Taking of stock of Ed Ryan, Brad Peterson, The Junior League and Jeff Litman


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STSometimes 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.

Ed RyanOk, 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!

BradBrad 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 The Ductape 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.

JL2Joe 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.

JLitI 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.

Breaking news: Jeremy Messersmith, Dropkick, Linus of Hollywood and The Sick Rose


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radio towersThis edition of Breaking News is all about new albums by artists with a strong track record. Hopes are high and possible disappointment is being held at bay. From Minnesota to Scotland to California to Italy, the poprock news is good. No, cancel that – great!

LSCI can’t get enough of Jeremy Messersmith. I only just discovered last year’s ukulele masterpiece and then his back catalogue and now he has a new record out and it’s fantastic too. Late Stage Capitalism is the latest installment in Messersmith’s enigmatic, intellectual poprock quest. Any casual listen reveals this man has a way with a tune. What seem like deceptively simple songs at first reveal melodic depth on repeated plays. Listen to how “Purple Hearts” ebbs and flows, softly sneaking up on our melodic sensibilities and then letting the hooks spill out everywhere. This is sing-along, fist-pumping, feel-good masterpiece. But Messersmith’s lyrics are something else too: tender, bittersweet, droll, sometimes biting. This guy is a less acerbic Morrissey or Stephen Merritt, an intelligent guy’s intelligent guy but with plenty of heart. Check out the sad yet sympathetic portrait exhibited in “Fast Times in Minnesota” or the sweet, Cyrcle-esque bounce of “Monday, You’re Not So Bad” with its Fountains of Wayne wordplay. I don’t know whether capitalism really is in its late stage or not but I do know one thing – this record is a winner.

UntitledThe new Dropkick album is out and the Teenage Fanclub and Jayhawk vibes are striking, particularly on radio-friendly “It’s Still Raining.” Longwave is the band’s fourteenth album since 2001 and it continues in the vein of low key acoustic guitar-based tunes that mark the group’s style. BBC Radio Scotland called them “Scotland’s finest alt-country power-pop band” but I think of them more as strummy, melodic poprock, in a low gear. Exhibit A: “All I Understand” is a sweetly swinging song, with subtle hooks. Oh there is country, sure. “Blue Skies” is a lovely slow country crawl. But there is so much more: the uptempo feel of “Fed Up Thinking of You,” the Byrdsian jangle of “Even When You’re Gone,” and the lovely spare acoustic treatment on “Turning of the Tide.” Altogether, this may be my favourite Dropkick album.

LOHA new Linus of Hollywood album is something to savor. The songs are always tightly packed musical gems with strong hooks, sparkling instrumental performances, and surprising arrangements. Cabin Life is no exception, a lush-sounding assortment of hooky AM radio-friendly should-be hits. Title-track and opening cut “Cabin Life” makes my point. LOH lulls us with a spare opener and then adds successive melodic and musical elements to build up the song, constantly shifting the listener’s attention – in a good way! Other songs put their poprock blast up front, like “At All.” This is a tune whose lyrical bitterness acts as counterpoint to its buoyant pop melody. “Wasted and in Love” sounds like the hit single to me with distinctive guitars that sound like they’re popping out of the speakers and strong melodic hooks. And this album’s ‘sounds most like Glen Tillbrook’ award goes to very Squeeze-like “Won’t Let it Get Me Down.” Excuse me while I hit repeat on this super new album.

The Sick Rose are solid rock and roll outfit from Torino, Italy clocking thirty-five years together with the release of their seventh LP, Someplace Better. The evolution of this band is testament to the ability of great musicians to keep changing, taking their sound in new directions without repudiating what went before. Their early records are pure 1960s melodic garage rock, replete with killer organ fills and crunchy lead guitar lines. But a few records later the sound has shifted into more clean 1970s rock sound. Then on their more recent releases the turn has been to a more power pop sound. Check out their masterful remake of The Liverpool Echo’s “Girl on a Train” from the band’s 2014 EP Live in the Studio.

TSRThe new record completes the shift to a more poprock sound under the expert production of The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow. “How to be Your Friend” kicks things off with an edgy guitar teaser before settling into more melodic vein with some nice vocal arrangements. The killer riff that opens “Frustrated” harkens back to their mid-period rock sound but the chorus is pure poprock. “Milk and Honey” is the pick for single for me, with a very smooth AM radio-friendly set of hooks. The band digs out the organ for the swinging “Sweet as Punch” and caps off the record with the title track “Someplace Better,” a jaunty instrumental. The Sick Rose were always great but, given my tastes, I think they’re getting better with age.

