With the re-release of Marshall Crenshaw’s fantastic 1999 album #447 fans can dig into an LP full of undervalued gems like “Television Light,” “T.M.D.” and “Right There in Front of Me.” The new re-issue also includes Crenshaw’s most recent new recording, a double A-sided single of “Santa Fe” and “Will of the Wind.” Just listen to the smooth hookyness and ace guitar playing on the latter tune. Damn, Marshall has still got it!
Revisiting Crenshaw’s work from the 1990s got me wondering just why others have not mined his catalogue for covers in the way we’ve seen people do with other comparable acts from his era. I mean, Nick Lowe has got FOUR separate tribute albums and an LP of Los Straightjackets’ instrumental versions. Where’s the Crenshaw love? So far, it seems mostly focused on his early work and by early I mean his pre-major label singles and the self-titled debut album. So in honour of the deluxe re-release of #447 I decided to work up my own tribute album by gathering together what covers I could find, avoiding the really obvious ones (sorry Bette!) in favour of less well known versions. It’s basically a ‘taking liberties’ version of that first album I’ve dubbed Reinventing Marshall Crenshaw.
We kick things off with sometime Beach Boy pinch-hitter Jeffrey Foskett. He’s just the guy with the vocal chops to cover “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.” The results are a slightly tighter updating of Marshall’s own great take on the tune. Ronnie Spector sings the hell out Marshall’s perfect paean to the early 1960s girl group groove “Something’s Gonna Happen.” And she would, wouldn’t she? Sweden’s Mom takes the opening cut from Marshall’s debut in a new direction, amping up the guitar slashes and bass guitar lines on “There She Goes Again.” Musically it’s very Cars at times. Next up we head to Argentina for Gatos Pandilleros‘ spirited version of “Someday Someway.” It’s got a charming stripped-down feel that lets the song’s joy shine through. Red Hot take “The Usual Thing” into a more rockabilly and country direction vocally while retaining Marshall’s distinctive guitar aura. The Unswept step on the jangle pedal for their reworking of “Cynical Girl” and it works, adding something special to a song already pretty dear to the hearts of Crenshaw fans. Though ultimately featured on Field Day, demos of “Whenever You’re on my Mind” also come from the same period as the debut album. Thus I think we can sneak it into this tribute. As it is my fave MC tune I’ve got two covers. One is a wonderfully shambolic DIY take from Michael Fiore that comes off like a deep cut from a Replacements live album. The other is a more spartan guitar pop treatment from The Kavanaghs. Both manage to coax the magic out of this irrepressible classic.
There are other covers of Marshall’s songs. Sometimes they come from co-writers like Don Dixon and Bill DeMain, or from big name acts like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, or country artists like Lou Ann Barton and Kelly Willis. But come on people, this hardly scratches the surface of Crenshaw’s amazing catalogue! We are long overdue for an MC tribute album, one that draws from the full breadth of his impressive recorded output. Let’s see someone take the lead on this project … now.
You can order your new, refurbished and expanded copy of #447online and keep up with the latest Marshall news here.
I know, you’re too busy to scour the racks for great singles. If only you could find some great albums to kick back with? Something to slip on the old record player and enjoy with a cool drink. Well here at Poprock Record we feel your pain. So we’ve assembled the crack team you see above to vet the very best LPs from throughout the year that was 2020. The kids may be a tad young for martinis but do not doubt their vinyl erudition and exquisite taste. From more than a hundred possibilities they’ve whittled things down to an essential 25 albums that you must possess to say you’ve really experienced the past twelve months of melodic music. Fill your K-Tel Record Selector with these super fantastic long players!
So, let’s get to it – Poprock Record’s 25 must-have LPs for 2020:
Gregory Pepper dominated my listening for 2020 with his outrageously good I Know Why You Cry. The album was his own specially curated re-recordings of tracks originally composed during his year long Song-of-the-Week extravaganza. There’s whimsy, there’s pathos, there’s references to Enya. It’s the kind of poprock that makes my heart burst, a never-fail mood improver. Coming up second this year was the kick-ass second album from The Happy Fits, What Could Be Better. Other than Pepper, I’m hard pressed to suggest anything. This whole album is a killer production that puts the cello at the centre of melodic rock and roll (where it belongs). Here are songs and performances that inspire descriptions like ‘thrilling’ and ‘exciting’. And then there’s the extreme hooky pleasantness of Nite Sobs throughout Do The Sob! An impressive head-bopping good time. And so on. All the records here really pay dividends via repeated listens so carve out some time to enjoy them. The great lost art of an album-long musical vision lives on with these 25 selections.
