Country time! With the Forresters, Rhett Miller, Steve Deaton Three, Dawes, the Jayhawks, and Midnight North


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Country Time!Trying to separate out the various genres that have contributed to modern poprock is a bit hopeless. Take country, for instance. It’s right there in the rock and roll DNA of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and so many others. But country has a special relationship with poprock due to its buoyant approach to melody. Some of the greats of 1940s and 1950s country were hook masters who knew how to write a tune that would leave people singing in the shower. Merle Travis, the Louvin Brothers, Johnny Horton and, of course, the grandmaster tunesmith, Hank Williams Sr. The country rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s then was really just a return to rock and roll’s roots. And, of course, some country artists that rode the border of country pop and rock and roll never really went away in the 1960s – think the Everly Brothers or Buck Owens. Happily the tradition lives on with more recent acts mining the particular joy that is country poprock.  It’s country time!

ForrestersAustralia must be a magical place. So many super creative people live there and they all seem to start a new band every other week. Anthony Bautovitch is the driving force behind The Forresters, just one of many musical projects he’s had a hand in over the years (you might have heard of the Orange Humble Band). Read his blog entries about this project and it’s like all the musical royalty of Australia showed up to do something on these recordings. “Tremblin’’ is from the 2008 debut Skin Deep and strikes a more traditional country vibe but check out the cool horns that slide in half way through. “Are You Ready” is from 2016’s self-titled album The Forresters and it has a stronger poprock feel. The chorus unfolds like a 1960s dream sequence. Hooky goodness here. Are You Ready

Rhett Miller TravelerI was grooving on Rhett Miller for months before I discovered he was the lead singer for the Old 97s.  “Our Love” from 2002’s The Instigator has a nice new wave aura to it, even as it takes the form of a classic country song construction. By contrast, “Lost Without You” from 2012’s The Dreamer has a more traditional country feel, if channeled a bit through Wilco. Improving with age (if that’s possible), Miller has some killer recent material, including the duet with Madison King, “Feel Like Fallin’ in Love,” and the recent collaboration with Black Prairie, 2015’s The Traveler. Love “Most in the Summertime” with its great lilting chorus line ‘Don’t give up … on me.’ The pause really makes the hook work.Our LoveLost Without You

SDTI was digging the Steve Deaton Three’s self-titled album from 2015 when I hit their cover of Buck Owen’s “Tall Dark Stranger.” How could I know I’d be in for the definitive treatment of the song? SDT ramp it up just enough to capture the melodic magic that was always there but latent in the rather languid original version. Really, I’m surprised Dwight Yoakam didn’t cog onto this great opportunity. But just to show that these guys are not just poprock rodeo kings, check out their fabulous, driving should-be hit single, “Open My Eyes.” Not country, but a poprock spectacular single. And these are not the only charms this album contains.

All-Your-Favorite-BandsAt a recent house concert in Toronto, the Sam Weber band performed “All Your Favourite Bands.” It being a house concert, the song ended and I asked them about it – and discovered the definitely alt-country/folk sound of Dawes. Early recordings like “When My Time Comes” from 2009 North Hills has the poetic charm of Bruce Springsteen’s first album while “If I Wanted Someone” from 2011’s Nothing is Wrong sounds more late period Eagles. But Dawes are hard to peg, with 2013’s Stories Don’t End serving up the very Steely Dan-ish “From a Window Seat” and their most recent, 2016’s We’re All Gonna Die, throwing in a bit more FM rock a la “Rocky Mountain Way” guitar and late Doobie Brothers vocals on “Roll With the Punches.”If I Wanted SomeoneRoll With the Punches

JH MBTThe Jayhawks were there when alt country hit the indie rock mainstream along with Wilco, Blue Rodeo and many others. We’re not going to play the obvious ones from the 1990s. These guys are masters for a reason – they’ve continued to put out solid recordings, as “She Walks in So Many Ways” from 2011’s Mockingbird Time showcases nicely. The song has a very Everly Brothers’ “Bowling Green” vibe to my ears. Oh, what the hell. “It’s Up to You” from 1997’s Sound of Lies is a pretty sweet album cut.She Walks in So Many WaysIt’s Up To You

