Radio used to be so important, an entrée into the broader world for the lonely or bored. A lifeline sometimes, or just a bit of fun, a diversion. So let’s get some quality diverting going on.
On her 2020 self-titled debut album Juniper so nailed the early 1960s girl singer sound it was like a love letter to all the jilted dolly birds on both sides of the Atlantic. But on her follow-up long-player She Steals Candy she’s settling into her own distinctive style, folding the sixties into a broader mix that takes from country, 1980s poprock, and contemporary indie rock and roll. Producer Michael Shelley has put together a crack team of players that really lets Juniper’s vocals stand out while the selection of songs is delectable. Basically you’ve got members of Los Straitjackets, Belle and Sebastian, the Mekons, NRBQ, and The Smithereens, among others, helping to cover songs by the Go Gos, the Bangles, the Muffs, and a host of rare compositions from Delbert McClinton’s early band, The Ron-Dells. Everybody doesn’t necessarily play on everything but you get the idea. The Bangles “James” is given an interesting make-over here, sounding wonderfully familiar and yet peppered with interesting changes. Contrast that with the inventive new take on the Go Go’s “Turn To You” where the light backing and slower tempo really allows the song to breathe. The album tracks like the changing moods of a summer party, shifting from the pleasantly tuneful to a rocking good time. I hear a bit of Marti Jones on “She Steals Candy,” some country-style Nancy Sinatra on “Picture of You,” and shades of Mary Lou Lord on “Alone With You.” The more rocking tunes like “Ride Between the Cars” and “I’ve Gotta Boy” are a blast, really demonstrating Juniper’s range. Personal faves include the cover of Delbert McClinton’s countryish “I Cry Cause I Care,” a duet with the Cactus Blossoms’ Page Burkum, and the uber cool atmospheric “Dawn Stole My Guy” with that unmistakeable lead guitar work from Greg Townson. To get in on this party, you’ll find Juniper’s She Steals Candy filed under ‘maximum fun.’
Vancouver band Star Collector’s reputation is that they live in a mod, mod, mod, mod world, one where elevators all play The Jam between floors and Pete Townshend is the resident poet laureate. But on their new record Attack, Sustain, Decay ... Repeat there’s a little bit more going on. As leader Vic Wayne says in a recent interview, you can hear a bit of The Sweet, Sloan, Cheap Trick, even some Grand Funk Railroad. You really get that 1970s rocker vibe from opening cut “Feeling It Coming On” but with a poppy Alice Cooper sheen. “Beat It To Death” opens with an almost Bad Company stripped-back set of chords but morphs into something more Fastball once it gets going. Wayne himself described “Halfway Home” as Tom Petty meets Echo and Bunnymen and I can hear that. Then “If We Can’t Take a Joke” cranks up a great distorted lick that runs through the song like the Beatles “I Feel Fine” or the Monkees “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” “Crashin’” – oh, there’s the Grand Funk. Then the opposite universe, there’s a lovely acoustic guitar ballad “Cross My Heart.” Personal faves are the Sloan-ish “Don’t Have to Fold” and delightful “Hungry Like the Wolf” strutter “Broken Butterflies.” You better get your dancing shoes ready, this is a 1970s-throwback party album, par excellence.
Chris Church knows how to throw out a hook while cranking his amp. His records have been billed ‘heavy melody’ by more than few writers. But as I listened to his new album Radio Transient I kept feeling like I’d stumbled back into 1986, something about the guitar tones, the way the bass guitar seemed so up front in the mix. Now I’m often guilty of thinking everything sounds like 1980s – it was my coming-of-age decade after all – so I was relieved to read in Church’s liner notes that the sound he was going for on this album was something he’d dubbed ‘Buckingham-Fixx.’ Yes! That is what I’m hearing here. This album takes sonic elements of Lindsay Buckingham’s manic 1980s pop records, those great mega-hit Hall and Oates releases, and the dynamic keyboard-plus-bass sound of The Fixx. It’s all there on his fab pre-release single “Going ‘Til We Go” and “I Don’t Want to Dance With Me,” with perhaps a dab of John Waite. And the theme carries on throughout the album, leaning into particular musical nuances on each cut. “I Think I Think I Like You” really captures that bouncy-guitar dance pop that soundtracked the early part of the eighties. Then “Already In It” sneaks in some of Church’s westcoast poprock sound a la Walter Egan, with some lovely other-worldly keyboards. “Gotta Go, Gotta Ramble” turns up the 1980s Buckingham influence, with perhaps a dash of early Split Enz. But the solid gold single is undoubtedly “One More Chance to Get Over You.” This is a gorgeous piece of poprock songwriting, a masterclass in how to put all the melodic elements together for maximum impact. Guest lead guitar jangle from legendary Bill Lloyd only seals the deal. With Radio Transient Chris Church rescues the very best of the 1980s for your here and now.
I can’t quite put my finger on just what The Scarlet Goodbye are doing on their debut album Hope’s Eternal. And I kinda like that. There’s a bit of Americana and Ozzie poprock and a subtle Beatles backdrop going on. Album opener “Rosary” introduces the basic tension pursued throughout the record, the pull of a more mellow melodic ennui cast against a sometimes urgent rocking backdrop. The lead guitar features prominently in “Panic and Blame,” though taken up more like a paint brush than an axe. And then comes the obvious single “Rosary” with it’s brilliant, hooky lead guitar work and AM radio polish. This contrasts nicely with the folkie vibe threaded throughout the album on tracks “Paris,” “Charity” and “Minor Things.” “Paris” particularly sounds a bit like Peter Case on his first solo records or the Eels. For Americana there’s a western tilt to “Surprised” or countryish feel to “Firefly.” But such genre distinctions break down on songs like “Celebrated Summer” and “The Ballad of Julie Ann,” with the former’s folkie poprock reminiscent of Guster (especially that great chorus!) while the latter is kinda Crowded House (especially that great organ!) with dash of Bond. On “Sandy” the band let their rock roll a bit more than elsewhere here and it’s another should-be hit for me. “Fresh New Hell” is another highlight, coming on like Michael Penn in full-on ennui mode. You can listen to the whole album here.
There’s four fine diversions coming down your radio relay towers. Click on the hotlinks to tune in for more.
Jewel Portable Tube Radio Model 5310 (USA 1953) image courtesy Mark Amsterdam Flikr collection.
All great artists, but I especially love Chris Church’s jangly guitars!
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