Sometimes my life feels like one long exercise in reconnaissance. Like discovering Jesse Malin this last week. The guy’s been at it since the 1980s in various bands and as a respected solo artist since 2002 but he’s a brand new artist to me. And I’m finding him a pretty exciting find. So let’s get introduced to the fine art of Jesse Malin with a song from each of his eight albums of original material.
With titles like “Queen of the Underworld,” “Wendy,” and “Almost Grown” it’s not hard to nail the influences all over Malin’s 2002 debut album, The Fine Art of Self Destruction. It’s Springsteen for sure, but there’s all those other great Americana songwriters too, people like Warren Zevon and Tom Petty, maybe a bit of The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. The record is chock full of should-be hits to my ears but I think “Riding on the Subway” has a special chemistry going on in the chorus. 2004’s The Heat opens dramatically with some strikingly sibilant guitar work on “Mona Lisa,” a slow-burn ear-worm that showcases Malin’s talent for clever turns of phrase. From 2007’s Glitter in the Gutter it was toss up between the obvious single and album opener “Don’t Let Them Take You Down” and deep cut “NY Nights.” But I went with the latter with its more subtle, almost pensive feeling of urgency in the chorus. By 2010 Malin had a band of sorts cobbled together for Love It To Life, dubbed The St. Mark’s Social, and it makes a difference to the sound. “St. Mark’s Sunset” rocks on with a gleeful abandon that sounds both a little bit Pogues and a little bit Titus Andronicus.
Five years later Malin was back doing the solo thing, releasing two albums of new material in one year. New York Before the War sure sounds like a hit record, with Tom Petty-ish should-be chart climbers like “Addicted” and more earthy Springsteen-esque numbers like “Oh Sheena.” Outsiders has a bit more of a rave up quality and here I’m loving “San Francisco” with its languid pace and breathtaking juxtaposition of instrumental sounds. Lucinda Williams produced 2019’s Sunset Kids and it’s another winner. My personal fave is “Chemical Heart” with its killer organ backing. Malin’s latest is lovely double album, 2021’s Sad and Beautiful World, featuring an exquisite cover of Tom Petty’s “Crawling Back to You” amid a wide range of styles on his own material. Actually, there’s a lot of Petty influence on tracks like “Dance on my Grave” and “Lost Forever.” But my fave on the record is the sprightly, Graham Parker-ish “State of the Art.”
Malin seems to be just getting bigger and bigger, with positive reviews in Rolling Stone and all the usual music industry press. But there’s still time to say you knew him when. Get in on the ground floor of his fan base with a visit to his website and Bandcamp pages.
News keep breaking on the brand new poprock music front. In our second news episode in as many days we kick out the rock and roll jams, shine up our jangle, and court some seriously superior songwriting. Grab these headlines and have a party!
I only recently discovered The Friends of Cesar Romero with their sparkling single “Summer Boyfriend.” Now I’ve discovered they reach a whole new level of visceral rocking greatness via their just released album War Party Favors. This is a band that comes on strong, often with a wall of rock and roll guitars and a strong vocal assault. The record’s opening title cut “War Party Favors” exemplifies this ‘tude with its punky, you’re-on-a-thrill-ride abandon. But you never have to look far on any FCR effort to find some laconic melodies and irresistible hooks. Like those alluring guitar riffs all over “The Lonely Popular Girl” that keep drawing you in, waiting for more. Or “Neon Teens” which comes on like some kind of Joan Jett deep cut, alternating demure verses with anthemic choruses. Then there’s “Beauty and the Broken Heart,” essentially a Phil Spector girl group song cast in more rock and roll register. Personally I’m loving “Thinkin’ About Leaving’” with its hooky lead guitar work and very Phil Seymour vocal, as well as the stunning Buddy Holly-doing-new-wave masterpiece, “Baby How Long.” I could describe them all but hearing them will make you a believer. And with 16 tracks for the price of a single album War Party Favors is definitely value for poprock money.
