All Hopped Up on NRBQ

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Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 10.13.04 PMHow many bands can boast 22 albums of original material, 11 live albums, and 14 compilations? Ok, maybe the Rolling Stones. But NRBQ’s legacy is all the more surprising in that they have held a band together despite pretty limited commercial success. Founded in 1966, the group has run through 16 members over the decades, though Terry Adams, Al Anderson, Joey Spampinato and Tom Ardolino clocked the most time. And that helps explain the consistently high quality of their recordings. While the Stones pretty much ran out of creative steam post-Tattoo You, NRBQ continued to recombine their distinctive band of country and jazz-tinged poprock influences into winning tunes. Not familiar with their canon? Relax. There’s a hit single-worthy winner on every album, usually more than one!

You Can’t Hide

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 10.33.41 PMThe band’s 1969 major label debut was simply titled NRBQ and therein lay the quirky, melodic, deceptively simple, intensely musical formula they have refined ever since. Half covers, half original material, only “You Can’t Hide” sounded vaguely rock and roll in a conventional sense. Then came an album with Carl Perkins (1970’s Boppin’ the Blues) and their first label drop. 1972’s Scraps saw the band bounce back, showcasing their mastery of old-timey poprock on tracks like “Only You.” Then came 1977’s All Hopped Up and NRBQ had musically and creatively arrived. From the Beach Boys-like background vocals animating “Riding In My Car” to the CCR-ish “Help Me Somebody” to the sweet harmony soaked “Still in School” to the Byrdsian “That’s Alright” the band anticipated the sixties-reviving new wave scene that was to come. The next few years witnessed a slew of should-be hits emerge like “I Want You Bad” from 1978’s At Yankee Stadium and “Me And The Boys” from 1980s Tiddly Winks, the latter also featuring the Everly-ish “Beverly,” the Beatlesque “That I Get Back Home,” and a great updated cover of their own “You Can’t Hide.” 1983’s Grooves in Orbit had the hooky rocker “A Girl Like That” while 1985 saw the band record a sweet album with Skeeter Davis (She Sings, They Play).

Riding In My CarI Want You BadThat I Get Back Home

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 10.34.47 PMDespite strong albums, almost constant touring, and the occasional major label release, NRBQ has remained a band seemingly on the verge of success without ever quite breaking through. Even a tour with R.E.M. and the Virgin-released Wild Weekend in 1989 couldn’t put them over the top. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of solid material. Personally I love “Boy’s Life” and “If I Don’t Have You” from Wild Weekend, the rumbly guitar anchoring “A Little Bit Of Bad” from 1994’s Message from the Mess Age, the jazzy overtones on “Ain’t No Horse” from 1999’s NRBQ (The Yellow Album), the vocal harmonies on “Love Is Waiting” from 2002’s Atsa My Band, and the eccentric mélange of styles on “Call of the Wild” from 2004’s Dummy. The band went on hiatus after Dummy but resurfaced in 2011 and 2014 with strong albums that rivalled some of their best work. From 2011’s Keep This Love Goin’ I’d single out the swinging title cut, along with “I’m Satisfied, “Here I Am” and “The Animal Life.” 2014’s Brass Tracks is frankly, pretty amazing: a rich trove of fresh, solid songwriting and great playing. Check out “It’ll Be Alright,” I’d Like to Know,” “Can’t Wait to Kiss You” and “Love This Love We Got.”

If I Don’t Have YouA Little Bit of BadKeep This Love GoinIt’ll Be Alright

Before the internet put band bios at our fingertips we used to have buy music compendiums from the likes of New Music Express, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and the Trouser Press. I’d seen mention of NRBQ in most from my late teens but only really just discovered them recently. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing! If I had a poprock hall of fame NRBQ would be charter members. Get caught up with them at their website and Facebook page.

