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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. 

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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