Robert Ellis Orrall is the man behind the hits and hit-makers as a songwriter, producer and record label impresario. He himself had a few major label deals, he did make the charts a few times back in the day, but over his long career he’s mostly avoided the spotlight for himself. Until recently. With a global pandemic unfolding Orrall decided it was time to make a musical statement of his own. And readers we are the lucky beneficiaries because REO not only writes great songs, he’s great at performing them too. Sometimes funny, often smartly political, always engaging musically, previous releases have included clever tunes like “Trust Me, I Work for the Government,” “Clear Channel,” and “Al Gore, the Musical.” But this review is about his latest release, 467 Surf and Gun Club, named for his Memphis record label flop house. There’s a low-key rock opera feel to the musical proceedings, with a number of songs offering up exposition on Orrall’s record label locale and what took place there. Our hero emerges from “In Dreams” to a musical landscape defined by dreamy Beach Boys harmonies. On “Morning Song” our protagonist gets ready to take on another rock and roll day. Then “Here in our Backyard,” “467 Surf and Gun Club” and “Welcome to Paradise” are like musical montage sequences that fill in all the details. Stylistically, the Beach Boys influence is up front and all over this record, occasionally tempered by a flash of Hall and Oates in the hooks department. Other influences abound, like the obvious love for the Beatles on “Iceberg” or Todd Rundgren on “Miserable.” In terms of a clear hit single, there’s no contest: “Sunshine” is a joyous 2 and half minutes, full stop. It’s what truly great 45s are all about. With 467 Surf and Gun Club Robert Ellis Orrall may be closing up shop on one musical era but the door is clearly opening up on another.
This is a somewhat new sounding theCatherines long-player. Sure, the curio poprock songwriting is still going on. And there’s plenty of that jangly guitar we’ve come to expect from this combo. But Sink Into Oblivion is a departure of sorts. First, it has cleaner, less DIY sound. You can really hear the vocals, now more up-front in the mix than ever before. Second, the songwriting ambition here casts a wider net. There’s a Style Council urbane sophistication to tunes like opening cut “You Never Have Any Self-Doubts, Do You?” or a Pet Shot Boys panache all over “Let’s Write the Book of Love.” Of course, there’s some good old fashioned theCatherines here too, apparent on “Love is Just Far Away Today” and “Where Have I Gone Wrong.” But check out the café jazz pop stylings on “You’ve Got It All Wrong,” “Kid P.” and “Terrible Loser.” Or the classy piano opening to that cool slice of 1979 melodic pop, “Sappy Together.” The band also conjure up some Bacharach and David for “Like a Song by Nichols and Williams” and give an Attractions-like backing to “At Least Your Bird Can Sing.” But my fave contribution here “Lift Me Up To Your Level” with its terrific guitar/keyboard interplay really adding something special to an already solid tune. On Sink Into Oblivion succumbing to stupor never sounded so good.
Maybe it’s just my faulty memory but alongside the rock and MOR bombast of the 1980s were a host of super 1960s-inspired, melody-focused rock and roll outfits. To my ears, Seattle’s BPM Collective nail that sound. Their debut EP Catastrophe Girl is a stunning showcase of poprock styles from that decade, and they’ve got it sounding fresher than ever. Just give the title track “Catastrophe Girl” a spin to get swept up in a soaring melody and driving mix of distinctive organ and guitars. The vibe is so familiar, like an early Bangles or mid-period Don Dixon tune. And while the “Adelaide” sung about here is probably in Washington state, the song does have a haunting Down Under music scene kind of feel. What I find so impressive about this EP is the remarkable range of songwriting across just five songs. Note the touch of Merseyside on “Mr Congeniality” or the hint of Roxy Music in the chorus of the otherwise Americana poprocking “Something to Dream About.” And then there’s the Orbison-esque vocal turns of phrase colouring in the sombre “The Valley.” Wow. This baby is heading for the ‘best of the year’ lists for sure.
Don’t wait for any film at eleven. Go right now to the hyperlinked names above to get more on these breaking stories. It pays to stay informed.
So much news is breaking that we have to divide this installment into two parts. There’s more to love this fall and we’re here to help you love it with plenty of bands whose names start with ‘the’ or clearly own a pair of roller skates (or simply a brand new key).
What leaps out at you from The Tubs debut EP Names is the addictive jangle and vocalist Owen Williams freakish similarity to Richard Thompson. I mean, wow, I’d swear Thompson had thrown over his folk roots for a new sound, if the song titles didn’t tell me different. It’s there strongly on the opening cut, “Illusion,” with its super guitar-slashing peppiness, as well as “The Name Song” with its Futureheads kind of guitar intensity. The EP’s single “Two Person Love” also counterposes a solid rhythm guitar against some discordant lead work in an original and ear-catching way. The band also put out a debut single last year that doesn’t appear on this release, “I Don’t How It Works,” and that’s a shame because it’s a winner. But hey, you can just buy both and create your own special maxi-EP release.
