Pop Sunday

Spygenius / Blow Their Covers


Blow Their Covers (Big Stir)

Trying to pigeonhole Spygenius is a rather difficult assignment. The Canterbury, England band thrives on experimentation, leading their highly rated albums to be charmingly chameleonesque. But Spygenius is so imaginative that they have spawned an identity of their own. The band’s latest album, Blow Their Covers, sends thanks to artists considered core inspirations, and features both obscure and well known numbers.

On their take of Traffic’s Paper Sun, Spygenius pretty much sheds the hazy psychedelic swirl of the original recording in lieu of a bright and burly power pop sound. The band further tends to downplay the country folk timbre of Gene Clark’s So You Say You Lost Your Baby, and Buffalo Springfield’s Rock & Roll Woman, by plumping up the proceedings with a hard-edged delivery.

Michael Hurley and The Unholy Modal Rounders are revisited on Griselda, which spins gleefully around and around to waltzing rhythms clipped of an Irish jig quality, and Robyn Hitchcock’s Queen Of Eyes is cast of a jangly day-glo demeanor. 

A sea shanty – Murrumbidgee Whalers – even appears on Blow Their Covers, while Spygenius turns Plasticsoul’s gutsy Mod-styled rocker, Therapy, into an emotionally-charged chorus of celestial harmonies, gleaming melodies and atmospheric textures. 

Madness is saluted on a remarkably oddball version of Michael Caine, that lies somewhere between the disjointed diddlings of Captain Beefheart and the gloomy gaze of Goth rock. Then there’s a pair of Monkees goodies – For Pete’s Sake and Love Is Only Sleeping – in which Spygenius sings and swings their way through these lively songs with unstoppable energy and enthusiasm. 

Aside from revealing the band’s wide scope of influences, Blow Their Covers captures how amazingly creative Spygenius is. The musicians who are paid homage to would certainly endorse these spirited renditions of their compositions. Routed by catchy and adventurous performances galore, Blow Their Covers is set to keep Spygenius groupies going until the band’s next album of self-penned material is available. 

Pop Sunday

The Successful Failures / James Cotton Mather

The Successful Failures

James Cotton Mather

Founded a decade and a half ago, The Successful Failures have gone on to become one of the greatest and most respected bands on the indie circuit. Unlike most groups that have been around for such a long period of time, these guys haven’t slacked off and taken a nosedive, but just get better and better with every record they release. And that is certainly quite a complimentary remark, considering how impressive the Trenton, New Jersey band was right from the beginning. 

Specializing in a lethal cocktail of power pop and heartland rock, The Successful Failures not only sound spectacular, but enhance their repertoire in the form of cerebral dialogue that encircles witty historical to educational observations. Here on the band’s latest and ninth studio album, James Cotton Mather, we’re zapped back to nineteenth century Maine and guided through the trials, tribulations, turmoil and tragedies of  James Cotton Mather. Aside from the thrilling theme and cool music, the album is lavishly packaged and includes a color poster of The Successful Failures and a lyric sheet.

Each track on James Cotton Mather, is potent enough to stand alone, but the method in which these songs are sequenced and connected lead to a cohesive presentation. Not intended for lullaby lovers, the album is a turbo-charged drama aimed to activate the adrenaline and indulge in some serious air guitar in the process. The urgent energy of the songs perfectly reflect the verse depicting the mental anguish of the young man as he engages in battles on stormy seas and in dark and spooky forests. 

Flooded with force and fury, yet tempered with layer upon layer of fat hooks and melodies, A Coat For Your Dreams, Let The Power Go Through You, Naval Victories and Freedom Within, are only a quick peek at the ultra- catchy tunes featured on the album. At this point, The Successful Failures have developed their own notable approach, although it’s hard to ignore the double inspiration of the brash bark of The Replacements and the buffed Who-styled chords and rhythms, rimming the material. And of course, there’s also plenty of gritty roots rock moves to be savored. 

Not surprisingly, The Successful Failures have cut yet another thoroughly accomplished album. It is not far-fetched to classify James Cotton Mather a rock opera, and so good are these songs, that you can imagine them being staged on Broadway. 

