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Pop Sunday

The Lunar Laugh / Nighthawks!

The Lunar Laugh

Nighthawks! (Big Stir Records 2021)

https://thelunarlaugh.bandcamp.com/album/nighthawks


Formed several years ago, The Lunar Laugh quickly made a name for themselves amongst the alternative music circuit. Specializing in a deft juggling of power pop and country rock, the Oklahoma City band has cut three excellent studio albums to date; Apollo, Mama’s Boy and Goodnight Noises Everywhere” The Lunar Laugh’s latest project, Nighthawks!, concentrates on previously-unreleased live recordings of material culled from these albums. 

Taped in different settings, the album manages to possess a consistent flow, giving the impression these songs were recorded from one concert. Confident showmanship, combined with the Lunar Laugh’s joy for sharing their music, is positively infectious. Add a clear and big sound to the mix, and you will feel as if you are experiencing the gigs first-hand. 

The Lunar Laugh certainly picked the cream of the crop to be presented on Nighthawks!, with songs such as Tell Me A Story, Apollo, Winsome, Mama’s Boy, By The Light Of The Living Room, Work In Progress, Old New Kid In Town, Living A Lie and Waiting For A Sign, posting as just some of the gems encountered. Aside from featuring a becoming exterior, the interior of these tunes is also appealing, as the lyrics are thoughtful and observant.

 Blinking brightly with swirls of scrumptious harmonies, rows of well-rounded melodies and instrumentation as tight as steel, Nighthawks! examines The Lunar Laugh in their element and digging every minute of it. Whether the band is strumming a bouncy twang or rocking out to a driving beat, the energy and enthusiasm remains focused and direct. 

An early seventies West Coast accent anchors most of the tracks on Nighthawks!, with particular nods going to artists like Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Poco and America. Imagine these bands bearing a power pop edge, and that generally describes what The Lunar Laugh offers. 

A couple of covers further appear on the album, being Death Cab For Cutie’s ghostly hymn-styled Soul Meets Body and Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man, which The Lunar Laugh crowns with a rumbling jam. As an extra treat, two new studio songs  – I Wanna Know and It’s Okay  – are included on Nighthawks! Both of these numbers zero right in on the band’s trademark tone of glowing vocals, delectable hooks and tasty licks, leaving listeners hungry for their next album. But until then, here’s a superb souvenir of The Lunar Laugh, captured live and in action!  

By Beverly Paterson

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Pop Sunday

Bill Lloyd /Working The Long Game

Bill Lloyd

Working The Long Game (SpyderPop Records/Big Stir Records 2021) 

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/working-the-long-game

As one half of Foster & Lloyd, Bill Lloyd experienced a run of success on the country charts in the late eighties. Based in Nashville, Tennessee,  the acclaimed singer, songwriter and mercurial instrumentalist has further enjoyed a gratifying solo career as a pop rock artist.

Originally distributed by the SpyderPop label in the fall of 2018, Working The Long Game marked Bill’s ninth solo excursion. Earlier this year, SpyderPop joined forces with Big Stir Records, resulting in a partnership focusing on reissuing select albums, with Working The Long Game rolling in as the third release in the series.

 If there is any album worthy of a reprise, it is definitely Working The Long Game. Musically and lyrically, every song radiates spirit and substance. Bill’s lucid and lilting vocals, paired with in-the-pocket performances, equals dose after dose of melodious brilliance.

 A number of notable friends were also recruited to lend their craft to the sessions. Among these familiar figures are Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson, Freedy Johnston, Scott Sax of Wanderlust, Buddy Mondlock, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and Graham Gouldman, whose credits involve authoring hit singles for The Hollies and The Yardbirds, as well as playing in his own renowned bands, such as The Mindbenders, Hot Legs and 10cc

Guitars that simultaneously chime and crunch man the punchy Satellite, and the title track of the album shuffles to a merry vaudeville- inspired beat, which sounds kind of like a collaboration between The Kinks and Paul McCartney. A pinch of swagger and crackling power chords  stand as the engaging elements behind Yesterday, where the jagged riffage and rustling rhythms of Interrupted produces a bit of a funky tenor.

