Fans of Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp and Tom Petty at their hookiest are gonna love the Cerny Brothers’ “American Whore” from their late 2018 release, Looking for the Good Land. Like their inspirational sources, the brothers head a crack band and there’s some pretty amazing playing all over the album, particularly on the boogie piano-heavy “Laugh at the Devil” and the beautiful, moving “Million Miles,” with its light harmonica and banjo touches. But “American Whore” is clearly the centre-piece of the album, with AOR hit single written all over it. Curiously, though the band has nailed the sound and songwriting style of Springsteen and Mellencamp, the song’s message is decidedly different. Internet entertainment magazine PopDust quoted Robert Cerny describing the song as “… born out of frustration. So many people rally against capitalism and consumerism, yet don’t always admit we’re all a part of it. The system is a product of us, for better or worse – not the other way around.” In my trade (social science), this is what we call a logical fallacy. The fact that people work within a system of rules doesn’t mean they are the authors of it. But no matter. You don’t have agree with an artist to enjoy or even learn something from their art. “American Whore” is a great song that bodes well for future releases from the brothers Cerny.
Check out the Cerny Brothers’ website for deets about tours and new releases.
Continuing on a summer theme, seasonal snacking has a musical side too where we seek out a bit of crunch, the tang of a few spicy licks, a selection of sweet treats, and something refreshing to wash it all down. This post delivers a variety of summer-proofed hooks in a sonic ‘bits and bites’-like format. Dip in anywhere.
America’s Pacific Northwest appears to be home to a host of super poprock talent of late, including Tacoma’s Vanilla. The band’s recent Mystik Knights of Tacoma is a testament to the abiding freshness of melody-driven rock and roll, at times channeling Macca or 10cc on tunes like “On a Night Like This,” or midperiod XTC on “Let’s Call it a Day,” or even the Everly Brothers on “Be Not Coy,” or ELO on “Bankside.” The album is flawlessly performed, smooth but not slick. And while you’re here, it pays to reach back in Vanilla’s catalogue for “Twilight” from 2015’s Vanilla 2.0, a real treat!
Super 8 put me on to Space Dingus, labelmates on Subjangle records, and what a great recommendation it was. This is a band with an original distillation of 1960s sounds going on, working in a variety of styles and tempos. “Ronald Raygun” sets the tone right out the gate with hooky bass runs, trebly rhythm guitar, and slightly punky vocals. But then the group effortlessly shift to a spacy jazz Classics IV vibe on “Check the Exits.” On the whole, the album has a rockin’ party feel on tracks like “Haunted Shoes,” “Intrepid,” and “Honey Teeth.” Clearly, this would be amazing live band to see! And then “George” changes the pace again, slowing things down into an electric folky rumination. But the album highlight for me is a song that sounds like a great lost Monkees cut, “Parchment Squire, Paper Knight.” Killer!
I had the car iTunes on shuffle and a sound came out of the speakers that was pure pop rock bliss: Rachael Gordon’s cover of Paul Collin’s “Rock and Roll Girl.” At some point I had picked up her 1999 compilation of the same name which collected various EPs and one-off singles together. But clearly I didn’t really give it a serious listen. Now I had it on maximum repeat! So many great tunes. Highlights for me include her cover of Moe Berg’s “Man’s Best Friend” (sounding like a female Eytan Mirsky – or is he a male Rachael Gordon?), “Goodbye to You,” “Fun at Your House,” the Beatlesque “And Sometimes,” and an inspired cover of the Plimsouls’ “When You Find Out.” Her 2004 release Coming of Spring is also top quality, channeling Nick Lowe on cuts like “Where Are You Tonight,” the Go Go’s and Bangles on “Ariel” and the remake of her own “Fun at Your House,” or folk rock on “Dresden Station.” But save time for the closer, “The Farewell Song,” a galloping, good-time melodic romp. Why haven’t we heard more music from Rachael Gordon? Life’s not fair.