By Beverly Paterson

Pop Sunday

The Silvers / Back To Basics

The Silvers

Back To Basics (Revlis)

If you resided in Iowa during the seventies and were tuned into music, you were surely hip to Silver Laughter. The band kept incredibly busy on the gig circuit and released a couple of albums and a few singles. Although Silver Laughter’s vinyl efforts fell through the crevices  – but have recently been rediscovered and highly praised – their legacy as a great live act remained and they were inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Silver Laughter retired as the seventies were winding down, but several years ago, vocalist and bassist Mick Orton revived the band’s spirit under the name The Silvers. Cemented by guitarist and vocalist Dain Bedford-Pugh, keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Steve Farac, and drummer Carl Upthegrove, the Northern California-based band recently issued Back To Basics, which posts as their fifth full-length album.

Being the seasoned pros they are, The Silvers have absorbed a variety of sounds throughout the decades, while adeptly assimilating these influences into their own stellar material that continuously connects and flows. Masters of radio-friendly fare, the band floods Back To Basics with punchy and precise hooks, aided by snug and refreshing arrangements.

The first track on the album, Gravity, crackles to a subtle intensity tempered by steady and reassuring rhythms. Snappy drumming and a brief and bracing guitar solo also solidifies the REM-ish flavored cut. Threaded with the bouncy chime of an accordian, Nothing Left To Say glides in as a smooth and smart Merseybeat-styled winner, where Out Of This World also surveys the band’s prowess for crafting a perfect pop rock song.

Lush and breezy harmonies sharing similiar characteristics as the likes of The Beach Boys and America, are a common factor found on Back To Basics, which duly bodes well with the band’s melody-driven approach. And then there’s the polished textures and relatively jazzy perks of Stand Up and Stay With Me (This Is The Place), that combine Steely Dan ideals with a power pop awareness. 

Switching to different scenarios, The Silvers expose a taste for gritty garage rock on It’s Such A Shame and I’m Dancing is rooted in a funky boogie groove tinted with choppy Chuck Berry-inspired licks.

It’s every band’s dream to produce an album as enjoyable and accessible as Back To Basics. Simply stated, The Silvers write, play and sing songs that are so catchy you’ll be whistling them for days on end. Proving to be impressively prolific, the band is already working on their next album. 

Pop Sunday

Big Stir Records & SpyderPop Records / 2021 Retrospective

Various Artists

Big Stir Records/SpyderPop Records 2021 Retrospective

Big Stir and SpyderPop made a good move when teaming up in early 2021. Since then, the paired imprints have released a brace of fabulous recordings and will clearly continue to do so. To mark their first anniversary, the partnered rosters have issued “2021 Retrospective,” which includes samplings of their wonderful wares.

Because each song boasts its own merit, it is a tough job knowing where to start and pencil in favorites. But beginning with the Armoires seems fair, considering this is the band fronted by Big Stir owners Christina Bulbenko and Rex Broome. After all, if it wasn’t for these fine folks, there would be no “Retrospective 2021.” So here’s “Great Distances” that blends jiggly rhythms, jingly guitars and unique hooks with equal portions of beauty and bite.

Chris Church’s “Learn” shuffles to a springy slam-banging beat, while Danny Wilkerson’s “You Still Owe Me A Kiss” blossoms with polished piano flourishes, arresting guitar arrangements and industrious breaks. The Stan Laurels take the stage with the gorgeously textured Teenage Fan Club styled “Tomorrow,” where the Speed Of Sound’s “Tomorrow’s World” resonates with modernized new wave elements. 

Power pop icons the Flashcubes and Mimi Betinis of Pezband join forces on a cover of Pezband’s classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Steve Stoeckel of the Spongetones fame weighs in with the elegant folky baroque strum of “Birds,” and Nick Frater’s bright and zesty “It’s All Rumours” lifts cues from both Paul McCartney and Billy Joel. 

Irena Pena’s version of Fountain of Wayne’s “It Must Be Summer” is typically poptastic, and “It’s For Fun (That’s All We’re Living For)” by the Forty Nineteens is a swinging slab of perspiration-soaked garage rock sizzling with attitude and action. The legendary Sorrows reincarnate the heart and soul of British Invasion pop with maximum impact on the catchy and charming “Christabelle,” and then there’s the Lunar Laugh’s “I Wanna Know” that rings to the rafters with fresh melodies and handsome West Coast inspired harmonies. 