What?! Another Pepper selection topping the chart. Fear not dear reader, our completely unscientific selection process has not erred here. Hey, I just really like Pepper’s stuff. And he is crazy talented, as is obvious from this stylistically varied and pumped up collection of song snippets, 10 in all amounting to just 15 minutes of music. But what a ride. I mean, just check out the brilliant 17 second track, “Do Sports.” I want more! These other EPs are pretty special too and fabulous for those times when you can barely sit down and squeeze in a quick sherry.
And let’s not forget, Poprock Record’s best compilations for 2020:
2020 tried our patience but, glass half full, it did provide a bit of downtime. That allowed for a lot more album listening than normal and what a treat that turned out to be. And given the impact of 2020 on live music, artists need albums sales more than ever. So let the rewards flow freely from your e-wallet to theirs.
2020 was weird like no weirdness we’d experienced before. Thank goodness the music didn’t let us down. Paraphrasing some 1970s disk jockey, the should-be hits just kept on coming! My top 50 singles for 2020 covers the usual range of styles I jam into the poprock category, from Buddy Holly 1950s to Buck Owens country to various shades of jangle and new wave. I’m not saying these are the 50 best songs of the year, I’m saying these 50 had the hooks to keep me hitting repeat again and again. If Poprock Record were a radio station these tunes would have been in heavy rotation all this past year. The hyperlinks below will take you to the original post about each artist as they first appeared on the blog.
So let’s get to it, Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2020:
So many great songs! So hard to make distinctions amongst them … But this year’s chart topper Mo Troper has got something really special going on with “Your Boy.” The track is a case study in should-be hit single construction and execution, from the opening guitar hooks to the silky smooth pop vocal to the exquisite synthesis of musical elements, like the plinky piano, the dash of distorted guitar here and there. The song is the earworm equivalent of a Dutch masters miniature painting. A very close second this year came from the boundlessly talented Canuck Gregory Pepper and his Problems with “Unsolved Mystery.” I can’t get enough of Pepper’s creative songwriting and unique approach to instrumentation. The song is a hook cocktail, a nonstop aural assault of vocal and instrumental melody. Former Soul Engines member Dave Kuchler slots into number 3 with an amazing comeback single, “Slave to Katy,” a song that ripples with Springsteen organ and hooky guitar leads. This is melodic heartland rock and roll at its best. Releasing an album and three EPs in 2020, Emperor Penguin definitely win the productivity award. But I’d have been happy if they’d just released one song, the Byrdsian “You’ll Be the Death of Me.” Rounding out the top 5 Brian Jay Cline “Two Left Feet” gives the harmonica a work out on a great driving poprock number. And I could go on about the remaining 45 should-be hits but for more on the rest of the list hit the hyperlinks for my original write-ups on each.
This year’s special mention award goes to Mondello for his wonderfully quirky one-off single “My Girl Goes By.” After taking 20 years putting together his debut album one year later there’s no sign of a sophomore slump with this follow up single. From the Tijuana horns to the unique guitar work to the way the hooky swinging chorus emerges out the discordant and offbeat body of the song, it’s magic. More? Yes please!
2020 has been devastating for artists that rely on live performances to make ends meet. Now more than ever it’s crucial that we all pull together to support music and the music-makers financially. Give what you can, buy directly from artists whenever you can, and share links for the music you discover with your friends and acquaintances.
Today’s breaking musical stories are all destined for 2020’s parade of ‘best of’ lists come January next. They’re that good. Not just a few strong tunes but full album experiences. Break out the bank card because you are going to want to explore the full story behind these headlines over and over again.