MN UTLLast up is a band I just discovered this last week, San Francisco’s Midnight North. “The Highway Song” is a peppy poprock number sweet enough to appeal to any Dolly Parton fan, with a melody that is nicely echoed by some trebly lead guitar. Great lyrics here:  “So meet me on a highway … where we can sing some tunes like Johnny and June ..” The whole of their most recent album, 2017’s Under the Lights, is pretty strong, with “Greene County” turning the classic leaving scenario on its head while “Little Black Dog” harkens back to a more traditional country sound.

Keep the country flavour of this poprock alive by slapping a few dollars down on cracker barrel, electronically speaking of course. Visit The Forresters, Rhett Miller, Steve Deaton Three, Dawes, the Jayhawks, and Midnight North online.

Propeller won’t let you down


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Propeller DELTLDPropeller blasted into 2016 with their terrific Ramones-inflected romp, “Turn On the Radio.” Now they ‘re back with another slab of hooky 1960s and New Wave inspired tunes on their just released Don’t Ever Let This Let You Down. The record kicks off with album’s clear hit single, “Summer Arrives.” A great atmospheric opening (that reminds me of Porter Block) gives way to a yearning and sweet melodic ode to the beach season that wouldn’t be out of place on any mid-period Teenage Fanclub album. Another really catchy number is “We’re Better Than Nothing” with its alluring lead guitar work. “Little Unsteady” has the ‘ahhs’ and jangly lead guitar lines of a great Primitives or Sugar deep album cut. “Girl I Know” has a wonderful confessional Replacements quality. Meanwhile “Days Collide” is like someone took an Everly Brothers’ track and ran it through a garage rock filter, the basic magic is there but tweaked with some raw guitar amplifier voltage. The basic point I’m making here should be clear – this whole record is a solid poprock workout, one that bears repeated listening.

Propeller are waiting for some enormous fan adulation and that starts with pressing this hyperlink which will take you to their internet real estate.  Let’s get this uncontrollable fame thing started.

Should be a hit single: The Stills “I’m With You”


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the-stills-call-it-quits-1342“I’m With You” should have been the song that shot Montreal band The Stills to international stardom. Instead, it was the last single they released before breaking up in 2011.  And that was a shame because “I’m With You” has all the hallmarks of a classic hit single. It opens with a killer hook that sets the pace for the whole song. The vocals are shimmery and understated, seemingly just behind the beat, giving the song a sense of urgency. The single opens with a distinctive clanging keyboard sound and ends just as mysteriously. And then chorus tag line “I’m with you” just keeps echoing in your head long after the song is over. Oh well. Really, it’s such a Canadian story – good press for albums one and two with some commercial success and Canadian radio play, culminating in what appears to be a positive international reception from critics for the last album, 2008’s Oceans Will Rise, including two Juno awards (Canadian Grammys). And then break up. Well, at least we can enjoy the band’s back catalogue.

To keep up with news about the Stills (such as it may be for a band that has disbanded) as well as updates on what former members are doing now, check out their Facebook page.

Feeling sanguine: The Lund Bros.


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Lund Bros

If you spend some time on Chris Lund’s website you might not feel so cheerful. The Lund Bros. story is all too common in the annals of rock and roll. Freakishly talented fellows slog away for decades, producing six albums of solid material, only to remain a regionally known quantity, mainly in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. But if you listen to the albums, you can’t help but be positive – this is simply marvelous stuff. From the early mix of influences on 1994’s Loving Cup, to the rejected demos for Geffen that would comprise the early-Beatles-sounding 1998 release Loser, you know you’re hearing a rising talent.I’ll Be ThereTold You So


That potential is definitely realized on the more slick and professionally produced International Pop Overthrow, released in 2002. Tracks like “Cain and Abel” sound a bit Matthew Sweet to me while the amazing “Power Lines” echoes the Britpop sound of The Real People or Cast. But really the whole album is strong on Beatles’ influence, particularly in the middle period Revolver era. Cain & AbelPower Lines

