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Def Leppard, Pop Co-Op & Claudia Robin Gunn

Def Leppard / Diamond Star Halos

https://www.amazon.com/Diamond-Star-Halos-Def-Leppard

The sixteen-year-old in me wants Diamond Star Halos to be chock-full of songs as good as Foolin’ and Photograph. The grown-up me, who is actually writing this review, knows just how unfair that this. This is one of the few bands out there, from their original scene, still recording new material and playing stadium shows.

The opener, Take What You Want, is a real pile-driver, and vocalist Joe Elliot sounds strong. Followed by Kick, which almost sounds like a lost Slade track, it’s not hard to get sucked into this record. While harmonies and rhythm guitars are stacked thick, this release is nowhere near the over-produced sound that broke the band in the 80’s.

Goodbye For You, maybe my favorite track here, is a lush ballad adding piano and strings to the mix, as well as a matured choice in chord selection. I especially like the classical guitar solo, which provides a tasty contrast to the big wall of electric guitars that supports the rest of the record. Really great songwriting this time around, in fact, several of these songs bounced around in my noggin for a few days after hearing them. More of this, lads. Please!

***

Pop Co-Op / Suspension

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/suspension

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that, not only am I already a fan of this band, but I plunk down my own hard-earned dinero to buy their CD’s. These men deserve my patronage, no free promo copies for me, wouldn’t even ask. If you somehow missed their previous releases, 2020’s Factory Settings and 2017’s Four State Solution, they’re your homework assignment.

The airy Suspension opens the disc on an optimistic note, complimenting the ethereal cover art perfectly. Beatles-by-way-of-XTC might sound like an overused compliment, but there you have it. This is smart, lushly-produced music that was created with care. A headphone listen of these tracks is a definite must.

Steve Stoeckel’s bouncy Hofner bass and Stacey Carson’s pumped-up drumming are the jet engine that propels the irritable I Just Love To Watch Her Dance, Run and Hide and Unquestionably I-95. Bruce Gordon’s masterful vocal arrangements are layered with perfection, and are both powerful and gorgeous (Again, break out those headphones, kids). Joel Tinnel’s adept guitars morph accordingly from track to track, providing just what is needed, from chorusy cleans to dirty aggression. 

Suspension will undoubtedly land on many a year-end-best list, as it should. CD’s are still available through the mighty Futureman Records, but you can expect that situation to change in the coming months. Get behind these lads!

***

Claudia Robin Gunn

https://claudiagunn.bandcamp.com/

Every once in awhile, we music critics get a breath of fresh air. We savor it, slowly filling our lungs before a relaxed exhale. We look up to a brilliant blue sky, and wonder why the cottony cloud billows have been gone for so long. Claudia Robin Gunn’s Sing For The Sea – Little Wild Ocean Friends, is that.

Gunn’s latest project is a celebration of the oceans and its inhabitants, which instantly put me in a serene, tropical state of mind. These tunes are expertly under-produced, leaving voice and acoustic guitar to paint brief vignettes that leave the listener wanting more. Baby Blue Whale is immediately memorable, and has been in my head since first listen.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite out of the twenty-four included tracks, though I particularly like Eagle Ray, Inky The Octopus and Sea Sponge Land. For ecology-minded parents, Sing For The Sea is a great way to introduce the wee ones to thinking more globally, while enjoying to first-rate family music that comes from a place of kindness and inclusion. Very well done.

By Dan Pavelich

Allan Kaplon / Notes On A Napkin

Allan Kaplon

Notes On A Napkin

https://allankaplon.bandcamp.com/album/notes-on-a-napkin

Here on Allan Kaplon’s most recent album, Notes On A Napkin, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based singer, songwriter and guitarist is joined by a cast of acclaimed individuals from the alternative music community. 