Jeremy Messersmith, Dropkick, Linus of Hollywood and The Sick Rose have worked hard to bring you these poprock delicacies. All you have to do now is open your wallet. And with e-finance, even that’s just a metaphor – no actual physical wallet-opening is necessarily required. It just doesn’t get any easier to keep our musical friends from hocking their instruments or casting their children into the street. Really.

Goodbye Kayfabe, Hello Nick Frater!


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Nick Frater GKMove over ‘Selsdon Man,’ Croydon’s got a new cultural pace-setter to offer the world and he’s music to my ears: Nick Frater. Oh Frater’s not new, he’s been around. He’s played in countless bands and produced an impressive body of solo work, much of it mining a late-Beatles era kind of chamber pop. But on recent releases Frater has muscled up the sound with impressive effect. Goodbye Kayfabe showcases a range of influences from melodic and power pop to more crunchy poprock and smooth 1970s hooks. And the guy’s got a sense of humour (check out his cheeky album title/cover take-offs!). This video for his stand-alone single “Sara” captures a bit of the madness that is Nick Frater.


NICKThe album races out of the gate with the incredible, obvious hit single, “Built to Last.” I hear Cheap Trick blasting through this song. Great guitars and background vocals keep the musical tension fraught right through to the end. But then “Paperchase” sounds like a radio hit too, with its strong rhythm guitar backing, elegant 1970s lead guitar lines, and strong vocal performance. “Fruit Punches” opens with some nice Shadows riffs before shifting to a 1970s-style, smooth vocal delivered over a spare Beatles-in-acoustic mode sound. Then – bang – a great surprise change-up in the chorus. All in all, a pleasant, delightful deep cut. “More Than This” reminds me of mid-period ELO, if Jeff Lynne had any element of restraint. Frater even manages to slip some Selsdon-meets-Brexit politics into the mix with the boppy “Remoaner.”

You won’t have to wrestle with your choices on this album, the whole thing is great. Download it here and keep up on Nick’s antics at his web and Facebook pages.

Take me to this Ruler


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RUlerOk, I can’t wait anymore. Winning Star Champion is the forthcoming debut album from Seattle’s Matt Batey, aka Ruler, due to drop May 25 of this year. But you need to hear this guy now. Besides, a few of his really catchy tunes are available now and won’t even figure in the line-up of the new record. Take “Easy Life” – my far and away fave Ruler track. This hook-filled treat swings just a bit, with a great break out in the chorus, only to drop out in the verses in an oh-so-seductive way. The layered background vocals are heaven! And the guy can afford to leave this gem off his debut album? Wow. Another free-standing single is “Complicated Mind,” a slow starting melodic burn than also takes off in the chorus. Winning Star Champion’s release is still months away but the three tracks in preview suggest this baby is going to cross the tape way ahead of the competition. The album’s opening track is “Petrified,” a perfect distillation of Ruler’s winning formula: ragged edges butted up against ever so expertly crafted poprock, with a few guitar riffs borrowed from your favourite New Order record. Another winner is “Unhindered Pace,” which reminds me Kevin Devine’s solo stuff and his work with Bad Books.

I am ready to submit – bring on the poprock reign of Ruler! Click on this link to start your process of musical subjugation.

The Teenage Fanclub diaspora


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TF ticketTeenage Fanclub is a band that keeps on giving. I count no less that seven break away bands and side projects that have emerged from the TF stable. It kind of reminds me of those early 1970s rock family trees that would trace the relationship of the Bryds, the Hollies, Buffalo Springefield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and so on. Of course, in this case none of the subsequent bands have quite matched the success of the original, but they have produced some damn fine music.

BMX bandistNow BMX Bandits technically preceded Teenage Fanclub but TF members like Norman Blake and Francis Macdonald regularly went back and forth between the two groups. Douglas T. Stewart wrote endearing, melodic tunes with both of the above mentioned TF members. The band has ten albums and lot of great stuff to choose from but I’m singling out “Back in Your Heart” from 2003’s Down at the Hop. Though I also have to mention the charming and wistful “Take Me to Heaven” from 2007’s Bee Sting. Then Norman Blake created a new outfit called Jonny with Dave McGowan joining later. The combo had a very TF sound rubbed around the edges with some 1950s sensibilities. It took a few years to produce a record but 2011’s self-titled Jonny was worth the wait. “Candyfloss,” “You Was Me” and “Circling the Sun” are standout tracks for me.

