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Never Too Late (Mike Drop Music 2020)
Talk about serendipity! A fan of The Spongetones since day one, Mike Browning was absolutely thrilled when he bumped into the band’s leader, Jamie Hoover, on a Sunday afternoon at a Dairy Queen in Oak Island, North Carolina.
Upon conversing, Mike not only discovered he and Jamie were practically neighbors, but that Jamie was teaching recording and production classes at a local community college. Mike wound up enrolling in Jamie’s program, where he was accordingly educated in the fine art of cutting records.
Motivated by the lessons, Mike entered the studio and laid down a six track EP titled Never Too Late. A dazzling debut, the disc demonstrates Mike’s gift for recreating heritage pop rock sounds while adding his own deft composition and construction skills to the show.
Spilling forth with the parallel pairing of surf and hot rod music, We’re Hanging Out celebrates the freedom of the weekend and having fun with friends. Piloted by Mike’s liquid clear vocals camped somewhere between The Beach Boys and The Bobby Fuller Four, the spunky song bounces and pounces with beaming melodies at every turn, not to mention a zippy little guitar solo and a bracing break.
Similar aspirations arise on the positively irresistible Hide and Seek, that tells the tale of a flirtatious female who all the guys in town literally chase after. A catchy call and response chorus, aided by stabbing hooks and a pumping roller-rink styled organ worthy of The Gentrys and The Swinging Medallions, further inhabit this danceable ditty.
Co-written with Jamie Hoover, I Didn’t Realize I Was Lost stands as the only song on Never Too Late not written solely by Mike. Sporting a sure and steady arrangement, the sentiment sparkles and shines to a mid-paced beat surrounded by handclaps and lilting harmonies. A genuine rockabilly number, The List rattles off a long list of chores that demand attention, but in the end it is the narrator’s sweetheart topping the list.
Guided by a swaying rhythm and ringing licks, I Can’t See Nothing But You carries a bit of a sea shanty feel, and Watching the Lines on the Road crackles gingerly to a traditional country setting, spotted with the bray of a honking harmonica and clanging cowbell.
There is no doubt the songs on Never Too Late would have been huge hit singles had they existed when AM Radio was where it was at. But good music is timeless, and these tunes indeed possess such a quality. Pure; playful and brimming with wide-eyed wonder, Never Too Late is the kind of record that makes you glad to be alive.
Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave (Big Stir Records 2020)
Stationed in Burbank, California, Big Stir Records is not only impressively prolific, but the quality of the label’s output remains consistently high. Along with releasing a never-ending stream of great discs by bands and solo artists, the banner regularly produces Big Stir Singles compilations, which contain both the A and B sides of digital singles recorded by acts from nearly every nook and cranny of the world.
The imprint’s most recent collection – Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave – offers an extra treat, as a number of these songs have never been aired until now. You’ll also notice that much of the material relates to the confusing and chaotic times we are presently experiencing.
Stacked with storming riffs, a driving backbeat and a punchy chorus, Far Away from The Incurables cuts a dashing power pop pose, and The Ex-Quaranteens sign in with We’ll All Drink Alone Together, a mid-tempo crooner-type ballad rimmed with country-laden pedal steel guitar gestures. From Broken Arrows, there’s the anthemic folk rock of Worst Of The Rest, which is wrapped in a bundle of ringing and jingling six-string sensations. Anton Barbeau and Kenny’s Land Of Economy spins and soars to a dizzy display of daring melodies and surrealistic lyrics that resemble a curious coupling of 10CC and Robyn Hitchcock.
A double shot of penetrating garage rock is provided by The Forty Nineteens in the form of Crocodile Tears and Late Night Radio, the latter which features legendary Standells guitarist Tony Valentino. The Vapour Trails make good with the atmospheric bluster of A Bit More Fire, where Strange moves to a grittier gait projecting in an early seventies underground rock vibe pockmarked with bluesy harmonica fills.