Jangle Thursday – The Maureens, The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, The Well Wishers and The Embyros

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Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.51.56 PMThursday needs jangle like Sunday needs a weekend extender. It’s something to brighten your just-past-midweek spirits, put a little sparkle in your step, and turn up the corners of those pursed lips.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.53.43 PMThe Maureens emerged from Utrech, Netherlands in 2015 with an amazing record, Bang the Drum, a album brimming with catchy tunes slathered in delicate harmonies. Last year the band teased fans with bimonthly single releases that promised even greater things. Now what is probably my most anticipated album of 2019 has arrived and it is nothing short of stupendous! Something In The Air kicks off with the three 2018 singles, definitely a solid start, with “4AM” and “Twenty Years for the Company” both vibing a strong Teenage Fanclub jangle. But I also hear an older set of influences on tracks like “Turn the Page” and “Something in the Air,” very Crosby Stills Nash and the Byrds respectively. Other highlights for me include the bittersweet “Valentine,” “Wake Up,” and the ear wormy “Can’t Stop.” But drop your needle anywhere on this record and you won’t go wrong. This is a band in full control of their ouvre.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.54.43 PMFrom the moment I heard the fat jangle anchoring “Nervous Man” from the rather mysterious The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness I knew I was on to something special. Now that we know that TBWTPN is Andrew Taylor from Dropkick and Gonzalo Marcos of El Palacio de Linares the song’s quality really is no surprise. Dead Calm is their first full length release and it delivers on the promise of that first stellar single. Jangle permeates every inch of this record, perfectly showcasing some strong songwriting. This is evident right from the start with hooky, guitar-run heavy “TBWTPN,” which cleverly re-uses the song title from The Feelies that inspired this band’s own name. From there it’s one very pleasant tune after another: “Anything At All,” “Close the Doors,” and the more country-ish “Southern Words.” This album’s a let-it-run-through soundtrack of good times.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.55.38 PMJeff Shelton’s The Well Wishers have a new two-sided single out that contains a killer original song and an impressive cover. Check out the ringing guitar hooks on “Feelin Fine.” Folks, this is the Matthew Sweet single we’ve all been waiting for! Jeff’s spelling might be spotty, but his ear for candy-coated hooks is spot on. Meanwhile for the B side Jeff decided to cover Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News.” Ouch! That is one tall order as Buckingham’s vocals alone are nearly impossible to match or replace in any listener’s sense of what the song should sound like. But Shelton manages to pull it off, mixing just enough ragged DIY charm with his professional chops to give his version its own identity. Is this a teaser for a fab new album? We can only hope so.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 4.56.46 PMChicago’s The Embyros lean heavily on a Teenage Fanclub/Byrds sound on their new extended singles project, Singles Club Volume 1, particularly “Wasting All Your Time.” The two other tracks here will also delight jangle ears. But why stop there? The band’s 2018 album Open the Kimono is chock full of indie pop rock treats. “Circleville” has an unpolished indie charm while “Wake Up Screaming” reminds me of that smooth California sound the Popravinas have going on their recent records. I love “Bad Old Days” with it’s country-ish Beatles crossover feel. And then the band delivers a nice melodic rock and roll ending with “Eleven Forty.” These guys are a real tuneful diamond in the rough.

Jangle is as much a state of mind as an actual character of sound. The Maureens, The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, The Well Wishers and The Embyros can all keep you in that state of musical non-suspended animation. Click on the band names and sign up for a direct hit today.