Truly an embarrassment of riches, “2021 Restrospective” represents what a great record label should be. I could babble on and on about these terrific artists and their contributions, but hear the tunes yourself and raise a toast to their efforts. Peddling diversity and quality, “2021 Retrospective”  magnifies Big Stir/SpyderPop’s impeccable taste in music on every track. It goes without saying they are one of the most interesting and exciting banners around.  

Pop Sunday

50th Anniversary Tribute To Todd Rundgren, Someone / Anyone?

Various Artists

50 Anniversary Tribute To Todd Rundgren

To commemorate the half century anniversary of Todd Rundgren’s revolutionary double album – Something/Anything? – noted multi-diversified musician Fernando Permado rounded up a circle of talented friends to assist in the celebration. Cleverly dubbed Someone/Anyone?, the two-disc collection will be released February 1, 2022, which marks fifty years to the day Something/Anything? was issued. 

Not only does the record feature inspired versions of the songs we know and love so well, but the project is for a good cause, as all net profits will go to Todd’s Spirit Of Harmony Foundation, a charity that supports musical education.

A genre-bending masterstroke, Something/Anything? awarded Todd major league status, whose far-reaching influence resonates decades on. The twenty-five tracks on Someone/Anyone? are sequenced in the exact same order as the original album. 

Fernando joins forces with Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater on Breathless, an enchanting instrumental rife with compelling synthesizer lines and snagging riffs. High on energy and imagination, the cut keenly slips into jazz fusion territory at times. 

Kasim Sulton from Todd’s Utopia band reprises The Night The Carousel Burned Down, which is pronounced by majestic piano arrangements and  spiked with a swell of sweeping guitars and crashing drums, where Louise Goffin turns in a superb performance via I Saw The Light that spangles and sparkles with blissful melodies. 

A pinch of soul, compounded by sprinklings of a frilly falsetto, frame Ken Sharp’s excellent and impassioned cover of It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference, while the sounds of soul, backed by honey-scented harmonies, are further amplified on the rich and robust Saving Grace from Victor Wainwright and the Wildroots

On the funky front, there’s John Powhida International Airport’s take of Slut, and Marshall Crenshaw’s rendition of Couldn’t I Just Tell You serves as a sweetened slice of gold standard power pop. 

Brent Bourgeois checks in with the shimmery top five hit  Hello It’s Me, and Van Duren’s Torch Song is a sparsely-structured piano-led ballad illuminated by ringing chords and emotionally-gripping vocals. Other select entries include You Left Me Sore by the Intoxicats, Secret Society’s Dust In The Wind and Black Maria from the star-studded trio of Stan Lynch (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Rob Bonfiglio (Wanderlust, solo artist) and Stephen Dees (Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, Novo Combo, the Bandeees). 

A spellbinding sprawl of styles and moods, Someone/Anyone? may be a lot to inhale, but that’s the beauty and magic of album, which has been revamped with utmost dignity and respect. Todd himself approved of the package, so that alone tells you how great these tunes are. 

Pop Sunday

The Weeklings / Christmas Day

The Weeklings

Christmas Day

The Weeklings always make it a point to release a themed-song during the season to be jolly, so here they are with yet another smashing sonic stocking-stuffer to add to your playlist.

 Couched in a rockabilly setting, Christmas Day not only rattles and rolls to a super catchy sound, but contains clever and humorous lyrics. Who would ever think of rhyming eve of destruction with mass corruption and tax deduction? Or how about catalog and eggnog?

Amid the Carl Perkins meets George Harrison inspired riffage, the vocals resemble a tuneful Bob Dylan, where airy harmonies sparkle with Beatlesque bliss. Jingling sleigh bells click in as a fitting end to the hooky song.

Although The Weeklings have deservedly earned the title “America’s most unique Beatles influenced band,” the New Jersey-based group is far more than a copy act. Give a listen to their well-stocked library of singles, EPs and albums, and you will be utterly delighted upon hearing their own inventively-composed  pop rock offerings.

Pop Sunday

Tall Poppy Syndrome / Come Some Christmas Eve (or Halloween)

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Come Some Christmas Eve (or Halloween)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and there is no better way to celebrate than with a song by a certified supergroup. 