The Corner Laughers step up to the plate and hit a home run with the jaunty Calculating Boy, and Nick Frater unveils a spine-tingling showing of his amazing vocal prowess on Intro. The fast and frantic If Romance Is Dead Then I Want To Be Dead Too from Carol Pacer & The Honey Shakers teams hillbilly aspirations with reckless punk rock energy to exciting effects, while the band deposits a completely different demeanor on Love Does, a sweet and tender acoustic-based ballad.
Contributions from Rick Hromadka include the big and bright harmony popfest of Searchlight that should send fans of The Beach Boys and Todd Rundgren into orbit, and Dreams Of A Hippy Summer, which floats and flutters with flowery psychedelic frequencies. Kai Danzberg and Dear Stella’s Let Him Go lets loose a lashing of trippy space-age soundscapes, and The Empty City Squares check in with History Rhymes, a hook-heavy slab of hypnotic pop-rock grandeur.
Bumper to bumper with catchy tunes, Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave is the yardstick which all albums of its kind should be measured. Nothing but top picks here, my friends.
A Classic 60s Philly Band (Gear Fab Records 2020)
Although The Oxfords never netted national recognition, they experienced a great deal of success in and around the Philadelphia area during the sixties. A constantly booked schedule, including holding the prestigious title of house band at a local Hullabalo Club and appearances on regional television programs were among the group’s shining achievements.
The Oxfords also released four singles between 1964 and 1967, along with several tracks that remained in the vaults until now. A Classic Philly 60s Band marks the first time all the band’s efforts have been brought together on one collection.
Fixated on the British pop sounds of the day, The Oxfords executed their influences with raw talent and enthusiasm. The band’s phrasing and inflection, combined with a sharp sense of harmony and exuberant energy echoed the likes of The Searchers, The Hollies and The Swinging Blue Jeans. An earthy garage rock production provided the group’s material with an additional stroke of charm.
Extra points go to The Oxfords for writing a good chunk their own songs, which revealed a fine grasp of melody and motion. Accented by shuffling riffs and rhythms, It Serves You Right sails in as a tasty bite of Mersey-flavored ear candy, and the foot-tapping Help Me (Understand) further celebrates the band’s flair for coupling synchronized vocals with catchy instrumentation.
Stay in school, get a high school diploma and the world will be yours for the taking is the message conveyed on the plucky Don’t Be A Dropout, while Even True Love Can Die jangles with rockabilly flourishes. Illuminated by soft and shimmery textures, Without You registers as a sophisticated slice of sunshine pop splashed with a touch of soul.
Filed in the cover category, an adaptation of Ben E. King’s Don’t Play That Song drips with drama and heartache, where John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s You Won’t See Me is padded with brass arrangements, supplying the cut with a bit of a slick Motown styled finish.
Composed of fourteen hooky ditties, A Classic Philly 60s Band will not only yield happy memories for those who were there when The Oxfords were storming the scene, but fans of “Nuggets” and “Pebbles” type combos will appreciate the group’s nifty teen beat tunes as well.
The Empty Hearts
Second Album (Wicked Cool Records)
A true supergroup, The Empty Hearts are Wally Palmar from The Romantics on vocals, rhythm guitar and harmonica, Elliot Easton of The Cars on lead guitar and vocals, Andy Babiuk from The Chesterfield Kings on bass and Clem Burke of Blondie on drums and vocals.
In 2014, The Empty Hearts released their self-titled debut album, which was expectedly greeted with wild applause. Considering how busy these guys are with their own separate projects, they can be excused for taking so long to deliver a follow-up effort. But it was definitely worth the wait, because the properly coined Second Album is just as fun and exciting as the first endeavor.
Dotted with wailing Yardbirds‘ styled harmonica trills, The Best That I Can crackles and crunches with classic garage rock fervor, and then there’s Well, Look At You, which includes hip horn arrangements and grooves to a sprightly soulful timbre.
Hook-laden power pop is the name of the game on fetching numbers such as If I Could Change Your Mind and Coat-Tailer, where Sometimes Shit Happens For A Reason bristles to a gritty blues pitch managed by tobacco-ravaged vocals and raw-boned emotion.
