The Smithereens, Diana Panton & Crossword Smiles

The Smithereens

The Lost Album (Tollie)

I refuse to let The SmithereensLost Album to be a bittersweet realization. As a diehard fan of these Jersey boys, I claim it as nothing short of a miracle. It’s a gift that 99% of Smithereens’ fans thought was an impossibility, a new album with original frontman Pat DiNizio’s distinctive baritone, front and center.

In between record deals with Capitol and RCA, in 1993, the band headed into the studio on their own dime. The twelve tracks we’re treated to here, are power pop gold. Slightly less-produced than 1989’s 11 and1991’s Blow Up, it’s chock-full of the meat-and-potatoes rock the quartet is famous for.

Out Of This World and Stop Bringing Me Down, find the band in their Marshall crunch mode, while Monkey Man and I’m Sexy are pure pop fun. The real standouts, however, are some of the more quiet numbers, where DiNizio lets his inner Buddy Holly take over. A World Apart and Face The World With Pride are among the best material The Smithereens have ever produced. Dammit, this is wonderful!


Diana Panton

Blue (SRG)

As a critic, I listen to a massive amount of new music, for the purpose of reviewing it. More often than not, though, the cursory consideration is more of a task that needs to be completed, and less, a moment of musical enjoyment. In a very small fraction of those instances, I am quite literally awe-struck by what I’m hearing. This, is that.

Diana Panton is an award-winning jazz singer, blessed with a voice that softly enters the room and then the ears, with a whisper that cannot be ignored. It is as similarly-captivating as the emoting of classic singers like Mindy Smith and Madeleine Peyroux, you simply hear it and want more.

The opener, a medley of Where Do You Start? and Once Upon A Time, is exquisite. Heartbreak has never sounded so good. Panton’s version of Lennon and McCartney’s Yesterday, is relevatory, with an arrangement that bends the familiar melody into new shapes and sizes. There are many other really savvy song selections here, like a wonderful reading of Armando Manzanero Canche and Norma Winstone’s classic, Just Sometimes. Very highly recommended.


Crossword Smiles

Pressed & Ironed (Big Stir)

Big Stir Records gives us the debut from Crossword Smiles, a new collaboration comprised of Tom Curless and Chip Saam. These two gents are well-known in pop circles, a place where Pressed & Ironed will doubtlessly be embraced.

The opener, Feet On The Ground, is a nifty Gin Blossoms-styled rocker, followed by the somber October Leaves, which feels like more 90’s-inspired alt-rock, in the absolute best way. In fact, a lot of these tracks conjured up images of my own life, pre-marriage and responsibilities, when I was completely unattached and gigging around Chicago with my band.

My fave of the set, however, is the power-popping Lotus, which takes off like a jet engine, buoyed by crunchy guitars and a wide-open, unforgettable chorus. Though I prefer the faster-paced numbers, Curless & Saam are equally adept at switching into other gears, as evidenced by the atmospheric folk of Walk Softy, and the Zombies/Doors-inspired Parallel Lines, which is pop music at its ethereal  best. Very well done!

By Dan Pavelich

Got Any Singles?

Tamar Berk, Jerry Woods, Steve Earle & Elena Rogers

Tamar Berk / I’m Hoping This Day Won’t Kill Us

If you’ve ever breathed a sigh of emotional exhaustion as your alarm went off in the morning, this track by Tamar Berk is seriously going to resonate. Berk wants you to know that you’re not alone, no matter how crummy your day-to-day has gotten. You can go on. You will go on, with this song as your anthem. Some nice, early 1990’s alt-rock production choices make Berk’s whispery delivery irresistible.


Jerry Woods / (I’ll Soon Be) Home

In the interest of full disclosure, the latest track from Jerry Woods is on a compilation that I also have a track on, The Light Between, which is a fine compilation benefitting St. Jude’s Hospital. Woods has produced a rollicking folky number, similar in feel to Rhett Miller’s The El, and equally as hooky. Peppy acoustic guitars and earnest vocals make this one sound great in the car. Roll them windows down!


Steve Earle / Gettin’ By

Steve Earle is one of those voices that you either really like or you don’t, there’s no real in between. His latest long-player has sprouted this track, which is equal parts roadhouse and back porch, which is a good thing. Earle, as usual, finds his way around the pretty notes, and with a wink and a smile, invites you to join in. Much like Tamar Berk’s track (see above), the mission is to help those in need of consoling. Boy, these times we live in…


Elena Rogers / Dandelion

Wow, is this one a breath of fresh air! Elena Rogers pairs classic 60’s songwriter chops with an alt-pop flavor that is catchy as all-get-out. Dandelion would fit in very well amongst the pop songs of today, yet is so much deeper in style, performance and vibe. I’m looking forward to hearing her entire album!