Producer/engineer/songwriter/musical sideman to the stars Tommy Marolda is certainly a bit of an over-achiever. But power pop fans probably don’t know much about his professional work, they know him for his legendary 1979 one-man-band DIY album The Toms. The record is widely seen as a masterpiece of form and substance. But Marolda didn’t stop there – he’s continued to put out the occasional single or album. Like now – The Toms are back with another long-playing installment of Beatles-infused, indie poprock on Tomplicated. The album is 16 cuts long and you might as well relax and let it wash over you. The overall effect is a delightful distillation of 1960s melodic rock and roll, with a touch of psychedelic pop on “Pinball Replay,” some folk rock on “Too Many Yesterdays,” even a Beatles-ish jangle on “Hang On.” Last year’s advance single is the obvious radio should-be hit, “One Girl Parade,” but I’d vote “The World is Flat” and “Sunday Clothes” as close follow ups. Then there’s the very Lennon-ish “Daylight Wasting Time” circa 1967 or the lovely sunshine pop single “It Doesn’t Matter to Me.” Tomplicated is a love letter our musical past – you can definitely hear the influences – but it speaks with a timeless accent.
Four years after their debut album Things Under Control, Roller Disco Comboare back with a new EP, The Sun After the Rain. The Barcelona band offer up something familiar but also some new themes. “Indonesian Breakfast” is a discordant Teenage Fanclub workout but “Holes in the Grass” immediately shifts our gaze to a more folk rock feel. Then “Dear Mean” kicks off with fattened up jangle guitar and a melodic heft worthy of XTC. “City Lights” also rings the jangle bell but eases into an almost country vibe. Meanwhile “Happy Song” has an Americana feel going on. Altogether The Sun After the Rain showcases a band still exploring just how far they can take their influences and the results are very pleasing indeed.
Dose must be the one of the most anticipated ‘second’ albums to come out this year. The Brothers Steve blew up 2019, coming out of nowhere with their debut album (appropriately entitled #1) to make power pop ‘best of’ lists across the blogosphere. Now they’re back with another installment of their unique brand of melody-infused rock and roll and it is no disappointment. This time the album’s sonic structure is built around the acoustic guitar, which forms the base sound of most of the tracks. It’s there underneath the party vibe kicking off the album with “Get On Up” with its Stonesy ‘who hoo’ background vocals. Then comes the obvious single, “Next Aquarius” with its propulsive acoustic guitar driving the song forward like so many classic Kinks songs. The acoustic base anchors “She Will Wait,” a track with some clever melodic surprises, and the ear-wormy “Sugarfoot.” But another clear influence here is 1970s glam, with “Wizard of Love” a perfect evocation of Marc Bolan and T. Rex, and 1970s boogie rock on “Better Get Ready.” The 1960s influence should not be discounted. It’s there on “Griffith Observatory” with its Beach Boys meets 1950s song stylings alternating with a more new wave sensibility, and “Love of Kings” which vibes a more California 1960s Mamas and Papas sound. And then there’s “Electro Love” which sees sixties influence funneled through a New Pornographers filter. In the end, Dose is much more than its many influences, it’s a blast of timeless melodic poprock joy. Get ready to soundtrack your next party with this must-have release.
The news is out, all over town. But you don’t need to be running round. Just click on the hyerlinks to go right to the source and get your musical updates.
With No Time to Die finally in theatres it seems timely to revisit the exquisite pleasures of 1960s-derivative spy music. The genre and its distinctive vibe was arguably invented when British session guitar player Vic Flick was invited to add some ‘punch’ to Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” before the release of the first Bond film, 1962’s Dr. No. With the addition of John Barry’s horn arrangement and Flick’s instantly recognizable rumbly guitar hooks, the track is as much a brand for the franchise as Moneypenny and the Walther PPK. Since then the song has appeared in all 25 official Bond films and, according to the website SecondHandSongs, been covered more than 153 times. Lanny Flowers produced a killer version for the superb Curry Cuts powerpop collection of Bond covers, Songs, Bond Songs, reviewed in detail here. But we won’t limit ourselves to just the double-O ranks in taking up our spy music theme. Flick’s guitar sound became synonymous with spy music more generally in the 1960s, which means it’s all pretty groovy.
