A new feature of sorts, a tribute to the almighty single! In this age of catastrophic change in music consumption the single is back as a way of teasing interest in an artist and their new releases. It is now fairly conventional for artists to release a single well ahead of the album. Take this first round of singles – all precede their designated albums by many months. And, frankly, I can’t wait around to feature these talents!
Time it was that I waited on every Elvis Costello release like the second coming of rock and roll’s savior. And then post-Spike, I got a bit more choosy. I mean, I totally support artists going beyond whatever they’ve done in the past and Elvis clearly had many more roads left to explore. They just weren’t always my thing. But like every George Jones record, there’s seldom lacking at least one truly great cut on any given EC album. It looks like Costello’s to-be-released new album will be no exception. “Unwanted Number” is a pre-release cut from Look Now and it’s a winner. Think Imperial Bedroom meets Painted From Memory. The piano and songwriting are reminiscent of the songs from that great Costello keyboard period stretching from Imperial Bedroom through Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World. Meanwhile the bridge captures the feel of the work he did with Burt Bacharach on songs like “Toledo.”
Next up is the criminally under-appreciated Paul Collins, veteran of so many great acts like the Nerves, the Breakaways, and, of course, the Paul Collins Beat. What is striking about Collins is the quality of his songwriting output over a four-decade period. His new single shows he’s still got it. “In and Out of My Head” is the pre-release single from his upcoming album, Out of My Head. The rumbly guitar is wonderfully retro yet freshly deployed on a tune that sounds like it belongs on a Roy Orbison album.
Described as “Califorian pop from sunny Utrech, the Netherlands” on their website, The Maureens have a keen ear for a melodic blend of country folk and poprock sounds. 2015’s Bang the Drum was a solid release, oozing hooks and harmonies. Now they’ve released “20 Years for the Company” from the to-be-released Something in the Air and it’s a blast of harmony-drenched goodness. Speaking to the economic insecurity of times, the song nonetheless gives off a positive vibe with it’s captivating mix of male and female vocals.
It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s, man’s world they tell us and nowhere is that more true than in rock and roll. The omniscient perspective in a rock song is usually male, with a few exceptions. But to the music scene’s credit, more women have been making inroads over the past two decades or so. The first woman I recall identifying not simply as a ‘female vocalist’ but as a universal rock voice was Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. Since then the indie scene has provided us with a number of examples of larger than life female artists (they have to be to crowd out the men) with great songs and powerful performances.
Jill Sobule has had an amazing career doing, apparently, pretty much whatever she has wanted to do. After a false start at Geffen in 1990, 1995’s self-titled Jill Sobule set the frame for what would follow: a quirky, often folky, sometimes hilarious, always introspective and keenly observational singer-songwriter that has consistently produced great albums. Kinda like a rock and roll Suzanne Vega, but with more ‘tude. Threaded throughout her work is a strong set of political and feminist commitments, ranging from the satirical “Supermodel” to the more recent “Women of Industry.” Sobule’s catalogue is an embarrassment of riches so here’s an almost random selection. “Supermodel” showcases the uptempo hit songwriter, “Bitter” from 1997’s Happy Town rides a perfect hook, “Rock Me to Sleep” from 2000’s Pink Pearl exemplifies her tender side, while the banjo-driven “Old Kentucky” from 2014’s Dottie’s Charms is just a bit of rollicking fun. Sobule is working on a new album now and you check out her Soundcloud page to hear the works in progress and other great unreleased material.