Breaking news: Johnny Stanec, The John Sally Ride and Whoa Melodic

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Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 5.50.19 PMGuitars to the front of the line! Great poprock relies heavily on the guitar, particularly rhythm guitar. As Nick Lowe said recently, it’s supposed to rock and roll but there’s precious little appreciation of the roll part, which is harder to get right than it sounds. This week’s breaking news puts the guitar’s rhythm in its proper place.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 5.56.17 PMOn his new release, Things Were Better, When, Johnny Stanec increases the frenetic pace of his beat-oriented rock and roll with plenty of shimmering guitars and ‘ooh’ worthy background vocals. Rhythm guitar anchors this record on tracks like “Secret World” and the outstanding opening number, “You’re the Only One (Not a Love Song).” Harkening back to a mid-1980s indie guitar sound that bravely withstood the synth onslaught, songs like “I’m Fine, I Swear” and “If I’m Wrong” remind of mid-period Grapes of Wrath. This is guitar-driven poprock, par excellence. Stanec only pauses for breath on the wonderful mixed-tempo “The Things You Fear.” I thought “Don’t Know What To Do” from last year’s The Future of Nothing was pretty special but Stanec clearly has not come close to peaking yet. Forget the singles, Things Were Better, When is a worthy full album purchase.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 5.55.20 PMThere are considerable parts of The John Sally Ride new album Nothing Doing that sound like great lost songs from a Squeeze recording session circa 1982-3. “Embarrassingly Single” has a very Squeeze-like song structure with a vocal that is pure Glen Tilbrook while “Nothing Doing” just oozes the Deptford fun sound. Other tracks on the album rock things up a bit more with a Kinks-like rhythm guitar feel – see “Considered It Considered” and “All or Nothing.” But my personal fave is the lovely “You Wear Your Heart On Your Both Your Sleeves” with its seductive harmony vocals. The guys also work up a dopey, endearing dad sort of humour on tracks like “I Won’t Let Failure Go To My Head.” All in all, Nothing Doing is a stellar follow up 2017’s great A New Set of Downs.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 5.54.46 PMWhoa Melodic is an anagram for Michael Woods, the creative force behind the one-man band of the same name. It’s also the name of the project’s debut release. This obvious playfulness is all over the compositions featured on the record, which range from the strummy poprock of “I Will Never Let You Down” to the chimey, addictive repetition of “To See You Again” to ambling-along-on-a-sunny-day fingerpicking on “Sprint Forward Fall Back.” Woods is expert at embedding catch-you-off guard ear worm quality hooks all over this record. I love the almost pumping lurch of “Hopeless and Lonely,” the delicate tenderness of “Ring Your Friends” but the album’s killer track for me is “Hit Me Where It Hurts” with hooky lead line opener, swing feel, and organ and harmonic shots. This record is the fun house hit parade, just a bit wonky and out of synch but delightful for it.

This is not all the breaking news, it’s the news I could fit in right now. Still, click on Johnny Stanec, The John Sally Ride and Whoa Melodic to stay at least moderately well informed (and entertained at the same time).

Deep-cutting Weezer

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Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 4.07.19 PMWeezer can’t seem to catch a break from the critics. They’re releasing too many albums, they complain. The records are too commercial, they say. Blah, blah, etc. I just can’t see it. This is a band with a distinctive delivery no matter the genre, trying out new directions, while continuing to write great songs. Here’s the proof – I can find a fabulous deep cut on every single Weezer long player.

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 4.12.16 PMLet’s start with the just released Weezer (Black Album). I think I like this one almost as much as Weezer (Blue Album) in terms of songwriting and general listenability. So many great songs here but, excluding hit singles, my fave deep cut is “Too Many Thoughts In My Head” with its soaring hook in the chorus. The Weezer (Teal Album) has taken a lot of flak for delivering a load of cover songs that mimic the originals a bit too well and I have to admit I do wish they had Weezer-ized all those hits more. But that’s why I love their version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Rivers is no Annie Lennox so his vocal gives the track an unmistakable Weezer vibe. 2017’s Pacific Daydream has the band feeling the beach love but also contains my absolute fave Weezer deep cut, “Any Friend of Diane’s.” Ear worm central! The song is like Weezer channeling a bit Sugar Ray. 2016’s Weezer (White Album) also mines the beach theme on various songs, though the campfire acoustic resonance of “Endless Bummer” is held in check by anti-summer sentiment. From 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End I’ve chosen the power poppy “I’ve Had It Up To Here.”

Any Friend of Diane’sEndless BummerI’ve Had It Up To Here

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 4.14.28 PM2010 witnessed the band release two albums, Hurley and Death to False Metal, the latter a collection of unreleased leftover material from previous albums. From the former release, “Ruling Me” has a sneaky hook that slams home in the chorus with a rush of glorious melody while “Odd Couple” from DTFM chugs along with more subtle charms. 2009’s Raditude tempted me to go with “I’m Your Daddy” with its straight up pop hooks but the quasi-pop psychedelic “Love Is The Answer” ultimately won out with its fascinating Indian interlude and 1960s-worthy sing along chorus. From 2008’s Weezer (Red Album) I love the Brian Bell vocal and songwriting chops on “Thought I Knew.” The songs on 2005’s Make Believe were a bit overshadowed by the monster hit, “Beverly Hills,” but I think “The Damage In Your Heart” ranks with any of the best Weezer tunes. 2002’s Maladroit notched up the heaviness in Weezer’s sound but a sweet melody manages to define “Slave,” particularly in the chorus. My choice from 2001’s Weezer (Green Album) is technically not a deep cut. Well, actually, it was the album’s third single. But “Photograph” has such great woo hoos that I had to include it.  From the band’s second album, 1996’s Pinkerton, I cheated a little and went for a cut from the deluxe edition, the exquisite “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly.”