Rock and Roll GirlAnd Sometimes
When Ed Ryan suggests something to me, I run to check it out. He’s a distinguished artist in his own right and has great taste in music. So when he mentioned I’d probably like Jenny and Johnny, I knew it was going to be special. But how special? I was not prepared for how good this was going to be. I’m Having Fun Now is the product of a collaboration between Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and her then boyfriend, Johnathon Rice. The record rocks off to a great start with “Scissor Runner,” a track that sounds like it was left off the Plimsouls’ first album. “My Pet Snakes” alternates J and J’s vocals to good effect in a swinging, hooky number. “Switchblade” goes a bit more country all Jayhawks/Blue Rodeo-like. And so on. There’s not a bum track on the album. Personally, I love “Animal,” “New Yorker Cartoon,” and “Straight Edge of the Blade,” but save my greatest appreciation for the delightfully earwormy “Just Like Zeus.” Enjoy this, because the break up probably means there won’t be any more.Scissor RunnerJust Like Zeus
Bruce Springsteen’s new LP Western Stars finds the Boss back in top form, in control of his muse, throwing off hooks shrouded in poprock adornments from the past fifty years. The album has strings, horns, Bacharach and David orchestrations, Born to Run sparkly piano, and Nebraska-era acoustic guitar appegiations. And the songs! Not since Tunnel of Love has Bruce produced such a coherent set of songs, such a thematically clear statement of where he’s at. There’s hope, love, loss and regret – the usual, in other words. But the balance of themes and performance captured here in on par with some of his very best work.
Western Stars is Springsteen’s cinematic soundtrack of a neoliberal America. Where Born to Run captured the insecurity of a boom-time working class that might just lose anyway, Western Stars bookends Darkness at the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s prescient, dark rumination about the beginning of the end of the economic good times for working people at the close of the 1970s. But with Western Stars, the damage is now done, and his various protagonists are just trying to hang on. Or simply hang on to their regret. And they’re still drifting. Songs like “The Wayfarer,” “Western Stars,” and “Chasin’ Wild Horses” all evoke that Springsteen-esque ramble, mixing steel guitar and a judicious dollop of strings. But the thread of possible redemption formerly dominant in Springsteen’s earlier work is much weaker here. With it’s Louisiana Cajun pep “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is the one backward glance at the good times. But compared to the dour mood animating the derelict and overgrown “Moonlight Motel” it can’t help but sound a bit forced.
Somewhere North of NashvilleStones
And then there’s the loss. Because no one does wistful regret like the Boss. The mournful “Somewhere North of Nashville” captures the pain of letting ambition get in the way of love, only to end up with neither. “Stones” is a slow-paced, country dirge-like rumination about betrayal. And then there’s the magisterial “There Goes My Miracle,” a song whose vocal soars with Roy Orbison-like beauty and sorrow. At his best, Springsteen gives feeling to that sense of failure that accompanies a late recognition of life’s poor choices. Still, the record is not completely devoid of hope. The acoustic “Hitch Hikin’” captures the joy of travel and discovery, while the horn and piano-heavy “Tucson Train” celebrates the joy of an imminent romantic reunion.
There Goes My MiracleHitch Hikin’
On this album, as with most of his previous releases, Springsteen provides no easy answers. His work is a series of life sketches, highlighting a nearly invisible working class experience. It exists as a curio for some, a desperate reflection for others. In the end, “Hello Sunshine” has the Boss admitting he may have had a thing for the lonely town, the blues, and the empty road. But now he simply asks for a bit of sunshine. And we’re left wondering if he’ll get it. Or, by extension, whether we’ll get it.
Bruce is everywhere. So check out Western Stars, give it a few listens, live with it for a bit, and see if you don’t agree it’s one of the best things he’s delivered in a long while.
Ah, the heat! Summer is upon us and bevy of singles have arrived all vying to soundtrack the season for us this year. Get ready to roll down the windows and crank the stereo to test these ones.
Sourcing talent from Hollerado and Tokyo Police Club, Toronto-based Girlfriend Material are teasing audiences with just few tunes from their upcoming new album, Cool Car. “First of the Month” launches with a catchy discordant jangle that devolves into a glorious head-bobber, alternating between understated and more punky vocals. Capitalization-averse pronoun is the moniker of Brooklyn-based artist Alyse Vellturo and her new album sounds to me like the poprock album Enya might make. A bit dreamy from the start, the debut single “run” has a killer roll out guitar hook that kicks in and never lets up. The album is i’ll show you stronger and it’s worth a listen, particularly for the perfectly titled “you didn’t even make the bed.” Salt Lake City’s Sunsleeper is often tagged as emo and it’s definitely there in their catalogue but the new record You Can Miss Something and Not Want it Back does hold some surprises. Like “Soften Up,” a more uptempo driving tune than their usual fare. Toronto-based Taylor Knox continues to develop a unique brand of crunchy poprock on his just-released LP Here Tonight. Case in point: “City of Night,” a cool slice of melodic AM radio sunshine, particularly in the chorus.
