Categories
Quick Spins

Matthew Sweet, Braam Brothers & The Laurie Berkner Band

Matthew Sweet

Catspaw (Omnivore)

After 1997’s Blue Sky On Mars, Matthew Sweet just kinda fell off my radar. Although I enjoyed the covers records he did with Susanna Hoffs, I lost touch with his solo work. After hearing rave reviews from friends regarding Catspaw, I thought it might be time to get reacquainted.

Sweet’s voice is in remarkable shape, belying the fact that his ground-breaking Girlfriend Lp is 30 years old. Here, Sweet is stripped back to that era, with in-your-face dry production, framing that evergreen voice. That isn’t the sole reminder of his biggest past success. The songs are really, seriously good.

The opener, Blown Away, is a chugging White Album rocker that blisters with rough guitar and McCartney-inspired bass, both played by Sweet. Opting to cover lead parts himself, Sweet succeeds in pulling off what amounts to an amalgam of all the guitarists who’ve been his sidemen over the years. Challenge The Gods and Stars Explode both get the blood pumping with similar aplomb, chorus hooks and those trademark, double-tracked Sweet harmony vocals.

Catspaw is a strong outing that surprisingly improves with each successive listen. Highly recommended.

Braam Brothers

Landscapes

https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/braambrothers/landscapes

For me, one of the joys of listening to and appreciating new music, is that you often get so much more than you originally anticipated. Such is the case with the latest by The Braam Brothers, Landscape.

The brothers were kind enough to send me a vinyl review copy, which is almost unheard of these days. Unpacking the Lp and peeling off the cellophane, I could already feel the anticipation growing. Coupled with a really nicely-designed cover, I hoped that the music inside would be equally as appealing. It would not disappoint.

As I went through the first listen, my mind seriously began to wander. Not because the songs or performances were lacking or uninteresting, but because the overall vibe of the production took me back to a very specific place and time. 

In the early 90’s, my best friend lived in a loft in Chicago, with two of his fellow Second City performers. It was everything you’d imagine, from a manikin serving as a coatrack, to a beat-up motorcycle permanently installed in the freight elevator. My friend’s roommates were obsessed with R.E.M., and their first record seemed to be playing in that place, 24 hours a day. It almost had the feel of being on the set of a hip indie film, or stage production. For me, it was always a cool hang, whether we were scarfing down pizza as we took in an old  monster movie, or making fun of the Johns nervously trying to pick up the girls that were always, literally, walking the streets below.

The Braam Brothers took me back there, to a place and time that I rarely ever think about these days. Those dusty memories were there in my head alright, though months, even years, go by without their remembrance. I can’t promise a similar experience for you, but I can promise that, at the very least, you’ll get to hear some top-notch music.

My picks to click on this are the stirring title track, and the haunting I Want Your Love, both of which will make this Lp a contender for any year-end best list. These are honest tunes, played with no filter, by real musicians.

The Laurie Berkner Band

Let’s Go!

https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Go-Laurie-Berkner-Band

Laurie Berkner has covered in the upper echelon of family music for years now. Her songs are always crisp, smart and tuneful, a trend that continues with her latest, Let’s Go!

The title track is a nifty bit of pop set to the hand-jive rhythm, which lists everything that needs to be accomplished before we leave the house. If you’ve got one of those kids that drags his or her feet getting ready for an outing, this one’s for you!

Got a kid that resists wearing a mask during these unique times? The Superhero Mask Song is here to save the day! Without fear or condescension, Berkner explains how every kid can contribute to making their world a better place. This is good, positive stuff! My fave of the set is When It’s Cold, a winter song about keeping warm that’s as fun as it is funky.

Taking in this release just on the strength of how it sounds, it’s expertly produced and lively. The musicianship is top-notch, too. Berkner’s also got a ringer in the  band’s line-up, with Brady Rymer on bass guitar. Top-notch.

By Dan Pavelich

Categories
Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

Got Any Singles? Radio Days, The Legal Matters and Dw Dunphy

Radio Days

I Got A Love (Rock Indiana)

https://radiodays.bandcamp.com/

Radio Days serves up a swell slice of power pop via 1979, channeling bands like The Knack, that combined killer bubblegum choruses with powerhouse drums and muscular guitars. 

This one track is reason enough to anticipate the May 21st release of their long-player, Rave On! I have a feeling it’ll be one of the highlights of Spring/Summer.