Lund SBFailing to sign with a major label in the new millenium, the band took up an interesting strategy with their next two records: both were self-released double albums. 2004’s Tangents rocks out and here the two Lund brothers’ early love of Led Zeppelin shows up, though some poprock does shine through on tracks like “Wrong.” 2008’s Songbook IV mines the power pop sound a bit more consistently, as evident on cuts like “Can’t Read You,” “Listen,” and many others. But, as an aside, check out guitarist Chris Lund’s amazing guitar chops on the solo for “Such a Ride.”ListenSuch a RideWrong

Lund SSeven years passed before the Lund Bros. returned with 2015’s Sanguine, a title meaning literally ‘cheerful amid difficult circumstances.’ Apt much? But if the band was discouraged, it doesn’t show on the recordings, which are stellar, particularly the nice cover of Badfinger’s “No Matter What.” The obvious single is the perfectly paced “Blue,” which opens with some nice acoustic guitar and then builds to a great, vocal harmony-drenched chorus. Another nice tune with a pretty amazing guitar solo is “Ballad of a Former Martyr.” The lead guitar line ripples out at the 1:15 mark with some pretty beautiful runs.BlueBallad of a Former Martyr

Nearly all the Lund Bros. material is readily available on iTunes or you can connect with the band on Facebook or Chris Lund’s exhaustively detailed website. And you really should.

Breaking news: Freedom Fry, Thrift Store Halo, Soccer Mommy, Andrew Taylor, and Dan Luke and the Raid


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Breaking carNew finds and fresh music from old favourites in this edition of breakings news, with an accent on unusual band names.

FF SAFreedom Fry keep turning out great singles. The combination of Parisian-born Marie Seyrat and American Bruce Driscoll produce a sophisticated brand of dreamy poprock, full of hooks. We previously highlighted “Stop, Stop, Stop” and their remake of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” as well as their holiday single “Oh Santa (Bad World).” Now they’re back with a fresh, swinging slice of easy-going, car-driving, breeze-in-your-hair poprock called “Strange Attraction,” also the title track from their to-be-released EP. This song bodes well for what is to come.

TSH PRThrift Store Halo have a great name, great artwork and a great story. And their music is pretty good too. Dial back the time machine to 1998 and TSH appear on the verge of breaking with an album in the can, major label interest, and a possible national tour with an up and coming band called Train. A few bad decisions later and the band split, members heading for law school, a lucrative art career, and home renos. And that was a shame because their only full length album, World Gone Mad, is a lost treasure.  Personal fave tracks include “Crashing In” and “With You Here.” But the lure of rock and roll proved too strong and now the band is back after a near 20 year absence with a snappy new EP, Pop-Rocket. The new album sound is a bit leaner, reminding me a bit of Ike in their prime. Stand out tracks: “Get Over You” and “I’m Not Through.”Get Over YouI’m Not Through

SM OWSophie Allison is Soccer Mommy, a one-woman, bedroom-recording, Bandcamp phenomenon. Up to now her songs have been defined by their spare, stripped down intimacy, but on her new EP Collection Allison strikes up the band to give some old material more life and new material a decidedly more polished debut. “Out Worn” is new song that nonetheless adds to Allison’s litany of despairing lonely relationship songs but check out the languid guitar lines and sibilant hooky vocals, sometimes drifting to the dreamy side only to be righted with some great background vocals. Repeated plays definitely brings extra benefits.

AT FTOLIThis blog loves Dropkick so there is no surprise we think the new Andrew Taylor solo release, From the Outside Looking In, is pretty special. All the Dropkick strengths are here: driving rhythmic guitars, layered lead and background vocals, and hooks a-plenty. “Someone” takes off and never quits, propelled by a strong rhythm section and some pretty sweet vocal harmonies. “Who We Really Are” channels just a hint of Teenage Fanclub with its loping pace and earnest, sweet sounding vocal delivery. “Standing Still” is a swinging dollop of country poprock. Another should-be hit album from a key member of Scotland’s most under-appreciated melody makers.