Of course, we have to begin with the Bond theme, this time from Boston’s premier twang band The Weisstronauts. The take is pretty traditional, except when it’s not. Check out the intriguing guitar counterpoint that surfaces early in the tune or the brief Hawaiian guitar flourishes. It’s from the fab wiaiwya Bond songs covers album, A Girl and a Gun. Next up, the inspiration for this spy-themed post, The Outta Sites stunning spy song EP, Shaken Not Stirred: The Secret Agent Sessions. The band offer up covers of classics like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “You Only Live Twice” as well as more off-the-beaten-track – but still great – material like the “Theme from Our Man Flint,” James Coburn’s satiric take on Bond from 1966. But the price of admission is paid entirely with their “Secret Agent Medley” combining elements of Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man,” “The James Bond Theme,” “Goldfinger,” and “Live and Let Die.” “Double Agent” is also a treat with its relentless organ-driven sense of panic and excitement. Sticking to the instrumental side of spy music, San Diego’s The Shambles serve up a rare non-vocal track with “A Girl to Kill For,” the b-side to their 1995 single “(We’ve Got a) Groovy Thing” and deep cut on their 1996 album Clouds All Day. The song packs the requisite degree of guitar-driven ominous dread in a concise 2 minute workout.
Sometimes people like to sing about spies and spying. Like when Starbelly admit to some on-the-side employment in “I Am a Spy,” one of a load of bonus cuts that appear on the 2012 reboot of their 1998 album Lemon Fresh. The song has the cool melodic bite of any of The Odds 1990s material, with the spy guitar shots just an added benefit. Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways tell Bond’s story in musical form on their “James Bond.” The track is a supremely pleasant poprock tune with maximum Bond film-title name-dropping exposition. Now if you want to dig back into more historical spy song treatments, check out Ace Records fantastic collection of 1960s tunes, Come Spy With Us: The Secret Agent Songbook, featuring John Barry, Dusty Springfield, the Supremes, Nancy Sinatra, and many more. As you leave this post and the credits roll, taking us out are The Surf Trio’s “Cocktails with Bond,” basically a languid cocktail interpretation of the Bond theme, from the Exotic Guitars compilation.
The Cold War may be over but our nostalgia for the combination of international people of mystery and rumbly guitar lives on. Bond will return, undoubtedly inspiring another wave of cool tunes and covers.
I remember my first Tom Petty song so clearly. I was working the dish-pit in a spaghetti restaurant when “Don’t Do Me Like That” came on the local FM radio station. What a song! Those distinctive guitar/piano shots were the musical equivalent of crack cocaine. I was never gonna get free of that. Then I heard “Refugee,” “Even the Losers,” and “Here Comes My Girl” and knew Petty and I were going to spend a lot of time together. Over the years I didn’t react to each Petty record quite as strongly but every release had something to love. That made his sudden unexpected passing in 2017 hard to take as the guy clearly had more to give. Four years later Petty’s impact on multiple generations of musicians and fans has only become more apparent. I mean, people write songs about the guy! And some of them are pretty good.
Austin Texas’ Leatherbag add just a dollop of Petty song-style to their “Tom Petty Summer” from 2009’s Tomorrow/Everything I Once Knew album. Ok, it’s there vocally and the guitar lead lines too. You can also enjoy a nice acoustic treatment of the song too from the band’s 2012 Rarities collection. Morgantown Virginia’s Weedhawks dial down their political commentary just a bit to honour TP on “I Miss Tom Petty” from their 2019 release Build a Wall Around Washington. On this tribute, it’s the message that is all about Petty rather than the treatment, which owes more to a country-fied Lou Reed and the Velvets. That the Hanging Stars would ace the Petty sound is really no surprise. The band ooze a Brydsian folk rock meets jangle confidence on all their recordings. So their “Tom Petty” from 2020’s New Kind of Sky is a treat, mixing 12 string electric guitar with some pretty pedal steel work over a solid piece of songwriting. The Satin Cowboy and the Seven Deadly Sins conjure up a bit of Wildflowers with their “Song for Tom Petty,” a lovely tune that hurts bad for Tom and all that we are missing with his death. A more upbeat take on the same sentiment can be found on Dolour’s dynamic 2021 release, Televangelist. His “The Day Tom Petty Died” honours Petty’s sonic legacy in a more rip-roaring melodic sort of way.
He may be gone but today’s songs demonstrate that Tom Petty is very much alive in the music we love. In line with today’s troubadours, I say, long live TP and his influence.
A new single from Overlord is cause for much excitement over here a PRR headquarters. We’ve loved their past work with a monastic intensity. But let’s face it, it’s been a tough few centuries for overlords. Notwithstanding John Lennon’s claim that we’re all still effing peasants, demand for a ‘lord of all lords’ who can rule the shire, extract a bit of surplus from the serfs, and go all bro with his nobles on regular trips to the holy land to kick some infidel ass has declined precipitously since that whole ‘free labour’ thing came in with capitalism. That must be a contributing factor to Overlord’s declining musical productivity of late. Since the release of the band’s last long-player The Well Tempered Overlord in 2016 there’s been just one single, 2017’s “Up For Anything.” Oh for the good old days of feudal leisure!