BitterRock Me to Sleep
There are times when Amy Rigby seems so country. It’s there in her voice, that weary 1960s sound of oppressed Nashville womenhood. But then the angle shifts and the rock and roll dynamo shows through, giving voice to a whole lot of gendered working class experience from a lifetime of surviving the independent music scene. Her 1996 solo debut Diary of a Mod Housewife was a masterpiece of melodic social commentary but it didn’t lead to explosive sales. Since then, Rigby has continued to release solid records with songs that draw on all manner of classic rock and roll motifs, while giving voice to issues of class, relationships, gender and aging. A good place to start would be her 2002 compilation 18 Again. There you can check out the perfect 1960s elan of “All I Want” or the new wave vibe to “The Good Girls” or the masterful turns of phrase on the acoustic “Magicians.” Of course, I would add a few songs from 2003’s Til the Wheels Fall Off like the age-conscious “Shopping Around” or “Last Request” as well as 2005’s Little Fugitive,which contains a host of beautiful song scenarios like “The Trouble with Jeanie” and “Dancing with Joey Ramone.” She is back this year with Old Guys, where I’m digging “Are We Still There Yet.”
All I WantThe Good Girls
So much has been written about Juliana Hatfield and her many impressive accomplishments, all the great bands she has been part of, there’s really not much I could add. So I’ll just focus my attention on her continuing strength as a songwriter and recording artist. After a break of 22 years, her reunited Juliana Hatfield Three released a killer album in 2015, Whatever, My Love, with radio-friendly single material like “Invisible” and “If I Could.” Deep cut fave – “Parking Lots” with it’s sunny subtle hooks. Then in 2017 she released the dynamite, politically-charged solo album, Pussycat, a reaction to the election of Donald Trump. Here I would single out the jaunty “You’re Breaking my Heart” and “Kellyanne.” Then, as a reaction to the previous election year’s constant negativity, Hatfield decided to release an album of Olivia Newton-John covers. Here she works a creative tension between mirroring and reinventing the originals, with particular success on the Xanadu sountrack numbers, in my view. “Magic” amps up the early 1980s keyboard sound and adds Hatfield’s own distinctive vocal approach. Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is better than cover albums are allowed to be, a real treat.
There are songs that come on and a smile follows. It’s spontaneous, even if it happens every time. Even this random car graphic above can’t resist smiling. Given the headlines, it seems like every day our world needs a few more songs that sound like a smile. Here are a few random choices that never fail for me.
Scotland’s Dropkick are a fave here at Poprock Record and I can’t resist a chance to feature another of their fabulous tunes, this time from Good Vibes: The Dropkick Songbook, a 2014 release of re-recorded songs drawn from material first released between 2001 and 2008. “Dog and Cat” is lovely, lilting happy tune, with a sweet sentiment. One could imagine Schroeder of Peanuts fame playing this for Lucy, I mean, if he actually liked her and switched from piano to guitar.
The Mowgli’s have that upbeat positive sound I associate with Family of the Year and Good Old War, bands that lean heavily on acoustic guitars, sweet harmony vocals, and catchy hooks. Stand alone single “Room for All of Us” builds from a positive message to an anthemic poppy chorus, and the song raises money for the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that helps those displaced by conflict.
Lord Huron is largely known for his dreamy Americana but from the first time I heard “Hurricane (Johnny’s Theme)” it practically leapt out at me as some kind of weird but wonderful mid-1960s pastiche revival tune, one part Johnny Rivers, another part Johnny Horton, with even some Marty Robbins in there somewhere. Listen to how the song takes off with it’s trebly lead line and strong vocals, so unlike most of Lord Huron’s other material. Upbeat and positive in its relentlessly peppy presentation.
Bruce Springsteen hardly needs press from the likes of me but his 2014 Record Store Day EP release American Beautycontains a stand out track that is just a little bit different than the rest of his catalogue with “Hurry Up Sundown,” particularly with its carmelized, fattened-up vocal track. The song is classic Bruce but coated in a polished poprock veneer circa 1987 that makes me smile.Hurry Up Sundown
Rounding out this post is a bit of Can Con I’ve regularly featured on the blog, Jeremy Fisher. Most of this Canuck’s songwriting is pretty sunshine and rainbows positive but “Come Fly Away” from his 2010 release Floodis smile plasteringly pleasant and uplifting. Cue sun-up and chirping birds.
