The Domino Effect (JEM)
Bob Burger is quite a busy guy. Aside from holding membership in New Jersey’s top band, The Weeklings, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist also claims an artistically satisfying solo career. Bob’s current and fifth album, The Domino Effect, files in as a stone-cold testimony to his passion and comprehension of prescriptive pop rock, especially of the late seventies, early eighties ilk.
Equipped with a melodic rasp situated in the vein of both Don Henley and Tom Petty, Bob conveys his attentively-crafted material in a spirited and coherent manner. Staying in form with the music, the lyrics – which reveal a psychological awareness often laced with humor – are direct and bleed with worldwide allure.
Ignited by a blush of bluesy guitar riffs and swaying rhythms, “The Suicide King” lifts the lid on The Domino Effect in faultless fettle, tailgated by “Impression,” a new wave styled number sliced of scuttling keyboards and a repetitious but persistently-catchy beat.
Gleaming with spark and light, “Even If You Don’t” and “Merely Beautiful” are first-class guitar based essays, deftly supported by cracking patterns and attractive hooks. Dictated by an urgent bounce and an infectious sing-a-long chorus, “Pain In The Ass” and the slinky and sinister groove of “The One-Eyed Jack” reel in as other outstanding cuts to be admired.
A twangy country feel surrounds the toe-tapping timbre of “I’m Free,” and then there’s “Rock & Roll Band,” which proves to be a fitting end to the program. Vibrating with high energy, cool licks and in the pocket harmonies, the punchy track communicates Bob’s ongoing devotion to music, stating how playing in bands has kept him sane all these years.
Powered by virile vocals, creative arrangements and skintight instrumentation, The Domino Effect harks back to the days when every song on an album exerted serviceable qualities. After hearing this perfected piece of ear candy, you’ll wonder why Bob Burger isn’t a big star. Perhaps The Domino Effect is the album that will glean him the riches he so obviously commands.
Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men
Heart Inside Your Head (JEM)
Make note of May 20th, because that’s the day Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men’s eagerly awaited sophomore album, “Heart Inside Your Head” will be issued.
Composed of Nick Piunti on lead vocals, guitars and synthesizer, Jeff Daksiewicz on electric guitar, Kevin Darnall on piano, organ and synthesizer, Jeff Hupp on bass and Ron Vensko on drums, the widely championed Detroit, Michigan band is caught operating at the pinnacle of their panache on this great album.
All ten songs on “Heart Inside Your Head” were written by Nick, citing the unsettling events of the past couple of years as the motivating factor behind the collection.
Fashioned of direct and perceptive lyrics, a sense of self-evalutation tends to steer these ear-clasping numbers. Possessing a raspy and robust tenor that could pass as the power popping cousin of Bryan Adams, Nick delivers the verse with style and conviction, while The Complicated Men exercise exemplary chemistry by maintaining a taut and concentrated hold throughout the proceedings.
Bounding full steam.ahead with strapping rhythms, penetrating chords and windswept harmonies, “My Mind (Plays Tricks On Me)” recalls the melodic force and gravity of The Who, where “Slave To It” rolls to a captivating groove, and “I Want Everything” entails a slower and delicate tempo, ribbed with splashes of distortion and jangle.
Ruled by a bouncy beat, chiming guitars and lively vocals, “Trying Too Hard” checks in as the criterion of classic power pop, the appropriately christened “Hopes Up” sparkles and swaggers with optimism, and “Nothing New” is a pretty and precious ballad.
The album also includes two songs that were paired as a single release last summer. There’s the rocking title track, which is shaped of an absorbing arrangement, cooking hooks and zingy breaks, and the comparably energetic “One Of The Boyz” that features a giant sing-a-long chorus impossible to ignore.
By weaving together strands of foot stomping arena rock with liberal dosages of customary pop ingredients, Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men produce gold spinning tunes that get straight to the point. Inspiring and refreshing, “Heart Inside Your Head” is ideal therapy for these uncertain times.
As mentioned yesterday, my friends (and fellow pop addicts) Bruce Brodeen, John M. Borack,and I were each interviewed by writer S. W. Lauden for his just-published piece “Notes From The Modern Pop Underground.” For deeper background, here’s the complete text of my conversation with the esteemed Mr. Lauden. And I thank him once again for inviting me to participate.
S.W. LAUDEN: How do you personally define power pop?
CC: I always go back to writer Gary Sperrazza!‘s words in Bomp! magazine in 1978: “Power pop means pop with POWER! Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut.” Guitar, bass, drums, vocals, la-la-las, and CRUNCH, all leaning forward. Infectious pop music with aggressive intent.
