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Our first turn around the dial of the new year is like a melodic guitar rock testimonial, combining old with new sounds, the rough with the smooth. But it’s the superior song-writing on display here that will keep you from adjusting your set.

Those mourning the recent passing of David Crosby will want to catch up with Dutch band The Small Breed. Their most recent album Remember a Dream utterly nails the pop psychedelia that was such a part of the late 1960s west coast American music scene, with splashes of sunshine pop and other influences too. Title track “Remember a Dream” is a dynamite scene setter. The music is so sixties but the vocals remind of more contemporary groups like Django Django.  “Picturesque Pictures” puts a dreamy Moody Blues flute front and centre. Then “Wanda Your Angel” dials things down, offering up some captivating acoustic guitar with a vocal that evokes Billy Bragg at his most tender. “She’s So Lovely” has things take a rather baroque turn. I hear a bit of Madness lurking in this song and all over the more mannered “Finders Keepers.” And then there’s the crowd-singing should-be hit, “Mirror Man.” This one jumps out and says ‘hear me!’ Remember a Dream is wonderful mixture of old and new, clearly treasuring the psychedelic sixties but refusing to remain limited to the decade in terms of influences. Definitely a trip worth taking.

The members of Electric Beauty have been around and back again. Veterans of countless musical ventures over the decades this current project is about having fun and it shows on their self-titled debut. The songs have all got the earnest yet easygoing feel of players comfortable with each other. Check out the vocal on “Cindy’s Gone Away,” it’s so raw and unfiltered but it works fabulously with the straight up poppy rock and roll accompaniment. I also love the lead guitar line that hooks you into “Modern Lovers.” It’s so classic. Again the vocal here has a directness I associate with likes of Dion or Del Shannon (in non-falsetto mode).  “Something for No One” strikes a different note, an almost spacey instrumental I could see slipping into a 1980s SciFi movie. “Lonely at the Top” counterposes a lyric Crenshaw or Springsteen could pull off with subtle organ runs and some great rumbly guitar. “The Awakening” is another cinema-worthy, other-worldly instrumental. Electric Beauty is an album that will fit you like a favourite old sweater: familiar, comfortable, enjoyable. Welcome back boys.

Cindy’s Gone Away
Modern Lovers
Lonely at the Top

With a name like Turn Turn Turn you might expect churning Brydsian jangle or burning social commentary a la Peter Seeger. But this Minnesota trio manage to do both and neither on their brand new LP New Rays From an Old Sun. Opening cut “Stranger in a Strange Land” covers off the first theme. One minute in and that trademark Byrds/Tom Petty signature guitar drone lands in the first instrumental break. Both “Hymn of the Hater” and “7 Kids” nod toward social issues, in a decidedly Americana style. But what we have here is so much more than this or that influence. Overall this record is a gorgeous blast of harmony vocals and songs with mellifluous hooks. Everything is built on the strength of the song-writing – and it is impressive. Some are just a bit of fun. “Powder” hums along like a Monkees deep cut. And who doesn’t like a whistle solo? Others are more serious. “If You’re Gonna Leave Me” launches in like a great soul classic without losing its pop precision. “My Eyelids Weigh Mountains” could easily be mistaken for something by The Band in their prime while “Schisandra” is just so Bryds. This album is a winner from start to finish, so crisply produced, so joyously sung and played. Seriously, a veritable aural delight for your ears.

When we last left the boys in New Zealand’s Best Bets their debut EP Life Under the Big Top had that ever-so-nice Grapes of Wrath guitar band sound. But how things have changed with their most recent LP On An Unhistoric Night. The sound is rougher and rockier, exuding pure party band. It’s there with the cranked lead guitar lines on “The Point” and “Crystal Mausoleum” and really takes off with the mosh pit frenzy-fueled “Wrong Side of the Sun.” Definitely getting The Buzzcocks vibe on “King Cnut” and “Whataworld” while “Look Back with Mike” is reminiscent of a more Replacements atmosphere. “The Minor Leagues” is the obvious should-be hit single, it balances polish with a rough hewn guitar charm. You get a sense of what a great live band this troupe must be listening to “Always on the Losing Side” with it very sixties garage feel. Or there’s “European Cars” which simply motors along with a manic energy, conjuring a Nick Lowe “Heart of the City” drive. The albums wraps with a bit of departure, the more mid-tempo “That Movie Never Got Made.” The subtle guitar hooks and anguished vocals really elevate the song. Spending some time with this album I’d have to say Best Bets are definitely aptly named.

From the radio to the record store, that used to be the trip. Now you don’t even have to leave home to own these (should-be) hits.

Photo courtesy C.P. Storm.