There’s Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel from The Spongetones, Pop Co-Op’s Stacy Carson, The Amazing Elena Rogers, Rick Blackwell, Jason Atkins, Russ Bettenbaugh, Eric Lovell, James Brock, Gigi Dover and Deanna Campbell. To top it off, Dan Pavelich of The Click Beetles, creator of the Just Say Uncle cartoon and editor of this spiffy publication, designed the striking art work on the album. 

While Allan’s deep and husky burr is more inclined to be associated with pedal steel guitars, dobros and mandolins than the mercurial pop rock hues and cues gracing Notes On A Napkin, his rustic vocals supply an original and appealing slant to the material. 

The title track of the album thrums to an edgy intensity, complemented by slinky and snarling guitar licks. Local Bus Station starts out draped in quirky reggae regalia, then abruptly escalates into a racing power-popping rocker. Also slapped on the rocking side of the coin is Flesh And Blood, a swinging neo- boogie number consisting of stabbing hooks, quicksilver rhythms, a burly backbeat and ripped riffs. In addition, there is  O’Henry’s Late Night Run, which is laced with a choppy funk bent. 

Festive orchestration containing dizzy squiggles and sound effects frame One Big Parade, and Every Single Day checks in as a crisp and catchy slice of  mid-tempo folk pop sporting a heartfelt sentiment.  Not surprisingly, there are a couple of country-styled songs on the album, specifically the swooning Slow Down Cowboy and Wonder Where The Angels Are, a bright and becoming gem charted of stirring melodies and jangling guitars.

Further marked by blustery harmonies, inspiring arrangements, snappy keyboard fills and sharp storytelling, Notes On A Napkin is an all-around pleasure. Prepared to be entertained and enlightened!  

Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned

Various Artists

Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned

(Futureman Records/Big Stir Records 2020)

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/action-now-20-20-re-envisioned

No matter how commercially successful or how wildly obscure, there seems to be a tribute album for just about every group or artist imaginable. Nesting somewhere between the two extremes is 20/20, a band that reaped regional attention and acclaim amid the thriving Los Angeles power pop scene of the late seventies and early eighties. 

Throughout the years, numerous groups have cited the band as an inspirational presence. Therefore, Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned holds forth as a long overdue love letter to the group. Aside from the great music marinated within the grooves, all proceeds from the disc will go to MusiCares, which is 20/20’s chosen charity.

From Plasticsoul’s take of the energetic bristle of “Nuclear Boy” to Pop Co-Op’s cover of “Yellow Pills,” which sounds like David Bowie performing the cult classic at a somewhat slower stride than the initial version, Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned is crowded with tasty treats. Despite the grim theme, The Armoires slap a bright and jingly spin on “The Night I Heard A Scream,” and Popdudes deliver “She’s An Obsession” in a pure and punchy pop rock manner bubbling with radio-rich qualities.

The fist-pumping title track of the collection is brought to you by Librarians With Hickeys, while The Brothers Steve’s remake of “Beat City” projects an appropriately catchy beat. Irene Pena’s interpretation of “Tonight We Fly” swings and soars with melodic excitement, and Chris Church’s copy of “Remember The Lightning” crackles and crunches with solid brass guitar riffs and robust hooks.

The Toms pour a splash of new wave quikiness onto their reprise of “Out Of This Time,” where Ransom and The Subset’s reading of “Fast Car” races with driving rhythms and high-octane harmonies, and The Hangabouts season the utterly infectious “A Girl Like You” with a sweetly-scented fragrance.

Sterling selections from Coke Belda, The Slapjacks and Joe and Tracy Sullivan are additionally included on Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned. After sinking your ears into these credible homages, you will not only be spurred into revisiting 20/20’s deftly-crafted catalog of righteously rocking pop tunes, but you will also want to give a listen to the original recordings of the musicians who contributed their time and talent to this mighty fine effort.

Categories
Got Any Singles?

Dan Pavelich’s 1st Annual Means-nothing Awards

Please note: These awards mean nothing beyond the fact that I like what the recipients did. There were tons of albums, songs and videos that I never heard or saw. 2020 was a shitty year in general, but an extraordinary one for great independent music. It would have been impossible to acknowledge or consume all of it.