How did you discover power pop? Who are three of your favorite all-time power pop artists? Why?
Before hearing the phrase, I already liked AM radio rockin’ pop designed for high volume, especially Badfinger and the Raspberries. Bomp! magazine preached a Gospel, connecting the early Who and Kinks to Raspberries and Ramones. I already loved all of these acts, so I was already a power pop fan.
My favorite power pop act is the Flashcubes, who embody the Bomp! power pop equation of Shaun Cassidy + the Sex Pistols = the early Who. Great songs, great excitement, hell of a live band. The rest of my top 2 rotates (unless I just say Beatles, Ramones, Flashcubes).
Looking around the global power pop community—who would you say are 2-3 of the best bands making modern power pop music these days?
Ignoring my strict view of what is or isn’t power pop, there are tons of great, great acts making fabulous new music within the broad parameters of rockin’ pop. The Flashcubes are still recording. The Grip Weeds are still at it. Pop Co-Op is terrific. Just about anything released by Big Stir Records, Kool Kat Musik, Futureman Records, Jem Records, Red On Red Records, and a bunch of other worthy labels is at least worth a listen, and some of it’s freakin’ transcendent.
What are one or two outlets (DJs, authors, platforms, record stores, magazines, labels, etc.) that you rely on to discover modern power pop music?
It’s all internet. A lot of stuff gets sent to us for airplay on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, and we pay attention to what friends, fans, and other DJs and pundits are saying.
If I use one or more of your quotes (no promises!), how would you like to be credited?
Example: S.W. Lauden, co-editor of the power pop essay collections Go All The Way and Go Further
Carl Cafarelli, writer, blogger, and co-host (with Dana Bonn) of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl
TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!
Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.
This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio: CD or download
I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.
The Grip Weeds
DiG (JEM Records)
If there is one band that has appropriated the sounds of the sixties and managed to translate such aspirations into their own prize-winning formula, it is The Grip Weeds. Coming together in 1988, the Highland Park, New Jersey group is globally known for their superb recordings that are just as relevant, as those produced by the artists they are enamored with.
Something of a family affair, the band includes founding members and siblings Kurt (vocals, multi-instrumentalist ) and Rick Reil (vocals, multi-instrumentalist), along with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kristin Pinell (who is Kurt’s wife) and bassist Dave DeSantis.
Rather than sit idle and go into panic mode during the worldwide lockdown of 2020, The Grip Weeds made a beeline for the studio and crafted a new album of vintage songs. A two disc set, DiG, contains versions of both noted and obscure tunes from the sixties, which needless to say, is a tribute to the band’s influences.
An ample amount of psychedelic classics are spread across the collection, specifically; Shape Of Things To Come (Max Frost and The Troopers), Journey To The Center Of The Mind (The Amboy Dukes), Something In The Air (Thunderclap Newman), Porpoise Song (The Monkees), I Feel Free (Cream) and I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) (The Electric Prunes). The Grip Weeds approach these trippy treasures in their signature standard of excellence, grounded in harmony-rich singing, tight and exciting musicianship and spirited empathy. These renditions are so great that you will think you are hearing them for the first time.
Paul Revere and the Raiders are honored on the gutsy acid-dappled garage rock of Louie Go Home, while Frosty’s funky Organ Grinder’s Monkey further stages an appearance. The Zombies are cited on a ravishing acoustic-based take of I Love You, and the slightly jazzy polish of Lady Friend is sure to score points with Byrds‘ fans.
An homage to The Squires surfaces on the cosmic folk rock chime of Going All The Way, and then there’s The Creation’s throbbing Making Time and the chilly atmospheric Twilight Time, which was initially cut by The Moody Blues.
Mouse and the Traps receive a walloping reprise on the hard-driving Lie Beg Borrow And Steal, whereas The Beatles are celebrated on the achingly sweet It’s Only Love. The Rolling Stones are also given a nod, on the brain-bending drone of Child Of The Moon. The Marmalade’s shimmery flower pop I See The Rain and DiG Theme, a searing and powerful Yardbirds-meets-Who flavored instrumental composed by The Grip Weeds, cycle in as other groovacious goodies gracing the package.
In terms of cover albums, DiG is a real stunner. The Grip Weeds clearly had a ton of fun waxing these tracks, which will feed the need of the band’s dedicated legion of followers until their next album of orginal material is released.
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.
In Their Own Write (JEM Records 2021)
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!
Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men
Heart Inside Of Your Head/One Of The Boyz (JEM Records 2021)
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.
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.
The Grip Weeds
You’re So Good To Me
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
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
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.
All We Love
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