DLRRounding out this entry is a band I just saw open for Declan Mckenna at his great recent debut on Canadian soil: Dan Luke and the Raid. Who? Exactly. I’d never heard of them and I don’t think most of the audience had either. But from the moment they got started, they had the audience in the palm of their hand. Bowling Green, Kentucky’s latest find played a strong set of catchy tunes, most of which are still not available anywhere. So for the time being, check out “Black Cat Heavy Metal,” an ever so slightly psych-poprock number. I do look forward to the EP release, if only to hear the wonderful “Tragic Symphony” again.

What do Freedom Fry, Thrift Store Halo, Soccer Mommy, Andrew Taylor, and Dan Luke and the Raid all have in common? They need to see you make a visit to their internet portal and check them out today.

Summer treats: Et Tu Brucé, The Tripwires, Gigolo Aunts, Smith & Hayes, and Dillon Fence


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summer treatSummer’s here and the time is right for some treats. No, not the ice cream truck – musical treats. What follows are some bands I missed the first time around but have come to know through a host of fantastic Facebook music groups. Accent on melody, harmony and hooks!

Et Tu Brucé describe their sound as hybrid pop music, specifically ‘west London meets the west coast.’ Hard not to hear the Bryds on tracks like “Stars Fall” from their 2013 debut album Suburban Sunshine or “Hey Blue” from 2016’s follow up, the self titled Et Tu Brucé. But the band’s standout track for me is the magical “Never Seen You Cry”: wonderful tinkly piano, solid acoustic guitar anchoring the song, and shimmery vocal harmony and overlapping vocal lines make this a should-be hit single.

Another band hitting the sibilant vocal lines hard would be Seattle’s The Tripwires, at least on our featured tune. A bona fide indie supergroup with members from bands like Minus 5, the Model Rockets and the Young Fresh Fellows, the Tripwires have put out a handful of great records, with influences ranging from pop punk and old time rock and roll to alt country and new wave. “Big Electric Light” is from 2007’s Makes You Look Around and it melds a wall of vocal harmony with some jangly guitar lines to deliver a hooky masterpiece.

Slipping back in time to 1994, our next treat is from New York state’s Gigolo Aunts with a track that was featured on their first major break out album, Flippin’ Out as well as the soundtrack to the movie Dumb and Dumber. “Wherever I Find My Heaven” features a Marshal Crenshaw-like guitar buzz throughout the song as well as a great wash of background vocals. From the killer opening riff you’ll be hooked.

SHComing back more to the present, check out Smith & Hayes lightly swinging poprock gem from their 2014 album People All Over the World, “Slow Down.” These guys emote some pretty impressive 1970s soft rock chops, a time when melody seemed inoffensive but was actually ear worm intensive. Previous albums by the band (e.g. 2007’s Changed By a Song) showcased their command of the late Beatles era sound and that work undergirds this single. From the harmonica opening, to the acoustic guitar lead lines, to the ever so subtle and building vocal hooks, you’ll be hitting repeat on this one.Smith & Hayes – Slow Down

DFOur last treat is a bit of an outlier for North Carolina’s Dillon Fence, a group whose material usually had a bit more bite. But “Bite of an Apple” is a delightful vocally-focused lilting tune that really takes off with some nice interplay amongst vocal lines, all over top of a consistent ringing rhythm guitar. The song appears on the 2004 collection Best +. Though the band’s recording career only spanned 1991-94, this song was one of a number specially recorded in the early 2000s for this release.Dillon Fence – Bite of an Apple

Some of these bands are still going, some are gone, but all have product that undoubtedly will help with somebody’s retirement. Check out Et Tu Brucé, The Tripwires, Gigolo Aunts, Smith & Hayes, and Dillon Fence at the highlighted internet locations.

Celebrity poprock: What’s in a name?