Ruling MeOdd CoupleLove Is The AnswerThought I KnewThe Damage In Your HeartSlavePhotographYou Gave Me Your Love Softly

Which brings us back to the killer debut album, 1994’s Weezer, later known as Weezer (Blue Album). Here there’s an embarrassment of deep cut riches but, in the end, I settled on the irresistibly tuneful “In The Garage.” And there you have it, practically a Weezer deep cuts greatest hits or maybe Weezer (Camouflage Album).

In The Garage

Ah Weezer, you never let me down. I may not have loved everything but there’s always been something to love. Oh, is that another new album on the horizon? Keep track of Weezer at their website and Facebook page.

More 50 foot women: Mary Lou Lord, Liz Phair, and Robin Lane and the Chartbusters

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Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 12.17.51 PMThree more women whose towering talent took them some way through the testosterone-fueled music scenes of the 1970s through 1990s and beyond. It was a time of a few break out female rock and rollers, like Blondie’s Debbie Harry or Patti Smith or The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. But to read women’s stories about getting discovered, getting signed to a label, getting into the recording the studio and on the road, it’s quickly becomes pretty clear that gender remained a defining element of their experience, different than men. We can hope that their stellar accomplishments have helped shift things a bit.

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 12.19.48 PMI think I first heard Mary Lou Lord on a CMJ CD sampler that used to accompany the magazine back in the nineties and I was hooked. I was pretty broke that decade, working my way through grad school, but I decided to splurge on 1998’s Got No Shadow and it was worth every penny. So many should-be hits! From the sweet seductive ‘na, na, na’s and exquisite jangle of “His Latest Flame” to the acoustic swing of “Western Union Desperate” to the killer poprock rollout on “Lights Are Changing” – I was only three songs in and felt I’d gotten my money’s worth. And then I heard “The Lucky One,” “She Had You,” and “Some Jingle Jangle Morning,” and it was pretty clear that MLL was a major talent, both as a songwriter and performer. And the wistful mellow vibe on “Two Boats” was pretty special. Since then Lord has really only released two more albums proper (of completely new material), 2004’s Baby Blue and 2015’s Backstreet Angels. The former is worth it just for “Cold Kilburn Rain” while the latter rivals her debut for songwriting strengths and folk-cum-poprock charming delivery. Highlights for me include “You Can Count On Me” with Joni Mitchell-esqe opening jangle, “By The Time My Head Gets to Phoenix,” and the obvious single “My Buddy Valentine.” But the whole record delivers.Western Union DesperateShe Had YouCold Kilburn Rain

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 12.20.56 PMHer staggering debut Exile in Guyville put a run on the superlative bank. It seemed hipster reviewers just couldn’t praise Liz Phair hard enough. And she deserved it. Personally I love “Help Me Mary” and “Johnny Sunshine.” Follow up records Whip Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg got more hipster love, though perhaps at a lower volume, and more great songs like “Perfect World” and Johnny Feelgood.” But when Phair shifted gears into a more polished poprock direction on her self-titled Liz Phair album, the hipsters turned nasty. But I love it! It showcases her amazing range of talent and depth as a songwriter and performer. If this is being commercial, then more artists should aspire to it. Of course the song-factory record-company production-assembly-lines wish they could write songs this good. Opening track “Extraordinary” is, well, really really good. “Why Can’t I” is an obvious should-be hit single. But the rest of album has so many highlights: “Little Digger,” the naughty “H.W.C.,” “Friend of Mine,” and “Good Love Never Dies.” Since then Phair has released just two albums, 2005’s Somebody’s Miracle and 2010’s Funstyle, both chock full of great tunes like “Stars and Planets” and “Satisfied.” Hopefully an album of new material is somewhere in our near future.Johnny SunshineJohnny Feelgood