Well chin up loyal subjects, your continuing fealty is about to be rewarded. Overlord is back with a song as good as any of their past curio poprock classics. I mean, who opens with fabulous accordion? Ok, They Might Be Giants. But who else? Overlord gateway-drug your way into “I Don’t Want to Sing This Song Again” with some alluring accordion work before breaking out a masterful melodic performance, perhaps vibing a bit of Teenage Fanclub but mostly just giving us that good old hooky, verbally-clever stuff we love them for. My only concern is the possible subtext here. Does not wanting to sing this particular song mean Overlord is really saying ‘so long’? Banish the thought. Even in the darkest ages I’m a bit of a musical optimist so I’m going with ‘early single from a fab new soon-to-be released album’ as my judgement of this one-off release.
For a medieval holdover, Overlord are working the social media with a modernist élan. Check them out on their internet manor, Facebook and Bandcamp pages to get all latest ‘hear ye, hear ye’s.
The rush of fall is upon us with nary a wayward summer breeze to distract us. I guess we’ll just have to turn to this rash of singles to get us through. Here are acts old and new, famous and not so well known, in a variety of poprock styles. Something to tickle every fancy.
Besides having an election, Norway is in my newsfeed because Oslo’s I Was a Kinghave got a new album out. Entitled Grand Hotel, the record steers between spare Brydsian folk numbers and good old fashioned Teenage Fanclub guitar pop songs. The latter spirit strongly guides “Song for the Dead,” the obvious stand out single for me. Former Lucksmiths member Mark Monnone’s latest vehicle is Monnone Alone, though he does get help from a rotating cast of musical characters. His latest release Stay Foggy has a looser feel than this previous longplayer, the more raucus Summer of the Mosquito. It hits me with a summer beach party kinda vibe. I love the early 1960s throwback shuffle of “The Silos.” But my feature track is “Pepper Jar” with its lovely low key jangle and subtle vocals hooks. The long wait for a new album from the fabulously talented Bleuis finally over with the arrival of Six Tape. The record brings together songs released over the past year (like the fantastic “I Want to Write You a Symphony”) as well as tunes originally intended for other projects. The end result does not disappoint. Listeners looking for his trademark larger-than-life ELO-meets-Queen reinvented sound, look no further than the wonderfully over the top “Baby By Your Side.” But I’m featuring something from the more subtle side of Bleu, the playfully acoustic-ish “Kid Someday.” Now I know I highlighted The Orion Experience recently but I can’t resist their brand new single, “Lemon Boy.” The song is a cover of indie artist Cavetown but in TOE’s clutches the track becomes a perfect slice of “Teddy Boy” era McCartney, with just a hint of Chumbawumba’s softer acoustic wistfulness, particularly in the combination of male and female voices. It’s a teaser from a promised new album from the band – I can’t wait! Champaign Illinois’ Nectarare often described as pop-punk but I just hear a great bunch of guitars and some beguilingly melodic vocal turns. As a single “Fishy” has a great driving, droney guitar sound, sometimes drifting into Swervedriver territory but then correcting back to some strong hooks in the chorus. Ok, the song was actually a 2020 release but it has been a 2021 experience for me.
“For a Moment” is the second advance single from Chicago band The Webstirs soon-to-be-released self-titled sixth album. It’s a solid piece of poprock, in line with their glorious past efforts but with a few new twists, like the engaging and original keyboard sound. Despite taking a long break in the middle of their career this song suggest they are back better than ever. Also from Chicago, Dan Rico and I go way back. He was one of the first truly independent artists I wrote about. Then as now I appreciate his artistic dexterity, his ability to mix styles but somehow always remain unmistakably Rico. Over the past year he’s been working up singles for a new album and right now I’m digging “Rose Gold,” a lightly swinging bit of old rock and roll/indie pastiche with slight punky delivery. Sydney Australia’s The Forresters are also working their way towards a new album, dropping singles on a regular basis. “The Tightrope” has all the magical elements this band excels at: plenty of guitar jangle, an endearing Americana vocal style, and those oh so uplifting hooks. I love the spooky ‘ah’ background vocals filling in the sound as well as the late arrival horn section. The Mommyheads are a smart person’s smart band. “Amnesia Collective” from their recent album Age of Isolation is no exception to this rule. Biting social commentary is delivered with a smooth late Beatles pop sheen, melodically buoyant amid carefully calibrated instrumental surprises and a vocal reminiscent of Freddie Mercury in his more subdued playful moods. Boston’s Ward Hayden and the Outliers (formerly Girls, Guns and Glory) sound geographically misplaced, offering up a more southern Americana feel on their releases, like “Nothing to Do (For Real This Time)” from their recent record Free County. There’s more than a little of that 1980s western feel I recall from bands like True West and Rank and File and that’s why I like’em.
