Let the summer begin! From the glorious keyboard roll out that kicks off this song, you know you are in a time-warp sunshine groove, with girls in satin shorts on roller skates and hair feathered to within an inch of its life. Channeling equal parts Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and Philly soul, with a dollop of Hall and Oates at their most melodious, “Summer of ‘76” is poprock perfection. Click on the lyric video below and I guarantee your summer playlist will have a new add, it’s a single of epic earworm proportions. The song is taken from the self-titled debut album of Astral Drive, a project that is largely the work of Phil Thornalley, a producer, performer, and songwriter with a staggering musical resume. He’s worked with some pretty talented people and it’s clearly rubbed off, if this single is anything to go by. I really can’t wait to hear the whole album. Really.
Now that it looks like spring has finally sprung it’s time to fill the playlist with some swinging, vocal swirling, feel good music. Cape Cartel deserve a strong ‘add’ to your rotation with their delightfully sunny “More.” Just hit play below and tell me, honestly, isn’t everything just a little bit brighter? With guitar lead lines dripping like a sonic waterfall, and intricately layered vocals that rival the best of the Moody Blues, this little gem is the stand out track on the band’s recently released debut album. Oh, there are other highlights on Close Talker. The record effortlessly ranges across multiple styles: a bit of jazz and folk, a dose of blistering rock, even some Jack Jones Hawaiian vibes, and throughout there are wonderful vocal arrangements. For instance, I’m also keen on “No One to Bear,” “The Great Indoors,” and “Feeling Cursed.” But get started with “More” – it’s the solid single.
Now go directly to Cape Cartel’s bandcamp page and download this album. They’re offering it up as a ‘pay what you want’ but it’s worth full price.
What I love about this single is its simplicity. It starts with a classic rock and roll motif, heard a gazillion times, nicely light on delivery with what sounds like an acoustic guitar. But then it slowly builds out with a half dozen subtle embellishments here and there. Like the beachy background vocals or Chuck Berry lead line breakout at the 1:53 mark. The main vocal itself is nicely subdued, delivered like a secret shared in bed. The song was featured in the 2007 movie Wedding Daze and Macdonald’s 2011 release The Art of Hanging Out and represents a departure from this artist’s now main body of work. Macdonald is largely known as the sometime drummer for Teenage Fanclub but more recently has produced an impressive body of quasi-classical and instrumental work, some of it for soundtracks. Check out his beautiful 2015 release Music for String Quartet, Piano and Celeste, which reminds me a lot of some of the best Wyndham Hill releases many years back. But I do wish he would turn his formidable talents back to such simple poprock fare as this great tune.
Phil Dutra strikes me as an eminently nice guy. His songs have a pleasant 1970s soft rock aura, roughed up just a bit around the edges with some 1980s new wave and 1990s indie sensibilities. His recorded output has emerged in fits and starts in 1999, 2007, and more recently in 2014. I like a lot of what he does. But I was floored on first listen to what I think should be a monster hit, his anthemic “She Walks Away,” particularly the Michael Lloyd remix featured on his 2007 EP Right Behind the Rain with its more tweaked vocal effects. This is a big song, with changes that ring out with that ‘I’m a classic song’ feel. I can’t believe the song has not been picked up by some hit-belting vocal giant like Michael Buble or Rod Stewart. Of course, I’d prefer covers more in the Fountains of Wayne register but you get my drift. The song deserves to be sung and should be Dutra’s regular paycheque. Well, for now we have Dutra’s version and make no mistake it’s pretty special.
Instrumentals are the original cross cultural phenomena. Not just because they overcome the language barrier in an increasingly global world, but also because they tend to be the first bridge crossed by generationally divided tastes. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, albums of often tepid instrumentals introduced Elvis and the Beatles to an aging record buying public brought up on swing bands and Frank Sinatra. Rock and roll was too noisy for them but the hooks proved too much to ignore. Radio stations offering ‘easy listening’ formats of contemporary songs done in an instrumental style were a popular addition to elevators and doctors’ offices everywhere by the 1970s. Then with the explosion of California beach and car culture in the early 1960s instrumentals became a thing in rock and roll too. Today, its an established sub-genre.
Which brings us to this fabulous interpretation of Nick Lowe’s 1975 throw away tribute to the Bay City Rollers, “Rollers Show.” For Nick, the song was largely a contractual obligation effort, a way to cynically cash in on the teenybopper love of all things BCR at the time and fulfill his contract with United Artists records. But even knock offs from Nick can still showcase his songwriting magic, lovingly teased out in this rendition from the hilarious, over-the-top instrumental group Los Straightjackets. The band has produced a whole album of Nick covers and they are not merely knock offs. Each song is creatively reinterpreted, sometimes in boldly different ways (check out their languid version of “Cruel to be Kind” as an example). The first single was a great version of “Peace, Love and Understanding” but my current faves are “All Men Are Liars,” “I Live on a Battlefield,” and, most of all, “Rollers Show,” which really is the standout track here in my view. The album cover is pretty cool too – a riff on Lowe’s Jesus of Cool album with Nick himself featured prominently. Rollers Show
What’s So Funny About Peace Love And Los Straitjackets is out now. Find out more about this and their other fine recordings as well as their current tour with Marshall Crenshaw here.