For non-Canadian readers, July 1 is our national holiday. Does it mark a revolutionary outburst? A decisive break with past political practice? A victory for the people over the oligarchs? Nope. It was basically a bankers’ renegotiation of how best to exploit a whole lot of land and its abundant raw materials, something that had already been going on for some time. Now it would go on better. The people? They wouldn’t get a look in for some time. Nonetheless, Canadians politely take this day off, crack a beer or two, set off some fireworks, and give the day’s historic relevance not one fleeting thought. Imagine America’s July 4thbut without all the pomp, patriotism, and political chest-thumping. And with stronger beer.
For our celebration here the ever creative Jill Sobule kicks things off with a track from her wonderful collaborative project, Dottie’s Charms. Jill and Mike Viola wrote the music for “O Canada” with lyrics by author Sara Marcus and it is a very Canada sort of thing: wistful, longing, and with a refrain familiar to countless millions of grateful immigrants – ‘you took me in, you took me in, O Canada.’ The video is by Iranian-American director Sara Zandilieh
Speaking of creative, the impossibly prolific KC Bowman manages to give hilarious voice to an imagined Canadian desire to join our southern neighbour, though the song hardly paints a glowing portrait of the supposed benefits of union. The song is available for free with a whole album of treats as part of his Preoccupied Pipers project.
Wrapping things up is an actual Canadian performer, Montreal’s Sam Roberts. His band has a wonderful low key rock and roll sound, kinda like Tom Petty in a really mellow mood. On “The Canadian Dream” Sam’s not so sure the dream will be real out on the 40 below streets without some help, so he spells out what is needed to his listeners
Happy Canada Day world! It’s a pretty mellow sort of nationalism we’ve got going here. That’s actually a good thing.
Summer is nearly upon us so it’s time to start thinking about that party playlist. You don’t want to be caught tuneless with the BBQ on and the craft beer flowing. The party element is important because the origins of rock and roll can be found in the joy and fun and abandon of people + good rocking + Saturday night. It’s the adrenaline that runs through Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” and Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” So today’s selection of pop rock bands channel that original rock and roll party vibe in varied and exciting ways.
Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways sent me their latest CD (thanks boys!), but they needn’t have. I’d already bought most of their back catalogue, so I would have gotten around to getting the new one. These guys have been in the rock and roll game for the long haul, forming in 1982 but relentlessly gigging ever since. Their early to mid-career recorded output is hard to find, but since 2014 they’ve released five killer albums of 1960s-inflected pop rock and roll. These guys know their Merseybeat hooks and layer that with exquisite California beach harmonies. Sometimes it’s pure 1960s redux. Other times, very 1979 new wave or 1980s indie. But throughout the songwriting is strong, at times fun, even a bit goofy, or just filled with straight up party hooks. You can literally hear the party starting on the Irish-inflected 2013 single “We’re All Going to Drink Tonight.” Or put either of 2014’s Earle Mankey albums and hit shuffle for instant party mode with should-be classics like “Girls Who Love Cars” and “James Bond” or “Friends and Enemies” and “John Wayne.” 2017’s DW Hofner, Martin Gibson, Ludwig Rickenbacker, Earle Hammond & Vox Fender, ESQ adds a bit of Britpop/Oasis to the mix with “Find Yourself Another Fool” along with great rock and roll name dropping on “Bash” and “That’s Rock.” But my fave here would “Hello Isla Vista” with its dynamic vocal harmony drenched chorus. The new record is no slouch either. Anthems and Lullabies sees the band branching out, featuring some distinctive new solo vocal performances on the swinging “I Could Love You Forever” or the Orbisonesque “Remember to Forget.” And then there’s the hilarious, hooky “What a Jerk” and my choice for should-be hit single, the flawless “Sometimes Saying Nothing Says it All.” Live footage of the band confirms they pull off these tunes with an extra measure of rock and heart.