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filmPutting a famous name in your song title would seem to be a sure fire way to have a hit. Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” or Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” readily come to mind. But really, those are the exceptions. A quick search of the internet actually turns up a whole bevy of celebrity names on songs, mostly on the indie side of things, most of them album cuts. So why do bands do it? Homage? Satire? Or are they just as celebrity obsessed as everyone else? The French duo Please was formed and recorded a song with the sole explicit intent of getting a response from Paul McCartney – not that Paul appeared to notice! The range of material covered in this post gives us a bit of all these approaches, from hero worship, to ridicule, to little more than just mentioning the celebrity name.

Pinehurst Kids’ “Jody Foster” burns along with an edgy indie sound, just the sort of ‘tude’ you expect from a song named for this actor. Punky, but with an underlying melodic coherence and musical depth. Kevine Devine’s Bad Books is a bit more polished but retains distinct edginess on “Forest Whitaker,” a song about some intense person that has named their baby after the aforementioned intense actor. Love how the keyboards gel with the electric guitar on this track – a killer sound. Eytan Mirsky lightens the mood a bit with his breezy melodic charmer “(I Just Wanna Be Your) Steve McQueen.” Here McQueen’s movie roles are conjured up to aid our singing protagonist in expressing his romantic aspirations – in inimitable Mirsky style (sardonic yet somehow sincere). Geezer are from Austria and have a number of great albums under their belt, including their latest Life in Stereo. Their celebrity-named song goes back a few years and is a straight up glowing tribute to its namesake. In fact, “Jeff Lynne” has so many references to actual Electric Light Orchestra lyrics it’s a wonder he didn’t get a writing credit! There is something a bit ironic about a loving tribute to ELO, a band that was often seen as a loving tribute to previous generation of music, particularly the Beatles.Geezers – Jeff Lynne

Today’s blog theme also gives me a chance to feature another song by the great and gorgeous Cait Brennan, namely the intense, melodic and hilarious “Benedict Cumberbatch.” Another underappreciated star that can be included here is former Green on Red frontman, Chuck Prophet, who has been creating a solid body of fantastic solo work over the past decade. “Bobby Fuller Died for you Sins” is a loving recreation of the Fuller sound, with a little Prophet magic mixed in. In the ‘now for something completely different’ category, Fastball’s new record Step Into Light has a host of highlights but one that might be overlooked is the unusual and sonically distinctive “Lillian Gish.” Is there nothing these guys can’t do? Ok, let’s change things up with a bit of humour. A lot of Gregory Pepper’s work is droll and biting. “I’m Bill Murray” has the singer using Murray’s filmic exploits to explain his increasingly bad behavior. Maxi-cool hooks here and so many in such a short song. It’s like a minute and twenty-four second melodic miniature painting. Jonathan Coulton uses more in-your-face put-down humour on his “Tom Cruise Crazy.” Hilarious. No further explanation is really required.Cait Brennan – Benedict CumberbatchFastball – Lillian GishJonathan Coulton – Tom Cruise Crazy

The one thing binding all these acts, beyond writing a celebrity-named song, is that none are really celebrities in the way that term is commonly understood. But wouldn’t it be great if Please, Pinehurst Kids, Bad Books, Eytan Mirsky, Geezer, Cait Brennan, Chuck Prophet, Fastball, Gregory Pepper and his Problems, and Jonathan Coulton were great big fantastically successful celebrities? What a wonderful world that would be. Take the first step toward that future by visiting them today.

