From the Jem Records’ upcoming tribute to Brian Wilson disc, we get The Grip Weeds covering You’re So Good To Me. The Grip Weeds respectfully deliver their own brand of power pop, which, combined with Wilson’s genius, is the stuff that pop dreams are made of. This is music that will make you happy.
Old Town Crier is multi-instrumentalist Jim Lough, and Don’t Go hails from his most excellent e.p., I’m Longing For You Honey in Middleboro, Mass. With a rollicking feel akin to Old 97’s or Squirrel Nut Zippers, Lough effortlessly blends American music elements from the Civil War right on through to The Velvet Underground. Lough’s pleading vocal and hooky guitar riff make Don’t Go interesting and unforgettable.
If somebody had told me that Why was written by Felice & Boudeleaux Bryant for Tom & Jerry or The Everly Brothers, I’d have believed it. Not much winsome pop music, simply arranged and sweetly sung, gets made these days, making this track just the breath of fresh air we need right now.
Jeff Shelton’s music has always had a certain 1990’s-indie pop vibe, and here, he leans into that inspiration. Guest vocalist Lindsay Murray gives All We Love an otherworldly feel, going a long way to filling in the hole left by The Sundays, Mazzy Star and The Darling Buds. Absolutely gorgeous.
Over the years, The Romantics have superbly combined elements of jangle, power pop and garage rock into their own thing. A lot of their sound has to do with the stellar guitar work (and bass work after Rich Cole left the band) of Mike Skill, an indie guitar hero, if ever there was one.
Skill’s new single, available on Spotify, is a gruff piece of slinky pop that sounds remarkably like 1966-67. Not quite as polished as The Beatles, but certainly tighter and punchier than groups like Them or The Troggs, So Soul Alone brings to mind cool girls in mod fashion, dancing in all-night basement clubs. More, please.
Really, there are a lot of great reasons to buy Curry Cuts’ tribute to Andy Gibb, but Pop 4’s take on (Love Is) Thicker Than Water is an absolutely stellar reason. While this whole band has got the vocal goods, Andrea Perry, one of our favorites, steals the show. Can anything sound as good as her voice double-tracked? I doubt it.
After you check out this tune, I highly recommend taking a trip through the back catalog of both Pop 4 and Andrea Perry. You will not be disappointed.
Nobody does jangle pop better than The Vapor Trails’ Kevin Robertson. Here, on his debut solo Lp, he manages to channel the charm of The Hollies and The Searchers, with the clever pop crispness of XTC. If you can listen to Into The Black without becoming a massive fan, then something is wrong with you.
Cheers also to Robertson’s co-conspirator, drummer and producer Nick Bertling, who always seems to know the perfect amount of living room to leave on the record.
When it comes to these tribute compilations, nobody does it better than the Curry Cuts label. Indeed, their previous releases, Songs, Bond Songs, and Here Comes The Reign Again, are high-ranking favorites here at Pop-A-Looza HQ.
Higher Than A Mountain is a revelation, in that it serves to jog our collective conscience into recalling what may have been forgotten….that Andy Gibb had a very impressive, albeit short, career. Pop 4 opens the comp with (Love Is) Thicker Than Water, Gibb’s first Gold single. The vocals on this one are simply to die for.
The Corner Laughers follow with Shadow Dancing, which nearly bests the original. Lisa Mychols takes on (Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away, complete with chill 70’s electric piano and breathy vocals. With remaining tracks provided by the likes of Coke Bela, Greg Pop, The Armoires, Irene Pena and Ken Sharp, this release is the perfect combination of reverence and nostalgia.
In the interest of full disclosure, the three guys that make up The Legal Matters are all friends of mine. I’ve been a Chris Richards fan since 2009’s Sad Sounds Of Summer, recorded with his excellent band, The Subtractions. Chris records for Keith Klingensmith’sFutureman Records, as do I. The third Legal Matter, Andy Reed, produces and engineers all parties mentioned here. Talk about yer nepotism.
Chapter Three is as comfortable as a favorite sweater, bathed in production techniques that recall Apple Records’ later output. If things like tea towels on toms and mellotron keys strike at the pleasure centers of your brain, you’ll love every second of this 41-minute long player.
Andy Reed’s The World Is Mine creeps along in sneering John Lennon fashion, while Chris Richards’ sweet That’s All floats with ethereal harmonies. The advance single from the album, the buoyant Light Up The Sky, still sounds as good as the first time I heard it. On the same level as the best of bands like Fountains Of Wayne or The Red Button, it’s an almost other-worldly good piece of music. Few bands have a song this strong, or the immaculate harmonies that Richards, Klingensmith and Reed have in combination. Top shelf.
Jenn Cleary’s latest, All Together Now!, “…offers children and families messages of connection, community, and caring for each other and our environment.” Considering what most of us have experienced in the last year and a half, that’s exactly what we could use more of. Love Right Now was suggested by Cleary’s mother, for that very same reason.
Continuing on in the same spirit, the pretty All Kinds Of Families acknowledges that families need not be made up of blood relatives exclusively. Considering that Cleary’s family includes an adopted daughter, this song is especially touching.
All of these songs are filled to the brim with warmth, and the hope that we may someday get to a place filled with kindness and compassion for others, as well as our natural world. That’s a sentiment that shouldn’t be hard for anyone to get on board with. Very well done.
Kerry Spitzer is one of those musicians whose toolbox is so chock-full, it can’t be closed. This guy can sit in with anybody, on multiple instruments, and be roundly respected. Swan Songs is Spitzer’s last outing to include vocals, as he has recently lost his voice to cancer. Thankfully, though, he was blessed with hands that speak clearly on their own.
Although the vocals are a bit rough, that roughness really manages to serve the songs. I’ll be damned if Bent doesn’t sound like an old Faces track, complete with Rod Stewart affectations. Likewise, the swampy No More Blues struts and slinks like nobody’s business.
Broadly, Swan Songs might fit into the Americana category, but there are elements of bluegrass, rock and folk, all existing together in the best possible way. This is something special, as it sounds better with each repeated listen. Go get it.
I would be shocked if Johnathan Pushkar’s favorite movie isn’t That Thing You You Do. If this was 1964 and Playtone Records was a reality, he would undoubtedly join their Galaxy of Stars.
Any Second Now is pure Mersey Pop bliss, as is the RutlesqueMaking Plans. At times, Pushkar sounds like a mix of Sean Lennon and former Fountains Of Wayne frontman, Chris Collingwood. His voice fittingly serves the material well.
My fave of the set is the buoyant Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind, which in a perfect world, would easily crack the top ten. Compositions is ripe with moments of really pleasant hooks and nods to the past. Well done.
Van Weezer is Rivers Cuomo’s love letter to the over-produced rock sounds of the decade of excess, the 1980’s. Snare drums are huge, as are the multi-multi-tracked guitars. I’d be suprised to find out that each part was less than quadrupled.
As always, though, the boys in Weezer have the goods to back up their indulgence. For the hair metal fans among you, there is plenty of Van Halen-style guitar playing, finger tapping, et al. I Need Some Of That and Sheila Can Do It are layered with enough big-rock cheese to make Bret Michaels blush through his blush.
More than a simple exercise in nostalgia, though, Van Weezer is seriously good. Cuomo was never a slouch at writing catchy songs, and this is undeniably a stellar batch. Irresistible.
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.
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.
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.
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’sShe’s About To Cross My Mind, albeit with enough impossibly-thick harmonies to make Brian Wilson and his Wonderments blush.
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.
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.
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.
Until we review Dolph Chaney’sThis 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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’sRun 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.
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 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.
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.