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 12.22.09 PMFiled under great lost gems is the entire catalogue of Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. Just three albums but they are pretty pure rock and roll bliss. There is something about what came together musically in the period between 1978 and 1981. Clearly spurred on by punk’s challenge to a vapid mainstream, rock and roll bands remade their sound, adding urgency, relevance, and tighter, guitar-centric sound. Robin Lane had already been working the rock and roll scene for more than a decade but what came together on her two Warner Brothers records was distinctive, original and could go toe to toe with any of the other women-led rock and roll bands of the period. The 1980 self-titled debut has so many great tracks: “When Things Go Wrong,” “Don’t Cry,” and “I Don’t Want to Know.” A year later Imitation Life kept the winning sound alive on tracks like “Pretty Mala” and “Idiot” (the latter featuring killer handclaps and jangly lead guitar). Then, nothing. For all the usual reasons the band broke up. But the 2003 reunion album Piece of Mind was perhaps their best yet with a surfeit of great tunes like “The Last One to Know,” “She Wants You Back,” and “In My World.” Lane’s singing here is stronger than ever. If you missed (like I did) the first time around, fear not. The band has a new hits album to get you caught up: Many Years Ago: The Complete Robin Lane and the Chartbusters Collection.

When Things Go WrongIdiotLast One to Know

When I started in commercial radio back in mid-1980s the rule was you never played female vocalists back to back. Yup. That was the gendered listening biases of the male program directors and industry leaders. Mary Lou Lord, Liz Phair, and Robin Lane and the Chartbusters show just how stupid such rules were. Stick it to the man by buying their records now.

Winter’s got its hooks in me

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olli-ko-1278839-unsplashIt’s been snowing all day. Pretty, from my vantage point looking out the living room window. But not pleasant when the inevitable shoveling shift must begin. Winter has seriously got its hooks in us up here in North America’s more northern nation and so it seemed only fitting to feature the most winterish hooks on the blog!

These days Norway appears to be a hotbed of amazing poprock acts and Olso’s American Suitcase is no exception. The seasonally titled “Polar Nights” has a cool late 1960s indie vibe, with vocals that sound like a cross between Canned Heat’s Bob Hite and Neil Young, and super chimey guitar work. Who cares if we’re snowed in if this is on the stereo! Moving next door to another great winter nation, Sweden, the aptly named Swedish Polarbears exude a Brydsian aura on their ode to this season, “Winter.” Yes, there is definitely a Teenage Fanclub feel to the tempo and overall rhythm section of the song, producing an inspired performance. Shifting gears (and continents), Los Angeles’ Faded Paper Figures combine techno keyboard, acoustic guitar and breathy vocals on the exquisite “North By North,” a curious and engaging bit of songwriting and performance. Meanwhile on the American east coast, Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney puts an arpeggiated acoustic guitar upfront on the lovely “Northern Highway,” a killer track from his 2015 solo record, Many Moons. Rounding out our selection of melody rich winter tunes is “Wintertime Blues” from the now defunct Dallas band, The Blurries. A loss for sure as their 2011 album Paper Cuts is a wall of melody-drenched poprock. Meanwhile, “Wintertime Blues” has an eerie feel, sort of Moody Blues meets the more poppy side of psych rock.

American Suitcase – Polar NightsThe Blurries – Wintertime Blues

Winter’s on us bad but we can still feel the warmth of the sun listening to a good poprock song. Dial up these artists to get your shot of musical vitamin D.