The Legal Matters

Light Up The Sky

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/chapter-three

Another band bringing it strong with a teaser track is Michigan’s The Legal Matters. Light Up The Sky feels like the Midwestern version of The Red Button’s She’s About To Cross My Mind, albeit with enough impossibly-thick harmonies to make Brian Wilson and his Wonderments blush.

Dw Dunphy

Crime Scene Reporter

https://dwdunphy.bandcamp.com/

Nobody’s better at atmospheric creation than Red Bank’s Dw Dunphy. Charm Offensive is his latest project, from which Crime Scene Reporter comes. Dunphy gets inside the head of the unfortunately-assigned journalist, leaving the listener feeling fortunate not to have that particular occupation.

I do have a feeling, though, that Dunphy might not literally be singing about the crime scene reporter, but anyone who feels helpless to stop a disaster after said disaster has already occurred. Well done.

By Dan Pavelich

Categories
Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

Got Any Singles? Grey DeLisle, The Dupont Circles, Dolph Chaney & Joseph Williams

Grey Delisle’s latest single, Valentine, is a pretty, wistful ballad, guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings. Delisle’s emotional voice carries the melody as if it might be the last song she ever records (it isn’t). If you find the vocal on this a bit familiar-sounding, it might be because she’s also a voice actor, having played Daphne in Scooby Doo cartoons for years. Very nice.

https://www.amazon.com/Grey-DeLisle

***

The Dupont Circles produce a nifty brand of power pop, but they sure do take a looong time getting the stuff out. The tracks on their long player, In Search Of The Family Gredunza, took some 30 years to percolate and see the light of day. Our fave rave is Jokes On Zandra, a rough and ready rocker that recalls the best of The Replacements, with a dash of the Davies’ brothers thrown in for good measure.

https://thedupontcircles.bandcamp.com/

***

Until we review Dolph Chaney’s This Is Dolph Chaney, we recommend you check out his wink-and-a-nod track, My Good Twin. Chaney must be influenced more than a bit by Matthew Sweet, as this track made us want to give another spin to Sweet’s 100% Fun. Very well done, produced by the always-reliable Nick Bertling, who also takes a seat behind the kit.

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-dolph-chaney

***

Toto vocalist Joseph Williams’s latest solo outing features a collaboration with former bandmate David Paich on Black Dahlia. You’d be forgiven if you mistook its mid-tempo slickness for the new Toto single, as it’s got that band’s trademark vocal harmonies and rhythmic interest. Cool.

https://www.amazon.com/Denizen-Tenant-Explicit-Joseph-Williams/

By Staff

Categories
Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

The Vapour Trails / Taylor Swift / Dolph Chaney / Katrina

The Vapor Trails

That’ll Do It (Futureman)

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/underneath-tomorrow

That’ll Do It is one of seven swell songs from The Vapor Trails’ latest E.P., Underneath Tomorrow

The follow-up to last year’s brilliant full-length Golden Sunshine, it’s brimming with enough hooks to legally label the whole darn thing as a legit ear worm.

That’ll Do It evokes a mid 1960’s Carnaby Street vibe, with a dash of Boyce and Hart for good measure. Beginning with a twist on the classic Paperback Writer riff, this one combines youthful lead vocals and harmonies that pull you in, sounding both fresh and familiar at the same time. A gritty, biting solo tempers the tasty pop leaning of the track, before the listener is lured into the last few bars with echoey harmonica. This is everything pop music should be.

Taylor Swift

Willow (Republic)

https://www.amazon.com/evermore-Taylor-Swift/dp/

A lot of musicians took the energy usually reserved for touring, and channeled it into the recording studio. Taylor Swift released Evermore last December, a more introspective, acoustic release, in contrast to the pop sounds of Lover.

Willow is a nifty single, and finds Swift exploring a folkish path that Mandy Moore and creative partner Mike Viola have been mining for several years now. I like the way that Swift switches gears here, and Willow is one of her best. With a slightly-Latin lilt and more than a couple of hooks, I can hear this track being covered by a variety of artists.

Dolph Chaney

Now I Am A Man (Big Stir)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-dolph-chaney

We’ve only got one so far, from Dolph Chaney’s upcoming This Is Dolph Chaney release on Big Stir, and it’s a dilly. Chaney channels prime Matthew Sweet on this selection, complete with the bone-crushing guitars of Sick Of Myself. Big drums propel the whole she-bang, leaving no doubt that power pop is not only alive and kicking, but still capable of a Chuck-Norris-style roundhouse.