 Sealed to the seams with bracing hooks and a perky chorus, the slightly-country seasoned Make That Face, and the haunting glare of What Time Won’t Heal are additionally accented by sharp and spacious arrangements. Another attention-grabber on the album is the incredibly catchy Go-To-Girl, which romps to a youthfully exuberant bounce that crosses the sunny harmonies of The Beach Boys with the bright polish of The Smithereens

If you missed Working The Long Game the first time around, now is your chance to score a copy and sink your ears into a groovy guitar pop extravaganza. Nothing but the best is expected from Bill Lloyd, and here’s an album that delivers the goods on all counts.

By Beverly Paterson

Categories
Pop Sunday

The Toms / Tomplicated

The Toms

Tomplicated (Songgram/Futureman)

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tomplicated

Not only has all-around musician Tommy Marolda worked with folks such as Cher, Rod Stewart, The Bee Gees and Richie Sambora, but in film and television as well. To power pop fans, however, he is best known as The Toms, which is a vehicle for his own musings.

Tommy staged his debut as The Toms in 1979 with an album simply coined The Toms, that is now regarded as a true blue classic and has been reissued on two separate occasions. Super catchy pop songs – coupled with the fact the project was entirely conceived by Tommy – proved to be seriously impressive and encouraged other musicians to follow suit. Getting signed by a label and relying on professional producers and state-of-the-art studios was not necessary to cut records. Therefore, The Toms stands as an early entry in the do-it-yourself sweepstakes. 

Forty-plus years on, The Toms are still a going concern, and the latest album, Tomplicated, lives up to the star-studded reputation gleaned from previous releases. Lead vocals, multiple instrumentation and songwriting is handled by Tommy, while Catherine Marolda is on strings and Jason Woodney is credited as additional keyboardist.

Recorded in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Tommy resides, Tomplicated marries conventional pop procedures to experimental twitches, forming an ear-gripping soundscape that calls to mind mid-period Beatles knocking knees with XTC and The Cars.  

Comprised of bounding rhythms, punchy guitars, driving percussion and a taunting tenor, Pinball Replay rocks with melodic force, and the instantly infectious You Shot Me Out Of Your Canon keys in as a chipper piece of paisley-laced dance hall whimsy. 

Framed of a moody finish, Marathon features a showing of breathy harmonies and a pretty piano break, and the throbbing title track references the Rolling Stones as portions of the band’s song Complicated, are freely pick-pocketed, capped with a blast of noisy backward guitars. 

A compelling collision of strummy chords and big drums govern One Man Girl Parade, which is subsequently enhanced by a sprightly chorus of “la la la’s,” the nerve-rattling chime of Mini Bomb Girl conveys a psychedelic-flavored new wave vibe, and the closing number on the album, It Doesn’t Matter At All, beams with pure pop bliss. 

Constructed of clever arrangements, unexpected dips and curves, and hooks of every shape, color and size, Tomplicated supplies no shortage of excitement. It’s a given listeners will find much to love about these plucky progressive pop tunes. 

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Pop Sunday

Mike Browning / Class Act

Mike Browning

Class Act

https://mikebrowning.bandcamp.com/album/class-act

At an age when most people are preparing to retire, Mike Browning launched a new career – as a recording star! The North Carolina based singer, songwriter and multi-varied instrumentalist’s debut effort – a six track EP aptly called Never Too Late –  was released in 2020, ensued  by a single, Another Bite At The Apple. Both of these endeavors received rave receptions, which duly celebrated Mike’s indelible talent for composing, arranging and playing hook happy pop rock to the hilt. 

However, Mike’s current collection – Class Act – was not intended to be an album. The project was initially conceived back in 2018, when Mike was enrolled in a recording and production program taught by Jamie Hoover of the famed Spongetones. Students were assigned to pick tunes of their choice to record, and the numbers on Class Act are those Mike selected. 

Exclusively covers, the material basically sticks to the same structure and tempo of the original recordings. But Mike’s bubbly harmony-laden vocals, attended by his earnest passion for the music, stamps a fresh feel onto the songs. 

Considering The Beach Boys are one of Mike’s key inspirations, it is only appropriate that Class Act opens the session with the sunshine-soaked doo-wop of Do It Again. In fact, the album focuses heavily on the sounds of the sixties. 