A tiny spark of Brendan Benson

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Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 11.15.25 PMThe buzz about the new Raconteurs record is all over the music press so we’re starting to see Brendan Benson’s name increasingly bandied about. To be honest though, I really much prefer Brendan’s solo flights. Don’t get me wrong, his work with the band is great, particularly the hook-laden “Steady As She Goes.” But there is something about his solo work that gets straight to the melodic point for me. Exhibit A: “Tiny Spark,” from his stellar 2002 LP Lapalco. The striking keyboard opener draws you in to a lurching, driving poprock gem. Benson combines just the right amount of repetition and novelty to keep the listener on edge, in a good way. This was my first exposure to his work and I was blown away. On the bus from Toronto to my job in Peterborough in 2006 I wore out the repeat button on my iPod mini. Then I discovered the whole album was a keeper, with uptempo songs like “Good To Me,” “You’re Quiet” and “What” all candidates for potential follow up singles, while the more low key numbers like “Metarie” and “Jet Lag” showcased his Lennon-esque songwriting depth. No doubt co-writing nearly half the album (including “Tiny Spark”) with the super talented, melody maestro Jason Faulkner didn’t hurt.

Imagine my delight to discover a previous and subsequent release at the same time! One Mississippi kicked things off in 1996 and all the essential elements of Benson’s songwriting and performance genius were in evidence: strong material, crisp production and plenty of hooks. But it was the 2005 follow-up to Lapalco to turned me into a confirmed Benson-ite. Alternative to Love is flawless poprock record, full of earwormy, should-be hits like “Spit It Out” and “Warm Hands Cold Heart.” Both songs have siren-like seductive musical hooks that I associate with the very best of AM hit-making. “Spit It Out” has a fantastic charging rhythm guitar while “Warm Hands Cold Heart” relies on a hypnotic, atmospheric keyboard line to pull you in and keep you listening. The rest of album is solid, alternating tempo and attack, with many striking a Beatlesque acoustic vibe. Since then Benson’s been busy with The Raconteurs and a host of other projects with just a few, sporadic solo projects slipped in. But they contain some special moments too, like “Eyes on the Horizon” from 2009’s My Old, Familiar Friend, the title track from 2012’s What Kind of World, and “A Whole Lot Better” from 2013’s You Were Right.

Brendan Benson is a testament to poprock’s continuing health as a broad church genre. You can find him on Facebook, bandcamp and the usual digital music retailers.

Shopping the blogroll: Absolute Poprock

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Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 6.35.59 PMBack in the eighties my day off usually involved doing a circuit of downtown Vancouver record stores, new and used. Ah, the excitement of new finds! Fast forward to the new millennium and the blogs on my blogroll have largely replaced physical record stores as the places to discover great new tunes. Their year-end, best-of lists are particularly helpful in filling in any great artists I’ve missed (and I miss a lot!). This year I got a lot of great tips from one of the leading powerpop blogs: Absolute Powerpop. He’s not the most prolific blogger – posts tend to come in quarterly installments these days – but what goes up is pretty pure on the quality side of things. Thus today’s tribute, my Absolute Poprock distillation of his site’s influence.

Dutch band Afterpartees have an easygoing, almost slacker rock and roll sound evident on songs like “Call Out Your Name” with it’s addictive background lead line but they can also turn on a more urgent and uptempo rock vibe as showcased on “Ultimate Warriers.” But I think like “Easy Money” from the Life is Easy album best with its swinging sense of fun. Shifting to the UK Amoeba Teen have been at it a long, long time, and it shows in the quality songcraft featured on the compilation album, Selection Box Vol. 1. So much to love here but I’m grooving pretty hard on “Under Your Skin” with its dreamy Teenage Fanclub aura. Over now to the American west coast where Van William melds that warm California sound with some Alaskan cool (being a native of both locales) nicely captured on his wonderful duet with Sweden’s First Aid Kit, “Revolution.” But it’s also there on the more folky “Cosmic Sign,” a song I initially mistook for a new Family of the Year single, it’s so reminiscent of that band’s signature crisp acoustic guitar and lush vocal harmonies. Back to the UK with Alfa 9, a band that won’t be rushed. They seem to put out a new album every 6 years. But if last year’s My Sweet Movida is anything to go by, they are more than worth the wait. I love the almost title track “Movida” with it’s strong Ennio Morricone-isms, i.e. a strong western electric guitar twang and that moody whistling. But the standout single has to be the Byrdsian “Different Corner” with it’s killer jangle and harmony vocal-stoked hooks.