The great white north is less so on its national holiday, which falls on the sunny side of the calendar. Though I’d steer clear of a dip in any our Great Lakes, which remain icicle cold through most of the summer. Instead, I’d recommend feeling the national spirit with some highly melodious and hooky Canadian content from western Canada’s Northern Pikes. Thirty-five years after their founding and 16 years since their last record, the band is back with a new album, Forest of Love, and a song made for the country’s muted brand of nationalism, “Canada Boy.” The record is as good as anything on their back catalogue – which is to say it’s great! But there is a welcome twist to the overall sound with the addition of the Grapes of Wrath vocalist/songwriter Kevin Kane, particularly evident on the fabulous “Canada Boy,” a song that really marries the two bands’ complementary styles.
The Northern Pikes – Canada Boy
Show your love of country the musical way and check out the band’s website and Facebook page.
What started out as a home demo B-side has gone on to become one of Marshall Crenshaw’s most enduring and widely covered songs! Crenshaw recalls that “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” was written while he was still employed playing John Lennon in the off Broadway production of Beatlemania, and that it was one of his very first forays into songwriting. Marshall’s version of the song – still the definitive treatment IMHO – has him playing all the parts in his New York City apartment home studio in 1979, despite being credited on the 45 to the ‘Handsome, Ruthless and Stupid Band’ when released as the B-side to “Someday Someway” in 1982. Cover versions have emerged at regular intervals since then. What draws people to the tune? No doubt it’s Crenshaw’s unmistakable, unforgettable vocal hook in the chorus that gives the song its classic and timeless poprock sound.
Marshall’s original version of the song has a curious tempo and an eerie vocal harmony. It’s sounds just a little out of kilter, with distinctive keyboard notes, and a lovely stumbling finish. Why he didn’t elect to produce a polished professional studio version is unclear. Still, the demo version is charming. The song’s covers have ranged all over the style map, from country to dance club to rock and roll. But not every version is a winner, from my poprock-biased point of view. Bette Midler’s slick, poppy early 1983 cover no doubt gave the song it’s major exposure to American audiences, while Owen Paul’s more dance-pop take made the UK top ten in 1986. But neither version really grabs me. By contrast, the Bellamy Brothers’ version from their 1985 LP Howard and David has real heart. So I’m gonna be choosy here, featuring only the covers I think honour the spirit of Crenshaw’s vision for the song.
The Bellamy Brothers
Crenshaw’s musical oeuvre stands at the crossroads of rock and roll’s country and rhythm and blues roots. Not surprisingly then, the covers that work best draw from these traditions too. Kevin Johnson and the Linemen really nail the song on their 1991 debut album, Memphis for Breakfast, with an alt country-fied rock and roll sound. They almost sound like Crenshaw himself! Then the covers really start coming in the new millennium. Crenshaw himself played on Ronnie Spector’s 2003 cover of the song from her EP of his tunes, Something’s Gonna Happen, so it rocks, not surprisingly. Jeffrey Foskettis well known for his work with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, particularly on vocal support. Predictably, he makes the most of the vocal machinations embedded in the song, especially in the chorus. A poprock superstar version came out in 2013 from Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, a bonus track addition to volume 3 of their Under the Covers series. And the song has also gone international with Irish, Swedish and Norwegian bands taking it on, from Johnny Logan, The Drowners and Kjetil Linnes respectively, producing great straight-up, poppy, rock and roll renditions. The most recent cover I could find can be found on Rachel Kiel’s super 2017 release, Shot From a Cannon.
Kevin Johnston and the LinemenRonnie SpectorMatthew Sweet and Susanna HoffsJohnny LoganThe Drowners
Who should have covered this song? The Everly Brothers, that who. But barring that now irreparable oversight, there’s room for more time-wasting song-wise. Click on the links above to get to know these cover artists other material, and don’t forget to give Marshall lots of love too!
Bold new visions are all that make the cut on today’s dial twisting installment. Each of our featured acts puts a unique spin on the poprock genre.
Orville Peck comes on like the bastard love child of Elvis Presley and Morrisey. His voice has the spine chilling warmth of the King on tracks like “Nothing Fades Like the Light.” But his phrasing on cuts like “Winds of Change” and “Dead of Night” are so the Mopester. It would be easy to shrug off Peck’s killer debut album, Pony, as just another bit of kitsch or retro country a la early K.D. Lang or K.C. Musgraves (prior to her most recent release). Obviously songs like “Roses Are Falling” and “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” encourage such a response. But Pony is so much more. Despite the obvious fun Peck is having there is deep sincerity to the performances too. Peck isn’t just kidding. When he hits the ‘alright’ part of the vocal in “Turn To Hate” something happens that’s hard to explain. You hear the mastery, the control, the hurt. The song could easily have had a pumping Pet Shop Boys synth backdrop but Peck has crafted a distinctive bit of musical synthesis, drawing from retro rock and roll, country and a gay club esthetic. This guy is something big waiting to explode.