The band’s good friend, Ringo Starr, lends his fabled tub-thumping prowess to Remember Days Like These, that chimes brightly with Byrds inspired bliss and magical melodies by the mile. An apt statement of the turbulent times we’re currently experiencing, The World’s Gone Insane roars with red hot anger generated by throttling riffs and pulsing punk rock energy. Shaped of a larger than life chorus and a stomping beat, Come On And Try It plugs in as another rousing raver included on the collection.
Those hungry for a shot of authentic rock and roll will certainly feed their need with Second Album. The Empty Hearts play their great songs straight from their hearts – pun badly intended – and their passion for the music is instantly infectious. Equipped with killer-diller chops and the kind of telepathic chemistry found in the best bands, these fellows were destined to be together. Here’s to a standing ovation.
Such Open Sky (Futureman Records)
Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Gretchen’s Wheel is essentially a single-person operation steered by the heavenly vocals and poetic songwriting skills of Lindsay Murray. October 2 is the date her new studio album, Such Open Sky, will be available. Flowing with exceptional entries, the disc promises to floor established fans as well as first-time listeners.
Orbiting around an intriguing blend of atmospheric auras and jingling riffs, Can’t Shake The Feeling keys in as just one of the album’s many highlights, not to neglect You Should Know, which starts off on a delicate, strummy note before expanding into a rocking repertoire of amplified power. Formed of sweeping piano chords and dynamic vox exercises, Sleight Of Hand gushes with class and sophistication, while Interloper romps to a fairly funky beat anchored by tightly-toned drumming and a series of uniquely catchy melodies.
A lovely slice of sonic radiance, involving pretty patterns and sun-kissed harmonies, Land On Zero dispenses wise psychological advice to the subject at hand, and Infernal Machine dives in as a volcanic blast of hard-edged instrumentation threaded with penetrating breaks and battery-charged hook lines.
Containing a good balance of soft textures and weightier interludes, Such Open Sky demonstrates how flexible and fluid Gretchen Wheel’s energy and imagination is. By incorporating a contemporary pop essence with a freestyle indie approach, the record claims widespread appeal. Five albums on, Gretchen’s Wheel continues to create spellbinding songs geared to inspire or simply chill out to. Bounding forth with neat surprises, Such Open Sky shimmers with nuggets of pop rock gold.
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Fast & Loose (Big Stir Records 2020)
September 18 is a date to celebrate, because that is the day Nick Frater – who hails from Croydon, England – releases his fifth studio album, Fast & Loose. Those already acquainted with the multi-tasking musician need not be informed of his forte for siring ingenious songs bleeding with radio-friendly frequencies. Nick’s radiant vocals, rife with melody and movement, are custom fit for the type of songs he writes so well.
Operating at an arresting tempo, supported by cracking guitar licks and ringing organ chords, Luna produces memories of Paul McCartney and Wings, and although Cocaine Gurls mentions The Talking Heads, Stevie Nicks and Steely Dan, the song crosses a rocking Cheap Trick inspired bite with the wry wit of Elvis Costello.
Locked and loaded with infectious breaks and divine harmonies, Let’s Hear It For Love is a bona fide power pop marvel, while the title track of the album is a blazing instrumental, pronounced by an inviting interplay of slick dance rhythms and ripping rock grooves. Switching the dial to the easy listening station, there’s finely-engineered ballads such as Moonstruck, That Ship Has Sailed and Endless Summertime Blues, which emphasize Nick’s appreciation for the moodier and more experimental side of The Beach Boys.
Filled to the limit with top-floor sounds and expressions, Fast & Loose captures Nick’s golden gift for reprising classic pop rock styles into his own understanding of the current moment. Diligently-designed songs, matched by a consistently punctual delivery, provide the album with pint after pint of scrumptious sonic delights.