The Beatles are saluted on Norwegian Wood, while Picture Book by The Kinks, and the Spencer Davis Group’s keyboard-driven Gimme Some Lovin’ are also revisited in fine form. 

As well, the garage rocking (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone – which was popularized by The Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders – and Just Like Romeo And Juliet from The Reflections, appear on the album. 

Then there’s a couple of Bob Dylan essays, which are delivered in the manner mainly recognized by the versions by The Byrds. Among these songs are the countrified You Ain’t Going Nowhere and the ringing folk rock of My Back Pages.  Further folk rock pieces include the quirky nursery rhyme prose of The Little Black Egg (The Nightcrawlers) and the bright and beautiful I’ll Never Find Another You, that The Seekers scored a hit with in  1965. 

XTC fans will rejoice when hearing Mike’s spot on treatment of the paisley-appareled Dear Madame Barnum, along with Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309/Jenny, which bounces to a cool new wave vibe.

It is a good thing Mike decided to make these cuts available. Lively and sparkling with enthusiasm, the album certainly deserves an A-plus. Class Act will tide us over until Mike’s next album of his own great songs rears its head. 

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Pop Sunday

Johnathan Pushkar / Compositions

Johnathan Pushkar

Compositions (Jem)

https://www.johnathanpushkar.com/

Having garnered golden reviews from his first album – “Straighten Up” – Johnathan Pushkar returns to center stage with the equally exceptional “Compositions.” Planted in familiar and fertile soil that nurtured his debut effort, the Nashville, Tennessee based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist once again back pedals to the pre-psychedelic age of rock and roll for inspiration. Johnathan’s bright and boyish vocals – which parrot a cross between Buddy Holly and Gary Lewis – united with his deft tunecraft abilities, portrays the mood of the era he mines with remarkable precision. 

Peddling giddy anticipation, “Any Second Now” recalls a long lost British Invasion  nugget. From the radiant guitars to the zesty rhythms to the airy chorus, the infectious song opens “Compositions” with a sugar-fueled jolt. Pronounced by ringing hooks and a tasty break, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” is the kind of chipper cut the Knickerbockers were known for laying down.

Performed at a lower volume and softer pitch, “Making Plans” is a mid-paced ballad soaking in the sorrow of being separated from a sweetheart for the summer, while the foot-wiggling “Just Friends” owes a nod to the country flavored musings of the Beau Brummels. Then there’s “Does What She Does,” which spills forth with twinkling melodies and jovial harmonies in the recognizable style of the Beach Boys. Charted of string arrangements and a somber feel, the delicate “No One Ever Said You Had To Stay” dispatches the story of a homecoming queen whose life after high school was met with disappointment, where the brooding blush of “Alexandra” shoots arrows at a possessive girlfriend and is peppered with some cool Zombiesque keyboard fills.

Due to its quaint lyrics and tight and riffy pop songs, “Compositions” tends to be frozen in time circa 1965, which is sincerely meant as a compliment. The sole track defying tradition is a reprise of “Juniior’s Farm” that was  recorded by Paul McCartney and Wings in 1974. Not only does  Johnathan’s  take of the song remain true to the initial rocking production, but drummer Geoff Britton – who played on the original version – lends his tub thumping skills to the session. 

As attested by the fine offerings on “Compositions,” Johnathan certainly has his bowl-headed and Beatle-booted affairs in order.  Everybody appreciates a catchy little ditty, and this album is stuffed with such pleasures. 

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Pop Sunday

The Weeklings / In Their Own Write

The Weeklings

In Their Own Write (JEM Records 2021)

http://www.jemrecordings.com/


Live albums are the next best thing to being there, especially when brought to you by a group as great as The Weeklings. Recorded on the stages of the Strand Theater in Lakewood, New Jersey and Daryl’s House in Pawling, New York, In Their Own Write truly does capture the widely adored combo in all their energetic and exciting splendor.

 Because The Weeklings are so adept at composing and playing heritage genres, you would swear on a stack of vinyl that their songs were platinum-plated hit singles from the golden age of pop rock. 
Bobbing with jingling guitars and cheery choruses, Little Tease, Don’t Know, Don’t Care and Little Elvis mimic the mop-topped Liverpool Class of 1963, where Morning, Noon And Night projects a stirring folk rock feel, accompanied by the tremor of a bluesy harmonica. 