We’re All Going to Drink TonightGirls Who Love CarsJohn WayneWhat a JerkSometimes Saying Nothing Says It All
Our next group is the band that was playing in the background of your ‘night out at the bar’ when you suddenly realized they’re freakin’ fabulous (and it’s not just the beer talking). Minneapolis’ J. Eastman and the Drunk Uncles play like they’ve been playing together forever. They’re tight and easy at the same time. Their first album, No Capo Required, has a rough but solid indie sound, particularly on tracks like “Not the Liquor” and “Lack of Medication.” And then there’s earwormy jangle gem, “Josephine.” I’ve hit replay on this baby countless times – a real should-be hit! The band is back this year with Pleasing Some of the People None of the Time, an album that maintains all their indie charm with just a bit more polish. Comparisons to The Replacements and REM are not out of order, though I also hear a bit of a Springsteen, particularly some of his more recent poprock-oriented material (e.g. “Hurry Up Sundown” from 2014’s American Beauty EP). Highlights for me include “On Your Dime” and “Holding On.” But my hands down fave is “No Political Agenda.” I love its explosive ‘out of the box’ opening and driving guitar hooks. Gimme a twofer and a spot close to the stage this Friday night’s live performance!
Better shine up your dancing shoes for our next band, LA’s The Condors. They meld a classic rock and roll sound with that new wave sheen circa 1979 – think The Romantics meets Tom Petty, with a dash of The Cars and Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure. 2001’s Kinks’ inspired Tales of Drunkenness of Cruelty has a wonderful punky poprock sound on tracks like “Listen to Me Now.” By 2007’s Wait For It the sound had tightened up considerably. ‘Somewhere over the rainbow … there’s a party going on’ kicks off “Waiting Half the Night” and the start of a non-stop party album. Songs range from the droll “Don’t Want a Girl Who’s Been With Jack” to the blasting, driving “Carnival of Fools” to the rollicking “Wake Up.” However, my fave is probably the more sophisticated melody on “Something Better Coming Soon.” 2012’s 3 Item Combo changed up the sound a bit, adding considerable variety, sounding a bit Eels at times, Cars at others. Album highlights for me include “My Slice of Life,” “Seraphina Why” and full-on rock out on “Full Blown Love Attack.” In 2015 the band released just one single but what a tune! “Back to Jackson” echoes Nancy and Lee’s 1967 hit but takes it further. 2017’s EP Joi De Vivre shows the boys have still got it on tracks like “Tell It to the Judge” and the smoking instrumental “High Chaparral.” A night with this band would be dance heaven.
Listen To Me NowWaiting Half the NightCarnival of FoolsWake UpFull Blown Love AttackBack to JacksonHigh Chaparral
Looking to party like it’s 1965? Then The Connection is your band! I imagine a party night with this group is kinda like one of those dance scenes from A Hard Day’s Night. These guys have rock and roll chops influenced by a classic 1960s poprock groove, British pub rock, and American new wave. Think mid-1960s Stones, Rockpile, with a bit of NRBQ and Ramones. And the hooks! Songwriters Marino and Palmer leaven their party rock with healthy dose of melody at every turn. I can’t go through every album with this band – there’s just too many great songs. I love the early 1960s sweetness of “Little Lies” from 2011’s New England’s Newest Hitmakers or the rockin’ swing of “Gonna Leave You” from 2012’s Connection Collection, v.1. Then again 2013’s Let It Rock is all full of cool tracks like “She’s a Keeper” and “The Way Love Should Be.” 2015’s Labor of Love mines the more 1970s poprock sound of Nick Lowe and the Kinks, for instance on “Pathetic Kind of Man.” Ok, I did cover most of the albums. And don’t miss out on the band’s latest, Wish You Success – it may be their best yet. “The Girl is Trouble” is poprock perfection. But my current fave is “Mechanical Heart” with it’s sneaky earworm effect. Get your skinny tie on for this party band.
