This startling new direction from Vancouver’s The Top Boost has a bit of the Beatles For Sale era country-style Beatles, The International Submarine Band and Buck Owen’s distinctive lead guitar player Don Rich. The band has always had a special new wave jangle going but this single suggests they won’t be contained in any neat genre boxes. “Tell Me That You’re Mine” takes off with a rollicking pace that doesn’t let up, riding some easygoing country hooks and nice pedal steel guitar. B-side “Early Morning Days” is no slouch either, offering up a slower, more measured dollop of shimmering guitars and heavenly harmonies. These guys are definitely going places. Just where I’m not sure but with records like these I’m happy to be surprised.
Mondello was a break-out indie darling in 2019 with a story of musical struggle straight out of rock and roll central casting. Boy works for 20 years on an album of songs (Hello, All You Happy People) that finally sees the light of day and finds an appreciative audience amongst those who value slightly eccentric DIY-plus power pop. What a happy ending! Well, now he’s back with a new single and it’s a killer. Get ready for a slightly more polished AM radio-friendly Mondello on this outing, which features a horn section, anthemic chorus, and excerpts from a 1960s surrealist Italian sex movie for a video. Seriously, the execution of this single is nothing short of masterful, reminiscent of that very British reinvention of the sixties that occurred in the 1980s with Elvis Costello and Wreckless Eric, among others. Give this baby a few listens and see if you don’t agree it’s earworm central. “My Girl Goes By” definitely confirms Mondello is no one-indie-hit wonder.
You can get Mondello’s new single here or any of the usual e-music outlets.
It’s hard to believe how much Graham Gouldman has given us. Back in the 1960s he wrote such iconic hits as “For Your Love” for the Yardbirds and “Bus Stop” for The Hollies and a host of other great songs. Then in the 1970s he was one of the four talented guys that made up 10cc, contributing to hits like “I’m Not in Love” and “The Things We Do For Love.” I remember being so blown away by “For Your Love” when first heard it on Vancouver FM radio station CFMI’s annual ‘BC 500’ marathon of the top rock and roll songs in 1980 that I immediately hopped a bus to Kootenay Loop to visit a used record shop that specialized in re-issued oldies 45s. I’d barely gotten home with the single when CFMI played “Heart Full of Soul” and I was back on the bus! Over the decades Gouldman has accumulated an impressive catalogue of material, covered expertly by himself and others.
And now he’s back with a whole album of fab new material on the just released Modesty Forbids. One hardly knows where to start applying the praise. “Standing Next To Me” melodically immortalizes his time playing with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, while “That’s Love Right There” hits all the right British musical hall notes, and I haven’t even gotten to the exquisite collaboration with Bill Lloyd, “What Time Won’t Heal,” a surefire hit in my view. But rather than a full album review (part of which I have sneakily inserted here as prelude), I really just wanted to bring one particular song from this album to your attention. To be sure, if you’ve liked what has gone before in the Graham Gouldman musical universe, you won’t be disappointed with any part of this new album. But to me, the album’s final cut is a particular treat. With its spare jazzy/folkie acoustic guitar arrangement and lovely light vocal touches, “New Star” is just a delightful, positive little track, evidence that this old pro has got a few more surprises left in the bag.
Jean Caffeine, Joe Goldmark, Keith Klingensmith and the TM Collective, Lasse Lindblom Band, Les Calamites, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, Pete Townshend, The Connection, The Decibels, The Kids Are Alright, The Last Words, The Legend, The Lolas, The Queers, The Raveonettes, The Who
You don’t get a much more perfect poprock song than The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright.” Crunchy guitar offset by a perfect vocal melody, backed by killer background vocals and harmonies at key points. Curiously then, the song has been both covered and not that covered since its 1965 release. A quick spin through the web-o-sphere reveals countless live versions by big name acts like Pearl Jam, pub rob darlings Eddie and Hot Rods, glammers The Glitter Band, and many many others. But studio versions don’t hit the major leagues as much. In fact, they’re far surpassed by punk and indie treatments. Personally, I find the punk ones tend to lose the sweetness of the melody by leaning on the song’s ennui. I get it – they love the rave up ‘I hate the world!’ potential. But in this post we’re going to hew to the hooky side of things.