DP

Coolest Release of the Year

Michael Slawter & The Pleased To Meet Me’s – Dear Bastards (Flexidisc)

Record of the Year

Marshall Holland – Paper Airplane

Song of the Year

The Vapour Trails – Lonely Man

Best Vinyl Releases (Tie)

Maurice & The Stiff Sisters – Welcome To Love

Gretchen’s Wheel – Such Open Sky

Best Cassette Release

Dw Dunphy – Test Test Test

Top Ten Singles of the Year  (In no particular order)

Ken Sharp – Girl

Ed Ryan – Even Time

Nick Frater – Let’s Hear It For Love

Tenderhooks – 20-20 Vision

More Animal – I Won’t Forgive You

The Empty Hearts – Coat-tailer

Katrina – Drive

Mike Daly & The Planets – This Is My Life

Coke Bela – Thank You, Paul

The Pretenders – The Buzz

Top Ten Long Players of the Year (In no particular order)

The Well Wishers – Shelf Life

Katrina – Hearts, Loves and Babys

honeychain – Pocketful of Good Luck

Tom Curless and The 46% – Almost Ready For The Future

Bill Lloyd – Don’t Kill The Messenger

It’s Karma It’s Kool – Woke Up In Hollywood

Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men – Downtime

Pop Co-Op – Factory Settings

Gary Ritchie – Head On Swivel

The Toms – The 1979 Sessions

Music Video of the Year

Tiny Bit Of Giant’s Blood – Girl Over Here

Best Children’s/Family Releases (In no particular order)

Lindsay Munroe – I Am Kind

Rena Strober & Friends – Imagine That

Red Yarn – Backyard Bop

Flor Bromley – Fiesta Global

Diana Panton – A Cheerful Little Earful

Congrats to all of the winners!

Categories
Quick Spins Uncategorized

Pop Co-Op / Factory Settings

Pop Co-Op

Factory Settings (Futureman)

http://www.popco-opband.com

From the band’s website; “POP CO-OP is a group of four geographically dispersed musicians who focus on making the music they want to hear. They formed in 2016 as a result of Spongetones bassist Steve Stoeckel inviting friends on social media to collaborate in songwriting: Stoeckel threw out titles and music, asked for lyric snippets, assembled the snippets from contributors into full song lyrics, and recorded the song. Along the way, Stoeckel enlisted the guitar talents of Joel Tinnel, who introduced him to Bruce Gordon (aka Mr. Encrypto). Gordon already had several CD’s to his credit and subsequently introduced Stacy Carson to the group.

The group had so much fun creating a first song together that they decided to form a band and release an entire album. The effort was truly cooperative: each member wrote, recorded, engineered, produced, and mixed these 12 songs in every combination. “POP CO-OP” was the obvious band name.”

If this had been the only positive result of the creation of the internet, it would have been worth it. These four acquaintances mesh perfectly together, in a musical melange that is equal parts friendship, fun, craftsmanship, and reverence for the very best of what is often humbly referred to as pop music.

“No Man’s Land,” which heralds these eleven splendid tracks, begins with a stomping Dave Clark Five beat and the best melody this side of Andy Partridge. Switching gears, “Keen To Be Near You” is a soft, Jane Austin-inspired ballad with lovely touches of mandolin and a vocal by Stoeckel that will melt even the hardest of hearts.

I think my favorite of the set, however, is the rollicking “Won’t Be Me,” which sounds like Billy Gibbons being backed by Chuck Berry and Rockpile. I really can’t get enough of this one, in particular.

Also, when you’re finished devouring “Factory Settings,” you’ll want  to pick up the quartet’s 2017 debut, “Four State Solution.” It’s a seriously inspired start to what will undoubtedly be an illustrious discography.

D.P.

http://popco-opband.com/

https://popco-opband.bandcamp.com/album/factory-settings

https://popco-opband.bandcamp.com/album/four-state-solution