Ever the generous guy, Nick recruited a group of good pals to contribute their talents to Fast & Loose, including Spygenius, The Stan Laurels, Whelligan, Super 8, Emperor Penguin, Do Me Bad Things and Steve Lowe.
Not one to remain idle, Nick is now hard at work on his next album. Until then, spin the heck out of Fast & Loose and have fun singing and swinging along with these great songs. No mask or social-distancing required!
Lisa Mychols & Super 8
Lisa Mychols & Super 8 (The Beautiful Music 2020)
It’s always exciting when a collaboration between talented musicians occurs, and the teaming of Lisa Mychols and Paul “Trip” Ryan (who operate under the moniker Lisa Mychols & Super 8) is no exception. Lisa’s bright and lively vocals stand as the ideal companion to Trip’s intrepid instrumental and structural techniques, while the songwriting is flush with melodic allure.
Trimmed with a twinkly psychedelic border, Trip & Ellie’s Music Factory frolics to a giddy gait, features a groovy break and contains a sheaf of mouth-watering bubblegummish lyrics. Governed by swagger and sass, Time Bomb rocks and with style and intent, where Flying Close To The Sun flourishes in form with vibrant hues and heart-stopping harmonies.
Clothed in string arrangements and mining a bit of good old fashioned vaudeville virtues, The Monkee Song offers a dosage of goofy fun, and the majestic The Arms Of Water imparts images of the rolling waves of an ocean, complete with the sound of singing seagulls.
The duo’s flair for acoustic-based roots rock arrives on an inspired interpretation of Kenny Rankin’s Peaceful, in which Trip handles lead vocals in mighty fine fettle. Another cover appearing on the album is the moody chant-infested Witchi Tai To, that was a minor hit in 1969 for a band called Everything is Everything.
Branded with a becoming blend of musical values, Lisa Mychols & Super 8 adds up to a thoroughly pleasurable listening experience. Lisa and Trip work well together, so here’s hoping their partnership produces further choice creations.
The World’s Filled With Love (ABC Records 1968)
A real obscurity, The World’s Filled With Love marked the lone album by The Griffin. Comprised of Bruce Bentley on guitars, Vince Morton on keyboards and Jerry Brown on drums, the long-forgotten trio assimilated the many sights and sounds of the mercurial musical era in which they existed into their own interesting and oddball sonic statements.
Although The World’s Filled With Love ping pongs from style to style, there is no denying The Griffin were a tight and polished band. Sterling singfests, akin to those of The Association and The Cowsills, magnified by precise timing and tone, reveals these fellows were rehearsed and professional. But a fun and playful factor still manages to figure into the equation, suggesting The Griffin were allowed plenty of mobility.
Captained by a soulful vocal, I’m Movin’ On is highlighted by a rollicking mid-section romp with Who-flavored flash and flair, and I Could Never Leave You bops and hops to a cute and catchy bubblegummy vaudeville shuffle. Not to be confused with the Steppenwolf song of the same name, Magic Carpet Ride reels and rolls to a ghostly glare, and the hypnotic pulse of Lovely Blossom features some neat sitar samplings.
A curious contrast of joy and sorrow arises on Murder In The Cathedral, which tells the tale of a homicidal wedding. Performed at an energetic clip, backed by a merry chorus of la la la’s and a moody church organ, the cryptic composition bears a mesmerizing choral pop feel. Clutching rhythms and burning hooks fuel the rousing I’m Takin’ The Freeway and the sleepy-eyed In My Other Life is a trippy meditation on reincarnation.
The title track appears in three different places – two are quick instrumentals, clocking in at mere seconds. The third version of The World’s Filled With Love closes the album with a sweeping flourish to a sunny showcase of heavenly harmonizing and electrifying orchestration. Also of note, carnival-colored rings of a calliope organ crop up between each cut on the album.
By blending psychedelic motifs with supper club elegance, The Griffin produced an album that is strangely appealing. A period piece for sure, The World’s Filled With Love includes enough groovy moments to be so far out that it is in. It’s a bummer The Griffin didn’t create more music because it would have been great to hear where they would have gone from here.