BMX Bandits – Back in her Heart

P5And what is it about the drummers from this band? Drummer Paul Quinn left the band to form The Primary 5 who released three strong albums in the first decade of the new millennium. 2004’s North Pole maxes out the jangle on killer catchy tunes like “Mailman” and “What Am I Supposed To Do” and then changes things up with the sophisticated piano-laden “Easy Chair” and country-rock “Happy.” 2007’s Go kicks off with a heavier sound on “Off Course” but quickly melts back into those Byrdsian harmonies. “Sunsets” is a lovely languid mid-1960s piece of poprock. Meanwhile “Out in the Cold” has a more ominous 1980s melodic rock sound. And then there is the former and current TF drummer Francis Macdonald, a super talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist who has released a wide variety of material, including some moving piano and cello classical work. His band Nice Man and Bad Boys released The Art of Hanging Out in 2011 with a sonic palette just a bit more spare, acoustic and spacey in its arrangements than TF but still recognizably related. We featured the great single “Love is Game Two Can Play” before, but that doesn’t exhaust the great stuff here. A comparable single is certainly the hooky “Forever is a Long Time Without You” that opens the record. Other highlights would be the smooth 1950s-cum-1980s “Pretty Brown Eyes” and amusing and whimsical “Slinky.”

The Primary 5 – Mailman

NMFor a lighter touch, Snowgoose (featuring David McGowan and Raymond McGinley) and Lightships (featuring Gerard Love) take the peaceful easy feeling part of the TF legacy for a spin. “Hazy Lane” from Snowgoose’s 2012 Harmony Springs has a lovely traditional pop-folk feel but those signature TF harmonies are still there. Meanwhile Lightships take things into a more LoFi direction on 2012’s Electric Cables. I love the slow build on the mildly chiming “Sunlight to the Dawn.” The last stop on this TF diaspora world tour is Norman Blake’s most recent diversion, The New Mendicants, with ace power popper Joe Pernice. These two make a great dissonant combo, pushing each other in new directions. The background vocals and musical style is a definite departure from the TF branded sound. Very Beatles on “Cruel Annette” while “If You Only Knew Her” mines a part of the country-rock canon somewhat neglected by TF, particularly on the vocals.

Snowgoose – Hazy LaneLightships – Sunlight to the Dawn

Amid all this other band activity, Teenage Fanclub go on, still putting out solid records more than two decades later. But clearly there was just too much music to be contained within the TF brand. Aren’t we the lucky ones? Start your tour of the diasporic influence of TF on BMX Bandits, Jonny , The Primary 5, Nice Man and Bad Boys, Snowgoose, Lightships and The New Mendicants and expand your TF universe.

You’re really super, Super 8


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Super 8Hurry and get your hands on this really super collection from the mysterious and musically iconoclastic Paul Ryan, aka Super 8. As a record T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies is defined by an acoustic sensibility but never limited to it. Instead Ryan’s acoustic guitar acts like old faithful in the background, sustaining every song, which are then adorned with all manner of ear candy: harmonica, slide guitar, cello, horns, you name it. Naming influences on this record is a potentially endless task, it is such an amazing synthesis of musical styles. In terms of tempo and feel, I hear the laid back confidence of Van Morrison in his masterful early 1970s period. Over the range of songs, you can hear a bit of the Rolling Stones, Wilco, the Velvet Underground, even the Verve here and there. But overall, the performance really reminds me of Beck on Odelay in its freewheeling, seemingly effortless pastiche of different sounds and musical motifs. And then there’s the songwriting, which is pretty impressive. This batch of tunes is mellow, soulful, and hooky. Need some uplift? Put this on while tooling around the house and feel the colour of your day change.