Despite releasing an EP in 2016 and an album in 2018, New Jersey’s The Happy Fits appear to be asking listeners to take sides with their new record, the aptly named What Could Be Better. The previous releases were great but there’s no denying that this new record has the mark a band suddenly in complete control of their muse. All their quirky musical elements really come to together here, from the masterful vocal arrangements to the inventive songwriting to the surprising, delightful incorporation of a cello into rock and roll. Comparisons to marquee acts like the Violent Femmes and the Killers bear fruit on “Go Dumb,” the blood-rushing spare rocker that opens the album, as well as “Hold Me Down.” But I also hear less well-known indie darlings like Everything Everything, particularly in the vocal attack on these cuts. But then things change. Both “No Instructions” and the title track have a poppy melodic wonder I associate with Dutch group Sunday Sun. “Moving” sounds so early 1960s girl group songwriting-wise but twists things with a distinctive interplay on the vocals, adding depth with a splash of cello here and there. And “The Garden” stops things cold with another transition, this time to a kind of Fleet Foxes folk fragility. What Could Be Better is a slice of pure musical excitement. It somehow manages to be relentless and refreshing at the same time. A must have.
I know I’ve been banging on about Swedish melodic rockers Mom all summer but, come on people, this is what the game is all about: jangly guitars, slightly distorted vocals and hooks coming more regularly than the 4:50 to Paddington. Now the band’s new album Pleasure Island is officially out and it’s a delight from start to finish. Looking for a fresh take on the early Cars-era of new wave? This record is your put-it-on replay date. The LP kicks off strong with the single-worthy “I Want You To Feel What I Feel.” Other should-be hit singles for me would include both “Suzie (Use Me)” and “Better Than You.” The album features some nice jangle on cuts like “Talk to Me,” “Ordinary Girl” and “Don’t Leave With My Heart,” a bit more of a rocky feel on “Cry No More Tears,” and offers up a distinctive organ solo on “Tonight.” There’s even a bit of a Cheap Trick-meets-Suzie Quatro feel on “High Demand.” Pleasure Island is a clearly defined musical destination you are going to want to visit regularly.
Another Well Wishers record is always a welcome bit of news. On this 11th outing for the band, Shelf Life is nothing but melodic goodness. “We Grow Up” kicks things off with the familiar, signature Well Wishers wall-of-guitar sound, overlaid with those perfectly compressed AM radio vocals. I love the opening guitar build-up that introduces the song. There’s something very Matthew Sweet going on here and not just the should-be hit single aura. Then “My Desire” shows just how to put the ‘power’ in power pop with big crunchy guitar chords swathed in harmony vocals. “Secrets and Lies” alters the pacing, toning things down just a bit with an XTC-like poppy feel and just a hint of jangle. In different ways both “Father of the Bride” and “All the Same” channel a Fountains of Wayne style to me. Other tracks manage to salt in a few subtle retro influences: an addictive CCR-sounding lick grinding through “Who Cries,” a bit of Eagles’ acoustic rhythm anchoring “Holidays Await,” and a Beach Boys-taking-a-run-at-power pop moment on “Lonely Song.” My ears are still ringing, in a good way.
In 2004 Eugene Edwards lit up the indie music scene with his stupendous debut album My Favorite Revolution. It was a staggeringly good collection of poprock tunes, channeling everyone from Tom Petty to Elvis Costello. It seemed like the start of something big. Then … nothing. Edwards joined Dwight Yoakam’s touring band in 2012 and can be seen all over twitter plugging Fender guitars as recently as last week. Albums of new material? Not so much. That is until A Week of Sundays quietly showed up on various music platforms last summer. And by quiet I mean ziltch promotion, nada, nothing. Even Edward’s Facebook and twitter pages contain no mention of the record at all! A crazy way to run a career but hey, I can say this, the product is solid. It’s fun from the opening riffs and party feel of “Good Old Days” and the straight-up rockier sound of “Did You Kiss the Missus.” There’s also a few exquisite slow dance moments on tracks like “The Best Man” and “Lo and Behold.” Influence-wise I hear a lot Squeeze on this record from “Irregular Heartbeat” to “Who’s Gonna Hate You When You Go.” “Person of Interest” takes off with a classic Chuck Berry opener but then segues to a sound reminiscent of Squeeze’s Argy Bargy. “There’s No Secret” is a rocking vamp but with some tasty melodic hooks buried in the tune. Edwards even offers up two versions of the title track, the latter with a decidedly ska feel. Tell your friends, Eugene Edwards is back and ready to be noticed.
