Time to get your jangle on – it’s jangle Thursday! Why Thursday? I don’t know. Maybe people just need a bit of sparkle to carry them through to the weekend. This installment takes a broad view of what jangles, not limiting the pool to just the Rickenbacker electric 12 string crew (not that there’s anything wrong with them …).
Calgary duo Pre Nup get things rolling with some pretty nice jangle guitar on “The Grudge” from their recent LP Oh Well. Vibing a neo-1990s pop-grunge sound, the lead and rhythm guitars propel this song along at a wonderfully relentless pace. The Incredible Vickers Brothers take us in a more folk rock direction with “Mirrors” from their latest Torch Songs for Swingers, a sophomore record ten years in the making. Strummy with nice sparkly fingerpicking, the song segues effortlessly into some great hooky poprock. Now let’s take things into a more mellow mode with London’s The Hanging Stars, a band seemingly just off the Tardis from 1969 country-rock land. On Songs for Somewhere Else, the band display their mastery of a late 1960s laid back sound al la The Band or the Byrds. So many possible songs to choose from but “Pick Up the Pieces” captures the pleasant but still hooky sentiment of those times.
Next we set off for the Netherlands to hear what The Maureens have been working on for their much anticipated follow up to 2015’s fantastic Bang the Drum. Singles have been emerging this past year (reviewed here) and they do not disappoint. The latest is “4AM,” a swingingly delightful pop confection, full of jangly guitars and hooky vocals. The new album is Something in the Air, due to drop in February 2019, and it can’t come fast enough! Speaking of travel, Dumb Things hail from Brisbane, Australia and their self-titled debut album has a wonderful live quality to all its melodic poprock tunes. Case in point, opening track “Driving Home” with it’s driving rhythm guitar and dogged hooky lead line. Party dance number, totally. Wrapping things up – Arthur Alexander. No, not that Arthur Alexander (of “Soldier of Love” and “Anna” fame), but this one, formerly of power pop legends the Sorrows and the Poppees, and One Bar Left is, surprisingly, his first solo effort. Given his recorded resume, it’s not a shocker that the album is great, mining a melodic rock and roll seam perfected by his afore-mentioned bands as well as a bit on the boogie side of bands like Rockpile. So many super tracks but check out the early Beatles/British invasion jangle “I’ll Get Your Love Someday.” Perfection!
Nick Lowe definitely likes having a crew to hang with. His many solo records often feature the same names popping up again and again, some from former bands like Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile, or just people he’s picked up along the way like Paul Carrack and Bill Kirchen. Now if only we could bring them all together in a huge Nick Lowe ‘abominable showmen’ revue … What a show that would be! Well, given the present pandemic state-of-the-world and myriad contractual conflicts and obligations that such an undertaking might bring up, my dream show seems unlikely. But nothing is stopping us from showcasing all that talent right here.
We kick off the show with Nick, of course. He’s got a fantastic new single, a cover of Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters’ 1963 tune, “A Quiet Place.” It’s another example of Nick’s amazing ability to breathe new life into rare oldies, backed once again by his recent stellar backers, Los Straightjackets. Compared to the original, Nick takes the song out of its original Sam Cooke-soul register, pushing a more Arthur Alexander country-soul feel. It’s a delightfully mellow and melodic rendition, highlighting Lowe’s masterly of the ‘roll’ side of rock and roll.
Career-wise, it’s clear that Nick’s a joiner. He’d just got a look in on the pop psychedelia of Kippington Lodge and wrote their only decent single of original material, “I Can See Her Face,” before the band morphed into Brinsley Schwarz. Fairly quickly, Lowe became their main singer and songwriter. But listen to their cover of The Hollies “Now’s the Time” from 1974’s New Favourites of Brinsely Schwarz to hear him working closely on the vocals with Ian Gomm, the band’s other main singer/songwriter (who famously cowrote Nick’s biggest solo hit, “Cruel to be Kind”). Nick’s next band was Rockpile, a group that recorded either one or six albums, depending on how you count them. Basically, contractual difficulties meant that most ‘Rockpile’ albums were credited to either Lowe or Dave Edmunds as solo artists with only 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure an official release. From the 1976 Edmunds release Get It Nick and Dave nail an updated 1960s-meets-new wave sound on “Here Comes the Weekend,” a song they co-wrote. Nick’s last stab at joining a group involved John Hiatt and Ry Cooder in the ill-fated Little Village project. The high hopes for a band with this combined talent failed to materialize, record-sales-wise. Too bad – Nick’s “Take Another Look” definitely showcases the band’s considerable talents.