London’s Scandinavia wrap an acerbic critique of empty consumerism and widespread inequality in a delicious melodic coating throughout their latest long player, Premium Economy. At first I thought the title was a jokey, ridiculous play on how the corporate world increasingly sells status inequality to different gradations of the striving middle class. Actually, it’s a real thing, offered up by SAS airlines! Satire is getting harder and harder but Scandinavia still give it a go. Empty-headed contrarians take a beating on “I Don’t Believe in Anything,” corporate interests disguised as a ‘love of science’ are exposed on “Choose Science,” and American imperialism is rightly condemned on “Pax Americana.” But hey, at the end of day the record stands or falls on the quality of the tunes. And here I can attest that they are pretty amazing. “Melody Glade” is a stroll through a lush grove of jangle. “Ghetto Blaster” exudes a blast of sunshine, particularly with its harmony-drenched chorus. And “I Own An Island” manages to skewer the depths of wealthy over-consumption while wooing us with killer hooks in the chorus. And don’t miss the back catalogue for more of the high quality same.
It’s a fairly predictable hipster transition to see former punkers mellowing into the roots music scene in old age. But Nic McNamara has gone the other way. After two respectable neo-folkie albums with his band Black Bears Fire he’s back with a more muscular, punky rock and roll sound with new band Summer Colds on their debut album, Here Comes Nothing. The result is a fascinating synthesis of country harmonies with a poppy American punk sound. This is particularly apparent on opening tracks “Low” and “Found,” both featuring vocals that remind of such alt-folk luminaries as You Won’t and Good Old War. When we get to the single “Whiteout” the comparisons to Weezer start to make sense with its grind of buzzing guitars and smooth hooky vocals. Special mention: check out the great western country harmony lurking under the rock veneer on “Killing Flies.”
Today’s bands all amount to more than their most immediate appearances and bear repeated listening to really appreciate them. There’s no better way to make that happen than to invest in their musical products. Click on Orville Peck, Scandinavia, and Summer Colds to get that started.
Dallas must be some kind of music town – so many cool bands! And here’s another one: Omicrom J Trauma. With media comparisons to Cheap Trick, Sloan, and The Posies, they definitely sound worth investigating. So far they’ve released just one EP, You Should Have Thought About That, but it’s a killer. “Good Conversations” opens things up with some solid guitar crunch but the swing of the tune is wonderfully eccentric, vibing a bit of 1970s jazz pop a la Steely Dan at times. Then “Leave You Alone” establishes the band’s poprock bona fides, accent on rock, with a snappy lead line and more crunchy rhythm guitar – this is the obvious hit single. “Luna” buzzes on with a summertime feel good dance groove. And so on. This is a band about to take off and it promises to be a wildly entertaining ride. Can’t wait to see them live!
Click on the link above to give Dallas’ newest hitmakers some money love at Bandcamp or any of the usual music dispensing locales.
Fans of Everly Brothers-style singing talk about blood harmony or, put more scientifically, the impact of genetics on musical compatibility. But husband and wife duos also often connect musically with a chemistry that is characteristically different than more platonic pairings. Today’s blog post promotes the benefits of musical matrimony with three stellar case studies.
Nashville’s *repeat repeat was a recent accidental iTunes front page discovery. With a Weezer-esque sense of style and design, I just had to click on the stylish organge-drenched album cover to hear what was inside – and what a treat I found! On Glazed, *repeat repeat come on like a more dance-able, clubby Fountains of Wayne, with a guitar-oriented poprock anchored by the band’s distinctive use of synthesizer. The vocals on this album also function like a finely tuned instrument, adding an extra depth to the subtle melodies. “Hi, I’m Waiting” eases you in with its slow roll out and earwormy synth shots before punching things up in the chorus. “Pressure” has a club dance groove drive given a rock and roll combo treatment and some hooky vocal ‘oh’s’ for good measure. “Fortunate One” is the hit single for me: understated but builds its melodic architecture piece by piece until you can’t resist hitting replay. “I’ll be the One You’re Going Old With” has a sweet sentiment and clips along with a chirpy feel good sound. “City of Stars” vibes “Stacey’s Mom” but geared down to a more dreamy tempo. “TTB” has flashes of early Paul Simon vocally but punks up as it goes along. And so on. This is a great album buy. Don’t miss their catalogue highlights either: both “Everybody’s Falling in Love” and “Girlfriend” from 2017’s Floral Canyon are both winners!Fortunate One
We’ve featured a lot of songs from American-Franco duo Freedom Fry. There is something so distinctive about their blend of almost whispered harmony and folksy charm. But it’s the tunes that ultimately carry them through, whether their own original material or a load of inspired covers. 2018’s Classic really was. So many great songs on an expertly executed album. Since them the duo have peppered us with series of expanded singles that take up new textures and unpredictable cover material. Like “Renegade – only Freedom Fry could strip out all the bombast of the Styx original, leaving the song’s uneasy essence remaining. “Black Mountain” gives the duo a chance to show off their formidable vocal layering techniques. “Hey Moon” has a lovely, lilting lullaby-like texture. “Yeah You” picks up the tempo and charges up the hooks. Then “The Sun is Going to Shine on You” shows how the band can work up a tougher yet still melodic sound. Freedom Fry brim with creativity and surprises!