Brooklyn’s SLD sound like a blast of the very best seventies poprock. They are channeling a bit of ELO, Klattu, Badfinger, and especially mid-period Wings over their new very long-player Lost. You can practically hear the sunshine and taste the California ice teas on “He’s Got You Now,” the killer opening cut. Both “Right Place Wrong Life” and “Fly Away” have that recognizable mellow 1970s McCartney touch. “No Way” even manages to rehabilitate a bit of disco guitar and space keyboards for good effect. Vocally I hear Glenn Tilbrook on a host of cuts, specifically “Don’t Want to Get Over You” and “Midnight Eyes.” Meanwhile, an ELO ambience haunts “12 to 5,” “Lost” and “Last Night.” I love the anthemic hooky changes on “Only the Sky” and the mild Oasis vibe “You’re Not Me.” It’s rare for a band that nails such a stylized period sound to somehow still escape a retro tag but SLD do it, largely on the basis of some strong songwriting and damn fine performances.
On Paper AirplaneMarshall Holland manages to be retro and topical at the same time. The album is suffused with a strong 1970s sensibility, clearly evident on songs like “Look into My Eyes” and the title track. But the record is not merely retro. The album’s opening cut “Our Fate” takes up contemporary concerns about policing with just the right balance of urgency and restraint. “When the Rain Comes” then shifts the mood completely with the aid of jaunty late 1960s keyboard shots. “A Hand Holds a Bird” puts the acoustic guitar up front, mellowing the listener out in a very Simon and Garfunkel sort of way. Three cuts in and Holland has punched up three distinct moods without jarring anyone. What holds everything together is the album’s over-riding style, a synthesis of a rather cheery Elliott Smith with an up-tempo Sufjan Stevens, captured wonderfully on “Waiting for that Peace & Love.” I love the breezy summer feel on “Don’t Do It” and the sweet variety of guitar sounds blanketing “I’m Checking Out.” Back to politics, “Whatcha Gonna Do” is the most melodic put down of Trump anyone’s ever produced. And despite all this variety, the album plays like a smooth listen. Paper Airplane is like a visit with an old friend, comfortably familiar but full of surprises.
Ah love. The autumn rustle of leaves amid crisp sunny days brings a new tableau for songwriters to paint love into the picture. Or out of it, as the case may be. Today’s post covers it all: from easy loving to yearning feelings to distinct varieties of heartbreak. Let’s get the loving started!
Canadian crooner David Myles is no slouch on guitar and he puts his smooth vocals and wiley acoustic playing together in a wonderfully Jim Croce-easygoing manner on “Loving You Is Easy.” It’s from his lovely new album Leave Tonight. Myles really excels at these laid back love songs so break out the candlelight if you’re going to spin this disc tonight. I love how Ride member Andy Bell’s new solo single starts abruptly, like you’ve tried to drop the needle in between vinyl cuts and not quite got the start. “Love Comes in Waves” is lovely rush of Bryds-influenced dream pop, accent on a spacey feel. Myles and Bell have clearly got the love and aren’t afraid to let you know about it.
Meanwhile, others are still looking for love. The Amplifier Headscomposed a nice “Short Pop Song About a Girl” that features spot-on 1960s lead guitar work and a winsome vocal style. There’s some serious wooing going on here. George McFall sets the scene a bit differently, coming on with more of an industrial tinge to start. But “The Boyfriend” delivers a great big head-exploding hook in the chorus that will have you hitting repeat to get just a little bit more of it. When he’s not leading the Lunar Laugh, Jared Lekites is apparently pining for love that’s not coming his way. His new EP Looking for Diamond X is a winning handful of loser laments, delivered in a most melodious way. “Unrequited Love Song” pretty much speaks for itself.
And then there’s heartbreak town. Sweden’s Mom have a new album called Pleasure Island but the song titles suggest that love may not appear on the street map. There’s “I Want You to Feel What I Feel,” “Hurt By You,” “Waste My Time,” and “Suzie (Use Me).” Sounds more like I’m-All-Out-Of-Love Island. But hey, I’m not saying the songs aren’t great – they are!. Check out the fab guitar and early Cars-vibe on “Don’t Leave With My Heart.” Lastly, Mike Daly and the Planets finally give falling out of love its due with a song of its own, the aptly-named “Falling Out of Love Song.” I mean, why should falling in love get all the songs? Love the Elvis Costello wordplay and sound on this track.