Comprised of guitarist Vince Melouney (who held membership in The Bee Gees during the late sixties), drummer Clem Burke (Blondie, the Romantics, the Empty Hearts), bassist Alec Palao (The Sneetches, Magic Christian, Strangers In A Strange Land, current version of The Seeds and music historian), Jigsaw Seen multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Lea and singer Paul Kopf (Strangers In A Strange Land and the revamped Seeds), Tall Poppy Syndrome not only looks good in print, but as a whole, they really lock it altogether.

Originally recorded in 1968 by The Bee Gees and initially titled Come Some Christmas Eve Or Halloween, Tall Poppy Syndrome cut a cover of the song in October that set the indie airwaves alight. A holiday mix of the number was suggested, and so here it is, garnished with a festive flair.

Sparked by a drizzle of glistening sleighbells, Come Some Christmas Eve  proceeds to wrap itself in a brightly-colored package of radiant designs and textures. Pithy power chords, anchored percussion, the trill of a Mellotron flute and harmonious rhythms rise to the occassion. Classic garage rock vocals, relaying just the right blend of raw saltiness and melodic muscle, serve to be a faultless fit.

Tapped as Tall Poppy Syndrome’s official debut disc, Come Some Christmas Eve catches the band getting off to a great start. Each individual brings his own special touch to the table, leading towards a smashing display of psychedelic-ringed pop rock. One can only imagine how fantastic an entire album by Tall Poppy Syndrome would be. So give your support to Come Some Christmas Eve and encourage the band to keep at it. 

Pop Sunday

Underwater Sunshine / Suckertree

Underwater Sunshine

Suckertree (Futureman)

Music fans residing in the Vancouver, British Columbia area during the mid to late nineties were no doubt aware of Underwater Sunshine. A hot live attraction, the band put money earned from gigs towards recording an album.

A major label expressed interest in signing Underwater Sunshine, but unfortunately things did not proceed as planned. The band dispersed, and the album cocooned in the can. Yet the story has a happy ending. Having not been in contact since dismantling nearly twenty-five years ago, the band members reconnected in 2020. The tapes of the album were retrieved, and now Suckertree is available. Containing all original material and recorded in a basement, the album serves as a totally self-sufficient affair. 

Treading the fine line between power pop and stadium rock, Suckertree is coated front, center and back with buzzing  guitars, solid drumming and stimulating hooks. Pure and tidy vocals, bolstered by muscular amplification, allow some of the songs on the album to sound like a heavier version of Shoes. Reflections of The Posies also can’t be missed, not to mention Oasis and Sloan.

While Suckertree may be a product of its time, these songs still hold up extremely well. From the opening cut – Verse 2 to the final number – Spin Around – the album bristles with energized instrumentation and hard-hitting melodies that go on and on. Gripping arrangements, sweeping rhythms and insistent breaks further characterize Underwater Sunshine’s vision. 

Along with the already noted songs, Backward Glance, Shine, It’s You and Smoke & Mirrors lock in as other electrifying efforts emphasizing the band’s harmonious chemistry. Less rocking, but equally effective, there’s the crisp shimmer of Baby Blue and the absolutely unforgettable Rusted Crown, which burns with a moody intensity. 

Had Suckertree been released when intended to be, Underwater Sunshine would have surely set the charts alight with their catchy brand of industrial-strength guitar pop. 

Pop Sunday

Nick Frater / Earworms

Nick Frater

Earworms (Big Stir)

Over the past several years, Nick Frater has assembled a gaggle of albums, EPs and singles that have collected gushing reviews from all those who have had the pleasure of experiencing these endeavors. Based in Croydon, England, the multi-diversified musician has always professed a penchant for seventies pop rock, but here on his latest album, Earworms, his love for the sounds of the decade is ramped up in full force. Although such influences are boldly expressed, Nick’s sharp-edged songwriting, combined with his industrious arranging and production techniques sit at the head of the class, preventing the material from coming off as mere mimicry.

 One of the first things that attracts listeners to a song is the singing. And Nick’s butter-melting vocals, which are squarely schooled in Beatlism, extending to the mannerisms of The Raspberries, Electric Light Orchestra, 10cc, Gerry Rafferty and Elvis Costello, certainly do give the songs on Earworms instant appeal. You couldn’t ask for a better frontman than Nick, who delivers these perfectly-tuned compositions with clarity and strength.