Am I only one who hears a bit of Tracy Thorn with Lydia Loveless? There’s something in her heartfelt, urgent delivery that really hits me like Everything but the Girl’s songstress. Check out “Let’s Make Out” to see if I’m on to something or just lost it. This song is also evidence of how labels like ‘alt country’ just don’t capture the exquisite synthesis that is Loveless’ oeuvre. The recent revival of The Suncharms is confirmed as a undeniably good thing with “Dream of a Time Machine” from their recent LP Distant Lights. It’s all the usual shoe-gazey goodness you’ve come to expect, disciplined by a solid hooky guitar lead line threaded throughout the tune. Nashville’s Keats offer up a bunch of great rollicking rock and roll tunes on The Saturday Night Shocker. My choice selection from the record is “Look At Us Now,” a track that brims with chord changes sounding somewhat like BTO meets Bad Company. Detroit’s Nick Piunti is back with uber cool new single, a driving bit of new wave retro with a vocal that is acid-drenched like Bryan Adams or Tom Cochrane entitled “Heart Inside Your Head.” The keyboards on this baby are outasite, expertly running up against a wall of chugging rhythm guitars. All of which leads me to say, where is the new album? I was into The Vaccines long before they became pandemic cool and they have never failed me. The new album is entitled Back in Love City and I am definitely feeling the love for my choice of single, “Heart Land.” The track is a chord-filled re-declaration of love for all things America, e.g. ‘milkshakes and fries,’ ‘favourite bands and Spiderman,’ ‘Easy Rider and Kerouac,’ etc. Post-Trump America may have some worldwide making up to do but not with this band. With rumbly lead guitar lines and dreamy vocals, this is a 5 star enjoyable single.
On Rich Arithmetic’s new stand-alone single “You Are Always Right” there so many hints of rock and roll’s glory days, like the very Beatles-y song structure covered over with light jangle and a shoe-gazey folk rock vocal. It’s a sound that a whole lot of 1980s indie artists spent much time imitating. But Rich makes it his own. And check out B-side “Up To You,” it’s pretty sweet too. Jim Basnight has pulled a full album out of his musical bag of tricks, remixing tracks to freshen their appeal. Altogether Makin’ Bacon is 17 tracks full, with plenty of straight-up, unadorned rock and roll. I’m really liking “Ho Chi Minh” with its tasty guitar lead line and unrelenting background vocal ‘ah’s buffeting the lead vocal. The Ruen Brothers sound so retro country meets early rock and roll, except when they don’t. Case in point, recent single “Cookies and Cream” is a full on melody blast, where a contemporary production vibe accents their usual Blue Velvet sonic palate. The single is a bouncy bit of fun, like combining Johnny Rivers with Wham! From London to New Jersey we return to The Front Bottomswho have been drip releasing some singles lately, like the trippy “Voodoo Magic.” It sounds like classic TFB, with a soaring guitar lead line and slick melodic vocal. Somehow I missed the band’s 2020 album, In Sickeness & In Flames – check out the fab “Montgomery Forever” as homework. Dave Nachmanoff and Richard Rossi recently worked together on the superb John Wicks tribute album. Now they’re back at it, collaborating on a new project called Rumble Strip and an accompanying EP, Let’s Roll. As the liner notes suggest, the effort walks a line between Americana and power pop with an easy, well worn confidence. My choice cut is the organ-drenched “Checkin’ Out,” a breezy number with flashes of Dire Straits and pub rock. But frankly, I’m also partial to Rockpile-ish “Adam West” and the amusing vamp that is “Uber Driver.” Really, the whole EP is a winner.
Twenty tunes to cap off your September. Now you’ve got a playlist to gather those leaves by. Click on the artist names indulge yourself just a little bit more.
I just found about NYC’s The Orion Experience and now it seems that life prior to this discovery was perhaps a bit more dull and unexciting than I had realized. Their 2006 debut album Cosmicandy throws a whole lot of uber cool sounds into the hopper – Blondie era-disco riffs, Chumbawumba-esque anthemic group singing, some Grouplove loose rock n’ roll – and a consistent, clever political and social commentary. It’s all good. Really good. But my hands-down fave on the record is the ELO meets New Pornographers rave up “The Cult of Dionysus.” The song is a rush of hooky adrenaline, constantly shifting its attack, from stripped back guitars to dueling vocals to a full-on wall-of-sound assault. Then there’s the understated bridge, where everything drops out to acoustic guitars and sweet sweet vocals that slowly build back up to a driving climax. It’s an instant repeat-play kind of tune. The band have a few equally good albums sprinkled over the past 15 years, a pleasant solo EP from group leader Orion Simprini, and some appealing brand new material coming out right now. But you’re gonna want to start here, with this song and this album. For poprock fans, it’s a guaranteed good time.