By Dan Pavelich

Got Any Singles?

The Incurables, Bryan Adams, The Pozers and Kelli Welli

The Incurables / Stop The World

Detroit’s The Incurables have released a benefit single, lending aid to United Help Ukraine. A zesty power pop fist-pumper, it’s a track that you’ll always feel energized by. Earnest vocals and punchy guitars propel this one into the stratosphere. Excellent work for a worthy cause. Hats off to these lads!

Bryan Adams / So Happy It Hurts

Nobody does a driving pop song better than Bryan Adams. So Happy It Hurts comes from the album of the same name, and it’s a doozy. Big drums, big guitars and a “Woah Woah” refrain. Adams must be loving life these days, because the gruff-voiced Canadian sounds downright happy. This, is a hit song, folks.

The Pozers / The Only Girl

The Pozers bring us a nifty bit of Beatles-inspired pop, with The Only Girl. Complete with a bouncy Carnaby Street groove and boyish vocals, it’s one of those tracks that’s just begging to be on summer mixtapes (kids, ask the old folks).  Their album, Crybaby Bridge, arrived in the mail yesterday, so expect a full review down the line. I like what I hear!!

Kelli Welli / Rainbow Love Song

Boy, if ever we needed a song about love and inclusion, it’s now. Kelli Welli’s Rainbow Love Song, begins with soaring harmonies that instantly heal the weary soul. From her brilliantly-titled release, Robots Don’t Tell Jokes, it’s a great way to get acquainted with her. Although the target audience here is children, older ears will also appreciate the sentiment!

By Dan Pavelich

Got Any Singles?

TemperToo, Mandy Moore, The Braam Brothers, & Andrea Franz

TemperToo / Telegraph Road

TemperToo’s Telegraph Road is a nifty bit of Americana, from two guys in the UK, Steve Hubbard and Ian Ormiston Stables. This guitar-fueled track reaches into America’s antebellum South, like Dire Straits at their swampiest. Cool, cool, cool!


Mandy Moore / In Real Life

I couldn’t really find out much about Mandy Moore’s new single, In Real Life. Producer Mike Viola recently shared it on social media, so I’m guessing he’s once again on her production team. Moore’s found her creative groove in recent years, creating lush, atmospheric records, and this ear worm is more of that. It’s a good thing.


Lose Me / The Braam Brothers

Chicago’s Braam Brothers are favorites of ours here at Pop-A-Looza HQ, and their tragically-beautiful Lose Me has really gotten under our skin. With solemn vocals and haunting, reverb-soaked guitar, it’s a song with “cry” to spare. We’re looking forward to hearing The Braam Brothers’ new Lp in its entirety.


Andrea Franz / Future Friends

Andrea Franz’s zippy track, Future Friends, is a late-80’s throwback that’s a winner on every level. Winsome vocals complete a stark-but-crisp instrumental bed, which is catchy as all-get-out. It’s reminiscent of the best of classic new wave, but with a freshness that is undeniable, and just made for summer enjoyment. Can you tell that we love her?

By Dan Pavelich

Nick Frater, Sting & The Harmonica Pocket

Nick Frater

Earworms (Big Stir)

Nick Frater’s beautiful Lp, Earworms, made every year-end-best list that I saw last year. And deservedly so. Although I hadn’t heard it at the time my list was published, it did get a mention for its cool cover art. For the vinyl edition, I knew I had to refuse a free review copy, and plunk down my own pocket money.

Frater has written a batch of tunes that manages to evoke early McCartney and Fleetwood Mac, and sounds as if it was recorded in a living room, albeit an acoustically-perfect living room. It’s All Rumours kicks things off, sounding like a possible Band On The Run outtake. What’s With Your Heavy Heart? has a similar feel. A lot of the pop of the early 1970’s had a strange ability to sound both buoyant and melancholy at the same time. Frater nails this aspect with perfection.

My fave of the set is the closer, How To Survive Somebody. It’s a sweet ballad that nicely showcases Frater’s soft vocals, which always sound warm and comfortable. Much like a favorite sweater on a chilly morning, Earworms is a record that I keep coming back to. I have no doubt that it will stay with me and survive the years.