 A great choice as the opening number, It’s All Rumours, is a power pop marvel from the get-go. Ignited by slapping drums and stabbing riffs bleeding with distortion, the song is further engraved with twisty breaks and a fluttery falsetto. Jaunty piano chords jumpstart Lucky Strike, which transforms into a catchy vaudeville groove, while the rolling rhythms and punchy hooks of What’s With Your Heavy Heart? also features bluesy licks straight from the George Harrison playbook. 

A dreamy piano-driven ballad iced with a lightly-battered jazz flavor, Star-Crossed would have fit nicely on a Walter Egan album, where the absolutely infectious Buggin’ Out, beams brightly with twinkling guitars, spunky melodies and merry doo-wop harmonies.

In typical seventies fashion, Earworms concludes to a grand and majestic climax. Patterned after a glitzy Queen inspired presentation, How To Survive Somebody swells and soars to a chorus of melodramatic vocals, sweeping keyboards and thundering chords.

In a parallel dimension, the songs on Earworm would be parked neck to neck on the AM dial with chart-toppers  by Elton John, Paul McCartney and WingsThe Bay City Rollers, The Eagles and the Captain and Tennille. But good music is good music no matter what era it reflects, so there is no reason why Earworms  can’t be enjoyed now, and reward Nick Frater with the widespread success – both artistically and commercially – he so clearly commands. 

Pop Sunday

The Grip Weeds / DiG

The Grip Weeds

DiG (JEM Records)

If there is one band that has appropriated the sounds of the sixties and managed to translate such aspirations into their own prize-winning formula, it is The Grip Weeds. Coming together in 1988, the Highland Park, New Jersey group is globally known for their superb recordings that are just as relevant, as those produced by the artists they are enamored with.

 Something of a family affair, the band includes founding members and siblings Kurt (vocals, multi-instrumentalist ) and Rick Reil (vocals, multi-instrumentalist), along with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist  Kristin Pinell (who is Kurt’s wife) and bassist Dave DeSantis.

Rather than sit idle and go into panic mode during the worldwide lockdown of 2020, The Grip Weeds made a beeline for the studio and crafted a new album of vintage songs. A two disc set, DiG, contains versions of both noted and obscure tunes from the sixties, which needless to say, is a tribute to the band’s influences. 

An ample amount of psychedelic classics are spread across the collection, specifically; Shape Of Things To Come (Max Frost and The Troopers), Journey To The Center Of The Mind (The Amboy Dukes), Something In The Air (Thunderclap Newman), Porpoise Song (The Monkees), I Feel Free (Cream) and I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) (The Electric Prunes). The Grip Weeds approach these trippy treasures in their signature standard of excellence, grounded in harmony-rich singing, tight and exciting musicianship and spirited empathy. These renditions are so great that you will think you are hearing them for the first time.

Paul Revere and the Raiders are honored on the gutsy acid-dappled garage rock of Louie Go Home, while Frosty’s funky Organ Grinder’s Monkey further stages an appearance. The Zombies are cited on a ravishing acoustic-based take of I Love You, and the slightly jazzy polish of Lady Friend is sure to score points with Byrds‘ fans.

An homage to The Squires surfaces on the cosmic folk rock chime of Going All The Way, and then there’s The Creation’s throbbing Making Time and the chilly atmospheric Twilight Time, which was initially cut by The Moody Blues.

Mouse and the Traps receive a walloping reprise on the hard-driving Lie Beg Borrow And Steal, whereas The Beatles are celebrated on the achingly sweet It’s Only Love. The Rolling Stones are also given a nod, on the brain-bending drone of Child Of The Moon. The Marmalade’s shimmery flower pop I See The Rain and DiG Theme, a searing and powerful Yardbirds-meets-Who flavored instrumental composed by The Grip Weeds, cycle in as other groovacious goodies gracing the package.

In terms of cover albums, DiG is a real stunner. The Grip Weeds clearly had a ton of fun waxing these tracks, which will feed the need of the band’s dedicated legion of followers until their next album of orginal material is released.