Wrapped in rotating rhythms, surrounded by power chords  and drum drills snapping like rubber bands, In The Moment bears a potent Who presence, the chugging roll of 1,000 Miles Away rests firmly on Chuck Berry turf, and the melodic shimmer of Leave Me With My Pride would have been right at home on a Raspberries album.

No Weeklings’ gig is complete without greeting The Beatles. That said, In Their Own Write contains a pair of John Lennon and Paul McCartney covers, but rather than recycling the songs note for note, The Weeklings offer treatments that are far different from the original versions. Both The Word and Baby You’re A Rich Man are shaped of  a stately stance,  marked by weighty arrangements, a measured intensity and harmonica interludes, resulting in very unique and imaginative takes.

The Weeklings flex their stadium rock muscles to maximum momentum on the pulsing Running Away, which climaxes to a whirring jam, as well as the ultra-catchy 3, that bucks and bounces with stabbing hooks, elevated harmonies and a powerful and gritty lead vocal reminiscent of John Waite during his Babys days.

Intended to be experienced to at ear-splitting volume, In Their Own Right will have listeners clapping their hands, stomping their feet and singing along with these nifty tunes. The Weeklings have passed the audition. Here’s to a standing ovation and an encore! 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Richie Mayer / The Inn Of Temporary Happiness

Richie Mayer

The Inn Of Temporary Happiness

https://richiemayer.bandcamp.com/album/the-inn-of-temporary-happiness-2

Back in the late seventies and early eighties, Richie Mayer fronted Loose Lips – a band that was a key component of the fertile Chicago music scene – and released a critically appraised EP called Hung Up On Pop.  After four decades of silence, Richie has surfaced with his first solo album, The Inn Of Temporary Happiness, which is nothing short of dazzling. 

A self-contained effort, the thirteen-track set flashes on the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s flair for playing a mercurial selection of styles that skillfully results in a concerted collection. Richie’s poised and evocative vocals are also wide-ranging, encompassing pure pop, roots rock and even a touch of soul and progressive rock.

Picking up pointers from both The Beach Boys and Jellyfish, the cheery She Is Why  swirls with round and ripe melodies, complemented by a contagiously hummable chorus of “ba ba ba’s,” where the punchy Todd Rundgren influenced pop rock of You Don’t Get Me High Anymore is laced with a cool and breezy falsetto. 

Signing on as a prime demonstration of Richie’s gift for crafting enterprising hooks and arrangements is Dangerous Rhythm. The song starts off on a tick-tocking beat, then ultimately swells into a sampling of electrifying guitar flourishes and exciting orchestration altogether. 

As for the title cut of the album, a stately folk presence directs the course, and the frisky Sunshine Blues is simply a great pop song featuring radio-friendly assets by the pound. Get ready to click your heels and snap your fingers to the vaudeville inspired How Can I Leave When I’m Already Gone, while Sometimes I Feel Like I’m One Kiss Away plugs in as an epic performance, burning with power, heated emotions and cracking riffs. 

Additional attractions heard on The Inn Of Temporary Happiness are Love Will Find A Way and Warmth Of The Sun, but each number truly possesses its own pleasing personality. By melding conventional pop values with just the right balance of other assorted genres and left-field turns, Richie has fathered an album where not a single moment is wasted.

Now that The Inn Of Temporary Happiness is on the decks and gleaning rapturous reviews, perhaps such acceptance will encourage Richie to keep the creative juices flowing. To think we’ve been robbed of his talent for all these years is a real pity.  Not only should you buy a copy of The Inn Of Temporary Happiness for yourself, but purchase the record for your friends and family as well. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men / Heart Inside Your Head

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men

Heart Inside Of Your Head/One Of The Boyz (JEM Records 2021)

https://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com/track/heart-inside-your-head

Although the members of Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men have been mainstays of the Detroit, Michigan music scene for many years, the band itself is a fairly new entity.  Made up of lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Nick Piunti, bassist Jeff Hupp, keyboardist Kevin Darnall and drummer Ron Vensko, the band issued its debut album, Downtime, in 2020.

Five-star reviews were delivered in droves, and the guys are set to return to the spotlight once again in the form of not one, but two smashing singles.  

