seaver’s own distinctive brand of melodic rocking out, with strong harmonies, and killer earworm chorus. This is another total album enjoyment collection.
I’ve been listening Rob Fetters’ new album Ship Shake on repeat for the last two weeks or so. The more I hear it, the more I like it. It’s the kind of record that grows on you, as more and more of its musical and lyrical subtleties reveal themselves. Part of the appeal is its hefty dose of positivity. “Turn This Ship Around” is an amazing slice of hooky, indie Americana but it’s also the message we need right now. Or “Not the End” highlights the little things we can do day to day to make the world just a little bit better, set to a carefree summer car-radio soundtrack. Not that all the message here is light. Fetters delves into issues of sexuality, abuse, loss and forgiveness with such a direct sincerity it’s disarming. Themes like these can get a bit preachy but he pulls it off. Ultimately Ship Shake is an album about what really matters in life: people, relationships, and what we’ve learned from our own experience. For instance, on the widely misinterpreted track “Nobody Now” Fetters sounds like he is complaining about the loss of fame and its trappings but what he’s really doing is moving beyond it. In the end, it’s the combination of this emotional depth with great tunes that will bring you back for more. Songs like “Can’t Take It Back” really capture this, showcasing Fetters’ hooky melodies and Tom Petty meets Warren Zevon vocal delivery. And let me say, the guitar playing on this record is pretty extraordinary. From the riff that kicks off the opening track, you know you are in presence of guitar god, but one that can temper technique with melody. This record is a must hear.