Outside of joining bands, Nick loves duets and guest appearances. He’s played on countless records by other people and they’ve returned the favour. He produced, performed on, and co-wrote a number of songs for Paul Carrack’s super solo album, Suburban Voodoo and Paul appeared in Nick’s backing band throughout most of the 1980s. I love their duet on “Wish You Were Here” from Nick’s 1983 record The Abominable Showman. Another artist Nick has spent a lot of time with over the years is Elvis Costello, producing his first five albums and one more later on. The two do a lovely cover of The Shirelles/Beatles song “Baby It’s You.” Old Brinsley Schwarz friends like guitar player Martin Belmont also reappear on Nick’s solo records. In return, Nick does the vocals on a somewhat different version of “A Man in Love” (a song from Nick’s 2007 At My Age record) on Belmont’s 2009 album, The Guest List. And then there’s people like Bill Kirchen, former member of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and early Americana performer. His collaborations with Nick stretch from the 1970s to the present. “Shelly’s Winter Love” is a trio performance featuring Kirchen, Lowe and Carrack on vocals. The title sounds like classic Nick wordplay but it’s actually a cover of a Merle Haggard song from 1971.
Our show will need opening acts, of course, and here’s a chance to showcase artists that may not have worked with Nick officially but have either joined him live or delivered great covers of his songs. Two Nick Lowe tribute albums give us some direction here. Christie McWilson and Rick Shea offer up a lovely country-fied performance of “Never Been in Love” from 2005’s Lowe Profile: A Tribute to Nick Lowe while Ron Sexsmith puts his distinctive stamp on “Where’s My Everything” from the 2012 collection, Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe. Of course, if we’re aiming big, we could try to get Wilco to show with their 2011 take on Nick’s “I Love My Label.” More recently Esther Rose offers up an inspired reworking of one of Nick’s more recent songs, “Blue on Blue” from his 2019 EP Love Starvation/Trombone. Of course, if such an event as this could be pulled off the most appropriate opening act would be Los Straightjackets. Their 2017 album of guitar instrumental versions of choice cuts from Lowe’s catalogue, (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding, is outa-sight.
I got to see Nick Lowe live in each of the past three decades, on the Impossible Bird tour, playing solo with Geraint Watkins, and more recently with Los Straightjackets, and every time was special. My ‘abominable showmen’ review is unlikely to ever ‘tread the boards’ as Nick might say, but I’ll always have the records and the memories of those great shows. In the meantime, visit the above mentioned artists and don’t forget to drop in on Nick too.
2018 was a freakin’ fantastic year for poprock! How do I know? Every year-end I put together a playlist of tunes released that year. In 2016 it consisted of 58 songs clocking in at just over 3 hours. By 2017 that list expanded to 98 songs running over 5 hours. This year the list exploded to 175 songs going on for over 9 hours! My list of should-be hit singles had to expand to a top 50 just to accommodate all this talent. Hit the links below to find each artist as featured in my original blog post this past year or to go to their bandcamp or Facebook page if I didn’t write them up.
So, without further ado, here is Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2018:
For the second year running Daisy House tops my list of should-be hit singles. I have simply run out of superlatives to describe the musical genius of this band. Great songwriting, a killer 1960s vibe, flawless production and performance – it just doesn’t get any better than this. Do yourself a favour and head over to Bandcamp to download their whole catalogue. Oberon Rose came a close second with what must be one of the coolest singles rolled out this year. Ruler ruled my playlist for a good part of 2018, with “Unhindered Place” just one of the great songs on his album. I love the way William Duke’s guitar sounds like a jangle waterfall on his hooky masterpiece “Carole and Silver Screen.” And Aaron Lee Tasjan is a real find – so many possible selections – but more on that with my upcoming ‘20 must-have LPs for 2018’ post. I could go on … (but click on the links to get the full story).
I hope you enjoy these fifty songs enough to click on over to some of the artists’ web real estate and help them along career-wise. 2019 promises to be another hungry year for many of these mostly struggling artists – so do your part: buy their music and go see them live when they come to your town.
I can get wild. Sometimes. Ok, let’s face it, any genre boundary-crossing I’m doing still involves a lot hookyness, even if there’s some guitar distortion, yelly vocals, or an amp cranked past 11. Cases in point – today’s featured acts. They’ve got dialed up guitars and discordant singing or some cool stylistic weirdness going for them. And it works!
San Diego’s premier postmodern pop band is TV Girl. With three EPs and four albums released since 2010, this is a group that knows how to get wonderfully weird and stay there. I’m impressed with their ability to pastiche up and over a host of influences, riffing on great hooks (sometimes) borrowed with ease from multiple pop culture sources. Take the oh-so-soul sounding familiarity of “Benny and the Jetts” or the winter skating-rink party ambience of “Baby You Were There.” It’s a winning formula on these early EPs: TV Girl build original pop songs from bits and pieces of old time sixties and seventies sampled hits, like the blast of Todd Rungdren’s “Hello It’s Me” that kicks off and then haunts their own “If You Want It.” You can really hear the Burroughs cut up production style all over the first TV Girls longplayer, The Wild, The Innocent, The TV Shuffle released in 2012. Check out the brilliant melding of early 1960s girl singer Linda Scott’s classic “I Told Every Little Star” into the band’s original song, “Misery,” or the threading of the Beatles’ version of Arthur Alexander’s “Anna” throughout “On the Fence.”