The Bridge (A&M)

Sting has made a couple of really nice pop albums in recent years, namely, 2016’s 57th & 9th, 2018’s 44/876 (Yes, I liked it!), and now, with The Bridge. Sting appears to have mellowed with age, and presenting complicated constructs has given way to a more-focused approach on likable melodies.

The opener, Rushing Water, stands among his best flagship singles. With a stripped-back verse leading to a soaring chorus, it has a similar pacing to Fortress Around Your Heart. It’s a song that you want to hear again, as soon as it ends. 

Other notables include the somber Harmony Road, an ode to a life in a neighborhood that is both loved for its history and loathed for its decay, and The Bridge, which unfolds with thoughts about the passage of a lifetime. There’s something oddly calming about knowing that Sting is having similar thoughts to the rest of us, as we age.

Harmonica Pocket

Sing Your Song (THP)

Late last year, The Harmonica Pocket’s track, One Two I Love You, caught our ears, here at Pop-a-looza HQ. Since then, we’ve had the pleasure of listening to their entire full-length, Sing Your Song.

Brimming with happiness, it’s one the whole family can enjoy. Lead vocalist Keeth Monta Apgar has a warm, tuneful voice, that sounds both fresh and familiar. When he suggests that you sing your song, you feel like you just might be able to do it.

Other standouts include the cheery Apples On The Sun and a cover of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, which is given a campfire treatment, with acoustic guitar and just a touch of percussion. Very well done, we’re looking forward to hearing more!


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Got Any Singles?

Gavin Eimerman, Julian Daniell, Kerosene Stars & All Over The Shop

Gavin Eimerman

Losing Ground

Gavin Eimerman’s latest single is a nifty little bit of indie pop, with just enough rough edges. His passionate vocal drives the track, which seems to touch such varied influences as ’60’s psychedelia, and ’90’s wunderkind, Beck. It’s an interesting track, that sounds both old and new at the same time.

Julian Daniell


Memories is the lead-off track on Julian Daniell’s excellent e.p., Only Words. Here, he produces a real toe-tapper that sounds like a lost George Harrison track, complete with melancholy slide guitar accents. While Memories is indeed a stand-out track, the other four songs have the same, swell, organic sound and feel. Top-notch!

Kerosene Stars

Don’t Pass Me By

Chicago’s Kersene Stars have a real barn-burner in Don’t Pass Me By. While that title might instantly conjure up images of The Fab Four, you’d be mistaken….unless, that is, the fab four you’re thinking of is The Replacements. Truth be told, there is a bit of Mersey Beat in the mix, but with plenty of punky snarl. I’m looking forward to digging deeper with this band.

All Over The Shop


Hailing from The Motor City, All Over The Shop is a rock band that would sound at home opening huge arena shows in 1975. A big guitar sound and more-than-solid hooks propel Tongue-Tied, from their self-titled e.p. If you need to throw your hands in the air (like ya just don’t care) or flick your Bic with 30,000 friends, this is the tune that’ll get that done.

The Best Albums of 2021

As you may have previously seen, Ken Sharp’s Miniatures scored my pick for Album Of The Year. In my ears, it’s a baroque pop masterpiece that is equally as beautiful on the eyes. No indie pop Lp collection should be without this!

Following Ken Sharp’s Miniatures, are the ten Lp’s that got the most spins at my house. Don’t be offended if your release isn’t included here, chances are that I either didn’t hear it or it nearly missed making this top ten. Also, administrative duties for Pop-A-Looza kept me busier than I would have preferred, which has meant listening to and reviewing, far fewer releases in 2021 than the previous year.

These, in no particular order, are;

  1. Lindsay Munroe w/Raffi – Frogs and Birds
  2. Kevin Robertson – Sundown’s End
  3. The Legal Matters – Chapter Three
  4. Tambourina – Tambourina
  5. Kerry Spitzer – Swan Songs
  6. Bill Sammon – Story Songs
  7. Matthew Sweet – Cat’s Paw
  8. The Braam Brothers – Landscapes
  9. Sorrows – Love Too Late…The Real Album
  10. Deadlights – Deadlights

Nick Frater’s Earworms and Bill Lloyd’s reissue of his classic Feeling The Elephant, fall into their own weird category. While they tie for Best Cover Art Of 2021, they were also both on my Christmas wishlist, yet didn’t show up underneath the tree, Christmas morning. So, I will now be purchasing them as Nick & Bill are two artists whose work I always enjoy!