Though this is the only track currently available, you can pre-order the full album for digital download or on compact disc. Que bueno!

Katrina

Holiday (Music Manager)

Home – Hearts Loves & Babys – Katrina from Katrina & The Waves

From the instantly-likable Hearts, Loves & Babys, Holiday is a diamond among…well, other diamonds. This is an anthemic fist-pumper, which reminds me a bit of Slade’s Run Runaway. With a galloping rhythm that just makes you feel energized, it also shows that Ms. Leskanich hasn’t lost a bit of those famous pipes.

While Holiday has been ricocheting around in my brain this week, I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to get you to pull the trigger on the full Lp. I believe if you order a physical copy, she’s including an autographed 8×10 as well. Go.

By Dan Pavelich

Categories
Quick Spins

Suburban Urchins, Paul McCartney & Cliff Hillis

Suburban Urchins

Born In The Suburbs

http://suburbanurchins.bandcamp.com/

I should start this by saying that Suburban Urchins will appeal to fans of The Kinks. This rough-and-tumble outfit from Tasmania isn’t about smooth edges, but bringing the goods in the form of an iron-fisted right cross.

4000 Miles Away begins with a wind-up, propelled by big drums and power chords. With literally energy for miles, it leads way to I Don’t Wanna Go, an isolation song that’s a real fist-pumper. Scott Riley’s vocals and guitar are perfectly supplemented by the keys of Ernie Oppenheimer, who deftly sprinkles synth and Farfisa throughout.

My fave of the set is the anthemic No More Black Dogs, which feels right out of The Davies’ Brothers playbook, in all the right ways.

Paul McCartney

McCartney III

www.paulmccartney.com

Paul McCartney brings his own namesake trilogy to a close with McCartney III. With most of the world in lockdown mode in 2020, Macca split his time between days at his recording studio, and evenings with his daughter and grandkids.

I’m a big fan of the first two installments of the trilogy, the first producing Every Night and Maybe I’m Amazed, the latter, Coming Up and Waterfalls. Working by oneself can produce results far different that a full band effort, and I think McCartney flourishes in this setting.

The instrumentation, which relies predominantly on acoustic instruments, is the perfect stage for Sir Paul’s now-weathered vocals. Find My Way is a peppy number fuel by harpsichord and guitar riffs that mimmic horn stabs. Lavatory Lil and Slidin’ are a couple of top-notch rockers, and Winter Bird/When Winter Comes is a pretty acoustic musing, and one of McCartney’s best.

All around, this is a really pleasant listen. With vibes to spare and a lot of really strong songs, I can’t recommend McCartney III enough.

Cliff Hillis

Life Gets Strange 

cliffhillis.bandcamp.com

The undeniable sign of a great release? Repeat listens. I’ll bet that in the past two days, I’ve listened to this e.p. at least ten times. From the first verse of the opener, the rambling Let’s Pretend, to the fadeout of the pretty Alien Eyes, I was comfortably hooked.

Cliff Hillis sounds remarkably like Bill Lloyd, who you know I’m partial to. These six tracks are nestled somewhere between the feisty Americana of Cracker and the always-reliable Tom Petty, but without any Southern vocal affectation. Hillis’s friendly, warm voice is perfectly accompanied by the contrast of crisp acoustic guitars and rougher electrics. The production is absolutely on-point.

Life Gets Strange was released in 2020, and I sincerely regret not hearing it earlier. It certainly would have made my year-end-best list. Highly Recommended.

By Dan Pavelich

Categories
Pop-A-Looza TV Quick Spins

Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra / White Christmas

Categories
Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

Dan Pavelich’s 1st Annual Means-nothing Awards

Please note: These awards mean nothing beyond the fact that I like what the recipients did. There were tons of albums, songs and videos that I never heard or saw. 2020 was a shitty year in general, but an extraordinary one for great independent music. It would have been impossible to acknowledge or consume all of it.