The Orion Experience have plenty of internet real estate but start with Bandcamp – that’s where the music is.
If you need a dose of musical smiles and sunshine, dial up the good times vibe all over the recent Mike Browning releases. A self-admitted musical late bloomer, these recordings are actually brimming with a kind of youthful excitement and joy. Get started with “We’re Hanging Out” which opens Browning’s 2020 debut EP Never Too Late with a splash of that 1960s breezy sunshine pop, one part Buddy Holly, another part Beach Boys. Then “I Can See Nothing But You” combines some lovely jangle with a bit of late 1960s folk rock. “Hide and Seek” is bit more neo-1950s, in that way mid-1960s beach group would do it. Meanwhile “Watching the Lines on the Road” feels so Monkees, leaning particularly toward Nesmith’s influence. Browning followed up this EP with a slick sounding single in early 2021, “Another Bite of the Apple,” a nice poppy number with a great hooky lead guitar break. This is feel good music of the very best kind.
On his most recent release Class Act Browning takes aim at covering hits ranging from the 1960s through to the 1980s, classics like the Beach Boys’ “Do It Again,” the Byrds’ “My Back Pages,” and the Beatles “Norwegian Wood,” What a challenge! But Browning somehow manages to pull it off with solid musicianship and an endearing vocal style. My own personal fave is his somewhat muted take on “Jenny 867-5309” where he manages to capture the song’s energy and excitement while reining its rock excesses. Or there’s the chipper fun cover of The Reflections 1964 hit “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet, or a super take on the obscure regional US hit “The Little Black Egg.” And so on through 12 tracks in total, covering artists as varied as XTC, the Kinks, Bob Dylan, the Spencer Davis Group, and more. Taken together, the feel of this record is like some kind of fabulous party for a multi-generational group to really enjoy. I, for one, would love to hear Browning’s band do these covers live.
With these recordings Mike Browning demonstrates it’s never too late to take up your musical dreams. And he’s now promising us more is on the way. Keep up with Mike at his website, Bandcamp and Facebook pages.
From the 1960s through to the 1980s a lot of young people tried their hand at forming a rock and roll band. Not every act made it. Sometimes they just didn’t have what it takes but more often than not they just couldn’t dedicate their lives to the mission in the obsessed, manic way that is often required to succeed. Here’s how the story typically fizzled out: life intervened, marriage and/or kids happened, and suddenly the landlord/mortgage company demanded a more regular paycheque than rock and roll could provide. Well lately we’ve seen a lot of those deferred rockers making up for lost time, digging out their old recordings, polishing them up and turning them loose in the new, anything-goes internet form of music distribution. And the results are sometimes pretty special. Here we salute just a few of the more notable recent poprock record revivals.
Steve Rosenbaum’s monumental collection Have a Cool Summer! is like a message in a bottle that’s suddenly washed ashore. The album contains 23 songs recorded on his home 4-track between 1979-89 that never saw the light of day at the time. After spinning these tunes a few times all I can say is, what a shame. Get ready for a ‘great lost album’ experience because Rosenbaum’s songs are tight hooky little masterpieces, combining bits of the Raspberries, the Beach Boys and Marshall Crenshaw. Honestly, there are just too many highlights on this record to really sum the total effect. You can drop the needle anywhere and find something delightful. There’s a touch of the Plimsouls on “Tearing Up the Town,” some of that 1965 Beach Boys wistful ennui with “Me Alone,” a slight XTC feel to “72 Days,” and a whole lot of Costello circa Get Happy! in “Candyland” and “Confidential Love.” Then there’s the Marshal Crenshaw vibe on “Turn Out the Light” and “Girl from Seventeen,” neither of which would go amiss on MC’s debut album. I’d also nominate “These Girls Fly By” and “Come On Over” as the obvious should-be hit singles with their rollicking bouncy guitar and strong melodic hooks. Right now Have a Cool Summer! is only available on 8-track, with a digital download included, but come the new year it busts out into new formats. Trust me, it’s worth digging out your old tech for.