So what songs are the highlights? This whole record is great – there’s isn’t a bum track here. To my ear, “Last Final Cigarette” is the single with its mellow guitar hooks and subtle ear worm chorus. I love the background vocals that open “Catsuit” and the mournful harmonica and banjo that kicks off the “To Morocco” (which sounds like a great Stones acoustic number). Things rock up on the title track with some nice tempo shifts and tasty guitar work. “Just a Serenade” has a lovely lilting bounce that reminds me of vintage Wilco or acoustic Verve. The Beck influence seems particularly strong on the album opener “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day” and “Hey ! Non-Believer.” And then the whole thing wraps up with “My Sweet Baby Jane,” a track that sounds like it was pinched from a classic early 1970s country rock album by the Stones or the Byrds.

Super 8 is a major talent. Get in on the ground floor by checking out his internet real estate.

Around the Dial: Brad Marino, Tommy Sistak, Nick Eng, Hurry and Hyness


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towerThis turn around the dial is all about singles in their glorious yet circumscribed catchiness, ideally maxing out at just a few minutes of focused bliss. Today’s contributors vibe some solid poprock credentials, drawing from the post-1950s pop tradition, all things Beatles, stripped down new wave and various 1980s indie hooks.

Let’s begin with Brad Marino. His work with The Connection is stellar, melodic yet hitting all the rock and roll marks. Not surprisingly, his solo single is piece of poprock magic, oozing a late 1970s compressed new wave sound akin to The Ramones, Rockpile and, more recently, Tommy and the Rockets. Tommy Sistak reaches a bit further back with “You Can’t Change Me,” a track that sounds so British beat group circa 1964. What I love about this song are the clear 1950s influences on the sound and songwriting. Reno native Nick Eng goes straight for a Beatles 65 sound with his single “Reminiscing.” The song is catchy, with great Beatlesque background vocals and Harrison-worthy guitar licks.

Shifting gears into indie mode, it’s been fascinating to see Hurry shed its links with the punky garage sound of some of its earlier material (and Matt Scottoline’s earlier band, Everyone Everywhere) for a more unabashed melodic aura. It was strongly apparent with the hooky “When I’m With You” 2016’s Guided Meditation and is reinforced with “Waiting for You” from their latest Every Little Thought. This is ear worm central. Rounding out this batch is some good old fashioned 1990s-reminscent alienated indie with pop undertones. Hyness hail from Ontario’s Kitchener-Waterloo and “Choke” might give you some idea of what it’s like to live there. Extra points for succeeding with a Smith’s cover! “Hand in Glove” works here because the guitar work is sufficiently trebly and the vocals are yearning without aping Morrissey. There is something very Tracy Thorn in the delivery.

Hit singles can lead to quality albums which can lead to stadium tours, purchased islands, and conspicuous consumption documented by unreliable tabloids. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Why don’t we just settle for a hit single? Check out Brad Marino, Tommy Sistak, Nick Eng, Hurry and Hyness online to help make that happen.

That 1960s Show: The On and Ons, The Squires of the Subterrain, and The Carousels


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1960sEvery decade is doing the nostalgia thing. Soft rock has joined disco as the go-to 1970s sound. Synth and trebly guitar bands define the retro-1980s movement now afoot. But they’ve got nothing on the 1960s, the decade that refuses to die. While the 1950s now sound increasingly dated (though I still love them!), the dynamic range and never ending freshness of the 1960s keeps coming back with revivals of the original artists, box sets and re-issues, and the decade’s continuing influence on new artists. These three recent acts live and breathe the 1960s, without sounding like some tribute band. They’ve got the guitar sounds, the groove, but – most importantly – some strong songwriting.

on and onsHere’s exhibit ‘A’: check out the guitar hook that jump starts The On and Ons’ “Whole World” from their 2017 release Welcome Aboard. It’s got a solid grounding in The Who’s early work, with perhaps a bit of The Action modding things up a bit more, and a nice quasi-sitar guitar bit at the end. Of course, the sound can also be characterized as new wave on this and tracks like “She’s Leaving” in a very Nerves/Plimsouls sort of way. I love the melody shift in “Can’t Avoid” which evokes a Zombies’ wistfulness. Also, don’t overlook the great tracks on their 2015 debut It’s the On and Ons Calling, particularly “Before Our Eyes” and “Not a Friend in Sight.” It’s no wonder that Paul Collins had this band back him up on a recent North American tour. They perform like veterans but deliver a fresh take on the 1960s sound.