If love is in the air, forget the mask – it’s not going to protect you. Whether it’s coming or going or just being ignored, today’s artists demonstrate you can always set it to music. Hey, why not get a little love going on your own, a little money love for these artists? Hit the hyperlinks to do your part.
Here in the great white north the first August long weekend offers a national statutory holiday but cast in bespoke local themes. Each province does its own thing: British Columbia has ‘BC Day,’ Nova Scotia has ‘Natal Day’ and so on. So to aid this year’s party planning, we’re doing our celebration a little early with this Sunday singles jamboree! And I can clear some of the backlog of great songs in the queue …
Someone put me on to the countryfied poprock magic that is Portland’s Blitzen Trapper. I hastened to my local Mp3 seller and quickly downloaded a bunch of songs from all over their nine album catalogue, committed to writing something about them. Well, that didn’t happen (sorry guys!). But here we are with a new album soon to arrive so now I’m making up for lost time. “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” is the first single from their upcoming LP Holy Smokes Future Jokes and it’s a winning slice of melodic rock and roll in the best Eels or Brendan Benson style. Heading slightly north on the I5 will get us back to a band we have covered in times past, Tacoma’s poptastic Vanilla. This time they take their XTC influences in a decidedly fun country direction with “Easy,” duetting with special guest Jessica Van Horn. This sweet harmony treat is just one of a series of singles released by the group since the start of 2020 (so an album surely can’t be far off). Nashville’s Aaron Lee Tasjan has a new EP out, Found Songs Vol. 1, and it’s definitely up to his usual fantabulously high standards. I love how he can slip in the most innocent musical hook, like the high pitched keyboard hook in “Fake Tatoo,” and voila! – instant earworm affliction. The rest of the EP is pretty solid, with two touching acoustic-heavy tunes, “What a War” and “August is a Blessing.” Meanwhile back in LA, The Reflectors turn up the amps and blast the chords on an ode to early 1980s new wave with “Teenage Hearts.” You could easily party like it was 1979 with these dudes! The song begs to heard live with plenty of room for dancing.
Chatham, Kent’s Pete Molinari has long been cast in the Dylan/folkie milieu, both for his songwriting and vocal style. But his new record Just Like Achilles should blow up any easy generalization about what he is doing musically. Just check out the amazing “I’ll Take You There” with its hat tips to Buddy Holly, California’s 1960s sunshine pop, and the Mavericks. This is a mini masterpiece of a song, effortlessly combining so many dynamic catchy elements. Heading back to the USA, Rookie have that laid back feel so well worn by fellow Chicago-area bands like Twin Peaks, dubbed by some as ‘cosmic country.’ Personally, I hear a more popified The Band going on here. The self-titled debut is now out and it’s a delight, particularly the first single “Sunglasses,” which sounds like an updated 1970s classic FM radio staple. LA’s Theo Katzman is one smooth, smooth operator, with a vocal delivery that could rival Bruno Mars in combining soul and pop. His new album Modern Johnny Sings is a unique mix of acoustic pop and 1970s R&B influences, captured perfectly in the obvious single, “You Could Be President.” This track is a wonderfully executed bit of swing pop and soul jam, sometimes vibing Queen in their more acoustic moments. How is this song not a radio hit already? Malmo, Sweden is the home of a band named Mom and what’s not to like about their chugging blast of guitar and hook-filled choruses on their recent single “Tonight”? Again, 1979 springs to mind with the pop-glam guitar chords, neat keyboard riffs, and lighter-than-air vocal harmonies.
Pete Molinari “I’ll Take You There”
Let’s wrap up with a comeback story. Brooklyn’s The Rabies had a new wavey thing going on circa 1981-3 with a few singles, an EP, and appearances at the legendary CBGBs. But then life happened. Now, practically centuries later, they’re back with a new pair of tunes and it’s like they never left. Actually though, they’ve fattened up their sound in a tasty way, sounding Bob Mould Sugar-ish or even Smithereens-like vocally. “Adderall Girl” has a slight 1950s feel song-structure-wise but the execution is a crisp indie new millennium performance. B-side “You’re the Glue” has a wonderful thumping stomp to the guitar and drums that will get your head banging.