Best Tribute Record Of 2021, is easily won by Higher Than A Mountain, The Songs Of Andy Gibb, released by the Curry Cuts label. Gibb’s catalog is deeper than you’d think, and this swell comp proves it.

Lastly, the Best Holiday Release Of 2021, goes to The Yule Logs, a fantastic band from Chico, California, that only plays Christmas and holiday-themed music. Their latest, Fezziwig, is a real hoot!

I hope you’ll further seek out of these releases, as they’re all well-worth owning. Stream (if you must) to preview them, but please actually purchase CD’s, vinyl and downloads, which pay the artists the most for their hard work.

Happy listening,

Dan Pavelich

Ken Sharp’s ‘Miniatures,’ Album Of The Year

Every year, one record has stands out as being far-and-away my favorite. There is a combination of elements that each year’s favorite seems to have in common. First, the cover art pull me in, either through an interesting graphic or particularly emotive color. Secondly, the songs, one after another, draw me in to view the artist’s complete, long-play vision. Last year, that record was Marshall Holland’s extraordinary Lp, Paper Airplane. This year, that distinction is most happily given to Ken Sharp, for his Miniatures Lp.

While Sharp is well-known in pop circles (his name has a perfect pop ring to it) his music was unknown to me, until fairly recently. The artwork for his 2020 single, Girl b/w Forget That Girl, jumped out at me. “TWO Monkees’ covers?” I remember thinking, “you, sir, have my attention.” Both were high-quality turns, owing equal parts to The Pre-fab Four’s arrangements and instrumentation, and Sharp’s own excellent, retro expressions. I was officially a fan.

Next came Sharp’s brilliant Miniatures Lp. With a cover brimming with Rankin/Bass-inspired art, I knew I had to order up. While I’m often afforded promotional copies to do these reviews, I instinctively knew, that this release warranted me plunking down my own money on the vinyl. I would not be disappointed. When it arrived with a full-color insert and on transparent vinyl, I was thrilled!

Now, the music…

There are 32 tracks here, some that don’t even break the minute mark. That isn’t to say that these are unfinished bits yet to become something more, they exist as potent short sentences, instead of more lengthy paragraphs. In presenting his songs in this manner, the Lp plays like the listener is getting a peak into the inner dialog we all have with ourselves, 24/7, though here we are, in Sharp’s head.

Susannah Silently Shining has been heard on numerous radio shows, and it’s a good snapshot of the project as a whole. A  fifty-two-second ode to pure, natural beauty, it’s sweetness flows like musical honey. Humble and to the point, as all these tracks are, it eases you toward the next daisy in the chain.

Lorelei reveals itself as a piano ballad in the classic tradition of McCartney’s For No One, albeit with a bit more drive. Sharp keeps the instrumentation simple throughout, which certainly gives the whole project a Fab vibe, though, that influence never gets in the way of his own style. You’ll hear piano, acoustic guitar and accents of mellotron, even as everything sounds crisp, contemporary and vibrant.

One of my favorites on this disc is the peppy Something’s Happening, which unfolds like the theme song to a great lost sitcom by Sid and Marty Krofft, in the very best way. I would hazard a guess that Sharp grew up on shows like The Bugaloos and the trippy Lidsville. A lot of these tunes have a definite visual element to them, which I find to be to their benefit.

Please consider taking a Listen to Miniatures, which I’m more than happy to proclaim, my pick for Album Of The Year, 2021.

By Dan Pavelich

Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

Harmonica Pocket, The Well Wishers and Ken Sharp

Harmonica Pocket

One Two I Love You

There’s nothing better in music than a song that lifts the spirits, and, boy, does this song do that. Written by head harmonica man Keeth Apgar and his son, it’s the musical equivalent of a big red balloon, or a sunny afternoon. Now that it’s carpool season again, we’re betting that this one will definitely start your family’s day off on a positive note.


The Well Wishers

Wonderful Life

Not only is this buoyant slab of power pop a real go-getter, it’s a charity single benefitting the California Community Foundation’s Wildlife Relief Fund. Considering the horrendous wildfires that have been consuming the western United States the past few years, it certainly is a worthwhile cause. Two tracks for $1.


Ken Sharp

This Kiss

Until we get around to doing a full-length review of Ken Sharp’s latest Lp, Miniatures, we highly recommend that you give this cool track a spin. Sharp strikes us as being from the Brill Building school of songwriting. In fact, you can almost hear this tune being sung by Davy Jones or The Ronettes. Top-notch stuff.

By Staff