Whole WorldCan’t AvoidBefore Our Eyes

sostnAnyone who puts their band’s theme song as the first cut on their debut album is OK with me. I mean, it was good enough for The Monkees, right? The Squires of the Subterrain are the product of the seemingly mad poprock genius, Chris Earl. Earl loves the 1960s and simultaneously pays homage to while reinventing its signature sounds. Sometimes it’s Nuggets-style oh-so-garage rock like “Sweet” from 2003’s Strawberries on Sunday, or the brittle mid-1960s English poprock on “Intoxicating Violet” from 1998’s debut Pop in a CD. Whole albums are given over to exploring different styles, like the playful send up of early 1960s American radio vocal beat groups on 2009’s Adventures in …, or the spot off Beach Boys reinvention of 2012’s Sandbox. 2017’s Slightly Radio Active is a more straight up album of great songs, though delivered with Earl’s wry lyrical insights and slightly off-kilter performance. “Meltdown” has a lovely subtle hook on piano. Title track “Slightly Radio Active” is a great garage single, with super guitar hooks. Both “Letters from Heaven” and “Highly and Unqualified” showcase Earl’s inventiveness in song instrumentation, arrangement and sentiment. This guy pays repeated listens – there is simply so much to hear here!

Theme SongWhoa, Whoa, Yeah, YeahSlightly Radio Active

CarouselsLast up on That 1960s Show is a band that sometimes sounds so late 1960s country rock a la the Byrds or International Submarine Band but then shifts to a more jangly poprock style on other tunes. Rifling through the band’s catalogue, The Carousels ace that languid country rock vibe on “Winds of Change” while “Call Along the Coast” almost seems to jump out at you with its peppy bass, trebly lead guitar, and killer harmonies. The band’s more recent 2017 album Sail Me Home, St. Clair combines these strengths on cuts like the country-styled “Josephine” and more jangly “Lord Speed My Hurricane” and many others.

Winds of ChangeCall Along the CoastLord Speed My Hurricane

Help The On and Ons, The Squires of the Subterrain, and The Carousels keep on keeping on with their 1960s-inspired new music by checking out their web presence, recordings, and live shows.

Name that song Maryanne!


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mary anne with radioNames come and go. Some, like Gertrude, Hilda, and Agnes, are probably never coming back. But others carry on through generations, like Maryanne. It’s a name that conjures up the quintessential girl next door. She seemed to be at every dance in the 1950s, ended up shipwrecked with Gilligan in the 1960s, and was the focus of a host of singer-songwriter’s attentions in the 1970s. Leonard Cohen tried to say “So Long Marianne” but it didn’t work. More Mary Anne songs kept coming. Today’s post focuses on songs named for Maryanne, Mary Anne or Mary-Anne (though, curiously, not Marianne).

What sparked this theme was my just discovering The Spongetones’ amazing single “My Girl Maryanne” from their 1984 album, Torn Apart. How did I miss these guys back in the 1980s? They had it all going on: a thoroughly Beatlesque esthetic, catchy poprock tunes, with jangly guitars and killer harmonies. The chorus from this song channels a vocal harmony straight out of 1966, as if the Mamas and Papas got the Beatles to swap out the Wrecking Crew for a session.

Of course, any mention of Mary Anne immediately got me thinking of a deep cut from Marshall Crenshaw’s stellar self-titled debut album from 1982. Distinctive guitar and background vocals always made this one a favourite for me, while the chord changes struck me as similar to Nick Lowe’s “My Heart Hurts” from the same year (similar but still sufficiently different).

But two songs hardly a theme blog post make. I needed more material. There was that Cohen cut, or The Who’s “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand, or even The Four Season’s “C’mon Marianne” but they didn’t work with the blog or seemed too obvious (though I was sorely tempted to go with the Who!). Then I stumbled across a rare vocal turn from the normally instrumentally focused Shadows on their own “Mary Anne” song.  Not bad for guys who usually let Cliff Richard do all the singing.

Rounding out this tribute to various Mary Anne’s is a more modern track from Boston’s alt-country outfit, Girls Guns and Glory. “Maryanne” comes from the band’s 2014 release, Sweet Nothings. The whole record is a worthwhile kick-up-your-heels, Dwight Yoakam-ish country-plus-rock and roll mash up. But check out the melodic twist in the chorus – pure poprock! Don’t overlook their 2016 album, Love and Protest, particularly the killer single “Rock and Roll.”

