There is so much great music out there, waiting to be noticed. I can hardly keep up writing about just a fraction of it! Our turn around the dial this time showcases a quartet of hardworking journeymen songwriters and performers who have done their time in the trenches and could use a little more glory.
We’re written about the sublime joy that is Dan Israel before. He writes a kind of cross-over, folk-inflected poprock that is increasingly rare in our hipster-hyphenated, genre lockdown. Here I’m thinking Cat Stevens at his most melodic or even a more upbeat Jim Croce. It’s all there on Israel’s new album You’re Free. This is a relaxing at the cabin or driving somewhere record, that deftly mixes more slow-moving introspection with uptempo rock and roll. The album kicks off kicks off with what sounds like a very Cat Stevens-like vocal and song structure on “Gets You Through It,” channels some early 1970s Paul Simon on the breezy “Make This Life Mine,” and vibes Tom Petty on the more rockin’ “Someday You’ll Say.” But the album highlight is the obvious single, “You’re Free.” This baby has a driving beat and melodic hook reminiscent of both John Lennon and Bob Dylan, when they deigned to cast out some hooks. You’re Free is another winner for Dan Israel, very much worth the cover price.
It’s hard to get a fix on Lane Steinberg. Whatever the genre, the guy is obviously supremely talented, with an enormous back catalogue of work spanning decades, performed by range of musical combos. The diversity is in evidence on his latest release, Lane Steinberg and his Magic Pony. The cover alone has gotten attention – its looks like a somewhat bizarre record store find, perhaps dug out of a bin alongside Spock’s Music from Outer Space. The record itself is a curious blend of melodic satire, gentle political commentary, and straight up poprock, with a few Noel Coward-ish piano tunes thrown in for good measure. Steinberg is clearly having fun, mocking everything from the technology (“You’re Not Connected to the Internet”) to fake social concern (“I’m Tony Hayward and I’d Like My Life Back”) to the sureties of both the political left and right (“Crazy as a Shithouse Rat”). But he is also deadly serious about his poprock craft. “Another Early Autumn” hits all the Beach Boys marks. “Everyone Thinks I’m Happy Now” channels the Beatles c. 1966, with help from that “Strawberry Fields Forever” organ. On a more contemporary note, both “Franklin and First” and “Who Does Your Mind Control?” have the confident melodic sheen of the best work by the Eels. But the standout track for me here is the mildly strident yet seductive “After Taxes,” a song that allows Steinberg’s varied influences to really gel into a distinctive sound of their own. I think Lee Dorsey would agree – it’s time to ride your (magic) pony!
You’re a celebrated national sports writer and best selling author but in your spare time you decide to put out your first album of 1960s-inspired poprock songs? That’s David Sheinin on his new album, First Thing Tomorrow, and it’s a winner. This is a breezy fun collection of pop ditties that draw from all the great artists from the 1960s through the 1980s. Just listening to the record you’d swear Sheinin is some twenties-something wunderkind, full of young idealism and enthusiasm. “Oh Amelia” captures this nicely with its rippling guitar lines, or “City You Left Behind” with it’s swinging hooks. Not that Sheinin just mellows out – there is a great new wave rock and roll feel to “Talking to Myself” that reminds me of Elvis Costello or Michael Penn. And then there’s the early 1960s throwback sound of “What’s the Matter.” The whole record is sonic treat, a soundtrack for convertible driving at sunset!
I wonder if KC Bowman sleeps. The guy has put out an enormous amount of material over the years, a lot of it available for free on his bandcamp site under his various band monikers: Lawsuit, Rhythm Akimbo, Agony Aunts, Preoccupied Pipers, Vinny’s Vipers, etc. I’ve heard the occasional single over the years on this or that compilation but haven’t really kept up with his career. Well now you and I can both catch up with his exquisite career-spanning compilation album Important with a Capital I. There are so many highlights on this record I can single out only a few choice cuts, like the opening should-be hit single “Blithering Heights” or the equally single-licious “Super Bad Report.” Bowman has unerring knack for squeezing a hook into just about any song form, utilizing a range killer guitar licks and sweet sounding compressed vocals. Check out his genius homage to Schoolhouse Rocks’ “I’m Just a Bill” on “Mine Called Somebody Else” – this is some pretty subtle referencing! And so on. This record will have you searching through the depths of Bowman’s back catalogue for what you’ve been missing all these years.
There was a time when hearing a great song on the radio would send me running to record store so I could buy it and hit replay again and again. Now it’s so much easier. You can click on the links for Dan Israel, Lane Steinberg, David Sheinin, and KC Bowman and save the bus fare!