Despite the name, there is nothing the least bit complicated about the band. In terms of classic power pop, Heart Inside Of Your Head clearly exemplifies such a genre. Nick’s radio-rich vocals sound like a less rootsy version of Tom Petty, while the instrumentation is rock solid and to the point. Navigated by a riveting rhythm, Heart Inside Of Your Head is further layered with muscular melodies and grooving harmonies. Great lyrics as well, which are universally-themed and executed with passion.

 On One Of The Boyz, Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men crank the volume to maximum decibels and turn in a fist-pumping anthem that combines the throbbing beat of Slade with the modliness moves of The Jam and the rebel bite of The Clash. Bouncing with intent, the rousing song contains a shouting chorus impossible not to sing along with. 

Both these singles fully express Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men’s expertise for composing and playing the sort of hook-packed pop rock that refuses to go out of style. 

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Pop Sunday

Star Collector / Game Day

Star Collector

Game Day (Clockwise)

https://starcollectorcanada.bandcamp.com/album/game-day

After a fifteen year sabbatical from recording, Star Collector are back on board and sound better than ever. Weighing in as the Vancouver, Canada band’s fifth album, Game Day picks right up where these guys left off, meaning listeners are in for yet another exciting expedition of dashing pop rock performed at a high-octane level.

Since their inception in 1996, Star Collector has met a variety of personnel changes. The current version of the band features lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Vic Wayne, lead guitarist and vocalist Steve Monteith, bassist and vocalist Adam East and drummer and vocalist Adrian Buckley

Dominated by the hot roar of soaring guitars, beefy drum beats and charismatic vocals blooming with melody and might, Game Day consistently reveals Star Collector’s astounding dynamics and ability to operate in an extra sensory perception manner. Astronomical choruses, supported by ribbons of rich and robust hooks are additional principal factors bedded into the songs.

Star Collector’s single-minded intensity arrives in full force on cuts like the title track of the album, the swaggering sneer of Rip It Off, the heavy-handed Super Zero Blues, Green Eyes and The Silent Type.  For a brief moment of quiet and solitude, there’s Hook, Line & Singer, which is acoustic-based.

Think the arena rock flash of The Who and Cheap Trick, layered with the Britpop of The Jam and Oasis, and that is basically where Game Day is at. Not a bad thing at all, especially when considering Star Collector has both the motivation and energy to make their songs fresh and imaginative. Well-oiled and sizzling with rockstar attitude, Game Day is a power chord fan’s ticket to the promised land. 

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Pop Sunday

Tambourina / Tambourine Dream

Tambourina

Tambourine Dream

(JAM Records 2021) 

Formerly known as Glowfriends, Tambourina recently issued Tambourine Dream, which serves as their debut outing under the new name. The eight-song set has been pressed in limited quantities on vinyl, but is also available on compact disc. 

Although the Kalamazoo, Michigan band changed their moniker, they have remained fully committed to the style of music they have been writing and playing for nearly twenty years. Comprised of the Zimont spouses – April (lead singer, vibrophone, tambourine) and Adam (drums, vocals) – along with another husband and wife team – Mark Andrew Morris (vocals, guitar, glockenspiel) and Holly Klutts-Morris (bass) – the quartet are dyed-in-the-wool shoegazers. 

Like any good album of its ilk, Tambourine Dream boasts the ability to transport listeners to magical realms. So find a comfortable spot, rest your head on a bank of pillows, shut your eyes and allow your imagination to run wild while bathing your ears in a spellbinding symphony of multi-colored shapes and designs.  

High in melodic content and paced accordingly, Tambourine Dream produces wave after wave of unforgettable motions. Propelled by drive, energy and a mesmerizing mood, Where To Start and the seizing swirl of Acknowledge You reel in as top-drawer tunes included on the album. The stirring Stay Home and the jingly sting of Matt & Sarah post as additional gems to be cherished. 

Easy breezy vocals flush with beauty and grace, twinned with virile orchestration based around ping-ponging rhythms, ringing guitars, washes of fierce feedback, shaking tambourines and contrasting hues of dark and light, view Tambourina at the peak of their shoegazing powers. Not only will fans of the genre enjoy Tambourine Dream, but even those who are not versed in this brand of music will get hooked on these hypnotic sounds.