With the internet, releasing a single or album is now an event that never really ends. The chance that some old thing from years ago could take off unexpectedly is so much more possible now than previously. So drop in on The Spongetones, Marshall Crenshaw, The Shadows, and Girls Guns and Glory and let the hit-making begin!

Catching up with Duran Duran, New Order and Billy Joel


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Car radioTime passes and it’s amazing the musical acts you realize you haven’t thought about in a long time. Could even be bands you once loved but now regularly pass over in the record collection. Then something brings them back to mind and you discover they have carried on, despite your indifference. Of course, sometimes such rediscoveries can be painful. But in the case of these three once mega-successful acts, the missing years have some seen them produce great stuff worthy of a bit of musical reconnaissance.

Duran_duran_paper_gods_album_artworkIf ever there was a band that seemed likely to gain the ‘fad artist’ label, it was Duran Duran. Flashy outfits, winning hairstyles, and plenty of jump-cut videos were oh-so-early 1980s. When they abandoned their hook-driven material for more bass-heavy R&B on 1986’s Notorious the exit sign over their career seemed to be flashing brightly. But despite the odds they persevered, turning out ten more albums over the years, all with at least a few pretty solid, hook-driven tunes, songs like “I Don’t Want Your Love,” “Ordinary World,” and “Come Undone.” The new millennium has seen the release of strong albums like Astronaut (2004) and All You Need is Now (2010). But their most recent Paper Cuts (2015) is arguably their best since 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Largely written and and produced by recent wunderkind Mr. Hudson, the record still has the remarkably familiar stamp of Duran Duran while breaking new ground musically. Standout tracks include title cut “Paper Cuts” and “Sunset Garage.” If you haven’t checked out the band in a while, it’s time to return to the fold.

Paper GodsSunset Garage

New OrderI still remember finding my first used copy of New Order’s “Blue Monday.” I wasn’t really into techno or dance but there was just something so cool about the hypnotic driving bass and keyboard riffs. I dutifully purchased Low Life and Brotherhood when they came out. But I do remember being a bit disappointed with Technique, which seemed a bit too aptly named for comfort. New Musical Express complained that the band should just break up rather than repeat themselves (but then MNE was pretty infamous for hating bands as soon as more than a handful of people started liking them). So, in the nineties me and New Order drifted apart. Imagine my pleasant surprise to catch up on their post-Technique catalogue only to discover some of their best recordings! 1993’s Republic was OK, but 2001’s Get Ready is amazing, upping the traditional indie rock sound without losing the club vibe. And the songs are pretty strong: “Crystal,” “60 Miles an Hour,” and “Run Wild.” Four years later the band did it again with the stellar Waiting for the Siren’s Call, featuring killer tracks like “Krafty” and “Turn.” Songs left off the latter album were released as Lost Sirens in 2013 and they weren’t just leftovers: check out strong tracks like “I’ll Stay with You” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” 2015’s Music Complete (minus longtime bass player Peter Hook) couldn’t help but disappoint by comparison, though “Superheated” is pretty cool.

CrystalTurnI’ll Stay With YouSuperheated

Billy_Joel_-_River_of_DreamsThe first record I ever bought was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. It was 1978 and one of the only non-country albums stocked in the dry goods store in Cassiar, the asbestos mining town in northern BC where we lived briefly when I was 13. On reflection, I don’t like it nearly as much as The Stranger (with its drop dead hit single, “Only the Good Die Young”), or Glass Houses, which really was Joel’s songwriting peak (from a poprock perspective). Sometimes you have to make do. But after The Nylon Curtain and An Innocent Man I kinda lost interest in what Joel was doing. I mean, I really couldn’t figure out how the dirge-like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” could make it from the out-take pile let alone top the charts. Different strokes. And then Joel just stopped making albums altogether after 1993, surely a bizarre development in our music-as-commodity world. I would have said ‘who cares’ until I ran across two beautiful late Joel songs recently, one each from his last two albums. “And So It Goes” from 1989’s Storm Front has a slightly Randy Newman-esque feel to the arrangement, when it’s not just exquisite Joel balladry. But minus the flash – this performance is remarkably restrained and vulnerable. “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” is the best thing on 1993’s River of Dreams, a beautiful love song for his daughter.

And So It GoesLullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)

Catching up with former superstars is so much easier in the internet age. Check out Duran Duran, New Order and Billy Joel in all the usual places.