By the release of 2014’s French Exit the band’s songwriting really comes on stream with catchy numbers like “Pantyhose,” “Birds Don’t Sing,” and “Angela.” Since then TV Girl have explored more dance and hip hop grooves on 2014’s Who Really Cares and 2018’s Maddie Acid’s Purple Hearts Club Band and some chilly dream pop on Death of a Party Girl from later that same year. But personally I’m really digging the just released 2020 collection of outtakes from French Exit, dubbed The Night in Question. Think The Shortwave Set with a dash of Simple Kid and Tally Hall and you’re in the ballpark.
Boston’s Wakes evokes the holy spirit of rock and roll with spooky sounding guitars and somber world-weary vocals. But embedded in most tunes is that subtle melody-ness I associate with Buddy Holly and Bruce Springsteen. It jumps out in the jaunty guitar lines carrying “Headlines” from Wakes 2014’s album Feral Youth. The overlay of crackling, haunting vocals just seals the deal. Actually, the guitars on this album keep things shifting back and forth from an edgy rock and roll dance party to a car-driving radio-relay-tower passing ambience. From there Wakes dials down the productivity, offering just a covers EP and final mini-album in 2017 before calling a halt to music altogether. The swan song collection of unreleased stuff is gold, ranging from an industrial 1950s vibe to sweet fairground attractions to stark acoustic folk-iness. Entitled Ends, it kicks off with “I Don’t Want to See You Anymore,” an off-kilter bit of Eddie Cochrane-infused psycho-billy brought to life by a furious, driving guitar hook. I also love the stroll-down-the-fairway vibe on “Year After Year,” guided by a mellifluous Del Shannon organ. One can only hope that Wakes’ Tim Oxton’s design/art career goes gangbusters and he can return to a bit of music on the side.
I’m not afraid of a bit of avant garde, genre-blending indie music, as long as a load of hooks are buried somewhere in the mix. That’s what you get with TV Girl and Wakes. Take a walk on their wild side right now.
In the miracle synthetic vortex that was the 1960s the distinct country and western influences that Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers took into rock and roll were mainstreamed into the Anglo-American music scene by acts as diverse as The Beatles, The Byrds, Crosby, Stills, Nash and CCR. Twang became just another flavor of modern music, though its popularity waxed and waned throughout the 1970s and 1980s before becoming an established genre-proper in the 1990s and beyond. In celebration today, let’s twang it!
One of the most exciting records to land in 2019 is the new release from Nashville-based Andrew Leahey and the Homestead, Airwaves. Already lauded by the likes of Rolling Stone and Billboard magazine, the album has been hailed as an unabashed heartland rock and roll revival a la Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen. Opening track “Start the Dance” is definitely channeling some early 1980s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers melodic charm while the album’s first single/video “Airwaves” is a full-on celebration of 1980s hit single FM radio. Check out the cool shift to acoustic rhythm guitar at the one minute mark, a striking change-up reminiscent of some of Roy Orbison’s later work. The rest of the album shifts from the pop rock and roll of “Queen and King of Smaller Things” to more lightly country-coated twang of tracks like “Flyover Country.” I love the line in the former about how ‘the country’s run by rich men’s sons that don’t look like anyone we’ve seen around here’. And then there’s the more gentle organ/pedal steel roll out on “Remember This” with its clever name-checking wordplay. And in case you missed the band’s 2016 release, Skyline in Central Time, consider it required homework (that you will enjoy).
The Volebeats are twang that originates from Detroit, part of the late 1980s alt-country scene. Eight albums later, the band carries on, though a lot of their material is hard to find. For instance, their most recent self-titled album is not available on Canadian iTunes! A shame as the record has some killer cuts, like “Walk There,” a track that could stack up with anything from The Jayhawks or Rank and File. Going back, “One I Love” has that great western poprock sound I associate with the BoDeans and some early R.E.M. Another gravely overlooked band working the twang scene in the early 1990s was The Blue Shadows. The group was built around the songwriting and vocal harmony talents of Jeffrey Hatcher and Billy Cowsill (of The Cowsills fame). Despite releasing two incredible records, 1993’s On the Floor of Heaven and 1995’s Luck to Me, the band couldn’t get a break, being too traditionally country for both Nashville and rock and roll radio. What a loss! “Deliver Me” showcases the songwriting and singing talent of the group. They did great covers too – check out their take on Arthur Alexander’s classic “Soldier of Love,” a version I think I like better than treatments from the Beatles and Marshall Crenshaw (and I like those ones a lot!). Rounding out our twang tribute are The Secret Sisters, a duo who combine harmonies and hooks in particularly exquisite way. “Black and Blue” from their 2014 album Put Your Needle Down is a perfect modern take on an early 1960s song styling, complete with rumbly guitar and a swinging melody. Hard not to hum along with this! Meanwhile “He’s Fine” from their 2017 LP You Don’t Own Me Anymore has a more traditional twang feel.
The Volebeats – Walk ThereThe Blue Shadows – Soldier of LoveThe Secret Sisters – Black and Blue