People write me about their music and most are spot on in terms of getting what we’re doing at Poprock Record. As long as what you got is melody-heavy, we can find some room for it here!
Case in point – Blake Jones and the Trike Shop. As you can hear from their recent Make album, these guys are wonderfully weird. Bit of Talking Heads and Devo in their quirky inventiveness. Then again, some They Might be Giants is there too in terms of humour, wonderfully captured on “My Soft Rock Girlfriend.” I’m not into art for art rock’s sake so thankfully the band takes a lot hooks with them as they walk on the wild side, evident on “At Every Train Stop” and “Take a Look at the Stars.” But my personal fave on the record is the boppy “Alchemy C’mere.”
Soft Rock GirlfriendAlchemy C’mere
John Lathrop is The Stan Laurels, a one man, cinematic distillation of Beatles influences c. 1966-67, with a Jeff Lynne-esque sense of ambition. His back catalogue contains an album, EP and a movie soundtrack, the latter featuring both incidental music cuts and actual songs. Early tracks from 2009’s Death of the Sun like “Lovebirds” and “If I Walked with the Dead” have a great psychedelic pop vibe. But with 2013’s Bill and Theodore soundtrack there’s new depth to the recordings, particularly with the very-present banjo on “Blue Song” or the lovely acoustic guitar on “A Million Miles High.” Then Lathrop takes satirical aim at early 1960s stalker pop with the alternatively hilarious/horrifying “DAMN, I Shot My Baby (Again).” “Jack the Car Back” is one of the particularly engaging instrumental/incidental music numbers. The Stan Laurels’ new album Maybe, another soundtrack (this time for the film Maybe Shower), is perhaps the best yet. Lead off single “Maybe” is a slow groove, hooky number with Harrisonian undertones here and there – a great poprock single! I also like “Life, Lemons and an Alien.”
Variously described as psych Scouse-pop and Scousedelia, the connection to the Liverpool music scene appears to be strong with Annexe the Moon. Though to my ears, these guys have a got a softer, more dreamy pop sound than I typically identify with rough and tumble Scousers like The La’s, Cast, and The Real People. It’s always good to challenge my assumptions about such things! Early releases like “Ever Meaning Less” and “Bring You Down” almost sound Moody Blues-ish to me, particularly on the vocals. The sound gets more complex on the bouncy “1000 Miles from Hollywood” and the most recent single, “Full Stop.” The latter is really a tour de force of sonic layering, echoing some of the best 1980s keyboard-based poprock bands.
We do occasionally rock here at Poprock Record. But we seldom rawk. The long hair, the spandex, it’s just not our thing. But there are a few border cases, bands on the edge of rawk yet anchored by strong melodies. Today’s crew all have their amps cranked up to eleven but the hooks are still there.
Vancouver’s Head exude a strong 1980s vibe, in a good way! The lead off single from their new album Dear Father is “Road to Ruin,” a catchy slice of 1980s FM radio pop rawk that sounds just a bit Pat Benatar at times. But my heatseeker single would be the great, synth-driven “Love Lies.” There’s a real ear worm in the chorus. Cardiff’s Junior have the California punk pop sound down on “Veronica,” a track that works with crunchy guitars but you know would also sound great unplugged. If there was any concern that last year’s resurrection of Thrift Store Halo was just come-back luck, check out their latest killer double-A side single, “Concrete Sky/Every Time with You.” The latter particularly combines a jangly 1960s feel with more jagged guitars and vocals. Again, I could totally see this song done up as a retro Merseybeat number but, hey, it really works in its present form too. Wild Animals are from Madrid and their brand new album is The Hoax. For me, the single should be “Science Fiction,” a track that blasts out of the gate on a wall of guitars while the vocal melody line seems to just float on top. Last up, Kitchener Ontario’s Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs. These guys mix so many rawk styles with some really sweet melodies – and it works! I can hear a bit of Springsteen with a whole lot of Thin Lizzy on “Tough,”a rockin’ rollicking tune with screaming guitars, brash vocals, and a load of hooks in the chorus.
