As we twist the dial for today’s post it’s pretty clear we’re not quite finished with 2020 yet. Well, musically at least. Still quite a few great releases to draw your attention to.
Producer, record label founder Steven Bradley decided to put his own musical creativity under the microscope on his debut solo record Summer Bliss and Autumn Tears and the results are definitely positive. Hints of Costello’s Punch the Clock with its inventive keyboard touches and clever wordplay show up here and there but cast in a 1990s discordant poprock vein, tempered with an ace feel for a hooky dose of background vocals. It’s all there on the obvious should-be hit single “Pre-Emptive Strike” with its addictive, driving lead guitar lines, subtle organ shots and vocal ear candy. Bradley leans on some jangle for “Hiding Place” but not in an obvious manner, burying the payoff in a surprising and delightful way. “You Walk By” kicks off with a nice smattering of paisley before riffing on some Beatles lyrics. And so goes the rest of this highly listenable album. So many great tunes here, from the opening track “Love Tumbles into Obsession” to the very Squeeze-like “Calendar Girl.” The record also has a number of great acoustic turns, like “The Bargain.”
DIY workaholics Jim Shorts have called it quits. After releasing 47 records over the past decade, a combination of both long players and EPs, the band’s musical force David Haynes has said that their 2020 release will be their last. Well, that’s the bad news. The good news is that Late to the Feast is undeniably their best, most polished and fully realized creative work. The songwriting is strong and playing is shorn of the DIY abandon that characterized most of the band’s back catalogue. Right from the kick ass opening bars of “Out on the Patio” you know this is band taking itself a bit more seriously. The hooks are prominently on display, sounding like Fountains of Wayne got together for a songwriting session with Pavement or Weezer. The crunchy lurch of “Max’s Front Porch” is head-bobbingly good. Or there’s the slow burn hookiness of the title track. “Angel Songs” says alternative radio hit single. Album closer “Balto” confidently rocks out over the credits. This is the Jim Shorts album you gotta have.
Musical chameleon Daniel Romano flooded 2020 with new material. I find myself particularly partial to the late release, White Flag, with its Beatlesque and late 1960s folk rock touches. Album opener “Bleu Heron” is a masterpiece of musical synthesis, from the horn arrangement to the poetic feel of the lyrics. Very Crosby, Stills and Nash in places. From there the album vibes a greatest hits of sixties song stylings, like the Rubber Soul folk rock feel to “Garden of the Heart” or the early McCartney solo sound on “Appolpourre.” The songwriting here is as strong as ever, with every tune sounding both familiar and unusual. And then there’s a few exceptions, like the more new wave pop flavour to “New Milk.” There really is nothing that Romano can’t do musically.
I can’t believe I somehow missed the release of Gary Ritchie’s Head on a Swivel early in 2020. This record is maximum fun in a meat and potatoes poprock sort of way. Ritchie has all the chops, from Merseybeat to 1980s American indie rock and roll, delivering an album that is as listenable as any Greg Kihn or Tom Petty release. And yet there is something distinctively English about the overall sound to me. So many of the songs have that 1965 beat group feel, passed through an ELO sonic retro filter. Just hit play on the title track or “Lean On You” or “Four Letter Word” to get what I’m banging on about here. Or for a more American 1980s poprock elan check out “Maybe It’ll Be Tonight” or “Arms Around a Memory.” Personally I love the roll out to “Tunnel of Love” with its ringing guitar and handclaps – and the rest of the song is pretty great too. Rounding this out, “Record Store” is a hilarious closer. So, all in all, for retro melodic rock fans, Head on a Swivel is a can’t-go-wrong purchase.
John Sally Ride member John Dunbar has dropped a fabulous solo record that channels a perfect mix of mid-1960s pop songwriting and a 1980s indie rock feel. Despite the COVID-enforced DIY one-man-band effort here Oh Wellness sounds like much more. The launch track “Born To Bore” has a cool Lou Reed hooky lurch going on. “The Problem with Being on Time” radiates a sunny swing and some cool 1967 moog organ. “The Girl Whose Heard It All Before” reminds me of Squeeze’s great country songs. I could go on about each track here. Pushed I’d single out “A Sentimental Heart and a Skeptical Mind” and “She Doesn’t Now” as pretty single worthy. Having said that I love the Rubber Soul-veneer and clever word play on “Maybe May Be My Favorite Word.” With Oh Wellness, Dunbar has created a collection of light, fresh sounding tunes, leavened with interesting instrumental choices and timely sentiments. Paraphrasing Seth Myers, this is just the sort of record we need right now!
Your radio dial is just anachronistic technology but as a metaphor for access to possibly great music it lives on! Click on these artists to go directly the source.