Alfa 9 – Different Corner

For something a bit different, check out the psych rock sound of Painted Doll. “Together Alone” kicks off like the bastard child of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and never looks back. By contrast, Nicholas Altobelli is all sweetness on his EP The Day-Olds, particularly on tracks like “Everybody Knows the Truth” and “Waiting on the Stars.” But I find myself drawn to the dorky delight that is “Why Can’t You Love Me Love Like You Used To?” where Alotobelli appears to be channeling Ben Vaughn’s deadpan delivery. Now if you want a solid album purchase dial up Brett Newskis Life Upside Down. This baby is chock full of tasty should-be hits, showcased nicely on the album’s featured single and video, “Ride.” But I’ve chosen “The Afternoons” as your must-hear track. The opening guitar lines leap out, setting the pace for a rollicking bit of what used to be pure AM radio hit playlist material. Time for a bit of melodic yearning and I was impressed with Grace Basement’s serious yearn factor on their recent LP Missippi Nights. To back that up, I’ve cobbled my own double A-sided single with two tracks from the album, the majestic “Summertime is Coming” with the Springteen-esque “Standing on the Corner.” Last up on blog-as-store tribure is Tad Overbaugh, whose “Open Road and Blue Sky” is a Tom Petty-infused bit of wonderful, from his three song EP Demons in the Dust. Just three songs? We need a whole album of this.

The man behind Absolute Powerpop has exquisite taste. Hop over to his site and dig into his back catalogue of quality posts. And click on the artists above to go their internet locales to find out about new releases and tours coming near your town.

Spotlight single: Phil Keaggy “I Always Do”

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Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 9.22.04 AMPhil 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.

Coming full Cyrkle: Cut Worms, The Maple State and The Young Veins

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Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 9.49.01 AMAmerica’s The Cyrkle are often reduced to just one song, the earwormy uber-hit “Red Rubber Ball,” and perhaps “Turn Down Day” if you were really paying attention. Neither of the hits were written by the band, contributing to the view that they were a bit of a record company creation. But they were a real band. They opened live shows for Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles. They were managed by the Beatles’ Brian Epstein. And they wrote most of their own material, as evident on two stellar albums, Red Rubber Ball and the tragically under-rated Neon, both released in 1966. They also had a sound that was unique. The Cyrkle reflected a distinctly American take on the British invasion influences, particularly with their vocal mix. It’s an influence I think you can hear across a range of great poprock acts today.

I don’t want stretch this comparison too far as the bands covered here are obviously doing their own thing and may or may not have heard much of the Cyrkle. My point is just to highlight the similarities. I mean, listen to exquisite vocal mix that’s all over Cut Worms’ debut album, Hollow Ground. It leapt out at me on the opening track “How Can It Be” and seemed even stronger on “Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” – it was what got me thinking about where I’d heard this kind of addictive, candy-coated vocal treatment before, leading me back to the Cyrkle. Of course, there’s a lot of Everly’s and mid-1960s country rock influence here too, particularly on “It Won’t Be Too Long” and “Think It Might Be Love.” You won’t need to be skint with this record, it’s a full album purchase. Thanks to my pals at Toronto’s greatest record store, Soundscapes, for the tip!

Ok, on to The Maple State. Wait a minute, didn’t I just cover them in a previous blog post? Yes, attentive reader, I did just offer a glowing review of the Manchester band’s new double-A sided single. But then I gave a serious listen to “Something in the Water” from their most recent LP, The Things I Heard at the Party, and it sounded like a new wave reinvention of the Cyrkle’s sound. Magical! So I had to include it in this themed post. The Young Veins also struck me as modern version of The Cyrkle in many ways, perhaps a bit rockier. But the sonic resemblance is definitely there, particularly given the strong melody lines and in-your-face wall of vocals. It’s all there on the title track “Let’s Take a Vacation” and even more so on the 1960s time capsule-esque, should-be single, “Capetown.”The Young Veins – Capetown

Whether influences are direct or not, they remain, bubbling around the edges of our consciousness, only to re-emerge in some new yet slightly familiar form. Get your own déjà vu going by giving more attention to Cut Worms, The Maple State and The Young Veins. Or you could just return to the source, The Cyrkle, if it’s pristine 1960s melodic hooks you’re after.