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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

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. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson

Even those with a casual interest in music are aware The Beach Boys sit at the top of the totem pole, as one of the most successful and influential bands of all time. This year marks the sixty year anniversary of the birth of the band – which was founded by visionary leader Brian Wilson – and in honor of the milestone, JEM Records has put together a terrific tribute album starring a sea of familiar faces from the indie community.

 Although JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson mainly focuses on well-known songs rather than deep cuts, a fair share of these tracks are rendered in unique ways. As an example, The Weeklings turn in an a cappella adaptation of The Warmth Of The Sun, while their cover of Help Me Rhonda approximates a raspy-throated blues approach. Then there’s Nick Piunti’s gritty and grungy take of Hang Onto Your Ego and a loud and stomping version of Do It Again from The Midnight Callers

The Grip Weeds tackle the cartoonish progressive pop of Heroes And Villians with form and finesse before diving headfirst into the hard rocking intensity of Roll Plymouth Rock, then flipping the switch right back to Heroes And Villians again. 

Another left-field offering includes Lisa Mychols and the Super 8’s Pet Sounds (Story), which quotes lyrics from select Beach Boys songs over ethereal textures and spacey instrumentation. The Golden Needles additionally strive for the unusual, as the band plucked Love And Mercy from Brian Wilson’s 1988 self-titled solo album and expanded the piece into a big and bold production of polished pop glory.

The Anderson Council’s harmonious jangle of Girl Don’t Tell Me is nearly as good as the original recording, and Richard Barone’s delivery of the emotionally effective In My Room is highly impressive. Richard also teams up with Johnathan Pushkar on the perpetually perky I Get Around, and as for Johnathan himself, his reprises of the heart-tugging Please Let Me Wonder and the endlessly energetic Dance Dance Dance shine with reverence and enthusiasm.

 Albums such as JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson can be a challenge, especially when saluting a band as phenomenal as The Beach Boys. But here’s a homage that works by presenting both the expected and unexpected, not to mention a crew of artists whose respect and understanding of the music they’re playing can’t be denied. Long live The Beach Boys and these great musicians who contributed their talents to the album. 

Categories
Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

Got Any Singles? The Grip Weeds, Old Town Crier, Stoeckel & Pena and Deadlights

The Grip Weeds

You’re So Good To Me

http://www.jemrecordings.com

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

Don’t Go

https://oldtowncrier.bandcamp.com/

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.

Stoeckel & Pena

Why

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/why-big-stir-single-no-134

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.

Deadlights

All We Love

https://deadlightssf.bandcamp.com/releases

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.

By Dan Pavelich

Categories
Quick Spins

Kerry Spitzer, Johnathan Pushkar & Weezer

Kerry Spitzer

Swan Songs

https://kerryspitzer1.bandcamp.com/album/swan-songs

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.

*

Johnathan Pushkar

Compositions

https://www.johnathanpushkar.com/

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 Rutlesque Making 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.

*

Weezer

Van Weezer

https://www.amazon.com/Van-Weezer

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.

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

Categories
Quick Spins

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men / Downtime

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men

Downtime (Jem)

http://www.nickpiunti.com

From Downtime’s promo material; “Sometimes you hear new songs that sound like old songs. Somehow, you’ve heard these songs before – in a good way. They’ve been part of your rock lexicon for eons and you just don’t know how they got there, which radio station you first heard them on, or what year they first emitted from.”

I couldn’t agree more. From the opening chords of “Upper Hand,” I was immediately transported back to my high school years, when I was hearing and discovering hits by Bryan Adams, like “This Time” and “Cuts Like A Knife.” I was bombarded by images of strolling through Lakehurst Mall with my pals, hearing those tunes, and making my way to the music store to find out more about Adams. Picking up his Lp, way back when, I saw that he played a Rickenbacker, like my heroes, The Beatles, did. That Lp went home with me and made me a B.A. fan for life.

I hope I’m not offending Piunti and his mates with the comparison, because in my humble opinion, Adams has always been one of rock’s best songwriters, in fact, for decades now.

Downtime’s overall sound is one of warmth and simplicity of production, which serves the songs well. In a perfect world, “Every High”, “All Over Again,” hell, pretty much every song on this disc, would be riding the Billboard Charts. My fave of the set, however, is the quirky “Never Belonged To Me,” which has played repeatedly in my head since first listen.

The Complicated Men; Jeff Hupp (bass), Ron Vensko (drums), and Kevin Darnall (keys), aren’t in actuality, very complicated at all. They play exactly what each song needs, without getting in the way of Piunti’s gravelly lead vocals. Power pop fans and rock fans alike, are going to devour this like an aged,  medium-rare porterhouse. I expect it will be on many year-end best lists, as it will be on mine.

Dan Pavelich

Categories
Quick Spins

The Bookends / She’s Got It

The Bookends

She’s Got It (Jem)

https://www.facebook.com/thebookends2

Cousins Sharon Lee and Karen Lynn comprise The Bookends, an Austen Powers-inspired duo that wouldn’t sound out of place on the pop charts, circa 1966. We’ve only got the one song to go on here, “She’s Got It,” but it’s a slinky bit of Carnaby Street pop that is an ear worm if ever there was one. Looking forward to a full-length release from these ladies.

D.P.