The Weepies ooze gentle sweetness with their carefully crafted harmonies and delicate arrangements. There is always something wistful about their performances: often quiet and filled with longing. “All That I Want” from their 2004 debut Happiness really captures the basic formula, which is further solidified with tracks like “Gotta Have You” 2005’s Say I Am You. From the same record check out the Simon and Garfunkel-worthy, shiver-inducing harmony on “World Spins Madly On” or the winsome “Nobody Knows Me All.” Then 2008’s Hideaway was a masterpiece, upping the poprock polish without relinquishing the folksy intimacy. The whole album is songwriting gold, from the engaging title track, to the entrancing “Little Bird,” to the single-worthy “Antarctica,” and so on. 2010’s Be My Thrill changed things up a bit, shifting things uptempo on tracks like “Hope Tomorrow” while 2015’s Sirens even introduced inspired covers like Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly.” Health problems and parenting appear to have slowed The Weepies early productivity but their website reports a new tour for Autumn 2019. Perhaps a new record won’t be far behind.
Marriage brings a special kind of intimacy to musical collaborations, as our three cases illustrate. But it also needs money. Lots of money: for kids, houses, medical bills (in you’re in the States), and more. Visit *repeat repeat, Freedom Fry, and The Weepies and do your part to keep these couples in the black.
People do the love the famous. Me, I’m not really into famous people per se but I’m fascinated by the phenomena. The famous are clearly just distorted-mirror projections of ourselves, our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, our alter-selves, if only we had the time, genes, and personal trainers. Or they’re just a bit of innocent fun, a chance to live vicarious lives at no real cost. And musicians write songs about them. Whether it’s classical music giants (Falco “Rock Me Amadeus”) or silver screen icons (Kim Carnes “Bette Davis Eyes”), the famous get further immortalized in song. Personally, I like finding the more obscure odes to the famous from great unheard-of poprock bands, like the crew featured in this post below!
Today’s musical tributes focus on movie actors, some much revered, others not so much. But don’t go looking for detailed character studies. In most cases the famous name is just riffing on a mood, exuding a kind of musical cool if you will. Parents Fighting give “Keanu Reeves” just the right discordant River’s Edge emo vibe. Miss Polski’s “Humphrey Bogart” sounds delightful but I have no idea what they have to say about the movie icon, if anything – the song is sung entirely in Polish. Some actors get more attention than others. Both Middle 8 and Queen Sarah Saturday pay homage to “Robert De Niro,” the former offering up a bit of Blue Rodeo-ish roots-poprock while QSS leans more on a nineties brand of gungy power pop. Spinning the 2014 self-titled debut from LA’s Bad Things, they sound like a band that arrived just a bit too soon as later groups like the Vaccines hit paydirt with a similar vibe. It’s all there on “John Wayne.”
Miss Polski – Humphrey BogartMiddle 8 – Robert De NiroQueen Sarah Saturday – Robert De NiroBad Things – John Wayne
Taking things down a few notches, Joel Tyler offers up an airy, acoustic, vocally harmonious tribute to Hollywood everyman “Tom Hanks.” Check out his “Black Box” from the same 2017 EP Arms Are Meant For Holding – definitely worth an honourable mention (even if nobody famous appears in the title). And then our artists start shamelessly conjuring up the 1980s. You can hear it in the undisguised jauntiness of Dunbar’s “Cary Grant” or The Ruse’s “Burt Reynolds.” But it’s also there in the atmospheric jangle on “Sean Connery” from James Dean Driving Experience. Norwegian band Bönkers nail a particular John Waite 1980s sound on “Jessica Lange.” And then there’s the ever inventive Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin who offer up a shimmery, clubby pop and rocky confection dedicated to “Harrison Ford.” It’s a great closer.
Dunbar – Cary GrantThe Ruse – Burt ReynoldsJames Dean Driving Experience – Sean ConneryBönkers – Jessica Lange
Click on the links above to groove more permanently on these odes to fame or just check out the bands’ broader catalogue.