Bob of the Pops is a labour of love from Robyn Gibson, leader singer of The Junipers and, in this case, a one-man band performing all parts on this particular project. Sneaking in recording sessions after his main band was done work for the day, Gibson took five years putting together this amazing collection of covers. The range is spectacular, from rare to well known choices covering 1960s up to the 1990s. Gibson’s formula is simple: take catchy tunes and apply his unerring talent for recreating a jangly 1960s British poprock sound. The fit is obvious with his covers of sixties bands like the Hollies, the Springfields, the Who, the Beatles and the more obscure Honeybus, but it works just as well for later material from the Dentists, Kirsty MacColl, Teenage Fanclub, and the Laverne and Shirley TV theme.
Bob of the Pops is a strong collection but the standout track for me is Gibson’s reinvention of Nick Heyward’s “He Doesn’t Love You Like I Love You.” The song is a nice cut from Heyward’s 1993 album From Monday to Sunday, penned and ably performed by the former Haircut 100 front man. But Gibson brings out the song’s inner 1960s soul, tweaking the melody as if it had been a hit by the Searchers (the first time around). Besides, who refers to ‘rag dolls’ outside of the 1960s? Nobody. This is now the definitive version (sorry Nick).
It seemed like an interesting gimmick – 52 songs over 52 weeks. That was Timmy Sean’s promise for 2015. For just $20 (US), he would produce a song a week for a whole year. I signed up on the strength of this song alone. Sean is musically multi-dexterous, with material that pays homage to a broad array of poprockers ranging from Fountains of Wayne to Hall and Oates. But “Western Rodeo” is a departure in more ways than one. First, it’s country! None of the other 51 tracks really go there. Second, the song’s arrangement and performance are flawless. I like a lot of the 52 songs Sean served up but for me this single is a cut above. It has a lovely melancholy acoustic guitar foundation that builds slowly and solidly, adding pedal steel, lead guitar, and great backing vocals, delivering a sonic impact I usually associate with early Eagles or late Byrds material. Sean is a major talent just waiting to break.
This one seemed like a no brainer for this blog. Cartoon Spirits’ “Pop Rocks” could well be our theme song, except in this case it refers the exploding mouth candy. Oh well. There’s no taking away from what is still a great poprock single. Love the understated guitar and Michael Faherty’s solid everyman vocals. In fact, you won’t go far wrong with the whole EP. Crustacean is a focused 4 song batch of various classic sounding poprock influences. I definitely hear the Cheap Trick on “Remake the Stalls” while “Back to that Cult” is very Squeezy, without either being derivative. And “Common Law” name-checks Toronto, so what more needs to be said?
The Cartoon Spirits hail from craft beer capital Portland, Oregon and claim as their mission to revive the power pop tradition in the Pacific Northwest. This is a good start. Check out their progress on their Facebook page.
Sometime between 2011 and 2015 I realized I loved Teenage Fanclub. There was something dreamy about their melodies, their Byrdsian retro charm, the general feel-good aura that radiated from their music. Songs from Northern Britain, Manmade, Howdy! – with so many amazing albums no wonder Kurt Cobain called them his favourite band. But just as I grasped their poprock brilliance, the albums dried up, with 2010’s Shadows the seeming end of the line. Then last fall the band’s Facebook page announced they were working on new material and lo and behold the new record is almost here, literally entitled Here, and due out at the beginning of September. In the meantime, check out their fabulous new single, “I’m in Love.” The song is so in the Teenage Fanclub groove, it’s like they never left.
To support the new album, Teenage Fanclub are embarking on their first real tour in years, with a stop in Toronto, among other North American cities! Check out the details on their website.
There is something quite wonderful about this impressive mash-up of late 1950s Felice and Boudleux Bryant-era songcraft with the fresh and contemporary sound of Thompson and Jones on this recording. The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison – we could imagine any of them recording this song, but that does not in any way take away from what is accomplished here. Great plinky piano, ghostly background organ, dead on handclaps, subtle guitar lines, and two vocalists who really know how to entwine a harmony. “Never Knew You’d Love Me Too” is featured on the duo’s new album Little Windows, which mines a seam of old-time American cross-over country and western that can only be described as ‘delightful.’ This is all the more impressive when one considers that neither performer is a dedicated country artist (though Thompson’s catalogue does include various country songs and one previous dedicated country album), and yet somehow they have the authentic feel for the genre that, frankly, a great deal of new country lacks. If we still had variety shows, these two would be your featured Saturday night special guests.