The legend of the Sorrows failed second album is right out rock and roll cinema’s central casting. The band’s debut Teenage Heartbreak had wowed fans and critics alike with its muscular power pop sound and sweet sweet melodic hooks. It was like The Plimsouls had joined the revived Searchers. Then early The Who producer Shel Talmy joined up to oversee the band’s second record. What could go wrong? Apparently, everything. When Love Too Late came out in 1981 it was like the original band had been mugged by some AM corporate rock ringers. Talmy had ignored the band’s production ideas and style of playing, indeed replacing most of them with session players on various tracks. End result? The band badmouthed the final product and then broke up. Fast forward forty years and the group has finally managed to reclaim legal control over their songs and performances. But instead of just remixing and tweaking the existing album they’ve produced an almost entirely new recording. Love Too Late, the real album is a shocker. You’d swear it’s the band in their early 1980s heyday, they sound that good. The songs were always great but now they lean into their early 1980s style, with “Love Too Late” matching the manic sound and energy of their then-contemporary rivals The Plimsouls, “Crying” offering a bit of Madness ska, and “Rita” conjuring up memories of the Paul Collins Beat. The Beatles influence is definitely present on “Breaking My Heart” and “It’s Not Love Anymore while the band’s own distinctive dreamy pop instincts define the lovely opening cut “Christabelle” and “So Much Love.” The cover of the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting For You” is pretty special too. My own choice for single would the exquisitely hooky “What I Used to Know.” Love Too Late, the real album is a revelation, both a time capsule resurrection and contemporary renewal of a truly great band. You’re definitely gonna want this.
Another historic missed opportunity is the collected recorded works from Bruce Moody. Forever Fresh! features 23 cuts from tracks recorded between 1979 and 1986 that either fall into the Nick Lowe bubblegum style he perfected in mid-to-late 1970s or a Phil Seymour power pop register. A few of the songs here did see a contemporary release (on the 1982 EP Fresh Out!) while others were drip released on EPs much later in 2016 (Still Fresh!) and 2018 (Get Fresh!). Forever Fresh! doubles that past output and brings these mostly studio-quality AM radio-friendly poprock tunes all together in one attractively designed and modestly priced package. And the songs! Moody knows how to throw a solid hook into any kind of tune. “This Is It” opens the collection perfectly, a song seemingly caught between a 1970s bubblegum pop and early 1980s new wave vibe. Then “At the Rock Club” is so Nick Lowe circa Jesus of Cool. “Above Suspicion” moves more decidedly into 1980s territory, with shades of Squeeze’s kitchen sink narrative style. And so on – so many great tunes here. Personally, I love the Searchers-ish melodic simplicity on tracks like “Simple Love,” “Right to Know,” “The Closer I Get to You” and “You Do.” Then there’s the occasional departure from Moody’s relentlessly upbeat tone, like the somewhat ominous melodic turns that appear in the verses to “Find Ourselves” (though the chorus quickly auto-corrects back to punchy positivity). Or check out how Moody builds the jangle-delicious “Gotta Move Away,” with its creative juxtaposition of attack and subtle Beach Boys influences (both in terms of song structure and low-key humour). Both charts and listeners lost out when these songs didn’t get released back in early 1980s. And yet Moody is on to something with his collection title – there really is something ‘forever fresh’ about these concise blasts of innocent poppy goodness.
Here’s another Hollywood happy ending sort of musical story. A band records some tunes but before anything can come of them they break up. Twenty years later a recording engineer at the studio stumbles across the recordings and voila! here is Doublepluspop’s should-have-been 2002 debut album Too Loud, Too Fast, Too Much magically resurrected. Definitely better late than never. The record is equal parts Matthew Sweet/Fountains of Wayne in terms of influences, with tasty guitar hooks and sophisticated melodies galore. Opening cut “Stumbling Back” really sets the tone with a buzzing wall of guitars and a classic FOW guitar solo. “The Dark Inside” has a very Matthew Sweet vocal and some guitar hooks reminiscent of Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk in the Room.” Things continue in this vein with more ear wormy tracks like “My Verona,” “Here’s to the Losers” and particularly “Everyone” with its cool vocal harmonies. There are few deviations from the basic script, like “If I Wasn’t In Love,” with its faint echoes of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” popping up here and there, and the rollicking good time feel of “What a Wonderful Time.” The juiced up cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” also really works. I’m just gonna say it, Doublepluspop are definitely doubleplusgood.
In today’s virtual world there is no yesterday, no past, no gone-for-good. It seems everything can be revived if there’s an audience to give it life. Today’s acts definitely deserve a turn on the poprock record revival circuit. Click on the links above to help make their misspent youth pay in the here and now.