Ever since Bonnie Jo Mason first warbled “Ringo, I Love You” back in 1964 there’s been a regular outpouring of musical love for the famous. Some serious, most not, with a great deal of it amounting to little more than hopeful AM radio opportunism. Some are so clever, you can’t tell if the songs are sincere or mockery. Nick Lowe produced a lovely tongue-in-cheek tribute to one uber-famous teen sensation in the 1970s with his “Bay City Rollers, We Love You,” though, tellingly, he kept his name off the 45 (it was credited to the Tartan Horde). But another approach combines genuine admiration with a proper sense of fun. After all, loving the famous shouldn’t be taken too seriously!
I got started on this theme after hearing Ken Sharp’s fab new single, “She Hates the Beatles,” thinking I could whip up a post focusing on songs about the Beatles. But that went bust quickly. There weren’t that many songs, surprisingly, with most of the good ones written by ex-Beatles themselves! Heading back to the thematic drawing board, I decided to broaden the focus to include songs about the musically famous more generally, stopping short of Beethoven. Now I could gather a solid handful of tunes. Sharp led the pack with his aforementioned new single. This guy is one impressive dude: longtime music journalist, author of numerous books on great musical acts, and a not too shabby songwriter and performer. “She Hates the Beatles” is the product of challenge from producer Fernando Perdomo, who provided the title and push to turn it into a song. The result is a wonderful, definitely Beatlesque, pop song. The only real concern here is how the protagonist got into this clearly doomed relationship at all! Sharp also secured our number two position with his hooky homage to David Cassidy on “I Wanna Be David Cassidy.” This single hits all the Partridge Family marks, maybe better than the original. The amazing of-the-period-style artwork on these two singles is also worth mentioning.
The other contributions here run the gamut from straight-up hero-worship to giddy brushes with fame to reverent late night recollections to open admissions of strong feelings of ‘like.’ Steve Ison likes “Lou Reed” enough to write a whole song about just how cool he was. Ison recalls how he and his mates would “… steal and die to be cool but they’ll never be you.” And yes, there is a little Reed-iness in the vocals, but that can’t really be helped. Seriously, you can’t write a song about Lou Reed without vibing him a bit. Amy Rigby strikes just the right balance between awe and a pretty cool stance of her own on “Dancing with Joey Ramone.” The song is alternatively ragged and polished, the vocals bare and then super-harmony enhanced, the lyrics original as well as referencing a load of classics. Jonathan Rundman, by contrast, is sincerity’s straight shooter with a country/folk rumination about “Johnny Horton” and his spirituality, of all things. Pop country nationalism or amazing cross-over rockabilly, yes, I associate both with Horton but this theme is new to me. Last on our list is Coach Hop’s California punk/poppy paean “I Like Taylor Swift.” The song is so not Taylor Swift, which makes the understated vote of support often hilarious. The singer admits “I’ve only heard a couple songs” but that’s enough. He likes her, not as a guilty pleasure but as a “normal pleasure.” Really, this one is capital F fun, melodic in a guitar crunchy/occasional screaming sort of way.
Ah, the telephone. That iconic 20th century technology is all over the rock and roll canon, mostly in its original analog form but with a few recent smartphone additions. Plenty of obvious telephone songs to choose from in terms of hits: The Marvelettes’ “Beechwood-45789,” ELO’s “Telephone Line,” Blondie’s “Call Me,” Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309,” and many, many more. There’s also a slew of less obvious yet popular niche tunes like the Nerves’ “Hanging on the Telephone,” Nick Lowe’s “Switchboard Susan,” and R.E.M.’s “Star 69.” But in this post I wanted to feature some less obvious material, either with songs that focus on key aspects of the phone experience or by lesser known but certainly deserving artists.