American bands seemed to groove to The Who the earliest in the 1960s, with a decided garage and psychedelic bias (e.g. The Count Five covering two Who songs on their debut in 1966). El Paso’s The Legend cranked up a winning cover with some very groovy organ in 1968. Meanwhile Miami’s The Last Words offered a distinctive interpretation of the song in the same year, altering the melody of the chorus. Sweden gets into the act with the Lasse Lindbom Band’s 1979 more straight up poprock version. Then things take an indie/punk turn with France’s Les Calamités in 1984 but this version still manages to capture the song’s essential (and necessary) vulnerability. The last version from this early period is Pete Townshend’s own demo of the song, recorded in sixties but only released on his Another Scoop album in 1987.
The LegendThe Last WordsLasse Lindbom BandLes CalamitésPete Townshend
The new millennium has seen various acts cranking up power pop elements of the song. The normally very punky The Queers even out their sound to accent the song’s hooks. Not surprisingly, with Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs it’s all super sweet background vocals and harmonies while tempering the more combustible sonic aspects of the tune. Possibly my fave cover comes from the reliably hooky The Lolas, featured on the 2004 Who tribute album Who’s Not Forgotten. And then for something completely different, there’s Joe Goldmark’s kooky but charming country instrumental version with John McFee on pedal steel.
The QueersMatthew Sweet and Susanna HoffsThe LolasJoe Goldmark
More recently a new flurry of covers have emerged, demonstrating how this hit just keeps on coming. Both The Connection and Keith Klingensmith and the TM Collective offered up sleek candy-coated versions in 2013 while The Ravenonettes turned all shoe gaze with their cover in 2015. Just this last year Jean Caffeine put a bit of edge into her otherwise melodic treatment of the song while The Decibels hit the jangle pedal pretty hard in a more rocking rendition.
A great song is one that you can hear over and over and somehow never tire of. Not surprisingly, such tunes draw other acts to want to cover them. “The Kids Are Alright” is one of them and as you can hear above, it’s actually pretty hard to mess it up.
Feel free to cancel Christmas, my present came early with Gregory Pepper’s new single “I’ve Got a Bottle.” Pepper is Canada’s should-be favourite curio pop songwriter. Master of styles, piquant tunesmith, a clever with words guy, Pepper never fails to deliver the goods. But I have to say, it’s been a while – too long. Pepper took a year to write a song a week during 2017-18 while weathering the loss of his father, arrival of a baby daughter, and driving the occasional snow plow. But now the word has come down that a new album of Pepper tunes – I Know Why You Cry – will drop in the new year. I can’t wait! Seriously, waiting is not my strong point. But in the interim you have this delightful dollop of Pepper pop craftmanship. Enjoy, and get ready for a fab Pepper-stravaganza coming to this station sometime this February.
Music veterans Screen Test put out some of their best music in 2018 with their Stones album-title riffing compilation Through the Past Brightly. Featuring both new and older unreleased tracks, the majority of the record is made up of the more recent material and it is IMHO some of their finest work. And that’s really saying something for guys who’ve been gigging and recording since the late 1970s with The Flashcubes, Screen Test, as solo artists, and with a host of other projects. Of the record’s new tunes I really like “Make Something Happen,” “Tomorrow is Another Day,” and particularly the single-worthy “Best Seller” with its hooky Mersey-jangle lead guitar. But the song that sings ‘hit’ to me without a doubt is “Notes from Trevor” with its killer build up and knock out earwormy chorus. Think of something filling the space between Pugwash and XTC and you’re in the zone. Or, as reader Fabian Byrne notes, very Smithereens! The band also have a great new tune worth checking out: “End of the Line.”