Say hello to the Bye Bye Blackbirds


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BBB TOTPBradley Skaught’s Bye Bye Blackbirds combine the west coast, late-1960s sound (e.g. Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, etc.) with some of Tom Petty’s southern rock and roll heft to produce a solid album of killer tunes on their new Take Out the Poison. The latest record departs from the more slick, high production sound of previous releases like 2013’s We Need the Rain and 2011’s Fixed Hearts (both great albums, BTW) for a more laid back, rootsy feel. “Earl Grey Kisses” sets the tone, opening things in a spare fashion with some great bass and a bit of guitar lead line, building to some nice harmony-drenched hooks in the chorus. Vocals are really to the fore on a lot of the songs on this release. Check out “Duet,” a lovely single with Lindsay Paige Garfield sharing vocals (and adding a nice country element) on some clever musical wordplay or the super harmony vocals on the Tom Petty-ish “Baby We’re Fine.” Speaking of Tom Petty, the previously released “Let Your Hair Fall Down” appears here and it oozes a great Petty vibe. Other influences could be noted – the Elvis Costello-y “Wasted” or hauntingly Big Star/Elliott Smith-like acoustic guitar and vocals on “I Meant to Write” – but the songs really stand on their own as compositions. A surprising highlight of the record is the band’s cover of Bill Monroe’s country and western classic, “Poison Love,” delivered here with a rootsy rock and roll verve worthy of Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds or Elvis Costello in a more Memphis mood.

Baby We’re FinePoison Love

The new record officially drops August 25 but you can preview new tracks on Bandcamp here.

Around the dial: Raveis Kole, The Hangabouts, Eyelids, and EZTV


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radio dialAs we move around the dial on this post we cover a wide range of sound, from retro stylings, to melodic pop, to guitar hooks, to a cool hipster vibe.

Laurie Raveis and Dennis Kole are Raveis Kole, a late-blooming, retro-sounding blast of 1960s cool. Title track “Electric Blue Dandelion” really captures it all with its pronounced musical swagger, rapturous ‘ahhs’ on the background vocals, and very Janis-bluesy lead vocals. But note their fun side – Chris Isaak’s smouldering “Wicked Game” lightens up considerably in their rhumba-inspired make-over.Electric Blue DandelionWicked Game

Moving into more clear poprock territory, The Hangabouts deliver a great duet with Molly Felder on “Sinking Feeling,” a song that exudes shades of Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze or Aimee Mann. Check out the nice Strawberry Fields Forever organ solo about half way through. This song and the very Fountains of Wayne “Evelyn Wood” are featured on the band’s latest release, Kits and Cats and Saxon Wives.

From the opening strains of “Slow it Goes” I knew I’d found some kind of lost super-group. Turns out the band Eyelids is comprised of current and former members of such indie stalwarts as the Decembrists, Guided by Voices and Drive-By Truckers. So, talent to spare, obviously. Just listen to the super cool, hooky guitar work that opens “Camelot” or “Don’t (Please) Come Around.” But while the hooks may grab you, the songs stick in your head because they’re really well-written tunes, expertly played. Their latest LP is Or.

Our final turn of the dial takes us to New York City’s EZTV, a band that brings the dawn of country rock into the indie hipster mainstream on albums like 2015’s Calling Out and their most recent High in Place. These guys have clearly spent some time with their International Submarine Band and Byrds records. But rather than going the homage route, they’ve taken the influences in new directions, overlaying new harmonic dimensions onto the basic late 1960s sound, particularly vocally. Two illustrative examples, one from each album, make the case. “That’s Where You Belong” is closest to influences like the Byrds while “Reasons to Run” breaks with tradition more clearly.

Raveis Kole, The Hangabouts, Eyelids, and EZTV are all out there, just waiting to become somebody’s new favourite band. Will you answer the call?

Should be a hit single: Essex Green “Don’t Know Why (You Stay)”


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Essex GreenEssex Green is band that seemed to come to the brink of stardom only to disappear. Their third album, 2006’s Cannibal Sea, was widely praised by critics and built on their growing fan base. They seemed well placed to take off. Then nothing. In a recent interview with Pop Matters, one of the band’s lead singers, Sasha Bell, attributed it to just life intervening in that surprising and disruptive way it can. “Don’t Know Why (You Stay)” features Essex Green’s other lead vocalist, Chris Zita, and is a slow burn of a hit single, building from a very low key opener that only really accelerates in the chorus with some nice Byrdsian and Mama and Papas vocal touches. But wait for the instrumental interlude – it’s a 1960s museum tour of great sounds like backward masked sounding organ and some trebly guitar.

On the good news front, Essex Green are working on a new album right now. Put your name down to hear what they come up with at their Facebook page or explore their back catalogue on Bandcamp.