“Party Line” appeared on the Kinks’ 1966 album Face to Face and even saw release as a single in Norway (it was the B-side of “Dandy” everywhere else). Leave it to the Kinks to go right for the classed aspect of the modern phone experience, no surprise really given Ray Davies’ lyrical attention to social issues. Nearly everybody from a working class background in the 1950s and 1960s had a party line, a cheaper phone service that you had to share with other households. Like “Dead End Street” and “Picture Book” the song catalogued the not-so-hidden injuries of class in 1960s England, in this case the indignity of the singer’s failed efforts to make a private call. At one point he even mock threatens, “I’m not voting in the next election if they don’t do something about finding out who is on my party line.” One can definitely hear the cross-pollination of Kinks/Beatles reciprocal musical influences on this tune, particularly on the guitar work.
The Kinks – Party Line
The Records debuted with a pretty great album, 1979’s Shades in Bed, featuring should-be hits like “Starry Eyes” and “Teenarama.” The record also featured “The Phone,” which opened with a classic operator voice-over announcing “I’m sorry, but that number doesn’t answer. Would you please try your number again.” The singer bemoans the phone’s ability to bring food, love and possibly danger but not necessarily connection. In contrast to such serious themes, Rupert Holmes showcases the lighter side of 1970s telephonic tunes on “Answering Machine” from his 1979 album Partners in Crime. In the late 1970s answering machines were just taking off as mass market items and Holmes’ protagonists play an early game of telephone tag with a marriage proposal and response, including the distinctive (and jarring) message-ending beep.
The Records – The PhoneRupert Holmes – Answering Machine
But enough of the past – there are some great recent telephone songs too. Twin Peaks kick up their heels on the rollicking “Telephone” from their 2014 album Wild Onion, a song that sounds so light but recounts love lost via the phone line. Mo Kenney also finds the phone a barrier to communication with her significant other. From Kenny’s 2014 release In My Dreams, the song has some great lines, both lyrical and melodic, and a great video. Brian Jay Cline paints a melodic, Americana-inflected portrait of the passing of a broken down payphone and his relationship on “Payphone” from his wonderful 2017 album Idle Chatter. Taking phone technology into the 21st century (but with a poprock sound borrowed from the late 1970s), Rob Bonfiglio encourages his intended to “Text Me” on a track from his 2012 album Mea Culpa. There is something so Hall and Oates in this song’s mix of pop soul and guitar hooks. Rounding out our telephonic tribute, Gregory Pepper is not impressed with the advances in phone technology on his brief “Smart Phones for Stupid People,” from the hilarious collection of incredibly short songs that can be found on his 2015 release Chorus, Chorus, Chorus.
Sometimes you run across a band’s new song and then discover a whole fabulous back catalogue of musical adventures. Just seems greedy to keep that hook-filled past under wraps. So today we celebrate the present and the past musical accomplishments of this crew of poprockers.
Ok, truth be told I didn’t actually run across any brand new material for Ed Ryan. It’s just that I realized he had been in the ‘should write about’ pile for too long. Ryan goes way back – to the 1970s and 1980s with various power pop bands. That must be why his two recent solo records sound so accomplished. From the blistering guitar opening of “Everything is Going to be Alright” to the achingly sweet vocal on “Heartbreak in Disguise” you know you’re in good hands on 2016’s Roadmap. This is an eminently playable record, and you don’t even have to turn it over! I’m particularly fond of the mid-1960s British beat group vibe all over “Bridges are Burning” and the way a basic rock and roll sensibility is art-rocked up on “Elvis’s World,” with its wonderfully kooky instrumental break. Then 2017’s Furious Mind is even more blistering out of the gate with “You’re My Kind of Fun,” and even more achingly sweet on “Lullaby.” If there’s a difference, I get the sense that Ryan really pushed up the Beatles’ crossfader on these recordings. “Here I Am” has some lovely late-period Beatles’ touches on the instrumentation, while “Drifting” has such an early period Beatles song structure, particularly in the verses. Other highlights for me would include “Rocket Ship,” which sounds very Ramones-fun to me, while “So Hard to Know” offers a nice acoustic country-ish turn. But my fave is the melodic rocker “Can’t Drag Me Down.” Can’t wait to see what Ryan comes up with for 2018!