Notes From TrevorBest Seller
Screen Test prove that it’s possible for bands to keep the creativity going at any stage of their careers. Surely that deserves some kind of reward? Click on their hot-linked name to find out more!
It looks like it’s last call for Ottawa-based band Hollerado. Earlier this month the Canadian band announced they were releasing one last album and going on one last tour before calling it quits. Such a Canadian exit. No storming off stage mid-show, no fisticuffs in the dressing room, no purported creative differences. Just a polite ‘it’s been fun but, you know, time for a change’ explanation. The full album comes out in June but the pre-release singles suggest the band is going out on a high note. The aptly-named “One Last Time” is a hooky, sing-along invitation to fans to come out and dance, yes, ‘one last time.’ Also pre-released is the lovely, more acoustic “Straight to Hell.” Am I disappointed? Hell yes. Not with these songs – which are great – but with the end of band that, in my view, has yet to reach their creative peak. 2017’s Born Yesterday was a killer album that honed all the group’s strengths in terms of melody and performance, captured perfectly in the addictive ear wormy title track. Now their new album Retaliation Vacation promises to be even better!
When I saw Rilo Kiley with my buddy Rob Elliott at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto back in 2004 we were blown away by an act we’d barely heard of. Then, like so many bands, they eventually broke up. Now we know that sometimes separated parts don’t add up to the whole. But Rilo Kiley lead singer and rhythm guitarist Jenny Lewis has produced some real gems on her solo releases. Here I’m thinking tracks like “One of the Guys” from her first post-RK album in 2014, The Voyager. Now she’s back with On the Line and it’s a winner, embracing a pop sensibility that channels a fun 1970s swing. Check out the swagger on “Wasted Youth” with it’s interesting change ups in the chorus. Who thought ‘do do do do do’ could be trotted out again and sound original? But my absolute fave on this outing is the infectious “Rabbit Hole.” Something about its stark simplicity allows Lewis to embroider the edges with a load of hooky charms that makes this ear-worm central. And she manages to name check the Beatles and Rolling Stones without making it sound awkward or trite. Get ready to hit replay again and again!
Phil Keaggy has an impressive story. Got his start professionally as the sixties turned into the seventies with his band Glass Harp and a record deal with Decca. But he turned away from the drug-fuelled rock and roll lifestyle to embrace his faith, pretty much full time. That’s usually the end of the story, at least in terms of being a successful musician. But 50 albums later, Keaggy is a world renowned session musician, fan-favourite finger-style guitarist, and Grammy-winning gospel artist! His recorded output runs a gamut of styles, both vocal and instrumental. Today I want to highlight just one song from one album that I think is pretty exceptional: “I Always Do” from his 1988 release Phil Keaggy and Sunday’s Child. Now I can’t say I’ve given his all of 50 records close attention but I’m pretty confident that this track is a bit of an outlier. The whole album is pretty great but from it’s mellow opening, particularly on the vocals, “I Always Do” screams great lost Crowded House hit, and as the tune picks up steam the Neil Finn-isms are unmistakable. This single should have been Keaggy’s breakout crossover into mainstream chart success. In my alternative poprock radio empire, this baby is stuck on repeat.I Always Do
Keaggy has a huge catalogue to explore. Get connected with him via his Facebook page.
Tacoma, Washington’s The Rallies delivered a break out should-be hit album in 2017: Serve, one that meshed jangle with up-front acoustic guitars and a host of touching sentiment. This year they just teased us with a single from their forthcoming album, due in 2019. But what a single! I’ve been holding off featuring the tune because I really think it’s a song apropos for today. “All of Us” speaks to the better world that resides in us all. We have what it takes, if we have faith in ourselves and each other. Despite our world of war, deprivation, poverty and Trump, the human spirit is moved by hope and joy and solidarity. And they are the only things that change things for the better. As the band say, “It’s in you, it’s in me, what is real and ought to be. If we look inside all of us.”
Check out The Rallies online and sign up for early sightings of their new album!