DP

Coolest Release of the Year

Michael Slawter & The Pleased To Meet Me’s – Dear Bastards (Flexidisc)

Record of the Year

Marshall Holland – Paper Airplane

Song of the Year

The Vapour Trails – Lonely Man

Best Vinyl Releases (Tie)

Maurice & The Stiff Sisters – Welcome To Love

Gretchen’s Wheel – Such Open Sky

Best Cassette Release

Dw Dunphy – Test Test Test

Top Ten Singles of the Year  (In no particular order)

Ken Sharp – Girl

Ed Ryan – Even Time

Nick Frater – Let’s Hear It For Love

Tenderhooks – 20-20 Vision

More Animal – I Won’t Forgive You

The Empty Hearts – Coat-tailer

Katrina – Drive

Mike Daly & The Planets – This Is My Life

Coke Bela – Thank You, Paul

The Pretenders – The Buzz

Top Ten Long Players of the Year (In no particular order)

The Well Wishers – Shelf Life

Katrina – Hearts, Loves and Babys

honeychain – Pocketful of Good Luck

Tom Curless and The 46% – Almost Ready For The Future

Bill Lloyd – Don’t Kill The Messenger

It’s Karma It’s Kool – Woke Up In Hollywood

Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men – Downtime

Pop Co-Op – Factory Settings

Gary Ritchie – Head On Swivel

The Toms – The 1979 Sessions

Music Video of the Year

Tiny Bit Of Giant’s Blood – Girl Over Here

Best Children’s/Family Releases (In no particular order)

Lindsay Munroe – I Am Kind

Rena Strober & Friends – Imagine That

Red Yarn – Backyard Bop

Flor Bromley – Fiesta Global

Diana Panton – A Cheerful Little Earful

Congrats to all of the winners!

Categories
Pop-A-Looza TV Quick Spins

Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra / White Christmas

Categories
Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

New Christmas Singles!

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men

Christmas Morning

https://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com/track/christmas-morning

Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men continue their 2020 hot streak with Christmas Morning, a nifty bit of rocking yule, equal parts Paul Westerberg and Bryan Adams. A gritty comment on Christmas commerciality that is definitely this year’s Christmas ear worm.

Irene Pena

Will You Turn Up (For Christmas)

https://irenepena.bandcamp.com/album/will-you-turn-up-for-christmas

Combining spooky surf guitar runs with a sweet melody, Will You Turn Up (For Christmas) is quickly becoming a favorite to accompany holiday decorating at my house. This one wouldn’t sound out of place on the great Phil Spector Lp that is so beloved. Nicely done!

Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8

Red Bird

http://Lisamychols.bandcamp.com

Lisa Mychols and Paul Ryan (SUPER 8) give us Red Bird, a dreamy winter pop tune full of twinkling bells and floaty, ethereal vocals. Cheerful in all the right ways, it’s a welcome addition to the seasonal songbook. Pretty.

Categories
Quick Spins

The Bookends / The Well Wishers /The Vapour Trails

The Bookends

Calliope (JEM)

http://www.jemrecordings.com

The Bookends pick up right where The Bristols left off, with their JEM Records debut. Filled to the brim with double-tracked vocals, jangly guitars and catchy choruses, these fourteen original tunes are more fun than a barrel of Monkees.

Karen Lynn and Sharon Lee anchor the band, augmented by guitarist Frank Labor, and multiple drummers. Clearly influenced by the guitar pop of the 1960’s, Face The Facts and Mr. Know It All sound like a couple of lost Boyce & Hart numbers. My fave of the set, however, is the slinky She’s Got It, which shows that these ladies aren’t afraid of shifting gears. Very cool.

The Well Wishers

Shelf Life (TMSM)

https://thewellwishers.bandcamp.com

I was just telling someone the other day, that not only was I amazed at how prolific a songwriter Jeff Shelton is, but also at his ability to keep a standard of quality that few can match. Last Year’s The Lost Soundtrack was phenomenal, as was 2018’s A View From Above.

We Grow Up drives like an overland trucker, as does All The Same. Filled with muscular guitar arrangements and a 90’s pop sensibility, these tracks would fit well on a playlist between Bob Mould and Matthew Sweet. Shelton and his Well Wishers are equally adept on the alt-country Holidays Await and the groovy Only The Rain. Shelf Life is top-shelf.

The Vapor Trails

Golden Sunshine (Futureman)

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/golden-sunshine

The Vapor Trails caught my ear earlier this year, with their swell single, Lonely Man. Reminiscent of quality, classic guitar pop from Herman’s Hermits to The Rembrandts, it was the perfect teaser for their full-length, Golden Sunshine.

These twelve tracks are brimming with hook-laden goodness, and quite often make the listener feel like they are literally basking in the Golden Sunshine. The One That Got Away is dreamy in a Phil Angotti/The Idea way, and Different Girl slinks with a groove that is irresistible. Harmony vocals are sweet and well-thought-out, complimenting the abundant guitar jangle to perfection. Highly recommended.

By Dan Pavelich