Brad Peterson has described his style as ‘garden shed rock and roll.’ Well he has some pretty complex and impressive results coming out his backwoods Chicago DIY garden recording studio. I mean, I love DIY but it usually sounds a bit more rudimentary than the polished stuff Peterson is offering up. Case in point: his new record Ellipsis sounds like any number of major label indie offerings with songs like “What the Heart Will Allow” and “Unbroken.” But it’s the more poprock hooks that really get me. I’m currently addicted to the ear worm stamped “Clap Your Hands.” This one is so simple but still simply irresistible. “Far Off Places” and “Just In Time” also showcase Peterson’s melodic chops while “See You on the Other Side” exudes a Springsteen-esque weariness, complete with aching harmonica solo. It always feels good to feel this bad. And if you like this, there’s more in the back catalogue. 2009’s TheDuctape Album has a song that is so Steve Miller I could have easily mistaken “More” for the master, though the Beatlesque bridge might have given the game away. And then there’s “Beat Myself Up” from 2006’s The Red Album, a pretty special single featuring some subtle Everly Brothers’ hooks and harmonies.
Joe Adragna’s work with The Junior League is an exquisite composite of 1960s to 1980s poprock motifs. His recordings are full of hidden treasures, subtle homages to all sorts of great artists and recordings. His new album Eventually is Now showcases this nicely with its opening track, “Teenage Bigstar,” which delivers just what the name implies. Or dig the very subtle Mamas and Papas background vocals on the album’s single, the infectious “I Only Want to Begin Again.” Another radio-friendly, hook-filled single would be the country-rock-ish “Someday.” But the whole record is a pleaser. Digging into the band’s catalogue there are just so many great songs to highlight. The debut, Catchy, from 2006, is loaded with should be hits: “The Beautiful Room is Empty,” “Hear My Voice,” and the hooky tour de force “I Don’t Believe in Love.” Or the melodic rootsy feel of “Keep it Home” from 2013’s You Should Be Happy, which also features the heartbreaking duet, “I Don’t Think I’m Kidding This Time.” “Also Rans” from 2015’s Also Rans has a sweet country rocking feel. And this just scratches the surface of this band’s great back catalogue.
I get mail! Jeff Litman wrote last week to let me know about his new record Crowded Hour so I gave it a listen. “Only You” grabbed me as the obvious single, with its 1980s melodic torch rocker vocals and sweet lead guitar lines. I also really liked “Disappear,” a nice spare acoustic ballad. Wasn’t long before I was digging through Litman’s past recordings – holy cow! Some great stuff on all his previous releases. “Primetime” from 2015’s Primetime has a very early Elvis Costello sheen. 2012’s Outside has a host of poprock shades, bit of John Hiatt on “Don’t Do That,” Tom Petty on “Don’t Want to Talk About It,” and more touching acoustic balladry with “What Hasn’t Happened Yet.” Litman’s 2009 debut Postscript sounds very Michael Penn to me, particularly on tracks like “Anna” and “Everything You’re Not.” But then things break out in a cool late 1970s rock mode with “Detroit Lawyer” and “Knock Me Down.”
Unlike days of yore, where old recordings would end up in a cut out bin somewhere, seemingly lost forever until suddenly discovered years later (and sporting a huge ‘rarities’ price tag!), old stock never goes bad today. You can easily take stock of Ed Ryan, Brad Peterson, The Junior League and Jeff Litman right now, courtesy the good people at Bandcamp. Ahem … yes, right now.